Stories that build the future: How my experience with a sex-worker inspired me.
When people think of sex-workers they generally visualize a woman in a short skirt, seductive looks and fishnet stockings or what you can sum as ‘indecent dressing’ walking down the streets, getting into strangers’ cars or roaming around hotels or covert brothels. They also think that the women who do this kind of work are uneducated, lack self-worth, from low socioeconomic backgrounds, drug addicts – the list goes on.
In Nigeria, a lot of people classify or see sex-workers differently, I have heard people argue that a ‘runs girl’ is different from an ‘ashawo’ (the ones that stay at brothels or stand on the roadside). I really do not know the basis for this difference or should I say stereotypic categorization, but this article is actually about ‘ashawos’, the ones that stay in brothels. People often think that the only type of clients who patronize them-are dirty, unattractive, seedy old men.
Well, let me shatter any preconceptions you may have and fill you in on the truth. These people we look at with disdain are largely responsible for the first time sex experience of most boys, especially teenage boys. This means the impression most boys have about sex came from them. You hate to see it. But it is the truth. I was there, I saw it with my own eyes and 5years later when I told this story in an interview, a lot of reactions came forward to confirm that I wasn’t the only one.
I didn’t grow up in a poor household but we certainly weren’t rich. I came from a middle-class family and I was educated at the best schools where I lived in Makurdi, Benue State. Although born and baptized as Catholics, my parents later made the decision for us to change to a pentecostal ministry. I am just trying to say we were a fairly conservative family and believed we were Christians.
I started becoming curious about sex and became sexually active in my early teens 16 or so. Coupled with the fact that I attended an all-boys secondary school where every chance we get, we talked about silly things. By the time we got to Senior Secondary 2 (SS2) a lot of my classmates already ‘claim’ to have girlfriends, then the gist about having sex became a hot topic. It was hard to even follow the conversations because I had no experience. Although I will later find out that most of the conversations were made up and all lies. My teenage counterparts were in no way, shape or form Casanovas, but they were miles ahead of me when it came to engagements with the opposite sex. Maybe that was why I believed them.
January 25, 2014 – Nigeria CHAN Team had just won the quarter-finals against Morocco. The memory of that day remains fresh in my head. It was an absolutely unplanned event. On this day I had sex for the first time and with a sex worker. Here is a video chay I had with Lolo Cynthia sometime this year narrating my entire experience
We find ourselves in several defining moments of our lives and it is one of two things; these moments trigger a series of events that make us or break us, and as perception widens, perspectives are now left at the mercies of keypads. We can all relate to the desire that this narrative of presenting one’s self as perfect only suppresses our past so as to not come under fire while at the same time hoping people see the best in us. But the way I see it, it is until you fully embrace your past and absorb all energies whether negative or positive, you will be haunted by it. Remember you cannot shame the shameless. Our experiences aren’t just ours, they can serve as fuel for vehicles heading into the future. If we tell these stories, it just might be enough fuel to take us to ‘planet future’.
How does this almost ‘not-to-be-spoken-of’ experience inspire me to build the future?
First of all, I am a people person and interactions are what I feed on. Secondly, I am super curious, and inquisitive so inevitably I love stories. I figured that if we want to create powerful societal change stories, we first need to create powerful questions; questions about the most unspoken or unheard of. And this is exactly how I got involved with building something from my experience with a sex worker.
When I met Lolo Cynthia in 2018, it was super easy to connect with her and work on this because we had almost the same perspective on these issues and we largely ask the same questions on this same issue. Here are the few questions that propelled us into building what will become a SexEd NGO;
- 9 out of 10 teenage boys in Secondary school ‘boast’ to have had sex. Who are they having sex with? (Data is speculative).
- How are teenagers who are sexually active generally introduced to sex? How do they know what to do?
- What are the common perceptions teenage boys have about sex?
- Are teenagers adequately prepared an informed to make decisions around sex and sexual relations?
- What other sexual-themed rites of passage is common for teenage boys in/not-in secondary school.
After that video came out, a lot of folks mostly friends and former classmates reached out to me to either confirm, tell their own story, condemn or just show surprise. In fact, I had already asked these questions long before I made that video, but after making the video public, the reactions I got validated the questions I asked. So it was clear that this was an issue but rarely talked about. An unrecorded percentage of teenage boys launch their sexual experiences with ‘sex-workers’. Do we know this and stay shut?
Our experiences aren’t just ours, they can serve as fuel for vehicles heading into the future. If we tell these stories, it just might be enough fuel to take us to planet ‘future’.
~ Charles Njoku
I have been privileged to work on this project as the Lead Strategist, Brand Manager, and Designer in collaboration with the Founder, Lolo Cynthia for the past 1year. Among the other passionate things I have worked or working on, this happens to be the one project that gives me a pause when I think about it. SexEd in Nigeria is so poor, even though we have a policy supporting schools to include it in their curriculum. They are a lot of happenings under our noses and nobody talks about it.
MyBiM is a startup- NGO that is focused on demystifying age-long stereotypes surrounding gender, sex/sexual health, and relationships in Nigeria by empowering teenagers with appropriate and adequate knowledge through our activities and program.
The one time I spoke to a friend about this, here is what he said;
So una dey teach boys and girls how to fuck abi?
And if you are thinking he was the only one asking that same question, wait until Lolo Cynthia tells you about how she gets that often. To clear any premise of doubt here are a few things about MyBiM;
- We are a team of compassionate, intelligent and enthusiastic individuals teaching the fundamentals of consent, healthy relationships, sex, sexuality, sexual health, human rights.
- We are very passionate about ensuring teenagers live full lives which are only possible when they are informed with the appropriate and adequate knowledge.
- Our audience is Junior Secondary Students (Age 9 – 12), Senior Secondary School Students (Age 13 – 17), Parents, Teachers and Educators (Age 18+).
Also, we intend to go about it by;
- Creating an appropriate and adequate sex-educational program that provides our audience with a learning experience that is friendlier than the normal everyday classroom and more compassionate and embracing than that of a regular teacher.
- Discussing core values that shape perceptions and attitudes towards sex and relationships without any awkward or weird feelings among our audience.
- Eliminating stigmatization, intrusive approaches, sentimental reactions and segregation when talking about sex-related subjects with our audience and create a very comfortable, active and friendly environment for our audience.
Recently, my founder Lolo Cynthia spoke and trained over 200 girls during an event organized by Wife of the Governor of Ondo State during Eid Kabir. She also spent 3-days in August at the Special Boys Correctional Facility in Oregun, Ikeja teaching them from our comprehensive Sexual Education syllabus. As part of our plans to promote sexual health, she regularly visits communities and shares materials; pads, condoms etc.
Working on this project, made me constantly reflect on my experiences, it was my fuel and every passing day I felt this sense of purpose doing it. While we are still building, a lot of work has gone into this and we currently have recorded small wins.
Recently, I decided to show my entire design strategy and approach of the MyBodyIsMine (MyBiM) project. Like the thinking of every single detail, You can find it by clicking the button below.
I am challenging you today, that experience, please tell that story, inspire people, inspire brands and build the future.