A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Sexy Celibacy
By M. Skye Holly
Actress Scarlett Johansson believes that human beings are not monogamous by nature. 
It would be a little unfair to call upon her to reflect the views of women everywhere. I know. Factors such as her age (24), race (white), and industry (entertainment) all might play a part in what drew her to that conclusion. I know. I wonder if this is what the rest of Hollywood thinks, though. Even closer to home, I wonder what women of color have to say about monogamy. If we aren't monogamous by nature, should we see the practice as irrelevant or impossible? Is it something we choose to do or are forced to be?
After having all too many chats over coffee with girlfriends over the years, I can say that many of their experiences lead me to believe that monogamy in America is looked at as a thing of the past. Sure, we know that our society is not perfect, but we can argue that socially women are a lot better off this day and age than they were maybe a few decades ago. That I am actually writing about monogamy being anything other than the norm is proof of that. 
Growing up in America, I have seen many women embrace the "man's" way of doing things and put education and career first instead of the pursuit of the almighty mate and spouse. At the same time, while traditions across the globe more easily accept a man not being in an exclusive relationship, more women today feel free to play the field. I have had all too many a conversation with women who see monogamy and marriage as a "final frontier" and something that they feel no rush to get to or even explore. Even looking for definitions of monogamy in the dictionary, I found that several interpretations described the practice as "archaic." Whether or not I buy into the concept of a soulmate, I do believe in good old fashioned monogamous relationships myself, so I hoped to find someone, anyone who echoed that same belief, too.
I can't deny that I know that being old-fashioned seems to be out-of-fashion. Still, as proud as I can be about living a celibate lifestyle, I am made to feel as though my choice is taboo. Whenever I meet someone and they discover that I am celibate, not only do I get a whole bunch of raised eyebrows but a load of questions follow suit. I am put in a hot seat and asked whether or not I've found the right one or am I religious or do I think I am better than people or am I frigid or do I wait a few months until I give it up. 
As much as sex is a part of life, I find it hard to understand why not having sex just can't be seen of as a part of my life. A respected part. I think my celibacy is sexy. Of course, being celibate for me means no sex unless it is in a married relationship. Today, though, that is misunderstood when I explain myself to people because they believe that your celibate period should end as soon as you find "the one" and not necessarily when you marry them. Cohabitation is seen of as the new monogamy. 
Reflecting on my upbringing, I realize that being  a child of a Caribbean immigrant might have impacted my choice, and I have to go to my mother's land for answers. I think of the island of Haiti where she was raised and the words of Haitian author Edwidge Danticat, in her book Krik? Krak!:
"Your mother's second rule went along with the first. Never have sex before marriage, and even after you do, you shouldn't say you enjoy it, or your husband won't respect you."
This pretty much sums up the view that the author and other Haitian females were raised with, which is passed down to females in that culture. More or less, my mother shared a similar viewpoint with me. Sex outside of marriage is a no-no. Women were not to appear interested in men, but let them come after you. She and her sisters were all strictly supervised as they were courted by their husbands. In fact, the only reason to court was to get married. There was no dating the way it's done in America, just seeing a movie or grabbing a bite to eat for the sake of it. If a man was allowed in your home, it was because your father approved of his intentions to marry you. But like in many cultures, a double standard always existed. While it could be unheard of for a woman to be seen with more than one guy at a time, men were not given the same pressure. In Haiti, you could very well damage your reputation or that of your family's for dating a lot of men, but your own brother or uncle in the same family acting the same way might be called a vagabond, but treated no different. Infidelity in marriage is just something people shrug their shoulders about and accept as a way of life. It is just something men could get away with but women never could.
In fact, another interpretation of monogamy from the motherland, comes from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who said recently about marriage:
"I've always had a problem with marriage as an institution...I'm all for partnerships as long as they're mutually beneficial, satisfying, respectful. I'm part of a couple and I'm quite happy, but I also think I could be quite happy if I were not a part of a couple. In Nigeria, sometimes women act as if their lives are complete because they're married-and it's just not true. Maybe it's the feminist in me, but I see the lies that women people tell themselves about marriage and think how unwilling we are to admit that it's not always a perfect thing."
In Adichie's case, even the upbringing from traditional Igbo parents didn't force her to go the same route. Adichie's parents have been married for forty-five years, but she lives with her partner in the United States, when she is not in Nigeria. 
While I know that tradition and culture play a part in women's perspectives on monogamy, I think that personal experiences also play a significant part, too. We've all had a friend or two who have had their hearts broken and later vow it will never be them. Many women feel that monogamous relationships typically give men the upper hand, so having more than one man on their arm gives them a sense of control. Mosunmola Ayeni, 23, who was raised both in the United States and Nigeria, feels that education is a factor as well. She observes that while polygamy is practiced in Nigeria, there are less examples of it in the major cities where people tend to be more educated. In the rural areas, it is more common. And while she doesn't find anything wrong with polygamy, she just knows that it is not for her. Living in America might have something to do with that because it is not practiced here. "I didn't see any faults in it because of the culture. I grew up in it. I just always told myself (in Nigeria) that I would never be the second or third wife, so it didn't really bother me. I would always be first," she shares. Many men in her country, she adds, have many wives for status or to produce male heirs.
Yet, Ayeni also believes in monogamous relationships because she has seen that they are better for the wife. "There is no rival. With females under one roof-all that sharing-there's trouble. The man will have to choose a side and whoever he doesn't choose, that's who he's not sleeping with."
So there you have it. Monogamy, while it's supposed to be a simple thing, opens up a Pandora's box with many questions, which can only be answered individually by those who leap into that unknown territory.  
And wouldn't you know that even Scarlett Johannson proved brave enough to give it a try? Mmm-hmm! While she may think of monogamy as an unnatural thing, it seemed like the natural choice for her when she married actor Ryan Reynolds last year. Go figure.