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Illustration by Nathi Ngubane

Why the Rise of Homegrown African Porn Still Hurts Women the Most

On Ivorian revenge-porn, its links to rape culture, religious hypocrisy and the double standards about who can watch.

I was 11 when I watched my first porn. Someone had recorded it on a cassette, and I found it in a room. I remember feeling grossed out and weirdly excited by these people having sex in front of my eyes.

None of them looked like me, so I always associated porn with the "other." It was another world. Degrading, ridiculous and yet so shameful. Good African girls were not supposed to watch porn.

Or so I had been told by my Ivorian family when I got caught.


Porn Consumption and its Link to Macho Culture

There is a strong cultural belief, in many African countries such as Nigeria or Ghana, that porn is "un-African."

But, like blogger Cosmic Yoruba explains,

"Nollywood has long been seen as a means through which African cultures and mores are celebrated, thus, in the opinion of the morally panicked, sexually explicit scenes are demeaning because they show how the lack of moral values in the West is penetrating the African consciousness."

Saying that porn is inherently "un-African" would be denying the fact that porn, whether or not we like it, is consumed in many African countries. Yet, it remains a popular, dirty and yet open secret.

My aunties would always complain about their husbands watching porn frequently, and accidentally turning on the sound during dinner, letting their children hear the moans and screams of the actors. These women would also complain about their men's growing porn collection, either DVDs, or multiple videos hidden in folders on their computers. Despite complaining, the aunties would brush it off with the same, eternal excuse: "They are men. All men are like that."

Yet, I was the only one blamed for being a pervert.

I've always been told I had to be a good girl- have good grades, behave well, make my family proud, and that I shouldn't act white (whatever that means). But every time I went online, opened my browser's private viewing and went to my favorite porn sites, I didn't. I was rebellious, and I loved it. Who wouldn't? Porn wasn't simply something fascinating. It was a way for me to go against people's expectations of me.

"My aunties would always complain about their husbands watching porn frequently, and accidentally turning on the sound during dinner, letting their children hear the moans and screams of the actors."

The African hypocrisy when it comes to porn is often linked to the high rate of religious people. Indeed, more than half of the Ivorian population is religious. Thirty-eight percent are Muslim, 22 percent are Christian, and 17 percent believe in traditional African religions. Porn is an open secret that sells fairly well in Ivory Coast. You can find porn magazines everywhere—off- license magazines; pirated porn films at the street markets; subscriptions to the erotic TV channels via the television network, Canal + Horizon (a satellite TV service providing channels on demand) and, of course, online porn.

Amateur videos are among the most popular ones, along with western exports. Every now and then it makes the headlines of our national newspapers, feeding our appetite for scandalous stories.

The Rise of Revenge Porn in Ivory Coast

In 2009, a civil servant filmed himself having sex with his married intern. The film got leaked online and the woman was subsequently publicly humiliated. It is sad that most people don't seem to take into account the fact that her boss had power over her, and that she may have been a victim, forced to have sex to keep her job. Abandoned by her husband, she tried to kill herself.

In 2010, Abiba, a former contestant of the reality show Star Tonnerre (the Ivorian X-Factor) found herself in the middle of a controversy when a video of her having sex with two masked men appeared online. The backlash was ferocious. The young woman left the country for France. It has been said that her traditional Muslim family has disowned her, which they denied. They revealed that Abiba was blackmailed before the release of the video, and even attempted suicide. They believe that her ex-husband was responsible for leaking the video online.

"Ivorian men have certain expectations when it comes to sex: for women to behave like porn actresses, to be ready to have sex whenever men want it, and to agree to fulfill any sexual fantasy."

The young woman has disappeared from the public sphere ever since, trying to build a new life in France. Her partners in the film? Free as birds. Her story has been used as a cautionary tale: women shouldn't film themselves having sex with their partners, or they risk public humiliation for themselves as well as for their families. In porn, like in so many other aspects of life, the blame lies with women, who are punished for liking sex by being publicly humiliated. It is as if no one realizes that these women frequently have sex with other men and if they are to be blamed for these videos, so should their partners.

Many of the porn films leaked in the Ivory Coast are amateur films by scorned lovers or revengeful friends. The large number of amateur films may be because public outcry and humiliation of women in porn is so brutal that it discourages people from trying it professionally. Women see their faces on popular Ivorian websites where they are insulted and called "shameless" and "disgraceful." It can even go as far as people harassing their families, contacting their workplace and assaulting them. So-called online detectives find every bit of information they can about the women to humiliate them.

Ivorian men have certain expectations when it comes to sex: for women to behave like porn actresses, to be ready to have sex whenever men want it, and to agree to fulfill any sexual fantasy. Rape culture and porn make men less able to relate to women as sexual beings who have agency. It makes men more likely to view women like sexed dolls that should only have sex when and how men want it.

Despite that, a growing number of young men and women are trying to become porn stars, by doing online research, posting ads, or even calling directory enquiries providers to get more info on the subject. For those lucky enough to be paid, it offers a quick way to make money and gain fame.

The Future of Ivorian Porn

In many countries, sex education is not a priority at school. So porn does the job for young Africans. The same is true in Ivory Coast, where there have even been rumors of "initiation circles" held in private apartments where young people watch porn and "sex educators" help them learn the moves.These so-called teachers use this opportunity to take advantage, plain and simple.The porn industry is about selling a fantasy, albeit a stereotyped one; as the only type of education truly available, it is a damaging one. Consequently, it has an impact on the way many Africans, whether they are teenagers (who are the highest consumers) or adults, view sex. It also gives men an excuse to justify their unrealistic expectations regarding sex and African women. In most porn films where they are featured, African women barely have any lines. There is no attitude to show, because they are denied agency or humanity in the first place. These films and the lack of agency of the actresses feed a dangerous, yet well- spread, belief that women's agency over their bodies and desire (or lack of) to have sex doesn't belong to them, but to men.


"I'm skeptical of the idea that a better, more humane representation in porn will help us, especially for black women who are so often dehumanized in the media."

Foreign porn industries, who are openly racist, have the power to produce such content, which has a clear impact on our daily lives. This means that we don't have control on the complex ways our sexualities are portrayed. African porn is slowly growing. Will it become an industry of its own, and not have to rely on imported films anymore?

One option to solve this problem, would be, of course, a homegrown Ivorian porn industry like there are in South Africa, and to a certain extent, Nigeria, with movies such as Destructive Instincts 3&4, directed by one of the only African woman directors, AfroCandy. But while having independent and conscious porn filmmakers and producers is a positive thing, it doesn't deter from the fact that porn is a product of the patriarchy.

I approve of the efforts of countless of porn stars, producers, directors, to create alternatives, but doing so does not make this industry any less sexist or damaging. I'm skeptical of the idea that a better, more humane representation in porn will help us, especially for black women who are so often dehumanized in the media. We are much more than just sexual beasts here to satisfy men. The porn industry is still owned by people who don't have African consumers' interests at heart, let alone African women. And as long as it is going to be that way, porn will, unfortunately, remain an industry which hurts women and their image.

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