Sex Life: Getting Cancer Didn’t Stop Me from Having Sex

March 5, 2022

Sex Life is an anonymous Zikoko weekly series that explores the pleasures, frustrations and excitement of sex in the lives of Nigerians.

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual assault

The subject of today’s Sex Life is a 26-year-old pansexual woman. She talks about using masturbation to cope with assaults she experienced, and how cervical cancer didn’t stop her from enjoying sex. 

Tell me about your first sexual experience 

I had my share of romance in boarding school. My school father was really nice to me. He was tall and in SS 3. When he held my hand, I felt safe. I had this idea of romance in my head because of the kind of books I read, so one night while we were in the garden trying to read, I kissed him. Nothing else happened after that kiss, but I floated on air till I got back to my hostel. 

After our first kiss, we barely had time to ourselves anymore because he was preparing for exams, but we kissed two or three more times. The main reason it stopped was because my parents pulled me from the school after one term.

Why?

My dad moved us around a lot because of his work. I was in school A, for the bulk of my childhood. School B was the one with the school father I kissed, and school C was the one I moved to when I was about to turn 14.

Before I started at school C, I got assaulted at the market by two men on a bike, and this changed how I viewed romance and sex.  

I’m so sorry that happened to you. 

It’s okay. I try so hard to forget what happened, but it happened. Afterwards, I couldn’t even look the guys I liked in the eye, but I picked up masturbating. 

How did you get into that?

I started masturbating when I read a book about a woman who was also assaulted. In the book, her boyfriend fingered her to help her reconnect with her body again. So, I decided to try it. When I masturbated, it was the first time I didn’t feel shame and pain when I thought about that part of my body. 

After a while, my masturbating took a new turn. I realised I was no longer picturing guys when I touched myself but was picturing girls instead. I read a book about two Hausa girls  on a trip. There was a point in the book where the author described the character’s hair. All I thought about was how much I wanted to feel her hair. I wanted to feel her skin against mine and touch her. A lot of major discoveries about myself were aided by the books I read. 

What happened next? 

I kissed a girl that came to tell me to stop kissing all the boys in school. I saw myself as damaged goods so I was also kissing any guy that asked. My dad has also told me I’d move schools soon, so it made me even more nonchalant. She overheard them talking about me.

How was the kiss with the girl?

There were no sparks; it just felt nice. I was kissing here and there until university, where I thought I’d met other people I could relate to. 

I got into uni when I was 15 years old because my mum wanted to be able to pay my school fees before she retired. She had my elder sister when she was 25, had me when she was 30 and my younger brother when she was 35. Since she was a civil servant, she wanted all her children to be done with the university while she still received a regular salary. It meant we had to skip a bunch of classes and read even harder to meet up. 

That’s a lot for a 15-year-old. 

It was. I was the youngest in a lot of my classes and didn’t really have friends. The few ones I had in secondary school were chosen for me by my parents. That’s why when I got to university, I was so happy to get a chance to be my own person and make friends for myself. And I did. I became close to a group of girls who I hung out with all the time.

One day, we were talking about sexual experiences and one mentioned she had had a threesome before and had also had sex with a girl. I was ecstatic to learn I had a friend who liked women just like me. I brought it up with her later and asked how the experience was. 

How did that go?

Bad. After I told her I also liked women, she got very interested in me. She’d invite me to parties and encourage me to drink and smoke. We spent a lot of time together, and she’d invite me to her place for sleepovers. Now, I wasn’t interested in her like that. The reason I asked her about being with a woman was because I was curious. 

We were drinking at hers one day when I suddenly passed out. I woke up and immediately felt the way I did when I was assaulted the first time. I didn’t know how to process it because it wasn’t with strange men who I didn’t know, it was with someone I trusted. 

I’m so sorry.

It is what it is. I didn’t talk to women as much anymore after that. I could still kiss them but couldn’t bring myself to go all the way. I also dropped all the friends I made.

Tell me about your first consensual partner. 

The first man I had willing sex with was absolutely terrible. I was 15 going on 16 when I met this 19-year-old guy in church. He was a dark-skinned, cute guy who paid attention to me. The sex was bad because neither of us had any real experience. He watched porn, and I read books. I was also too shy to show him what I already knew how to do with my fingers. We were together for a while.

I think my sex life improved after I moved to Uganda at the age of 16 to continue my education. After I got assaulted, I wanted to drop out, but my mother refused. Instead, I got my credit units transferred to a new school in a new country. The new school allowed me to cut off contact with the “friends” I had. One of the perks of being a student in the new school was four free visits to a psychiatricts every month. 

Sex for me only got better only because I stopped caring. I wasn’t getting into romantic relationships but wast having casual sex with men. Until I had to stop because the sex hurt. 

Hurt?

Sex with a man with a relatively big penis was painful and uncomfortable for days after. I would experience lower abdominal pain, bleeding and tenderness. I thought that was how sex was once someone was too big for you. I had no one to talk about it, and in the books I read, the characters always referred to being sore after. 

I found myself exclusively sleeping with women to avoid that pain. With women, sex usually involves just the outer part of the vagina. If there are fingers involved, they just need to go deep enough to hit the g spot, not the cervix. 

Did that work?

I passed out a couple of times before realising something was definitely up. With encouragement from my psychiatrist and elder sister, I went for a pap smear. My 23-year-old self was diagnosed with cervical cancer. 

I’m so sorry. Did you stop having sex?

Thanks. The same way I get angry and hungry is the same way I get horny. I continued to have sex with women. I stopped having sex altogether when the chemo side effects got bad and I was recovering from surgery. 

I probably view cancer very differently from someone who’s looking at it from the outside. It’s not a life stopping diagnosis. 

But wouldn’t it hurt? 

Cervical cancer is usually caused by an insult to the tissues of the cervix. You insult the cervix often enough, and eventually, it’ll harden to make itself tougher and more resistant to trauma or infections. The hardening is cancer. When having sex, if you can avoid the cervix, your risk is lower. 

I could have decided to have sex with men but penetration would not be involved, and it’s difficult explaining to a man you’ve just met that penetration is off the table. Women understood my boundaries better and didn’t ask a lot of questions. 

How long did your treatment last?

At first when I got diagnosed at 23 years old, I did two rounds of chemotherapy in 3 months. The side effects were brutal, and I had to take longer periods of recovery in between. The symptoms came back a year later, and I spent six months on chemo and a partial trachelectomy. Three to four months after treatment, I went back to having sex with men, but that wasn’t until I got the clear from both my oncologist and gynaecologist. 

Even though I have a male partner now, I rarely have penetrative sex. With all the scar tissue I have up there from surgery, I feel nothing when I’m penetrated — no orgasms to be had there.

All right. What will you rate your sex life on a scale of 1-10? 

The beginning days were very shitty, but now, I think it’s much better. I’d rate it an 8.5. 

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