The Ties That Bind: On African Kink

Sexuality as pleasure and performance is explored in a series of conversational interviews between writer Bakang Akoonyatse and three BDSM practitioners in Southern Africa and Nigeria.

Snug (Credit – Bakang T Akoonyatse)

Growing up in Botswana in the mid 1990s, Adina Howard’s Freak Like Me was a far cry from the ballads my parents regularly played in the house; but from the first time I heard the US singer-songwriter declare that she’s got a little freakiness inside, I knew her words resonated. Despite not being old enough to understand what it meant to be “raunchy” I knew that there was a notable difference between “freaky women” and those in my immediate environment.  

My mother’s family boasted a slew of learned, married women tasked with the job of teaching their daughters how to be the same.  My father’s side, on the other hand, had a plethora of single, volatile women rumoured to dabble in witchcraft, who were prone to the occasional bender.  I grew up around the more demure of the duo and did my best to cross my legs and make the perfect cup of tea, until I eventually decided there was more to life than doing all the work and carrying all the blame.  The weight of what it meant to be “good” was dulling the light in the eyes of the women around me; a light I knew could be fed and nurtured because I could see it in the audacious South African singers Brenda Fassie and Lebo Mathosa.  I realized it had nothing to do with age, but rather, the reclamation of Self. 

The safest place for any sort of exploration and discourse became the internet.  Tumblr was a place where myself and others like me –- Black, queer, restless youth –- could come together to learn, share and exist with a freedom we weren’t allowed in everyday, offline society.  It was there that I discovered the kink community.

BDSM put forth the idea that sexuality could be more for pleasure than procreation. Sometimes, it could even be a performance, as the work of Johannesburg-based rope specialist SungaKonji, AKA Tapiwa (He/Him) shows. The BDSM influence in pop culture – mainly fashion and music – made it that much more appealing to me as an artist.  It became a call to discover just who I was; not only on the surface, but in my most intimate spaces as well. 

If the media has historically underrepresented Black people, it’s safe to say that this has been the case more so for Africans, and especially when it comes to our sexuality.  Self-appointed “Sexy Superhero” Moonchild Sanelly is currently spearheading the pop cultural sexual emancipation movement for many Southern African women and girls with her candid approach to talking about, as well as embodying her sexuality.  

“Comfort is confidence,” she mused in an interview with Blacklight Magazine over a year ago. Adorned in an all denim ensemble with a literal chain around her neck, she spoke of the comfort found in authenticity, the comfort of being rooted in yourself, your desires and your wishes, and how sometimes the best place to be for one’s self is beyond the boundaries of expectation.  

Closer to home, the musician Jujuboy broke onto Botswana’s music scene with his smash hit Hurt Me. Despite the song’s title, the lyrics are mainly sung in Setswana

“Ska ntshwara ole soft/Ga ke auti ee softe/ Ngwana, please hurt me!/Mphise ka dikerese/O nkgate ka di cornse!” 

On the track, a leather clad Jujuboy is essentially telling his intended that he has no desire for her to handle him softly, because he is not a soft man. 

Jujuboy o batla o mmohelela/Ke rata ke bapotswe jaaka letlalo la podi! Nthibe matlho o mpohe ka tukwi/Ntsikitle dikgopo ka lephoha la koko/O nthibile molomo ke sa kgone go bua/Nkgate ka serethe sa mmankweekwee!” 

He then goes on to outline the ways that he would like to be used and humiliated for his pleasure, which includes incorporating chicken feathers into sensation play, using an everyday doek (headscarf) for bondage, and how he likes to be spread out like a goat mat. It’s about as kinky and relatable as one can get…

He manages to make what many have always considered a Western perversion; this is, an earworm of a tune that vividly describes the many pleasures he dabbles in, in a language that southern African consumers understand.  It’s a declaration of his arrival not only as an artist, but as an African kinkster. 

 After speaking with Jujuboy for this feature, I interviewed Yoyo Ifode (They/Them), a 30-year-old Nigerian psychologist by profession and fashion designer by trade, Amara (She/Her), a 21-year-old from Lagos who is into the Lifestyle and also Sunga Konji, the rope specialist. I asked what kink represents to them, how they navigate personal and professional spaces as kinksters, as well as their thoughts on how our personal backgrounds generally influence the people we eventually become and the ways we experience and create pleasure. 

Balls In Your Court (Photo – Bakang T Akoonyatse)

YOYO IFODE – They/Them, 30, Nigeria

How did you discover kink or BDSM? 

Via the internet to be honest; at least that’s how I discovered what it was called. I had been dabbling in a little kink in my sexual encounters – you know, the usual spanking and choking and light bondage – without knowing there was a term for it or that it was common behaviour. I liked the pain, the resultant feeling that came from it and the pleasure that followed. I think that made me lean into that part of me.

What role do you take when performing or practicing Kink?

I identify as a submissive – which I like to call the powerhouse because as much as we receive all the painful pleasure, without us there would really be no Dom(mes). I absolutely love being directed and told what to do and led, basically. 

Does your religious background of belief system influence or affect your views about performing kink or BDSM?

Firstly, my religious background and beliefs – what are left of them – have no influence on my personal kinks. Granted though, it makes it hard to engage in role play that involves nun’s habits, crosses et al. Role play hasn’t really been on my kink list, but based on the aforementioned, I guess my religious background does have a little effect, but that’s as far as it goes. I do not feel any guilt or shame being a Christian in kink. After encountering BDSM on Twitter I did more research into what it was about. I fell into the lifestyle and of course, the hunt for a kink community in my area, Abuja, at the time. 

At some point I’ve had to dispel the personal belief that being a victim of physical and sexual abuse  as a child also led me to this place where pain was the inner lining for my pleasure; but I have read of people who didn’t experience either; who find maximum pleasure in being submissive. Perhaps, it did, perhaps it didn’t—I cannot say for sure right now; I just know that it brings me joy. 

Being exposed to FetLife (online) made the transition easy. I learned so many layers in which BDSM can be applied in life and the plethora of paths available to our type of hedonists.  

‘I like to say the sub life chose me and not the other way around’ 

Have you attempted to move this side of your life into your it offline experiences?

I did a lot of reading at first; Googling things like ‘sub 101’, ‘Dom 101’, ‘How to be a good submissive’ … I also kept track of all the links I found within my Twitter community. Tumblr was a great resource as well.  I tried to be more interactive on FetLife, which was the largest community of kinksters I knew in one place. I created a profile and uploaded tons of pictures. It wasn’t a walk in the park because it is easier to write my desires and react to responses adequately rather than actually act them out. 

People speak about vulnerability in kink but man, it is intense when you are no longer behind the keyboard. Being naked and on my knees awakened me to a whole new set of feelings for whomever I had to look up to at the time. As a submissive, it has a way of filtering into my everyday activities. I find myself wanting to do things for my loved ones more; I like to say the sub life chose me and not the other way around. 

Reading a lot has helped me accept this part of my Self; finding kindred spirits on Twitter and FetLife really made it much easier for me. Sometimes, moving into that headspace of total submission was a struggle. I am a brat and wow, the voices in my head have a way of taking control of my body, but somehow, I manage to not let the thoughts become actual words. It is the hardest part for me…letting go and being handled by another in ways that bring both peace of mind and pleasure. I learned about rituals and had some implemented by my first ever Dom. That gave me a great preview of being owned.

Maid (Photo – Bakang T Akoonyatse)

What are the main emotions you associate with being a kinkster?

Fear: but not the type that has you feeling dread in a bad way. It’s more blissful trepidation because I know there will be pain but I look forward to it, knowing just on the other side is pleasure. 

Love: being a sub requires me to let go of preconceived notions of what it is to love with your body, mind and soul. Being able to let go requires a deep appreciation of the person I am relinquishing control to. For me, I can’t have that without love. It does not have to be that ground shaking type; it is more about gratitude than anything else. I have never been in love with any of my Doms but I always feel this deep sense of gratitude and appreciation to them for handling me with so much care and vigour.

Vulnerability: In my FetLife bio, I spoke about how people don’t really grasp how vulnerability is more than the letters that make up the word or the feelings evoked when the word is seen. Being on my knees, butt naked, head bowed, hands in the right position has a way of making me reflect on my vulnerability in that moment. Even in the absence of my Dom I feel how sensitive that moment is, and I let all my thoughts run free. I like using music to keep me grounded because I find myself wanting to cry so much. I can’t explain it adequately because it is not something that can be fully conveyed in words…it is a feeling.

Joy: Do I need to say why? The thought of being on the receiving end of all that has been lined up for me (yes, even the sex) makes me feel joy. This one is the other side of the fear coin – back to my blissful trepidation – you know that when you pass through the hall of fear, there is joy and pleasure on the other side.

How have sexual or romantic partners received this part of you?

After I came to terms with it, I always asked my partners if it’s something they can get on board with. My current partner is actually eager to give it a shot. I introduced her to a Dom I met on FetLife and he promises to train her in the ways of Domination. My sexual orientation kind of changed last year and I find myself not so in tune to men anymore, which is why I had to withdraw my submission from him. That aside, this man was the most promising Dom I have encountered. With some lovers, I had to just restrict it to minor kink to spice up the sex a little.  Some couldn’t fathom inflicting pain on me during sex, which I guess is understandable if one isn’t open to experimenting. I had a lover from FetLife and it was easier to explore stuff with him because I didn’t need to explain anything as we’d met through the Lifestyle. I am very open about it. I love to speak about it when I can and enlighten people. I have no shame when it comes to kink.

Can you share any more thoughts about your experiences with online and offline kink communities? What roles do they play in one’s exploration of growth?

I have mentioned FetLife countless times and it was my first foray into the kink community online. I was not so surprised to find a lot of Nigerians on there, although I am still sceptical about a couple of them. It is so easy to misconstrue the aim of kink with sex and hook ups. I had my fair share of those in my inbox. However, it still provided a way in for me and I am grateful for it. FetLife provides a very secure environment because you have to log in each time, and you can’t download it as an app – which makes snoopers unable to access that part of anyone’s life. 

I personally wanted to establish a strong offline community in my town, but I recently moved so that has been shelved. Still, it is an active dream of mine and I hope I can fulfil it one day. There are offline communities. One I know of in South Africa started an event called Meet, Greet and Kneel, which I have FOMO for all the time. They provide a safe space where people can interact and learn from each other. The lack of this space in my immediate environment, I believe, has made it hard for me to practice as much as I would like. There is so much lost in online interactions that can only be got from up close and personal meetings.

In Plain Sight (Photo – Bakang T Akoonyatse)

What hindrances do you think we face as African kinksters and how would you like this to change?

As Africans, we are bound by culture and tradition, with religion not being far behind – if not at first place. We are quick to shame and stigmatize things we collectively do not understand or haven’t experienced first hand and it affects many aspects of our existence – kink not being exempt. 

There is also the issue of security. We tend to second and third guess people, which prevents us from venturing further to explore what avenues come to us as kinksters. This is totally understandable because first and foremost one of the backbones of kink is full disclosure and communication. We need to always remember that in our individual and group dealings with people who claim they are into kink. It should be both ways; give full disclosure and get full disclosure. 

I want to see more communities being established in countries across the continent – clubs and groups of kinksters, like South Africa’s Meet, Greet and Kneel. These communities will help people be more accepting of this part of themselves; this will definitely help grow us as a unique group of people and help us have safe spaces we can blend into when we find ourselves outside our immediate environs at any time. I know when I go to South Africa I don’t have to look too far or too long for a community to help my Kink needs. We need more of these across Africa.

AMAKA – She/Her, 21, Lagos

How did you first discover kink and BDSM?

I read a lot of romance novels in high school, which usually had mild allusions to kink, such as the helpless young lady ‘submitting’ to the man in the story. Of course, words like Dom or sub were never used and BDSM was never outrightly explored; however, those instances introduced me to the concept. My first all-out ‘discovery’ was when I downloaded a BDSM series written by Cherise Sinclair. It was titled Masters of the Shadowlands and it explored BDSM with an in-depth lens as all the books featured different storylines and needs of people deep into the lifestyle. They all practiced within the same club and knew each other but had their own separate kinks and partners. 

BDSM had an innate appeal. I knew to some extent I could take pain during sexual experiences, such as spankings. Aside from personal attraction I also enjoyed how BDSM had a large focus on the femme’s needs, incorporated toys into sexual stimulation and emphasized satisfaction. The books (from the aforementioned series) were also big on ensuring consent, using safe words, with the author making sure to emphasize the statement “safe, sane and consensual” at the beginning of the book. 

Matriarch II. (Photo – Bakang T Akoonyatse)

What roles are you performing in kink?

I am a switch, so I’m comfortable performing as either the Dominant or submissive during play. Within my identity as a switch, I am also a brat. I enjoy pet play, although not bestiality as that is non-consensual. As a strict rule, I do not do anything to a sub I have not had done to myself. Thankfully many of my kinks also mirror how I engage my partners. For example, I am both a Degradee and a Degrader.

How, if at all, did your cultural background affect your views about performance of kink and BDSM?

I grew up in a Christian background, so my religion had already informed me that sexual contact was only meant to exist within a marriage. Not only was BDSM “wrong” because it involved sex – and different forms of it – it was also a much “dirtier,” in-depth exploration of sexual activity. I was able to afford books to read and I had internet (data) as well, which I used to download the raunchy novels that I needed. Back then I was also whorephobic, so I could not comprehend how some of the femmes in these books were comfortable having many (mostly male) partners, despite being aware that I found the idea of the experiences arousing. 

Have you attempted to move your experience of the lifestyle offline? 

I moved my kink life out of online spaces and into my personal offline experiences when I made the decision to purchase toys – kink based or otherwise – and introduced them into sexual activity. The first toy I ever purchased was a whip, then handcuffs and a blindfold. Very basic. The handcuffs did not fit – another detriment to existing as a fat woman when shopping online – so I used them during play with my partners. The whip I used on my arm to determine the pain levels when used on other people. After that, my next buy was a beginner butt plug. Reading more information from the BDSM community helped me figure out what kinks I liked. I quickly added a paddle and leash to my collection as well.

What emotions do you associate with being a kinkster, and why?

If I am domming, I feel super in control and powerful. I like to give commands and to figure out how much the person I am playing with can take, what they like and if they reach sub space. I am just as attentive when I sub; taking orders and being a pleaser helps me centre myself in this role as well.

How have sexual and romantic partners received this part of you? 

The few I have had have for the most part received this side of me well. Aside from my very vanilla (non kinkster) partners who have been vehemently against kink, my experiences with partners who were into BDSM have been good, especially with my femme partners as we please each other in a way that has not been achieved during opposite sex interactions.

Can you share your thoughts about the role kink communities can play in one’s exploration and growth both online and offline? 

I have not had experiences with kink communities offline yet, although online I have stalked many a page and read tons of information to get a deeper understanding of what I choose to indulge in. Personally, these communities have been especially fundamental to my growth with kink; even opening the door for me into major sex positivity [including] tackling whorephobia, broadening my understanding of sexual contact, my relationship with consent and sexual boundaries. Getting into BDSM spaces also helped me see how much I enjoyed talking about different aspects of sex and I hope to one day become a sex educator.

‘As a fat dark woman exploring kink, I have also had difficulties with people’s responses to bodies that do not fit a conventionally accepted standard’

What hindrances do you think we face as African kinksters and how would you like this to change?

The biggest challenge African people will have to face getting into kink would probably be our culture, as it is one that is known for being heavily ‘held-back’. Women especially are not encouraged to treat sexual contact as something we should enjoy, but rather as something we are supposed to tolerate for the sake of our husbands. African men are not encouraged to care much about their partners satisfaction. Our culture is also widely heteronormative, misogynistic, whorephobic, sex negative and homophobic among other things. 

As a fat dark woman exploring kink, I have also had difficulties with people’s responses to bodies that do not fit a conventionally accepted standard. With society at large there are many things I would prefer to see rectified, but specifically within kink there should be a more in-depth discussion on bodies that deviate from the norm … disabled bodies, queer bodies, fat bodies … and how people who exist within these identities can safely navigate a BDSM lifestyle. 

Of course, a major culture shift would be very helpful regarding these aspects, but within the BDSM community, which claims to be a progressive space, there should be an even greater commitment to introducing different kinds of bodies within kink spaces. Another issue I see in these spaces are people who just assume they can be dominants or ‘top’ a partner by virtue of their gender (cishet men) when they know little to nothing about caring for a partner within that space – including aftercare, hard or soft limits, consent or safe words. 

Coercion within kink is also a massive problem, with people thinking it is okay to push or prod until a partner eventually capitulates to their demands. It is fine to have a kink and love for your partner to participate but kink activities are not meant to be introduced by surprise, or in the event that the interested party tries something and hopes that their partner goes along with it. It is best and safest to have open discussions about kinks, needs and expectations between both or all of the people who will be engaged in play.

Snug II. (Photo – Bakang T Akoonyatse)

SUNGAKONJI aka TAPIWA  – (He/Him) – Johannesburg

Tell us about yourself…

My name is Tapiwa and I also go by SungaKonji in the context of kink and rope bondage. The pseudonym translates into “tie rope” in ChiShona. It has evolved from an anonymous alias to an interchangeable one with my real name over the years, as I’ve grown more comfortable with my identity. I’m from Zimbabwe and I have lived in South Africa for about 13 years. I came here to study and stayed around after graduating.

How did you discover kink and BDSM? 

I’ve always been good at making things with my hands, and early in my teenage years I used to play around with ropemaking, chains and jewellery. This eventually transitioned into something with a more sensual leaning; something I did in private with a shameful undertone, which is often the case with sexual expression in younger people.

In what capacity are you performing and practicing kink?

I don’t particularly agree with the idea that kink is a separate aspect of my being that I switch on. Instead I feel it’s a constant part of my identity – sexual and otherwise. I believe we all have proclivities that are seemingly kinky to other humans; so, it’s all a matter of relativity and perspective. Although I am known as The Rope Bondage Guy, I am more of a hedonist with a tendency to indulge in all things nice and I rarely say no to trying out new things. 

Through my rope bondage work I am focusing on educating people about sex, sensuality, platonic intimacy and toxic ideas around body image and the sexualization of naked bodies. We often conflate sensuality, nudity and intimacy with romantic and sexual expression and even though it’s possible for all of these to be mutually inclusive, it’s far from the norm. 

A significant part of my work is allowing and holding space for healing for people who may have violent and other negative experiences at the hands of men, straight men and straight black men – especially in intimate or sexual contexts. 

Finally, my work is specifically about representation of black sensuality, sexuality and other expressions of kink and BDSM on the continent. Our communities overwhelmingly have terrible beliefs and practices around these themes that we refuse to engage with in the name of respectability, honour and godliness. It’s important to me that black people talk more about sex in general, in part to address issues around gender-based violence, sexual assault and to educate on consent, respect, trust and safe sexual and general human interactions. Most of what we would consider good sexual practice is just good humanity and can translate to other kinds of human interactions and should not be relegated only to moments of sexual or sensual intimacy.

How, if at all, did your background, religion or belief systems influence or affect your views about performance of kink and BDSM?

I grew up in a religious home and school environment and had the all too clichéd views around sex and sexual expression growing up. Sex education in school and at home was barely sufficient and didn’t do much to help with the confusion of sexual development all the way into adulthood. Our society does a terrible job of educating both children and adults about healthy sexual practice and had it not been for my experiences with some amazing friends over the years I’d still be apologetic and harbour shame and guilt around sex, kink and BDSM. Currently I view both as variations on a spectrum that are an important and normal part of the human experience.

If your introduction to the lifestyle was online, have you attempted to move it offline and incorporate it into your life? 

My introduction to kink happened as part of my sexual development and I can’t really pinpoint the discrete moments it manifested – much like trying to remember when I first realised I was sexually attracted to women. However, I do remember in more recent times, the moment I was made aware of the greater community of people around me, and online, who participated in the kind of sexual experiences I thought were too deviant to share and express with others. 

‘ … most of the kinksters I know and have shared experiences with wouldn’t call themselves kinksters…’

Since that moment of clarity, my sexual and sensual moments of intimacy were a lot more expressive and accepting of all the things that I enjoy in that context. It has been my experience that if I share all of me most people respond well to it and are more likely to share all of them because there is no sense of othering and vulnerability around “weird or alternative” sex or sensuality or however else this aspect of your being manifests. There are only the things you enjoy, things you’re curious about, things you may not know about and things you have no interest in. As long as it’s safe, consensual and not harmful, go for it. So, although I have learnt a lot online through platforms like FetLife and Instagram, most of the kinksters I know and have shared experiences with wouldn’t call themselves kinksters. They are just folks who like to have a great time and given the safe space and opportunity they will actively pursue and engage in kink and BDSM.

What emotions do you associate with being a kinkster?

If we temporarily accept that being a kinkster is a deviation from a default “vanilla” state, which again I don’t agree with, I suppose I feel free to be myself, internally and to the rest of the world. It’s liberating sharing this aspect of my self because difference in sexual expression is one of the most alienating things for humanity, and since people learn that truth about me pretty early on in our interactions, I don’t have that huge secret holding power over me. Consequently, I am able to be free with the rest of my self.

How have sexual and romantic partners received this part of you? 

People are usually happy to finally have a sexual partner this comfortable in themselves. This isn’t something I ever try to hide. I have never been rejected because I had different ideas around sex and even though sometimes, we may disagree on specific things, healthy, open and communicative relationships will have space for conversations around wants, needs, likes and dislikes without dehumanizing and discounting the other. If this can’t exist there are deeper issues that need addressing beyond the kind of sex you enjoy.

The Priest. Chido Muparutsa pictured (Photo – Tapiwa Guzha)

Have you had experience with kink communities online as well as offline? 

I’m quite active in both on and offline communities that are involved in kinky shenanigans and it’s overwhelmingly a cishet white male space. If you’re interested in finding more diverse spaces it’s quite the mission but smaller clandestine pockets of more niche environments do exist. As much as kink spaces can be safer and more accepting of differences it’s a disappointing and expected reality that people’s day to day politics leach into these spaces and we actively have to address problematic behaviour to make for safer and more welcoming communities. 

Learning anything online or joining communities can be as dangerous as in real life. The same applies to kink and if you’re looking to learn more and are new to this world it’s probably best to meet like-minded people in a neutral and public space and to have real life conversations before delving into things. If you can, see if other people you know and trust can vouch for people and their spaces or seek out public educational platforms and individuals for a second opinion.

‘We learn about sex from different strata in our society and most of it is passed down in the worst version of a broken telephone that’s ever existed’

What hindrances do you think we face as African kinksters and how would you like this to change? 

Our biggest challenges are that kink and sex are viewed as ungodly white people shit and good, decent, respectable Africans do not do such [things]. I’m an atheist and that’s often seen as the reason I am kinky, whereas I’m simply unwilling to navigate my life without critically engaging with all aspects of my humanity. Religion doesn’t make sense to me and neither does only having a particular kind of sex because “that’s the right way” or because “we said so”. 

We learn about sex from different strata in our society and most of it is passed down in the worst version of a broken telephone that’s ever existed. Worse still we are taught from very early on to not question the wisdom of those who came before us and so many of us are living predetermined lives on autopilot because that’s how things have always been done. We don’t pause to interrogate this great infallible wisdom and make active and informed choices about how we are going to live our lives. 

We also have serious issues around sex education including the denial that young teenagers are already having sex by the time we get to doing a poor job of teaching about it. The internet beats us to it, for better and often for worse so we need to come to terms with the fact that people have sex. Loads of it. Wouldn’t you rather it be consensual, well-informed, safe sex and kink with eager and active participation?

Nhembe pictured (Photo – Tapiwa Guzha)