Sexuality

Generalizing about Igbo attitudes toward sexuality is extremely difficult because so much variation exists based on axes of diversity such as age/generation, education, socioeconomic status, religious affiliation, and degree of urban experience, but also because attitudes to sexuality are often contradictory. Broadly, Igbo attitudes about sexuality are much more restrictive for women than for men, particularly with regard to premarital and extramarital relations. With rises in the average age at first marriage over the past several decades, the length of time between sexual maturity and nuptuality has increased dramatically. Though many elders maintain an ideal that sexual intercourse should occur only after marriage (especially for women), and though the association between ideas about sexuality and beliefs about procreation/reproduction are very strong in Igbo society, for many young people premarital sexuality is linked to the construction of a modern identity (Smith, 2000). Most young Igbos, both male and female, engage in sexual relationships before marriage. Though young women's sexuality is more closely scrutinized than young men's, as long as a girl does not have a child before marriage, having had premarital sex is usually no obstacle to marriage. Within marriage, Igbos generally view regular sexual relations as healthy, and the idea that both men and women experience and are entitled to sexual pleasure is widely accepted. The gender disparity in attitudes about sexuality is most profound with regard to extramarital sexuality (Smith, 2001b). Male extramarital sexual relations are common and carry little stigma. In fact, male extramarital sexuality is often symbolically rewarded in male peer groups, particularly in urban and elite contexts. For women, extramarital sexual relations are extremely risky and heavily stigmatized. Once a woman is married, it is expected that she will remain sexually faithful to her husband.

Igbo conceptions of male and female sexuality are in many ways contradictory, especially in male discourse. Men are viewed as needing sex more than women and are supposed to be the initiators or aggressors in sexual relationships. Women are supposed to be more passive, yet the idea that women are sexually dangerous and that men can be manipulated by women's sexual power is also prevalent (Smith, 2001b). Sexual banter between men and women is relatively common, but physical modesty is expected for both men and women. The increasingly immodest dress that is becoming more popular in urban areas is viewed somewhat scandalously by elders and in village communities generally. Some scholarship suggests that precolonial Igbo society was sexually more liberal than during the colonial and early postindepen-dence period, with children and adolescents provided socially accepted avenues for sexual experimentation and both men and women freer to take extramarital lovers (Uchendu, 1965b). In contemporary Igboland the relative taboo of open discussion of sexuality contrasts with the prevalence of nonmarital sexual relations.

Igbo society is quite striking for its lack of any overt cross-sex identification and an almost complete denial of any form of male or female homosexuality. A study of homosexuality in this strongly dual (hetero) sex society is badly needed, though it would be very difficult to undertake.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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