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Love Matters (aka: My life in sexwork)

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Until recently, they called me Dr Africa Love. Sure, the title was usually spoken with a mocking tone… But still, being editor for Love Matters Kenya was rewarding work. Plus, it was a part-time gig. So I still had plenty of time to nurture other alter egos, such as Mr Canadian Peckerhead, Captain Cuddles of the Cosmos, Steve, etc.

A HOLE IN THE MARKET
Once upon a time, it all began in India – the land of the Kama Sutra. But it’s also where ‘how to kiss’ is the number one Google search – a situation both adorable and tragic.

The causes: 1) overly shy parents who aren’t sharing the basic facts of life with their kids, and 2) overly zealous politicians who actively pass laws to suppress the flow of these basic facts. But by 2009, most of the info-starved Indian youth had a mobile phone. They could now discretely pump in all their burning questions – on, for example, how to avoid the burning sensations brought on by sexually transmitted diseases. Unfortunately, these questions invariably landed them on porn sites – titillating perhaps, but not always fact-bound.

So what happens if you set up a website that answers all your basic questions and more? A website that is mobile-friendly, interactive, non-judgmental, non-preachy and based on the oddly radical idea that sex is pleasurable. And since sex is fun, people will naturally engage in the bouncy-bouncy. And if people do the bouncy-bouncy, they have the right to know the basics of bounce. And if people want to explore other bouncy urges that are perhaps considered ‘outside the norm’, they should also know the basics around these urges – before bouncing in half-cocked (as it were).

The result was Love Matters, an online platform ‘about love, sex, relationships and everything in between’ that indeed offered the basic facts, along with daily-published stories to jumpstart conversations on social media. Backed by RNW Media (the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide) and funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it became a huge success.

In short: Love Matters had found a hole in the market.

For more on my Love Matters column ‘Sex in the Press’ go HERE.

DIRTY TALK GOES VIRAL
I was asked in 2011 to help set up an African version of this website as the editor – beginning with Love Matters Kenya with eyes set on setting up similar versions for Uganda and Nigeria. So I tracked down local writers to write advice columns, blogs and testimonials. Helped pinpoint those taboos that were least talked about and that, in fact, needed the most talking about. Got my print-obsessed brain around online issues such as SEO and Google Analytics. Adapted the writing of international experts and educators to become more locally appealing. And edited all these different resources and stories into punchy mobile-friendly content that people would actually read – and then discuss endlessly on our Facebook page. Later, I would also supply content for a weekly page in the leading Kenyan daily The Star – around the same time I started to get openly mocked as ‘Dr Africa Love’.

By the time I made myself obsolete to a now purely Nairobi-based team, Love Matters Kenya had had 4.2 million sessions, 9.3 million page views and 750 000 followers on Facebook. It was the 15th biggest website in Kenya. It had won the AfriComNet Award for Excellence in Health Communication 2015 for best social/new media initiative, and was nominated for the Index on Censorship Award 2016 for digital activism.

In short: our team had kicked some ass (as it were).

SEX ALL OVER THE PLACE
Meanwhile, the India model (now in both English and Hindi) had also been successfully adapted for Egypt, Mexico, Venezuela and China – all places where access to basic bounce info is not what it might be. By 2016, Love Matters as a whole had attracted over 40 million visits and gathered 2.5 million followers on social media. In 2013, we won the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) Award for Excellence and Innovation in Sexuality Education – for “innovative work in reaching a large number of young people in challenging settings.” Love Matters was also mentioned by the United Nations as part of their manifesto guidelines on reproductive health.

While many noble NGOs – Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, etc. – promote sexual and reproductive health around the world, they’ve traditionally always had trouble reaching their target group: youth. Love Matters’ approach successfully bridges that gap.

In short: Love Matters figured out how to say “Don’t forget to wear a condom, folks!” in the nicest way possible.

MEN ARE SCREWED
Besides working with inspired writers and social media savants, my favourite part of the job was the editorial meetings with editors and sex-perts from the other regions. I always tend to get a bit sleepy during meetings. But here, I stayed saucer-eyed. Perhaps it was the subject. Or perhaps it was the fact that I was one of the few males in the crowd. Indeed, sexual and reproductive health work seems to attract more females – ones who, while committed to bringing down the appalling rates of maternal deaths and smashing the patriarchy, also like to point out that males are also screwed because they take more risks and therefore tend to die younger… So perhaps I stayed awake during these meetings because I felt the responsibility of representing our male target demographic – even if it was only by peppering any serious talks with fart jokes and by insisting to pronounce ‘taboo’ as ‘ta-boobie’.

Anyway, these editorial meetings were mostly about brainstorming, sharing best practices, discussing potential shared content, and – best of all – trading personal stories related to sex and relationships. Good times.

GRANDMA’S INTO ANAL
I have a particularly fond memory of a Cuban colleague talking about having breakfast with her father and grandmother in Havana. Abuela was sighing about how much she missed sex – it had been so very long ago. Her son then casually asked what she missed most about sex. The grandmother answered with another sigh: “I miss anal the most”. Of course as sexually-savvy as we considered ourselves, most of us at the table were still quite stunned by this tale. Glances were exchanged: Did she just say what we thought she said!? Her grandmother was into anal!? Was my grandmother also into anal!? Meanwhile, a Chinese colleague started to show signs of seizure. For a moment, I thought I might even have to do CPR on him. But he recomposed quickly.

Oh, we laughed. Cultural differences: you got to love them.

TA-BOOBIES BEYOND BORDERS
While sex is obviously the most universal thing going, each region has its own quirks. For example in India, people tend to ask more questions about the mechanics around sex – as witnessed by their obsessive searching for ‘how to kiss’. They also tend to worry about excessive masturbation and recessive penis size.

In Egypt, they often obsess about intact hymens (and, one assumes, the associated dangers of riding a bicycle down a bumpy street). My Arabic colleagues also had to come up with new vocabularies to talk about certain subjects – for example, replacing the standardly used Arabic phrase ‘secret habit’ with ‘self-pleasure’ so readers can have non-stigmatised conversations about wanking.

GAY’S OKAY, FGM IS NOT
Meanwhile in Kenya, we had our own evil underlying agenda (beyond our basic and happy ‘Hey don’t forget to wear a condom, folks!’). We wanted to promote such locally controversial ideas as ‘Gay is okay’ and ‘Female Genital Mutilation is not’. However, if you start preaching and/or publishing articles such as ‘Anal Sex: Top Five Facts’ or ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’ every half hour, you will alienate many readers.

So the trick is to, um, slip in the more edgy subjects only occasionally – to make them just another matter-of-fact subject in the sea that is human sexuality. But then again, time marches on and the taboos of yesterday, become the talk radio subjects of today. In fact, today in Nairobi, it’s hard not to tune into a radio show that isn’t talking about anal sex. (Sure, most callers still rate it as satanic, but at least they’re talking about it…)

LOVE NETWORKING 
I recently did a series of interviews with sex-perts from around the world. They all saw their jobs as discussing the under-discussed. The Chinese sexologist Fang Gang summarised it nicely: “The reason why taboos exist is that society regards human bodies as an object that needs to be disciplined. By disciplining human bodies, society is able to control individuals. Sexual organs are the most untamable part of human body. It’s the nature of our sexual organs to be free, untamed and to do what they will. This is also why the control over the human body centers on the control of genitals. But I believe bodies belong to individuals, not to society.”

Meanwhile, Fang aspires to be “a macho man that subverts tradition.”

Indeed, sex-perts also seem united through humour. The 90-something Indian Dr Mahinder Watsa – a family man who lost his virginity when Gandhi was still wearing a suit – has answered over 35,000 sex-related questions in various advice columns over the last 50 years. He’s somewhat old school on some subjects, but he’s always hilarious. To a young man wondering if his penis will shrink from excessive masturbation, the good doctor answered: “You talk a lot, does your tongue shrink?”

SEX ED FOREVER
So yes, perhaps this is a good time to stop talking. But before I do… Please, please, please: if you have any questions related to the heart and/or the loins, please share. I will find you the right person for the right answer. Don’t be shy – remember: sex ed should be considered a lifetime undertaking. Plus, it would be a shame to let Dr Africa Love’s international sex network go to waste.

For more on my Love Matters’ column ‘Sex in Press’, go HERE.

 

 

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Posted in Uncategorized 1 year, 3 months ago at 2:42 pm.

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