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TEDWomen 2017

Tiffany Kagure Mugo and Siphumeze Khundayi: How to have a healthier, positive relationship to sex

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From our fear of women's bodies to our sheepishness around the word "nipple," our ideas about sex need an upgrade, say sex educators (and hilarious women) Tiffany Kagure Mugo and Siphumeze Khundayi. For a radical new take on sex positivity, the duo take the TED stage to suggest we look to Africa for erotic wisdom both ancient and modern, showing us how we can shake off problematic ideas about sex we've internalized and re-define pleasure on our own terms. (This talk contains mature content.)

- Curator, blogger, media consultant
The curator of HOLAAfrica, Tiffany Kagure Mugo is a wine bar philosopher who pontificates on all things and is willing to learn about everything else. Full bio

- Photographer, theatre-maker, performer
Siphumeze Khundayi is founder and artistic director of HOLAAfrica, sparking conversations about sex and sexuality. Full bio

[This talk contains mature content
Viewer discretion is advised]
00:12
Tiffany Kagure Mugo: OK.
00:16
So we've signed up,
there's no turning back now.
00:17
(Laughter)
00:20
Siphumeze Khundayi: Hi, guys.
TKM: Hello, everyone.
00:21
TKM: So, you think you know about sex.
00:23
Chances are you don't,
00:26
and we are here to tell you
that you don't.
00:28
SK: We are here to tell you
that no matter where you come from,
00:30
Abuja to Alabama,
Dubai to downtown London,
00:34
sex has and continues to change.
00:37
And we need to understand this
00:40
if we're going to keep things
safe and spicy.
00:41
TKM: So now, the act
of rubbing our naked bodies together
00:44
has undergone a number of changes.
00:47
And those changes have been
affected by eons of ideas.
00:49
Even you, as an adult,
have some internalized ideas about sex
00:53
that you never challenge.
00:57
Some good, some bad
and some very, very strange.
00:58
(Laughter)
01:02
SK: So when you allow someone
to see you butt naked,
01:04
do you ever think about
how the ideas that you internally have
01:06
will affect whether you will like them
tickling your elbow or kissing your thigh
01:11
or shouting out the name of a chose deity?
01:15
One must do internal
monitoring and evaluation
01:17
if we are going to live
our best sexy lives.
01:20
TKM: And we're going to tell you
how to have a great sex life, right?
01:24
But the first thing you need to do
01:27
is let go of the bad ideas
you have about sex.
01:28
SK: Think about the things
that we need to change.
01:32
TKM: And the things we need to embrace
in all of their shiny newness.
01:35
So, we're going to take you
on a journey of sex:
01:38
the bad parts of sex,
historically great sexual practices
01:41
and the future of sex.
01:45
SK: Now, judging by the cool
seven billion people on this planet,
01:48
human beings have been doing
the sex thing for a long time.
01:53
And in vast quantities.
01:56
But this does not mean
we are actually good at it.
01:58
From the top of my head -- rape culture.
02:02
TKM: How tradition and culture
limit ideas of pleasure.
02:05
SK: Or even the idea that the nipple
02:09
deserves the same treatment
that a DJ gives his deck
02:11
when he's trying to turn up the volume.
02:14
TKM: Like, that is a personal
pet peeve of mine.
02:16
SK: We are so scared of sex.
02:19
TKM: And we need somebody
to blame for our fear.
02:24
Enter women, and our fear
of every part of their anatomy,
02:28
unless we are the ones
using their sexiness.
02:32
SK: Think about it.
02:35
You can quite easily go to someone
and say, "My elbow hurts."
02:36
But try going to someone and saying,
02:39
"Excuse me, my vagina
has a strange buzzing feeling,
02:41
do you know where I can find
the buzzing-vagina ointment?"
02:44
And see how well that goes down.
02:47
(Laughter)
02:50
TKM: Does not go down well.
02:51
I once challenged friends
to simply go into supermarkets
02:53
and say to strangers, "Thighs."
02:56
No one did it,
02:59
despite the fact that they could have been
talking about chicken or turkey.
03:00
(Laughter)
03:04
SK: So a number of cultural
and historical notions
03:05
have burrowed so deeply within us,
03:07
we don't even notice that it's strange
to freak out when somebody says "nipple"
03:10
as opposed to "left knee."
03:14
We refuse to engage with sex properly.
03:15
And the first step
is admitting that it exists
03:18
outside of trying to sell us products
like bottled water or coffee.
03:21
The unrealistic depictions in movies
03:25
or that one thing that you saw
on the internet "by mistake."
03:28
TKM: Mhm.
03:31
So, now in order to cure
this ailment, again,
03:33
let us just first admit that we have
some messed-up ideas of sex.
03:36
SK: And breathe in --
03:40
(Inhales)
03:41
And let it all go.
03:43
Now, it all seems pretty morbid --
03:46
that culture and society have failed us
in our quest for coitus.
03:49
But this is not the case.
03:54
There are things
that the past can teach us
03:55
to help us upgrade the present.
03:57
TKM: So now, if I had a glass of Merlot --
which I really wish I did --
04:00
I would pour the ancestors a drink,
04:04
because there are ways
in which African societies
04:06
huddled this sex thing
before the C that shall not be named --
04:09
SK: (Whispering) Colonization.
04:12
TKM: Came through.
04:13
Within African societies, we had spaces,
both social and spiritual,
04:14
that helped institutionalize
healthy sexual practices.
04:19
We had sexuality schools
that taught social and erotic cues.
04:23
We had spaces where teenagers
could engage, understand
04:28
and like, properly know
how to handle sexual urges,
04:31
and places where adults could handle
the stresses and strifes of adulting.
04:35
SK: Ways that didn't include
you hiding your credit card bill
04:40
or deleting that toll-free number
from your phone.
04:43
These spaces of old
were so important for women.
04:45
TKM: There were African sexual practices
that centered women
04:49
and in particular, their pleasure.
04:52
SK: And we're going to talk
about one in particular
04:54
that's named "osunality."
04:56
TKM: Also known as the African erotic.
04:58
Yes, my people,
welcome to the Thunderdome.
05:01
The erotic takes on
different shapes and forms
05:04
as you travel the globe.
05:07
Now let's take a bow to the "Kama Sutra,"
05:09
the world's first book on the pleasures
of sensual living.
05:11
More than just a mere depiction
of contortionist sexual positions,
05:15
it provided a comprehensive guide
on living a good life.
05:20
What is particularly interesting for us
05:24
is that it focused on women
and creating pleasure for women.
05:26
TKM: Mhm. Shout-out to the "Kama Sutra,"
but back to the African erotic.
05:31
SK: OK, my bad, bringing it back.
05:36
So, Nkiru Nzegwu says that Osun,
who is an orisha of the Yoruba people,
05:38
typically associated with water,
05:43
purity, fertility, love
and, most importantly, sensuality,
05:45
represents a female-centered
life-transforming energy
05:50
that courses through and animates life.
05:55
She says that women
who typify the osun force
05:58
brandish their sexuality quite openly
and unselfconsciously.
06:01
And she goes on to say ...
06:06
TKM: There you go,
you got that line this time.
06:07
"The flow need not result
in conception and birth
06:10
but doesn't tell the principle of pleasure
at the heart of copulation.
06:13
This pleasure principle
at the heart of the creative energy
06:17
is metaphorically known as 'osun honey'."
06:20
Sorry, I did not want to misquote that.
06:23
So now, osun honey and osunality
06:25
re-affirm the normality
of sexual pleasure and the erotic.
06:28
Osun, like other female
deities of fertility across Africa,
06:32
made sure and emphasized
the importance of female sexuality
06:37
without negating male sexuality.
06:42
We had the Tonga, the Bemba, the Sande
06:45
and other similar
sexuality schools of thought
06:48
that taught young women
about the power of this inner force.
06:51
TKM: So within the African continent,
06:55
there's a great deal of talk
about the synergic nature of sex
06:56
and how it comes together
as a social good.
07:00
For example, within Rwanda,
07:02
there is the notion
that the rivers are replenished
07:05
by the act of a woman squirting.
07:07
(Laughter)
07:10
SK: But modern-day ideas of sex
have become some sort of battle
07:12
in which we are all trying
to subvert each other.
07:16
TKM: We are pounding the pussy,
using sex as a weapon,
07:20
playing hard to get, conquering --
07:25
a constant power struggle.
07:27
SK: And there is always a loser
when it comes to this war.
07:30
TKM: So now the ability to openly brandish
and explore your sexuality and your sex
07:34
without it being a threat to others
07:40
is at the core of engaging
with healthy sexual practices.
07:42
SK: Now this is where it begins
to get really, really good.
07:46
TKM: So what does it mean
07:51
to reconceptualize sex away from this idea
of the monster hiding in the night?
07:53
What is the potential for doing greatness
07:58
on the kitchen counter, a secluded beach,
the backseat of a car
08:00
or even simply in between the sheets?
08:04
Now in learning from the past
and sliding into the present,
08:06
a radical theory of sex
08:10
must identify, it must describe,
explain and denounce
08:12
sexual oppression and erotic injustice.
08:17
TKM: And sex positivity
is one of the realms
08:20
in which the new
can be unpacked and explored.
08:22
SK: We're asking you
to call upon the osun honey
08:25
to engage with new ideas
of sex and pleasure
08:28
so that we can start
to build a new identity
08:32
that feels more like a fitted dress
08:35
and less like a wooden coffin
slowly choking the life out of us.
08:37
Now there are a lot of people
charting their own sexual paths.
08:42
But, because as HOLAAfrica --
08:46
SK: We do sex and sexuality online --
08:48
TKM: We would be foolhardy
not to mention the digital realm.
08:50
There are women who are online,
creating incredible conversations,
08:54
chatting about the clitoris,
08:59
chatting about the reverse cowgirl
and also cunnilingus.
09:02
SK: I like the word "cunnilingus."
09:05
TKM: I bet you do.
But that's not the point.
09:07
Anyway, these women
are resurrecting the work of ancestors
09:09
to have some incredible conversations
09:13
that have been previously
buried and sealed.
09:15
SK: They are asking the questions
that we are so afraid to ask,
09:18
so that we don't end up
in sticky situations.
09:23
TKM: That's true.
09:25
And another space that we've been seeing
the charting of a new sexual path
09:26
is by queer women
and their engagement in kink.
09:30
SK: Now, think "Fifty Shades of Grey"
09:35
without the creepy rich guy
who does not understand consent.
09:37
(Laughter)
09:42
TKM: So one fascinating subset of kink
is actually rope play.
09:43
SK: Shibari, also known as Kinbaku,
is the Japanese art of rope play.
09:48
Originally used as a means
of restraining captives,
09:52
it became sexualized
and spreading across the globe
09:57
as a kinky form of restraint
with a respected and erotic aesthetic.
10:00
TKM: And it landed on our shores.
10:05
Who would have thought that African
queer women would be kinksters?
10:07
Coming from a history of sexual violence,
slavery and a lack of bodily autonomy.
10:11
Is it not too soon, you ask.
10:16
SK: No, it's not,
10:18
and these women have taught us
that despite the dark history
10:19
that covers the body of women
from our beautiful continent,
10:23
these women are actively
and beautifully constructing
10:26
what sex and pleasure means to them.
10:29
TKM: This is not to say that everyone
now needs to rush out and engage in kink.
10:32
But if these queer women
can come out of a history
10:37
of, again, sexual violence,
slavery, colonization
10:40
and all manner of traditional,
religious and cultural pitfalls,
10:44
to reconceptualize what sex
and pleasure means to them,
10:48
then you can do it, too.
10:52
SK: You can do it too, boo-boo.
10:53
Yes, you can.
10:56
(Laughter)
10:57
TKM: It is in taking the ideas
that we have about sex -- the bad ones,
10:58
and head-butting them,
11:02
holding on to the good ones
and creating new ones
11:03
that we can have an incredible engagement
11:06
with one of the most prolific
and natural human acts ever.
11:09
SK: It's about figuring out
what counts as a system bug.
11:13
TKM: What to term a classic.
11:16
SK: And what new features we should add.
11:18
Human beings are infamous
for their superpower to upgrade.
11:20
This should count for our sex, too.
11:24
TKM: Thank you.
11:27
(Applause)
11:29

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About the speakers:

Tiffany Kagure Mugo - Curator, blogger, media consultant
The curator of HOLAAfrica, Tiffany Kagure Mugo is a wine bar philosopher who pontificates on all things and is willing to learn about everything else.

Why you should listen

Tiffany Kagure curates and creates knowledge on women and sexuality on the African continent, manages spreadsheets and creates conversations -- all the while trying to figure out how to adult. Founding and running HOLAAfrica helped to bring together her various skills as it demanded all of them, all the time.

A passion for making sure people had the orgasms and conversations that elude them whilst being given the comprehensive healthy knowledge of sexuality that eluded her meant that HOLAAfrica forced her to grow as a blogger, project creator and guru of excel spreadsheets. The need to have conversations about sex and sexuality, seeing what the novel ways this could be done whilst exploring what boundaries could be pushed meant that her life at the helm of HOLAAfrica and her personal consultancy work grew, and life got wild. Sometimes the best life choices come from trying to figure out how to get through your own existence.

More profile about the speaker
Tiffany Kagure Mugo | Speaker | TED.com
Siphumeze Khundayi - Photographer, theatre-maker, performer
Siphumeze Khundayi is founder and artistic director of HOLAAfrica, sparking conversations about sex and sexuality.

Why you should listen

Siphumeze Khundayi has found art to be a great tool for her to explore and express who she is. So she makes art about the experiences of African women and their sexuality. When she is not creating and performing, she is founder and Artistic Director of HOLAAfrica, where she gets to facilitate dialogues and make sure the site is looking pretty while annoying the curator for taking ages to reply to emails. She also dedicates her life to floating through the world having conversations with the universe, struggling through yoga poses, meditating, blowing bubbles and playing Candy Crush.

More profile about the speaker
Siphumeze Khundayi | Speaker | TED.com