Welcome back to my interview series! Over the past years I’ve interviewed inspiring women of African heritage highlighting their work and observations on life.
This time around, I’m especially excited to introduce readers to Iheoma Obibi, an African feminist writer, human rights activist and more recently the creative director and business owner of Intimate Pleasures Desires of the Heart, a one of a kind online shop offering the best selection of sexual health products and erotica sourced from around the world.
Minna: Hi Iheoma! Firstly, thanks so much for taking the time to share your story with my readers. I’ve been looking forward to our interview since we met up months ago in London.
Let’s start with your motivation to set up Intimate Pleasures, Nigeria’s first female online intimate shop. Was it a choice you came to gradually or something you always wanted to do and what have the main challenges and joys been?
Iheoma: My motivation came after several years of being told that since I had relocated to Lagos for work and who travelled rather frequently, that since “I had no shame” here is a list of items from friends all wanting something from an adult store in whichever country I found myself visiting. By the time I had attended the African Feminist Forum in 2008 and 2010, I knew that this is what I wanted to do but still had a few stumbling blocks in the how it was going to take shape.
The idea for an online store was therefore organic, because I knew enough to know that no Nigerian would visit a store. In fact, getting staff to man the store would be problematic.
It makes me glad that my business idea has allowed for women – single or coupled up – to begin to address issues around intimacy, sexual fulfilment, lust and love. In fact, I have had to engage a counsellor because some women will call the order line and burst into tears. There’s very little opportunity for women to discuss issues of intimacy, sexual fulfilment or even address previous history if they have been survivors of sexual abuse or rape in Nigeria.
I must say that my business has opened the floodgates and so now I am not the only one selling adult novelty toys, but I am the only one doing it this way. Once in a while, I appear on a phone-in radio show as “Madam Butterfly” with Wana Wana on Inspiration FM. I run wellness and intimacy ladies afternoons. It’s become a holistic approach to women and sexual fulfilment.
My challenges are daily! Since we supply all over Nigeria, a constant challenge is working with local courier companies who neglect the importance of time management on deliveries. A further challenge is a recent flood of sub-standard adult toys onto the market with no regulation and no concern about the kinds of materials used. Loving a good deal, many Nigerians are rushing for them, however, some of these toys break on the first day or do not last as long as they should. Also, customers might not trust online businesses because of fraud. So now, on our website, customers can pay using the mypaga.com platform which gives an additional level of security and discretion.
Minna: Since founding Intimate Pleasures have your views on female sexuality within Nigeria changed and in what way? Are women more or less sexually assertive, confident or knowlegeable than you thought?
Iheoma: Yes my views have certainly changed. Our society is complex when it comes to sex. There are a lot of un-spoken and hidden things that take place. Yet the environment is extremely judgemental and the lure of the title “Mrs.” is stronger than ever. Due to pressure from family, friends, age, networks and faith institutions, women are entering marriages for the wrong reasons, making many compromises.
However, many women are beginning to appreciate the importance of a caring and loving relationship that encourages sexual fulfilment. Remember though, many women are told to be chaste and pure for their marriage; then once married, many cannot make the transition to sexual experimentation. I cannot make assumptions about women’s knowledge but the inability to discuss sex in an informative way as is done through the PSHE programme in schools in the UK means that young women and men really do not have a chance at sexual fulfilment.
Minna: Which product do you sell the most of?
Iheoma: We sell a lot of Jessica Rabbit in all its variations as well as the penis rings. Penis enhancement products are our third best selling product.
Minna: You are active in the Nigerian Feminist Forum and sit on its Steering Committee. What role does feminism play in Nigeria, and Africa at large, and where have we seen progress and where do you think we still need to work harder?
Where do I begin with the role of feminism in Nigeria – we have a long way to go but we are slowly getting there. We face discrimination on all fronts and our biggest challenge is the merging of right wing fundamentalisms with nationalistic ideology from the Christian right. Much focus has been placed on understanding situations of women in northern Nigeria, in the process neglecting that in the south the Christian right has merged with our antiquated cultural norms and sent the discourse back a generation. It has become so embedded in all families that it is a daily challenge to be able to hold a clear headed conversation with anyone on women’s choices.
We need to work harder to provide an alternative discourse for women to realise that they can make choices for themselves as mature women; including the choice to get married should they wish to; the choice to fly to the moon should they want to; the choice to leave an abusive relationship alive and not in a casket.
Minna: What are your thoughts on being an African woman in your field? Have you had to tackle stereotypes and in what ways has your background been an advantage? Also, what would you like us to imagine for future generations of African women in terms of their sexual relationships?
Iheoma: It’s been tough. I have received death threats, I’ve been told that my business is “devil business” and I’m regularly told by people that they “pray for the salvation of my soul”. According to my tormentors, I do not “look” the part of a depraved individual and I’m tickled that this is how they see me and my business. Being a feminist allows me to create the mental framework to always move on. I place the challenges in a box called obstacles to overcome and I do not take them personally.
Despite the challenges I absolutely love running an adult novelty store online in Nigeria at this present time. It enables me to tackle stereotypes and I would so much want to envisage a future in which we are more concerned with our individual sexual fulfilment rather than whether your neighbour is getting off or not. Seriously, there needs to be more focus on the self and making your relationship work for you rather than on what your great aunt thinks you’re up to behind closed doors..
I’m encouraged that we have seen progress in the online platforms – also by creating anonymity women are able to have discussions, initiate campaigns and engage the wider public without feeling that they are letting their family down.
Visit Intimate Pleasures
Update: Intimate Pleasures is the first online sex shop catering to women specifically in Nigeria but the second to sell sex toys online.