- The Storried Platform
CIRCUMCISED – By Liz Ajala
This is one of the many untold stories of women who have gone through female circumcision also known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). But before we begin, it is important to make it clear that “Every woman has the right to have sexual health and to feel sexual pleasure for full psychophysical well-being. FGM women with sexual dysfunctions can and must be cured; they have the right to have an appropriate sexual therapy”.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
Odinaka Okoro grew up in a simple family of six. Three girls, one boy, and both parents. Although they were not wealthy, they lived quite a comfortable life and all the children had the opportunity of basic education. Their parents had to make sacrifices such as selling the family’s only vehicle, a cherished Toyota Santana at some point but it was not surprising because both parents were teachers and knew exactly how invaluable it was to educate their children.
Mr Okoro as her father was popularly known in the local secondary school where he taught was a strict father who did not joke with his girls. It was rumoured that he had asked a family friend to leave his house during the naming ceremony of one the girls simply because the man joked about how much she was worth financially in marriage. He was known to be a loving father who catered to all their needs so that they would not get tempted by what men had to offer. As a Christian he even made a vow to God that all his daughters must marry as virgins.
It was not surprising when his three daughters grew up to be beautiful, intelligent and well-behaved girls, getting married in their twenties to promising young men. It was only then Mr. Okoro and his wife Grace could heave a sigh of relief as parents who had successfully completed their God-given responsibility of bringing up good Christian girls.
Odinaka the second daughter was the last of the three to get married. Her husband was an Efik guy whom she had known since secondary school but was not bold enough to openly associate with until they found themselves in the same class in the University of Nigeria Nsukka. He was a Christian with a good family background and graduated with a 2nd class upper therefore, getting her parents approval and blessings were not a difficult task. She too had been the most level headed of all her siblings and was generally thought to be their favourite child.
The wedding was a beautiful event to both old and young as it was clear these two young people were deeply in love. She was the envy of all her friends. And of course, her father made a big show of the fact that he was giving out his daughter as a virgin. It was indeed a feather in his cap. A dream come true.
After the wedding, Odinaka experienced the expected travails of a virgin during her first sexual intercourse and her wedding night remained an experience she would never forget but of course her husband being the understanding and sensitive man he did not mind but was rather proud of his trophy wife which he would later boast about to his friends.
The first one year of their marriage was an extended honeymoon all the way. All they needed was each other and a simple glance could turn them on and lead to a long passionate session of lovemaking. Oh! How Odi missed her husband when he went to work it seemed like ages and all through the day, they exchanged messages expressing their anticipation to see each other again in the evening.
He literarily prepared her by enumerating the new things he wanted them to try out in bed and showered her with words of love and appreciation which made her feel like the luckiest woman in the world. She often wondered to herself why people said marriage was difficult because she couldn’t imagine anything difficult about loving and being loved whole heartedly. Every other thing just seemed to fall into place.
The birth of their first child a year later brought the first signs of strain to their beautiful marriage. Odinaka had experienced a difficult pregnancy; constantly in and out of the hospital and the birth of their son was through a caesarean section. The healing period was slow but she had her mum around to nurse both she and the baby so she went through it with ease.
Of course, the demands of the baby and the financial responsibility that came with it had begun to tell on Etuk and he worked long hours at work just to meet up. He could hardly sleep at night because of the baby’s cries and even his usual dose of sex to ease the stress and tension was not so forthcoming from his wife. Each morning, he left for work tired and irritated.
Odinaka, noticed all this but kept assuring him it was just for a while and in a few months Mama would be gone and the baby will be off to crèche. The plan was for her to get a job to support the family and she looked forward to it because she believed if her husband had less to worry about, all will be well again.
In no time, things fell into place and Odinaka began working in a law firm similar to her husband’s own but with a little less pay as she insisted she had to close by 5pm to pick her baby from the crèche. Each day, she would hurry out of the office by 5pm, stop by at the market to buy some foodstuff, get to crèche just in time to pick Ime and hurry home with him to make dinner for her husband and prepare for the next day.
It seems like a comfortable routine only that by the time she was done with all the housework and put Ime to sleep, she was dead tired and could only think of getting a few hours of sleep before day break.
Etuk on the other hand, after a long day at work, expected only three things: Food, sex, and sleep… and some TV time if possible. So he was often disappointed when he got home to good food, a tired wife, and a crying baby. As the loving and understanding man he was, he tried hard not to complain but with each passing day, it became a constant cause for concern.
He missed all those days of returning home to the loving embrace of his wife and to an evening spent in her arms. Most times in the past, they would just sit together on the sitting room carpet, eating dinner, gisting and watching TV until she either fell asleep or their cuddles progressed to an impulsive but fulfilling time of lovemaking right there on the floor.
What had happened to his ever smiling, ever cheerful Odi as he fondly called her. Even her frowns used to be a turn on for him back then. These days, she still smiled but not so often as her eyes often looked tired and worried. Her sense of humour had diminished a great deal too.
All their conversations now bothered around her annoying boss at work, the baby’s allergy which surfaced every now and then, the bills yet to be paid and the nagging backache she had developed from backing the baby while doing housework. There was hardly time to talk about themselves or their future plans. As a good husband, he listened attentively but craved to just kiss her lips shut and show her how much he loved and missed her instead.
Every day, he thought of ways to make their lives more comfortable. He bought a washing machine, put a TV in the Ime’s room to keep him quiet and busy, and bought some scented balm to massage her back every night. All these seemed to ease the tension for a while but their sex life didn’t improve as expected. Most times, she would fall asleep the minute he started the massage which he hoped would eventually lead to sex. Each time it happened, his frustration mounted.
It took a whole year for both of them to come to terms with the fact that their relationship had truly deteriorated. Etuk had gradually become quiet and withdrawn. The once fun and exciting husband and father was now sober and serious about everything, getting irritated at the slightest chance. He began to notice all the things about her and their home that wasn’t right such as her cooking and dressing.
Odinaka knew something was wrong with her… yes her not him. Of course, she still loved her husband and would do anything to make him happy but she just couldn’t resuscitate those strong feelings she had experienced at the beginning of their marriage. It was three years now and their lovemaking had dwindled to once a week and none whenever she saw her period, it was limited to night time, in the bedroom with the lights off. She missed the long hours of romantic foreplay and passionate sex they had enjoyed often. These days, it almost felt like a routine.
Etuk would touch her only when he wanted sex and hardly had time for long foreplay. Sometimes, he wouldn’t say a word all through the process. Well, maybe an occasional ‘I love you’ in the heat of passion. It was almost like he was acting out a script: kiss, touch here and there, penetrate, climax, clean up and doze off. Most times, he left unfulfilled but she was left feeling empty and unsatisfied.
It got so bad that the minute he tried to show her some affection, she would cringe and her body would become all tensed because she knew sex was on the way. It secretly became an ordeal she had to endure and avoided if she could. Where was the beauty of sex people spoke so much about and couldn’t wait to have before marriage? Was it so short lived? She wondered.
Sometimes it hurt, other times, her body simply refuse to respond. Even she, could not explain why. She longed to have a healthy sex life and tried to bring up images of the great times they had shared in the past just to motivate herself but it only worked briefly.
She even spent time online doing some research and read books on sex but there was so much material out there to choose from and a good number of them advocated pornography, masturbation and sex toys as the solution to frigidity. All these did not appeal to her because of her strict Christian background which labelled them ‘tools of the devil’.
On a few occasions, she had broached the subject with her husband but all he said was that she was being insensitive to his needs as a man. He went further to say he had tried all the tricks he knew and heard worked on the average woman but couldn’t understand why none of them worked on her. He accused her of being selfish and taking him for granted because she knew he wouldn’t go out to sleep with other girls.
Odinaka had tears in her eyes. How would she explain to the man she loved that she too had unfulfilled sexual needs and was at a loss why it took so much for her to experience the pleasure of sex? How could she explain that it was not a deliberate act on her part to punish and frustrate him? Of what benefit would that even be to her?
A few weeks later, when tempers had cooled and the mood seemed right, she brought up the topic again and this time Etuk asked her a question that she hoped would take care of their problems:
He said “Odi, please tell me, how do you want me to touch you? What can I do to make you desire me and respond to me again? What am I NOT doing right?” It was the voice of a deeply pained and frustrated man and it brought tears to her eyes. Odinaka had waited for a long time to hear this but now the question was here, she didn’t know how to respond.
She tried to explain that she wanted more foreplay, she wanted the progression from touching her with her clothes on to gently stripping her naked, she wanted him to talk to her, tease her, play with her… she struggled to express herself as the words poured out tumbling over one another. Even she, could not clearly communicate her needs because she did not understand them.
Her husband stared at her looking even more confused, he held her gently trying to console her, she broke down crying in his arms and within seconds they shared a wonderful love-making experience like none they’d had in a long time. Maybe it was the talk, maybe it was the emotions involved, Odinaka could not explain it.
There was just something different about this one. Their heart seemed to connect again. Hope was rekindled as both of them seemed to come alive again. They bathed, laughed and gisted in the bathtub like best of friends again.
A few weeks later, Odinaka’s sister Uche called her from America where she lived with her husband. She was crying over the phone and Odinaka was alarmed. She had been in touch with her sister but had not spoken with her for over two months as she had been quite preoccupied with her own personal issues. She had forgotten to call to check on Uche now here she was, crying bitterly over the phone. She feared the worst.
“Uche, ogini?” she tried to ask “what happened? Is Emeka alright?” Emeka was her sister’s husband of 4 years. Uche was her younger sister, who had gotten married a year before her but was yet to have a child. They had all been praying for her. She managed to say Emeka was okay and Odinaka heaved a sigh of relief. She tried to listen hard to understand what her sister was saying amidst sobs.
“Circumcised? Who? When? Mama?” Odinaka did not want to believe what she was hearing. She moved to a seat by the window to get some air and tried to digest what her sister had just said. Her gynaecologist in the US had just broken the news to her that she had been circumcised as a child and this had led to some complications affecting her fertility.
Uche had immediately called Mama who confirmed that all three girls had been circumcised in a bid to preserve their virginity. It was their way of protecting them from promiscuity. Mama had explained that it was for their own good. Odinaka broke down in tears.
Not just for her sister but for herself. The pieces of the puzzle began to come together in her head and it all started to make sense to her. Could this be why she has been struggling to enjoy a fulfilling sex life with her husband? No wonder it took so much for her to experience pleasure. No wonder… so all she had been going through for the past two years of her marriage was due to her parent’s ignorance and selfish ambitions?
Until this moment, she had never considered she was different from other girls. There had never been a need for a physical examination of her body as she had her baby through an elective caesarean section. Is that what Etuk meant by saying what worked for other girls did not work for her? But how come she had enjoyed sex the first few months of marriage?
These and many more questions flooded her mind. Odinaka struggled to put her thoughts together but she failed as she only burst out crying saying: “Papa! Mama! you have killed me!” ‘My marriage is finished!” “Oh God! How can I live with this for the rest of my life?” “what did I do to deserve this punishment?”
She thought of running away, suicide, divorce all in one minute. She felt sad for her husband who would have to go through a life time of torture because of her sexual handicap. “He is a good man and doesn’t deserve this” she said to herself. “I have to let him go. Let him get another wife or something”.
But deep down within, she could not imagine a life without him and she was convinced he wouldn’t even hear of it. Yes, Etuk was one of the few good men left on the planet. Odinaka knew her husband may be disappointed but he would stick with her. After all, they took a vow on their wedding day – for better for worse.
These thoughts led her to begin searching for a solution. She went online and researched FGM – Female Genital Mutilation as it was commonly known. Its history, process, effect and of course cure. She desperately wanted someone to tell her it could be cured.
After a few days of research, the term “sexual therapy” jumped out at her in one article she had decided to read just as she was giving up. Could that really be a solution to her problem? She suddenly felt a heavy weight lifted off her shoulder. What if she could convince Etuk to see a sex therapist with her? Of course, he would. Deep down she knew he still loved her and would be happy to give it a try.
Odinaka still clearly remembered their early days of intimacy and romance. The more she thought about it the more certain she was that all they needed was an understanding of her sexual peculiarity and an opportunity to learn what worked or did not work with her sexually.
It was like a student with a learning disability for whom the teacher needed to devise or adopt creative ways of teaching the same subjects taught to other students. Of course, it would require a lot of patience and commitment from both teacher and student and Odinaka was sure both she and Etuk had those qualities.
After all, they had no other choice. For them, It was ‘till death do us part’. Her husband would definitely go to any length to make their relationship blossom again. They were both going to learn to love again in a new way that would test the strength of their love. Now, where could they get this help in Nigeria?
With this discovery Odinaka felt a new kind of strength within her. She was excited and scared at the same time. She could hardly wait for her husband to return from work so she could share the good news with him. She certainly didn’t want to talk about it over the phone. A few minutes later, Etuk called to say he had news for her and he would let her know what it was when he got back home. Odinaka didn’t mind the suspense; she too was struggling to keep her news to herself.
Exactly two hours later, Odinaka heard the doorbell and rushed to the door in excitement to welcome her husband. She was surprised to see that he was not the only one at the door. Beside him stood a beautiful young lady, obviously younger than her but pregnant. She smiled politely and turned to her husband for an introduction. It was strange of him not to let her know he was coming home with a guest, especially in the evening. Well, thank god she was decently dressed.
Rather than an introduction Etuk gave her a strange look that instantly wiped the smile off her face. He couldn’t even look her in the eyes. Suddenly realization dawned on her. No it couldn’t be.
She looked from the woman to her husband and back again as tried to shake the negative thought from her head then Etuk started to speak “Odi, forgive me, It was a mistake, you know I’m only human…” Odinaka did not hear the rest of his statement as her mind went blank and her legs gave way beneath her.
Sexual behaviour is a result of interaction of biology and psychology. Sexual excitement of the female can be triggered by stimulation of erotogenic areas; part of which is the clitoris. Female circumcision is done to minimize sexual desire and to preserve virginity. Female circumcision can reduce female sexual response, and may lead to anorgasmia and even frigidity.
Circumcision of females or female genital mutation (FGM) is a cruel procedure, a cultural tradition, which deprives women of sexual satisfaction, exposes them to psychological and physical complications. It is now prohibited by law in many countries, but this is not sufficient to eradicate it. Together, we can lend our voice to change this crude and dehumanizing cultural beliefs. #IstandagainstFGM
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By Liz Ajala
This is one of the many untold stories of women who have gone through female circumcision also known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). But before we begin, it is