Image courtesy of 'The Spread'

'The Spread' Is the Sex-Positive Kenyan Podcast Offering a Safe Space for Women and LGBTQIA+ Issues

'The Spread' is the podcast dedicated to "decolonizing" the way Africans talk about sex and sexuality, say it's creator Karen Kaz Lucas.

Karen Kaz Lucas is the revolutionary brainchild behind Africa's best-known sex positive podcast, The Spread. Three years in, the 52 podcast episodes, covering a range of diverse topics including: The Male-Female Pleasure Gap, Sex positive parenting, LGBTQIA+ issues, Kink, Reproductive Rights, and Porn vs. Reality, has listeners ranging from 6,000 to 21,000 and episode on SoundCloud.

Recently, The Spread had its first major event TheSpreadFest, a day-long event attracting over 600 people with diverse panels, workshops and more. It's been hailed as a truly safe and inclusive space for people of all sexual identities. Okayafrica contributor, Ciku Kimeria speaks to The Spread creator Kaz on her journey to decolonize sexuality, her motivation, and her hopes for the continent relating to matters of sex and sexuality.

Read the conversation below.

Karen Kaz LucasImage courtesy of 'The Spread'

What made you start The Spread podcast?

It was to address the key gaps in discussions around sex and sexuality and to create a safe space to discuss them. Younger people were either learning about sex from porn or on the flip side from a religious standpoint or the education system, where the focus is on the risks of engaging in sex (teen pregnancy, STIs etc). As such they were either getting information from a fear-based system, shame-based system or porn that has very little to do with real life sexual situations and intimacy. I wanted to create a safe space where people could talk about all issues related to sexuality but in an open, accepting and enlightening way. For me, this is an informal form of sex education that allows people to explore their sexuality from an unbiased perspective—no judgement, no shaming.

What's the reception been like so far?

The reception has been overwhelmingly positive. I had no idea that the podcast would grow and be as successful as it is now. People are hungry to meet similar people and have discussions without judgement. Of course, there are also people who react negatively to my work and say that this is a result of "Western influence." To those people, I say that they should know that the majority of my work is focused on decolonizing sexuality.

Great transition. I first saw the term "decolonizing sexuality" in your Instagram bio. What exactly does that mean?

Prior to Western intrusion, we already had our own sexual culture. I'm trying to remind people that certain things we embrace as "African" and defend when it comes to sex and sexuality, are elements that came to us through religion, Westernized education etc. The shame associated with sex and sexuality on the continent are remnants of Western teachings.

Prior to colonization many ethnic groups had religious healers who were neither considered male nor female but were gender fluid or intersex. There were ethnic groups that didn't base gender on anatomy but on energy. Gender fluidity on the continent was observed even more than you would find in the most liberal country right now. For some, you could physically have male features but possess female energy and live as a woman. Some people worshipped androgynous or intersex deities and believed that the perfect human being is both male and female. Certain tribes did not ascribe a gender to anyone until the age of puberty. In other communities, their priests were transgender, and they were the only ones who could conduct certain spiritual ceremonies. There is evidence that for several ethnic groups gay and lesbian relationships were not taboo. Unfortunately, a lot of this history has not been publicized or it is being revised as it does not fit in well with the idea that the continent is trying to now uphold as a patriarchal, heteronormative society. That is why the work of decolonizing sexuality is extremely important as we now have a generation that is open to questioning themselves. The generation of our parents lived in a time of oppressed and suppressed sexuality (among other things) as they themselves or their parents had suffered the colonial rape and pillage [both literally and metaphorically] of their lives. All they could carry was anger and fear. To survive they had to conform to what the oppressor enforced on them through religion, western education etc.

[Recently deceased] Kenyan writer and gay activist, Binyavanga Wainaina clearly outlines how it is only former British colonies that have anti-sodomy laws, which came during colonial times from the fear that British soldiers and colonial administrators would be corrupted by the natives while they were away from their wives. The law, the fears by the British government at the time, really are proof that some of the natives were already practicing sodomy.

Image courtesy of 'The Spread'

What for you is the link between sex positive work and women's empowerment?

The average person might think that the type of work I'm doing is frivolous, but the reality is that when a society believes they have any right over women's bodies, we see all the terrible things that happen to women: rape, rampant femicide, violence against women and more. Reclaiming your sexuality as a woman is about asserting your own authority over your body—declaring the right to fulfilling, consensual sex of your own liking, the right to having children, or not having children if you don't want to, postponing or terminating a pregnancy. Once we accept the policing of women's bodies, it's a slippery slope.

Feminism is about women having equal rights and opportunities as men, and that also extends to their sex lives. My body, my choice. For those who are always ready to bash feminism, seeing it as women somehow trying to take over, dominate men, oppress men etc. They should realize that the only reason feminism exists, is because we live in a patriarchal world. Women are at the bottom of the rung, oppressed in thousands of ways. All we are trying to do, is get the same rights that men take for granted. Of course, to the ones who hold power, it will feel like a loss of power.

This is the reason why the topics we cover span everything from women's sexual pleasure to gender-based violence to LGBTQIA+ rights to women's reproductive health. All these discussions must happen in tandem.

Let's talk about the state of affairs in Kenya around various key issues, starting with female reproductive rights.

I'm working very closely with two organizations working on women's reproductive rights and abortion rights. The problem in Kenya is that there is so much misinformation. I plan to release a video very soon on the topic. I only recently found out all public hospitals in Kenya provide post-abortal care. Even though, abortions are illegal except in certain circumstances, post-abortal care is available throughout the country. Lack of information makes women especially vulnerable to the influence of quacks, back-alley doctors, or police who threaten them with imprisonment if they don't pay exorbitant bribes. The Kenyan law is that you are not allowed to administer an abortion unless the health of the mother or child is in danger. Health also includes mental health. As such, people with severe depression or suicidal thoughts do legally qualify for abortions, but most people don't know this.

Image courtesy of 'The Spread'

What about on the issue of sexual violence against women and children?

Sexual violence against women and children isn't taken as seriously as it should be. Sensitivity training across police stations is still lacking. Rape is extremely underreported in the country as most people don't expect to be treated with discretion, sensitivity or any consideration once they do get into the system. I did a whole video series years back interviewing female rape survivors and their experiences highlight the challenges with our police system including the trivialization of the crime by police officers who consider rape almost routine, given how often this happens. The statistics are masking the issue, rape survivors don't know who to turn to and feel completely isolated. The issues of male sexual violence against men isn't even spoken about as the survivors fear further shunning and stigmatization from society. Kenya doesn't yet have the right structures—including mental health structures—to deal with the normalization of rape and sexual violence against women.

In 2015 three men gangraped a teenage girl as she was on her way home from her grandfather's funeral. After the attack, they dumped her in an open sewer, leaving her with a spinal injury that has confined her to a wheelchair. When the men were taken to the police station, their punishment was to cut the grass around the police station. The incident made it to the news, sparking international outrage, resulting in a signed petition and leading to protests in the country demanding #justiceforliz. As a result, the men were eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison. While we can celebrate this particular win, it also makes us reflect on all the other hundreds of thousands of cases, where the survivors remain silent or seek justice, but never get it.

What about LGBTQIA+ rights?

The definition I adhere to for this group is actually a longer, more confusing acronym, but also one I hope makes more people feel included. LGBTQQIAPPK, which is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual & transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, polyamourous, pansexual and kink.

We have some cause for celebration, but also a very long way to go. We were hopeful recently when the High Court reviewed the key law banning gay sex, but unfortunately, they chose to uphold it. Last year, we did have a small win when the courts deemed unlawful the use of forced anal exams to test whether two men had sex.

The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights commission of Kenya are doing a really great job in trying to get colonial era penal codes repealed. They are the legal team behind the court cases for the repeal of these laws. From a legal standpoint it's great, but from a social standpoint, it's still so sad that our binary understanding of gender is tied to what the colonizers forced on us. The worst argument is when people say that any deviation from the heteronormative narrative is "un-African." My question then is "Do you really know your history? Are you willing to educate yourself and to take off the yoke of colonialism and even consider the idea that what you consider normal is based on systems that came to you through oppression and repression?

For a country that is so progressive in many ways, this particular issue still remains an uphill battle.

Image courtesy of 'The Spread'

What about women's sexuality, sexual pleasure?

All the events we have are 95% women. Men are scared to admit they might not know it all. Society paints them to be macho and [makes them think] that they should somehow know it all, but they are scared to learn about their sexuality as they feel that it will take away from their masculinity. For women, it's empowering. Men are frightened about women learning and embracing their sexuality.

I want to be a part of this revolution, spearheading it on the continent.

Finally, tell us about The Spread Fest and your plans for it?

Our objective for the festival is to foster learning, inspiration and wonder—and to spark conversations that matter. The aim is to be more empathetic about our diversity, but also to leave people knowing more about sex and sexuality. This year we had 600 people in attendance, 5 panels, one workshop and it was a full day event. Next year, we plan to double everything.

Image via TONL

Breaking Tradition: Africans Told us What they Think of Open Marriages, Sexual Taboos, Polygamy & More

We asked our readers to share their thoughts on non-traditional relationships. Here's what they said.

When it comes to navigating sex and relationships as an African on the continent or in the diaspora, there are certain topics that we might find hard to speak about openly—even if we have strong opinions.

Though we live in a world that is seemingly more progressive than ever—certain subjects still remain taboo, especially as they relate to sexuality. Some might argue that another layer of stigmatization is added for Africans, many of whom come from conservative households. What about having children outside of marriage? Common in some cultures but frowned on in others. Polygamy—definitely traditional in some places but to others, offensive.

Haven't we've all wondered these things at some point or another? So, why not just address them head-on?

We asked OkayAfrica readers a few questions about relationships that are commonly considered "nontraditional," and what we received were colorful, honest responses that prove that it's much easier to talk about these subjects than you might have thought. Read them below.

Are you currently in, or have you ever been in a non-traditional relationship? If so what type?

Three young African women sit on the grass. One is reading a book.

How do you define your romantic relationships?

Photo via TONL

We gave people wide leeway to define non-traditional relationships so it was no surprise that when given the opportunity to reveal their feelings, many did. We got a handful of respondents living in traditional polygamous relationships, while others—mostly in the US—defined a similar situation as polyamorous, while others described situations that while technically cheating, were tolerated if practised under the radar. Here are some of the answers.

"Yes I am. I am in an open relationship with my Soulmate. We don't have sex but we do everything else a couple would do. We both have multiple sex partners and we are both bisexual." –– Dee, 50, Nigerian

"Yes. Polygamous." –– Anonymous 29, South African

"Yes. I was polyamorous and my partner was bisexual. I'm single now." –– Anonymous, 34, Nigerian

"I have been in an open relationship. We did so because of the distance, to release pressure on said relationship." –– Amanda Gielen, 27, Ivorian-Dutch

I have been dating a married man for two years. I'm almost certain his wife knows. But she has chosen to turn a blind eye.

"Yes, an open polyamorous relationship, and have been before." — Michelle, 37, Afro-Puerto Rican

"I've been unmarried all my life, but have enjoyed serially monogamous relationships since I was a child, and have occasionally lived with a paramour, as I have for the past 23+ years. Having had no sex with him for nearly a dozen years, I have cheated twice, briefly (which my loving but under-sexed mates never discovered). But during both times, the adjunct relationship was unfulfilling. Besides—cheating isn't cool." –– Anonymous, 53, African-American

"Yes I am. I have been dating a married man for two years. I'm almost certain his wife knows. But she has chosen to turn a blind eye. I sometimes wish her and I could meet and discuss our expectations from each other and our shared Significant Other. It would also help to have someone who has experiences with him to get to understand him better." –– Anonymous, 40, South African

How do you feel about open marriages?

People of color at a long table having a dinner party.

Can people in open marriages all get along?

Photo via TONL

Unsurprisingly this question elicited a wide range of responses from hard nos to enthusiastic yeses. But many saw nuance between those two positions. Others said while it wasn't for them, they respected the people who could make it work.

"No, there's no point. Don't marry, it defeats the point. Stay single and enjoy yourself." –– Anonymous, 30, Black British

"They require maturity, understanding, and honesty." –– Anonymous, 34, Nigerian

"I believe love and sex are two separate things. Making sex the height of love is harmful, especially to women. There are multiple reasons someone might want an open relationship. I have a friend that's currently in an open relationship because their girlfriend has a very low sex drive and just doesn't like having sex. Everybody's happy with the arrangement. I personally don't see a problem with an open marriage." –– Anonymous, 21, Sierra Leonean

"Not for me. Personally it nullifies the idea of "forsaking all others" when you say your vows. However, some people are able to separate physical and emotional fidelity/intimacy in that way and if they like it—I love it." –– Ene, 32, Nigerian

"[It's] antithetical to the idea of marriage." –– Anonymous, 23, Nigerian

"Marriage means different things to different people. I would not do it. I find it strange and think it requires a lot of emotional labor to maintain any kind of emotional/sexual/romantic relationship with more than one person who isn't really a part of your main relationship." –– Candace Young, 46, African-American

"Not a good way to foster a wholesome relationship." –– Anonymous, 26 British-Nigerian

"If it fulfills everyone's requirements in the relationship, I approve of it. However it has to be based on core principles and not just selfish lust." –– Id, 21, African (specific country not listed)

"When I was younger I believed in monogamy, but life has taught me different. I am currently happy in an open relationship."—Dee, 50, Nigerian

What do you think of cohabitation? Would you do it before marriage or no?

Two young queer women in a relationship.

Would you move in with your boyfriend, girlfriend or partner before marriage?

Photo via TONL

A practice that is the norm in many parts of Europe or North America was faced with pretty widespread skepticism by respondents with many asking why anyone would subject themselves to the difficulty of cohabitation without putting a ring on it first.

"I've tried it and won't do it again, unless it's with someone who is mature enough to love and understand me." Anonymous, 34, Nigerian

"Cohabitation is frowned upon in the Nigerian community. We find it hard to understand why you would cohabitate when you could simply have a "small wedding." But for whatever reason it can be necessary. It serves its purpose." –– Vee, 22, Nigerian

"Certainly, but not for a prolonged period if it weren't leading to a mutually agreed on goal (ie. Marriage or domestic partnership). I think it's important to get a sense of each other's habits and space needs. I'd wanna know things like how you squeeze the tube of toothpaste, and 'over or under' toilet paper roll set up..." –– Ene, 32, Nigerian

"Coming from a religious family, I used to think it was wrong but now that I'm older and independent I think it makes a lot of sense. You never really know a person until you live with them and have to deal with literally every part of who they are." –– Keneiloe, 24, South African

"I think it can work but there should be a time limit." –– Anonymous, 31, South African

What are your thoughts on polygamy (having multiple husbands or wives) or having multiple married partners in general?

Spraying money at Nigerian weidding. Green yellow and red West African fabrics.

Multiple spouses can be a headache.

Photo via TONL

For many Africans, polygamy is widely practiced part of traditional life and a hotly debated topic in many countries across the continent. A large amount of reader respondents had a negative take on the practice, arguing that it was rarely fair to all involved—namely women, many of whom might feel pressured to join a polygamous relationship even it wasn't "their truth." Others said it was against their monogamous values while others said they wanted to do it but their partner wasn't willing.

"I think polygamy sucks purely because the wife is not allowed to also be in multiple relationships. If he can do it, she should have the option to do so too." –– Naledi, 23, South African

The reality is women suffer from this culture. They bear the brunt of lack of emotional support from their partner, and other practical problems. If the reality of polygamy was everyone lived in harmony and love, got into it consensually and not as a means to an end (e.g financial reasons—most polygamous people in Nigeria are rich according to the standards of their community) then I would support it more, but it isn't. So I am always wary to support it blindly without looking at this context. The context is important with this one." –– T, 28, Nigerian

"I think marriage is too sacred an institution and was designed to work within a monogamous framework. I am not sure about how happy or fulfilling a polygamous network would be." –– Ethel, 20, Ugandan

"I believe it's the African way but it's hard to convince my partner." –– Anon, 30, South African

"I don't think that's how God wanted it to be. I believe that one man and one woman are supposed to be together. Multiple people in a relationship can't be equally yoked." –– Anonymous, 21, African-American

I see it as exploitative when one partner can have multiple lovers but the other can't. On the other hand, polyandry technically isn't as exploitative as polygamy because women don't wield as much power in society." –– Anonymous, 45, African-American

Do you think it's okay to have multiple romantic partners at the same time if there is consent on both sides? Why or why not?

Young Africans posed together in traditional dress.

Is consent all that matters when there's multiple partners?

Photo via TONL

There was surprisingly little disagreement here. Most respondents agreed that if everyone was happy then why not? It was in the details where people differed. Some said having multiple partners was just for the unmarried while others saw it as the peak of self-fulfillment.

"If you're not married then, yes. The way I see it, marriage is how you seal the deal on your relationship. So if you're not married, then I don't see why you can't live your best life. As long as you are safe and honest with your partners." –– Keneiloe, 24, South African

"As long as no one is having sex, sure." –– Anonymous, 37, African-American

"Until a certain point, what is it you're looking for that your current partner can't address? I don't think people should do it just because they can." –– Anonymous, 29, South African

"Yes, absolutely. If both sides are consenting, it means they are able to see past the physical aspect of the relationship and have a deeper understanding and connection with each other. It's a more reasonable option than cheating on someone you love." –– Id, 22, African

"Yes I do, because most people want to have multiple partners, but are afraid because of ownership, societal pressure and standards. I think we have different needs that cannot be met by one single person. I think we would be happier and more fulfilled as a people if we allowed ourselves to be loved by more than one partner, in a respectful and supportive way." –– Michelle, 37, Afro-Puerto Rican

What are your thoughts on having children outside of marriage?

Pregnant African bride in a white dress.

Is having married parents important to bringing up a child?

Photo via TONL

There was little consistency in the answers. While some saw a strong marriage as necessary to raise a strong child, others saw no reason why they couldn't raise kids on their own. Some said a child needed two parents while somebody said it didn't matter how many parents—plygamous or polyamorous—it was the legal protection that was most important.

"It happens all the time and people need to get real about that. For the sake of single mothers and their children we (in the USA specifically) need to stop stigmatizing single motherhood." –– Anonymous, 28, African-American

"That's a No No. Because of the legal protection Marriage offers childrens, I will always advise people to have children in wedlock. May it be open, polygamous etc..." –– Id, 22, African

"I think it's hard for children to feel emotionally grounded without stable, loving parents who are involved in a mutually-committed, legal relationship with each other, as well as being actively involved in their children's daily lives." –– Anonymous, 53, African-American

"Better than raising children in loveless marriages." –– Anonymous, 27, British-Nigerian

"I used to make this joke in secondary school about how I am a "bastard." It was supposed to be tongue in cheek, as a bastard literally means someone born outside of marriage. It has never bothered me that I was, and I think nothing negative of other children starting their lives in this manner. I especially do not project negative thoughts on women who do this either. It is what it is. If ultimately a child grows up in a loving and supportive environment, that's all that matters really." –– T, 28, Nigerian

"*cries in disappointing my beautiful mother* these things happen. I don't believe that it should be something that people are beaten up over, but I think that in 2018, there are multiple forms of contraceptives. So cover up, bro/sis." –– Ethel, 20, Ugandan

"I don't like it. I believe in giving children a strong foundation, and I think two parents in the home is the best way to start." –– Candace Young, 46, African-American

Overall, would you say that your beliefs on love, sex, relationships, and marriage differ from those of your parents? Why or why not?

African bride

How do your parents think about these relationship issues?

Photo via TONL

This was the one question across the board where everyone said yes, to one degree or another. All our respondents had very different attitudes toward sex and relationships than their parents. Some based it on strong religious beliefs in the older generation or misogyny while others pointed to some similarities deep down but a reluctance among parents to admit to their beliefs.

"Yes, because I've watched traditional marriages unfold and I don't think that is what I want for myself. The whole idea of "sticking it through" regardless of what you're going through is something I refuse. I believe that I am more conscious, or self-aware rather, of my needs, wants and dreams, to settle for something I'm not fully absorbed in." –– Ethel, 20, Ugandan

"Yes, very different- my dad believes in polygamy for himself only. He is misogynistic and believes women have their place. My mother accepts cheating, I believe it is a divorce-able offense, and it is not my duty to serve any man." –– Anonymous, 30, Black-British

"Yes, when it comes to sex. They view sex as an obligation in marriage, I view it differently. But our views on love and marriage are the same. I expect one to hold the values of marriage if they choose that route." –– Anonymous, 23, Ugandan

"I believe a relationship should add value to one's life and be as positive as possible. If holding on to more traditional forms and ideas of relationships happen to have an adverse effect on mine, I will look to solutions outside the box. I don't believe I differ too much from my parents in this sense as they support polygamy, cohabitation etc. They are not in support of the "more modern vices," but the "older" ways of doing things they can understand and even try to explain and press on me. It's a subtle form of hypocrisy really." –– T, 28, Nigerian

"Yes. My mother very much believes that men NEED to be married and have a woman to take care of them. While women SHOULD be married. She's much more about traditional gender roles. I reject these notions of the need/should." –– Candace Younge, 46, African-American

"Completely. My parents only support traditional marriage. They may softly agree in the "live and let live" idea but they would not be supportive if any of their children did these things. They use their religion as a guide for others' lives while I use it to guide my own." –– Anonymous, 28, African-American

"Yeah, my mom is super Christian so obviously some of my opinions are based on that, but as I've grown and been exposed to so many people and situations, my ways of thinking has changed. I will say that my views on marriage are very much influenced by what my mother taught me, that it is a sacred institution and you have to be really sure about whether you really want to do it or not. Which is why I don't want to get married. Lol. Regarding relationships, my mom always told me that men are trash. She didn't say it outright, but it was very easy to see why she felt that way, so I'm always cautious when I meet someone. On sex, my mother never had an opinion or talked to me about it. Just STDs. So everything I know about sex, I learned from my friends and personal experiences."–– Keneiloe, 24, South African

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