I would like to offer my rule for good sex for life. But, first I would like to ask the hard question: why does sex play such a dominant role in South Africa — more than anywhere else I believe — and, more specifically, in our HIV/Aids discourse? (If you are not interested in this, obviously, please just scroll down to the last paragraph). Recently Jennifer Thorpe interpolated into the South African debate a provocatively titled Murdered by sex evaluation of the merits (or demerits) of the controversial Aids-awareness advert showing a woman close to or having an orgasm before the camera flashes to Adolf Hitler’s unforgettable face: the original prime evil. Well done Jennifer, an excellent piece.
There is no doubt that sex is controversially stitched into the nation’s never-ending story of race, rage, gender stereotyping, prejudice and stigma. Award-winning writer Jonny Steinberg recently wrote of how sex has achieved an extraordinary salience in South Africa. One of the key themes in his ethnographical book Three Letter Plague: A Young Man’s Journey Through a Great Epidemic (2008) revolves around the sexual complaints young men brought to one of the central characters, Dr Herman Reuter of Medecins Sans Frontieres in Lusikisiki, deep in the rural Eastern Cape (do yourself a favour, read Jonny’s book and Edwin Cameron’s Witness to AIDS together).
Steinberg believes these young men’s stories bear poignant and political consequences which are deeper, and more complex “than may appear at first blush”. In most times and places, boys have become men either by having children who bear their names, thus giving them a legacy, or by doing work that is meaningful enough to create pride. In South Africa, very few men will find any work at all. A great many will not have children to bear their names, because they have insufficient money to marry, and the usual paths to manhood are not available. So when manhood cannot be achieved through work or progeny, so much is invested in sexual performance (a constant refrain in his book as the author witnessed a “veritable cult” around pleasuring women — and an anxiety too).
Winding on fast, Jonny asks whether Jacob Zuma blundered when he said that a Zulu man does not leave a woman in a state of arousal; was this perhaps second only to his admission that he had taken a shower to wash off the HIV virus? Yet, rather than being revealed as sexist and naïve, Steinberg avers, many young men across the country responded to Zuma’s words with both surprise and warmth. “They surely had not expected the matter of pleasuring women ever to find a place in politics. Now their prospective president was talking of it in open court, in relation to his own life, as an expression of his own personal code” he insightfully observes. While conceding that there were multiple reasons why poor young men voted for Zuma in large numbers in the April election, Steinberg believes that: “People’s love for Zuma has been shaped by a context, the most important of which is the dire state of our political economy, which prevents the majority of youths from becoming the adults they aspire to be. Zuma is not just sexually competent: he is also a patriarch, a man with a meaningful vocation, and a father of children who bear his name. People love him because they trust he will deliver at least a sliver of his own fate.”
So in very simple and uncluttered terms, Jonny is saying that our commander-in-chief is also the country’s “shagger-in-chief”. Needless, to say this is an alarming reality and, quite frankly, in my view, the president is not in a position to make a meaningful contribution to this debate. More generous-spirited people than me — like probably you and the majority of people — might say that his past equips Zuma to play such a leading role. But with all due respect to our hypocritical president, and all our leaders who advocate sexual abstinence, I think this is tilting at windmills (even though abstinence is the only 100% safeguard against sexually transmitted diseases). The reality is that the majority of our young people are having sex and lots of it. And it’s a dangerous world out there: a huge “Russian roulette” of unprotected sex, rape, massage parlours drugs, poppers, steam rooms, rape, glory holes, prostitution, and so on.
Nor can we can turn the clock back to some kind of rural bucolic Arcadia — if it ever existed. And though I have enormous respect for our traditional customs and traditional leaders, I will not gloss over the fact that I am opposed to virginity testing. Firstly, it is sexist (boys don’t have to be humiliated in this manner) and secondly, it is medically unreliable. A girl/woman’s hymen can easily be torn in ways other than through sexual intercourse. And Zulu and Swazi girls would be well within their rights to ask why there is not a male counterpart to the Reed Dance. In a society in which women are overwhelmingly the victims of Aids and rape, our leaders should be addressing how to free girls and women from systemic male abuse and dominance. We must determine what the most effective ways to reduce transmission are, where multiple concurrent sexual partnerships (men again) appear to be driving the pandemic. We must tackle head-on the issue of the early sexual debut of vulnerable young girls. We must devise workable strategies to impart to these young women the ability to negotiate safe sex with the female condom, and so challenge patriarchal dominance particularly with men who stubbornly refuse to use condoms.
Just as importantly, and this dovetails into the above, I think we need to get “love” back into the nation’s sexual health conversation and back into the misnamed LoveLife campaign. In our youthful country, this is not really a campaign in which our political leaders can take the lead (as much as I adore Madiba, Helen Zille, Mvume Dandala and Shenge). Rather, we will need selfless volunteerism and enlightened activism which can exist at every level and thrive in all walks of life. Our young people need sexy role models to lead this campaign: I am thinking of Tatum Keshwar, Charlize Theron, Barrington Arokium, Colin Moss, Ryk Neethling.
And what should their message of luurve be and to lead by example with? As a man who turned 37 on Saturday, and who is not entirely without a colourful gay-bi-curious past, I submit Jon’s dictum for good sex. It is pedestrian, and yet I think it might be the way to go for our young ambassadors when promoting good sex for life.
1. One night stands = emptiness and embarrassment the next morning when you cannot remember their name(s) and want to get them out of your apartment without security or the cleaner seeing (and Dudes, you remember the exception by definition that they were the exception(s)).
2. Sex with “friends with benefits” and causal arrangements = easy, convenient, safe and uncomplicated but utterly forgettable.
3. Sex with someone you truly love = mind-blowing and earth-shattering — better than champagne, bacon sandwiches, cup cakes, Peroni beer, puppies and steam trains all put together (I realise girls and straight men might have other substitutes here, but you get my drift).
I have only experienced 3 once. But I still believe in “love actually” and promoting sexual relationships with someone you truly love is the way to go.