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Many Nigerian Women In Sexual Bondage – Iheoma Obibi

 

Iheoma Obibi , a feminist, writer, international development worker and consultant is the Creative Director of the adult shop www.myintimatepleasureshop.com

She tells The Interview how it’s been running an online sex toys shop…

How big is the sex toy market in Nigeria?

Not sure but it is an untapped virgin territory and is still growing. There are still many states where sex toys are sold “under the counter” and hush-hush.

Some believe you’re leading a kind of bedroom revolution; do you also see it that way?

Not really, what I see are people in relationships beginning to be honest and sincere in their sexual desires and fantasies with each other. For those in committed adult relationships this is very important; that they communicate clearly what they like and do not like about their love making. Many women are in relationships in which they have no say about “how” the sexual intimacy is conducted. Their partners just say “oya bend your waist” and that is it. No fore play, no kissing. Nothing. Clearly there is a problem when this happens in your relationship. If you read this and this is what is happening then you need to be relived of that sexual bondage.

Can you share with us the experience(s) that led you to this enterprise?

Well, it took a long time to get to this comfortable place. Where I could sell and market adult toys without being scared that someone will think I’m deranged. My husband, Chidi Odinkalu, Phd, first gave me the start-up capital in 2003/4 and I did other things with the money.  In 2010, I attended the African Feminist Forum taking place in Uganda and attended the breakaway session on women and economics.  My life coach was a lady called Esther Passaris a Greek Kenyan also at the forum. She was wonderful. She made me realise that I was the one hindering myself. By the end of the meeting I had a business plan. My husband, decided not to give me the cash but fund via his credit card my wholesale purchases. He paid for my maritime insurance. In fact, it was crazy because I sold out of most items before  my website went life in Feb 2011. I was already buying stuff for friends when I travelled anyway so it was just an extension of what I was already doing. So that’s how I started in a nutshell.

How much has the business grown since you started?

The business has always had room for growth the issue has been if we are able to ensure that we do not dump on the unsuspecting public badly made Chinese fake products which are cheaper. Getting staff who are willing to learn the special nuances of understanding what sex toys are and can speak about it without the conversation degenerating to gutter talk.

Why do you think it is important women take charge of their sexuality, especially in this part of the world?

It is important that women who are already restricted by cultural and religious norms, find that when they get married they are expected to be a “whore in bed” as the saying goes. Many men because of cultural and religious taboos have not been educated on making an effort to sexually satisfy their partners. So the men are not satisfied and the women are going bananas with unfulfilled expectations.

Are there pre-existing conditions that make people use sex toys?

You mean medical conditions being treated for which the medications being used can affect the libido and the answer would be yes. For example, this can be for individuals being treated for epilepsy and high blood pressure. There are, of course, other pre-existing conditions but individuals must make attempts at discussing with their medical professional as well as with their partners. People engaged in over the counter drugs also need to take care because you really do not know what you are doing to yourself.

Among which particular demographic segment is it popular?

We cannot make assumptions about sexual popularity but the younger demographic age bracket are more willing to demonstrate a new way of engaging with their partners on sexual desires, intimacy and reciprocal behavioural change. Unfortunately, they are also the ones with less money to spend per item.

How strong is the interest among university-age students, for example? 

​I think we would be making a lot of assumptions on university age students and their inherent sex lives. It is difficult to make those assumptions because there is a lot of anonymity in the purchase of our stock. What I can say though is that we need to ensure our young adults get the necessary sexual health education they need because we now find ourselves providing this even when it was not in our original business plan. Young adults ring to ask questions that should have been provided for them by the educational institutions.  ​

Is your market just for women or it’s for both men and women? I started my

business specifically to make it less embarrassing for women who want to purchase adult toys to do so without judgement by other less educated people on sexual desire. However, we have now moved on to make provisions for adults over 18 years in terms of sexual health information, provision of adult products for men and those engaged in alternative lifestyle choices.

Do you think the market will continue to grow?

The market will continue to grow as we begin to accept that individuals in relationships will always want to improve their intimacy levels. This is normal and there is nothing wrong with it. We do have to have caution with the growth and ensure businesses have a measure of ethics about them, because our sexual health education is very limited for young people who then become adults many are not aware of the dangers of buying fake adult toys on their bodies.

How do you see this market in the next 10-15 years here?

Hopefully less rigid and more diverse in its alternative options. Better provision of services such as Counselling and sexual therapy; and selling adult toys should not equate with running a “hook-up” or any other such  service. The two have nothing in common.

What sort of challenges do you face in marketing sex toys?

Challenges are many. Let’s start with just being able to employ staff who are not scared of the toys and feel that “thunder” will strike them for working in such an environment; to those, who feel that giving consenting adults information on healthy sexual lifestyles is an encouragement to bad behaviour; to men thinking that you are encouraging women to be promiscuous and the list is endless. These problems are socio-cultural and all based on all sorts of judgements and assumptions. Then, you have businesses that will refuse your adverts because they do not want to offend their customers who may or may not see your own advert on their pages. This is just a small tip of the iceberg of challenges. I do not think you have enough space for the challenges.

Do you have a sales team? Do people contact you through referrals or how?

No, we do not have a sales team. Customers get in touch with us through word of mouth, referrals, through our social media accounts or our website. We are active on twitter, facebook, linkedin, pinterest or our website.

I know that some people believe you are shameless for daring into this kind of venture; what do you say to such?

You see what I mean by such assumptions. The language of “shameless”. That is why people would rather die than get in touch and speak to a sex therapist or counsellor. I run an ethical business and there is no shame involved here. There is a need and I am fulfilling that need. What we need is for less shame and more sexual health education on what individuals should expect from each other whilst in committed relationships.

Some see the sex toy as an empowering tool for the woman; do you also think so and why?

To be able to even bring a sex toy into the bedroom involves a strategy of effective communications as partners. Sometimes it’s because the people involved in the relationship have read or seen a new toy online and what it can do to enhance a relationship. This makes it empowering for both partners. It’s not an end in itself but a tool to explore your physical relationship and try something new together.

In your experience is it something users often share with their spouses?

Of course. My oldest couple are 75 male and 68 female. They wanted a basket of pleasurable items for their silver jubilee anniversary. So we did a basket of flavoured lubricants, scented massage oils, clitoral stimulants and a penis ring with a bullet. My youngest couple are virgin newly-weds who wanted their first time to be all and more. So for them we did a basket of massage oils, flavoured lubes, a vibrator and dildo, vibrating penis rings with several erotic novel and picture books. They loved it and both couples are return customers. They both typify what’s possible in a committed relationship if you both work at it.

Are there side effects; short or long term?

Not that I am aware off if the products you are buying are original. But we also have limited knowledge on safety regulations for these products. It’s best to ensure that you buy adult toys stating that they are phthalate free, etc. Your new product should not smell or ooze any liquid after a few months. Your instructions must be in English and if not you know it is fake.

How do people reach the decision that they’ll have to use sex toys?

There are so many culminating factors that result in the decision to use a sex toy. For example, partners who travel, short or long term illness resulting in physical disability; if your partner has been involved in a car accident and is unable to use his penis anymore. There are numerous factors to consider. There is no hard and fast rule to this. Remember relationships evolve and change.

What are the most common types available in the market today?

The most common types available today in the market are the Jessica Rabbit for those who like the immediate feel of penetrative and clitoral stimulation all at once. For men, the popular ones include the plastic vagina. There are also bullets and vibrating penis rings in demand.

Are you facing any regulatory issues?

Not that I am aware off yet. However, we still need to address the issue of bringing in fake items which cuts across all sectors of the market and not just the adult toy business. You will always have unscrupulous business people who want to make a quick buck and therefore throw caution to the wind, but by educating ourselves and ensuring we understand what types of materials are safe we should be able to self-regulate if possible.

Which countries are currently the biggest consumers and why?

Not sure which countries are the biggest consumers and why, but I will assume that the US will come close on the list to the UK and Scandinavian countries.

Do you think a time will come soon when Nigerians might be more open about its use?

Well Nigerians will be dragged to the well sooner than later for the simple reason that our young persons between the ages of 18 – 25 years are the fastest growing population in the country. They are the social media and internet consumer generation. They are more willing to engage and ask questions on what is possible, feasible and willing to try.

Do you use some of these products yourself?

I’m always fascinated with this question. I always ask, if I sold wedding dresses or bags or anything within the normal assumptions of what makes me a Nigerian woman, would I be asked this question. The answer is always No. So, I will not answer this question because it is irrelevant to my business. I run a business and that is what matters. I have taken time to take courses on all the products I sell including retraining as a Counsellor and that is more important. Not the question on titillating your moral compass.

Which of your products sell fast and why do you think they’re such bestsellers?

Our fastest selling products are the Jessica Rabbit vibrators and plastic vaginas for the men. There is no other self exploratory questions as to why they do well. It is rather obvious. They both can be used solo or with your partner.

Can you share with us the most interesting experience you’ve had since you started www.myintimatepleasureshop.com?

 My most interest experience to date was the mature gentleman married with four children who wanted us the make a LASTMA uniform with a fanny hole for his wife. He wanted in in a size 20 because he wanted his wife to be comfortable wearing it. This was at the height of the Boko Haram bombings and I was so freaked out on sewing a quasi military uniform we declined making it. He was so disappointed but I was impressed that his sexual fantasy was a local symbol and he wanted his wife to be the central figure in the fantasy.

If you weren’t doing this, what other thing do you think it would?

If I weren’t running this business what else would I likely be doin? I think you forget that I wear several hats already. I am a leading feminist and writer with a varied career in international development work. I sit on at least two international boards. I am re-training as a Counsellor and Sex Therapist because that is what is coming out of my business. People want someone who will not judge them but listen to them as they work through their problems. Yes, I’m Nigerian but I’m not very typical in that regard so that’s what I would be doing.  A trained Counsellor and Sex Therapist.

Generally, what motivates you?

My motivation is simple really for Nigerian women to find their voice and not be tied to rigid cultural and traditional norms that hinder their development. I found my voice a long time ago and it’s about time others found theirs.

What keeps you awake at night?

Power outage. Seriously! I hate it with a vengeance.

The Interview Magazine

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