To the Maasai, sexuality is a physical act (erepa, "to cling") between men and women, or between girls and adolescent boys. Homosexuality and masturbation are virtually non-existent. In fact, the former is an act beyond their comprehension. Whenever the topic is discussed, it raises vehement reactions. Masturbation is practiced by young uncircumcized boys; they are also said to relieve their sexual urges by copulating with donkeys. However, these acts are considered to be activities of children and beneath the dignity and pride of adult Maasai.
The promiscuous "nature" of men is recognized. Just like the bull in the herd, a man will search for mating partners (women) everywhere he goes (meiki oloing'oni enkang nabo, "the bull cannot stay in one homestead only"). In contrast, women are expected not to show sexual desire overtly by initiating or taking a lead in the act itself, but they are acknowledged to have their special ways of communicating their wishes.
In Maasai thought, sexuality is closely linked to fertility, but also to pleasure and joy. The sexual relationships practiced within versus outside marriage are conceptualized very differently by Maasai of both sexes. Inequality is built into the relationship between spouses, while lovers are related as equals. Marriages in the Maasai community are traditionally arranged by others than the partners involved, except in the case of elderly men taking a second or third wife. Conjugal sex is first and foremost to have children, prosper, and metaphorically to create "life" (enkishon). The obligation of performing marital sex is clearly stated both by men and women; a Maasai man who has several wives will take great care in serving his wives equally in terms of sexual and other favors lest they become jealous of each other. In order not to conceive an "illegitimate" child, women, for their part, avoid receiving their lovers during the days immediately following menstruation, when they think they are most fertile.
While marital sex is for procreation, sex before or outside marriage is looked upon mainly as pleasure and entertainment without child-bearing obligations. The Maasai claim that they enjoy sexual contacts outside marriage because these relationships give them a measure of freedom and choice not inherent in marital sex; people meet secretly and small tokens of love in the form of presents (bead ornaments, money) and love songs are exchanged between partners. A man without lovers—an unthinkable phenomenon in Maasai culture—would not wear the typical Maasai beaded jewelry as it is not common practice for wives to prepare such ornaments for their husbands. Instead, they make them as presents for other men.
In the Maasai culture, sexuality is associated with physical strength, nutritious food (meat, blood), and health. A healthy person is also sexually active. The most "healthy" individuals in the Maasai society are the unmarried men (l6—30 years) of the moran age group. For long periods of time, they withdraw to secluded places in the bush (pl. ilpul, olpul, "meat camps") where they devour large quantities of meat, blood, and soup. To enhance their health and bodily strength further, various medicinal herbs are mixed in the soup. While at these "camps," the young men are not permitted to indulge in any sexual activity whatsoever, as it is held to drain their strength. When they "come out" from the bush, however, their sperm or blood (osarge) is said to be "hot," indicating that they are now sexually very potent and fertile. Infertile women seek the company of such men, as their virility and potential fertility may bring them luck (Talle, l988).
The sexual debut of Maasai girls occurs at a very young age (10-12 years). From this age and up to puberty, the girls are expected to associate only with the moran age group. They meet to dance and sing in special houses assigned to them in the homesteads (esoto) or at designated places in the bush (oloip, shade), and it is during these encounters that the girls and the morans have sex with each other. The meetings are conducted in a "romantic" aura, and the love relationships forged may continue clandestinely well beyond one of the parties' marriage to another person. However, owing to the difference in male and female marriage age, these lovers are not marriageable partners.
The Maasai have a rationale for the early sexual debut of girls. They claim that the semen of the morans helps, and is in fact almost a prerequisite for, girls to reach maturity and develop their breasts. Thus the young unmarried men have a direct role to play in women's physical development and achievement of fertility. In comparison, the uncircumcized boys, who are often far beyond puberty when they undergo the surgical operation, do not have any "legitimate" sex partners. They do not dare to associate with the young uncircumcized girls for fear of corporal confrontations with the morans, and in addition, by not being circumcized, they are still "impure" and girls and women shy away from them.
Maasai do not attach importance to the keeping of virginity until marriage. A virgin bride is looked upon as an awkward phenomenon and brings embarrassment on her family. Her virginity signifies that she may be what the Maasai refer to as an esinoni, a person who has no luck with the other sex.
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