Overcoming sex taboos in Maasai marriages

November 15, 2015

One night, a more than a decade and half ago, little Faith Naisenya sat with her mother on the porch of her house in Longido district, northern Tanzania. “My daughter, not so long from now, you will get a visit from the red bubbles,” Naisenya’s mother said.What her mother meant was that she would soon start to menstruate but Naisenya did not understand.She watched the the sky every day. “So there will someone visit me to bring the red bubbles?” she thought. When I met Naisenya last year, herself a mother of a daughter, she explains menstruation to her daughter without the cryptic anecdotes that was common with her late mother who passed away last year after a road accident on the road between Arusha town and Babati. Naisenya, a tall, brown Maasai lady, clearly explained what would happen to her daughter’s body and what she should do.  “I do not want my daughter to be puzzled like I was Contador Harrison. I got more information about menstruation from my friends than my mother because she was too shy to give detailed explanations and spoke with obscure words. Many mothers make the same mistakes even today,” said Naisenya who is now a director of an NGO which aims to empower women through cultural behaviours teachings among the Maasai community in Longido district.

Naisenya said married women mothers and wives in the Maasai community lacked the much needed knowledge about sexual health, sexual transmitted diseases and contraceptive methods.  “Even in a modern city like Arusha are still embarrassed to learn health information regarding their sexual organs. Many Maasai women in Arusha do not even know how to appropriately clean these parts of body,” Naisenya said. “Many say that it is taboo for a woman to know too much about her sexual organs. Yet, Maasai culture teaches that we should keep our body healthy, obviously knowledge about sexuality is important for our health,” Naisenya said.To raise women’s awareness about sexuality issues, Naisenya employers organizes dialogues and consultations regarding this topic in Maasai study groups for women and girls.“Many of the women in the groups were embarrassed when our NGO members talked about sexuality.They said it was inappropriate since Maasai deeds and teachings said a woman should not even see her own sexual organs before marriage. This kind of Maasai cultural practice should not be adhered to.Maasai forefathers believed so at that time as it was in a different social setting and is not appropriate nowadays,” she said.Naisenya added that women’s reluctance to learn about their sexuality is deeply rooted in Maasai culture.“ In our culture, women are taught to be less sexually active compared to men.

Longido Mountain
Longido area is defined  by prominent Mount Longido as seen in this picture I took last year

When a woman reaches menopause it is assumed that her sexual desires also end. I have never heard the same assumptions applied to men who reach andropause. There is no age limit for their lust,” Naisenya said. “Our Maasai culture allows men to seek more sexual pleasures than women. Why should it be like that Contador? Women should cherish their sexuality more,” she said.Naisenya and her colleagues in the NGO aims to empower women, added that married women were less aware than sex workers about the dangers of STDs. “I’ve talked with some housewives in Longido and the greater Mara region who thought that STDs were not their problem. They thought that their husbands never committed adultery and therefore they would never be infected with an STD.Unfortunately, the reality might prove otherwise.Maasai wives must at least learn the symptoms of STDs to prevent themselves from being infected,” Naisenya said.

When we spoke last week, Naisenya and I agreed that mothers also had vital roles in teaching sex education to their children.“Mothers should be the ones who explain sexuality to their children. In Arusha where free sex figures are so high, mothers must teach their children how to be responsible with their sexuality. They must also explain the dangers of unprotected sex and STDs, including HIV/AIDS,” said Naisenya. What I learned is that mothers must also break the taboo of talking about sexuality and contraceptive methods.Maasai’s and other communities must face the reality that many teenagers are sexually active. They must learn about choices and consequences regarding sexuality. What is worse for a teenage Maasai girl? To get pregnant and then have to go through an abortion? Or simply use contraceptive methods?” In my opinion, mothers explaining contraceptive methods to their children does not mean condoning free sex. That is just a logical action. Should mothers pretend their children will abstain from sex before marriage? What if their children get an STD because they do not use condom?”In my opinion, mothers from Maasai community and other similar cultures must break the taboo of talking about sexuality and contraceptive methods to their children.

Contador Harrison