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Let’s all be friends of Dorothy!

September 28th, 2005

Dr Petra

Lots of sex research and sex news stories can be depressing or frustrating, so it’s always fantastic to find a sex-positive gem of a story in the news.

Today there’s a feature on the BBC World Service’s ‘I challenge’ series, that looks at people from all over the world who’ve tackled authority, traditions or views.

The case study features the wonderful Dorothy Aken’Ova, a Nigerian sexual health worker who’s an inspiration for anyone working in sexual or reproductive health.

Dorothy is the founder of the International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights – Increse, based in Minna, Northern Nigeria.

As well as offering sexual and reproductive health advice, contraceptive information and other support, Dorothy’s centre sells sex toys (including dildos, vibrators, clitoral stimulators and of course lubricant).

Within the UK we could do well to consider bringing the sex back into sexual health – and making our messages more nuanced, critical and positive. Dorothy’s attitude is that you can’t discuss sex without it being based on pleasure.

She’s discovered that selling sex toys and teaching about pleasure has had a surprising other benefit – tacking domestic violence. As Dorothy explains on the BBC news website “If people want and believe in sexual pleasure they will know that battering a woman is certainly not romantic and isn’t one of the ways of achieving pleasure. So teaching sexual pleasure may be one way of ensuring women aren’t beaten in their own homes.”

Like most people working in sexual and reproductive health, Dorothy has found that the majority of people she has contact with want to talk about sex and learn more about ways to increase both their sexual safety and enjoyment.

Her work also challenges negative religious stereotypes. She works in a Muslim area governed by Sharia law, but has the enthusiastic support of local council members and other workers who can see her positive and respectful work helps increase knowledge and reduces sexually transmitted infections.

Plans are now in progress to build a centre to deliver sexual health advice and counselling, and a separate facility for young people. According to the BBC website when it comes to Dorothy’s work “Nothing is off-limits. So there are workshops on unsafe abortion, seminars on rape, discussions about teenage pregnancy. And recently she created a network for bisexual women and lesbians”.

The ‘Girls Only Network’ meets in secret in a hotel in Abuja – the manager runs a risk by hosting these information sessions for lesbian and bi women but feels it’s worth it. He’s reported as saying “The hotel could be set ablaze if the word got out, but I’m proud to be assisting Dorothy in her work. She’s seen things lacking in the Nigerian system and she’s trying to change them.”

For lesbians it’s often difficult enough in countries that claim to be tolerant of homosexuality, but in many developing countries gay men and lesbians live secret lives. To be able to meet other lesbians and bi women and get sexual health information is an amazing opportunity.

So it’s an honour to hear about amazing women like Dorothy who balances entertaining and educational schemes that increase confidence whilst also challenging prejudice and ignorance.

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