Almaz Ohene: A Letter To My Younger Self - The Way You Choose To Express Your Sexuality Is Valid

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Dear Younger Almaz,

At 31, you will be single through choice. But this will not surprise you, or define you.

You’ve never, ever, felt compelled to tie your self-worth to your ability to shrink who you are for the sake of the ‘relationship escalator’ – where settling down with one person, for the rest of your life is seen as the most worthy life goal.

You haven’t had a long-term partner since you were 20, when you felt pressured by society not to ‘sleep around’. But you’ll have a realisation that this is just the patriarchy trying to keep women trapped.

You sleep with whoever you want, whenever you want and are happily getting through dozens and dozens. As long as you practice safe sex, there’s no harm in that at all.

Your rampant, pleasure-seeking, experiences will lead you to become a professional sexpert. This is the story of how you became the sex educator that you wish you’d had.

Growing up as a woman of colour, you rarely see yourself reflected in the media – which is where lots of the world get their sex ed from – nor the materials created for sex educators. By the way, despite the trend for more honest depictions of women’s sexuality, even by 2020 the protagonists will almost always be Caucasian.

Take, for instance, the following commercial smash hits: Sex and the City, The L Word, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Girls, Catastrophe, Fleabag. Apart from all being smart and diverting depictions of women’s sexuality, the number of characters who aren’t Caucasian is tiny. Such erasure is crushing.

Encouraging and normalising free and frank discussion about sexuality from the perspective of a woman of colour, is something society desperately needs. Especially because women of colour experience negative reproductive and sexual health outcomes, in addition to barriers accessing sexual health and reproductive health care.

One day, you will take it upon yourself to create that representation, by launching your own web platform: ‘Kayleigh Daniels Dated’. It subverts the concept of ‘sex sells’ by pairing illustrated sexy stories with informative health features by expert writers.

I write about sexuality because I’m passionate about championing sex positivity. Sex positivity has defined my life and choices, but it often felt so absent from the cultural narrative while I was growing up.

When I was at school, Section 28, a law that stated that local authorities “shall not promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” was in place.

Until it was repealed in 2003, schools could not teach students about LGBTQ+-issues, or even acknowledge that homosexuality existed and has been accepted in different cultures throughout history. This was incredibly harmful, and many of the LGBTQ+ people I know and love still face stigma thanks to Section 28.

Things have improved lots since my school days, but most young people are still taught about marriage from a Western Anglo perspective. This just reinforces the message that heterosexual marriage is the ultimate goal – narrow views that I rejected long ago.

When I became a sex educator, I made it my mission to smash the patriarchy, one sexuality and pleasure workshop at a time.

I want my students to know that however they choose to express their sexuality is valid, and to develop values that embrace differing life choices. So when I lead workshops, I teach about the practices and historical facts that my school never did, about pre-colonial cultures with different views on sex, relationships and marriage.

I teach about Native American cultures that understand gender as a continuum and sexuality as fluid and the concept of ‘Two-Spirit’ that defines people who have a traditional third gender identity. It makes my students think critically about the European ideal of fixed and binary identities, and the many cultures that didn’t before colonial rule. As I share these realities with my students, I often see them experience that same affirmation I had.

Unlike my school education that didn’t even acknowledge homosexuality, I teach my students about how the reason for homosexuality being illegal in many African countries, is down to its criminalisation due to colonial laws brought in by the British in the 1800s. Many traditional African languages have words for gender variation and same-sex relations meaning homosexuality existed on the continent.

You’ll watch your students’ eye widen, as you teach about the practice of polygamy prior to colonialism, letting them in on the ‘secret’ that when we look back, we can see that modern ‘radical’ trend such as non-monogamy, were, historically, just a way of life in certain cultures.

It’s these moments when you will realise how powerful it can be to grow into a sex educator who decolonises your students’ way of thinking, as well as one who teaches the importance of pleasure.

So younger Almaz, older Almaz wants you to know that snogging J, blowing C and banging E in the same weekend is not morally reprehensible. They were all up for it, and so were you. That path was one of true self-discovery, and now you’re enabling others to open up and find themselves too, it’s the ultimate plot twist. Keep surprising them.

With Love From,

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