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For many women, subjects about our sexual and reproductive health are near taboo “in real life” and the internet is a safe space to exchange notes and learn about our bodies.
Recently, social media has been transformed into a powerful tool for communities to raise awareness and push conversations on a range of issues. Women’s voices and experiences– whether personal or collective – have been open for discussion on social media, allowing those who previously had no knowledge of these issues a level ground to learn and find community.
In October, Document Women put out a survey across social media asking for “things you didn’t know about your body until the internet.”
The women who responded told us about the wealth of information they have gathered about topics that are hard to broach offline as a result of little access to such information.
Minnie (22) believes that people are more honest and open in online conversations than they are offline and like her, many of the other women we spoke to are markedly more comfortable sharing online than offline. Rose (29) says, “The online conversations are more varied in content with people willing to share their stories. Offline – people still aren’t as willing to open up about their journeys.”
In response to how online conversations are different from conversations online for women, Ife (20) told Document Women, “A LOT of people are uneducated about sexual health. I think it’s mainly because of the “hush-hush” stigma attached to the sex conversation. But online, at least you know that if someone starts being judgmental you can just choose to not reply to them and move on.”
Ranmi, 21, says, “there’s usually a lot of shame offline about body positivity but online, it gets better.”
Conversations online also pose less threat of harm and violence because of physical inaccessibility.
More than 60% of the 20 respondents to our survey found Twitter to be the most informative social media platform for these subjects. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Youtube are also great resources for learning about women’s bodies and health online.
When asked about shocking things they’d learned about their bodies, sexual health and reproduction online, the respondents provided a range of answers including;
- That squirting is normal.
- The effects that the menstrual cycle has on mental health.
- That yeast infections are normal.
- That the vagina need not be washed with soap.
- That saggy breasts are not a personal failing and are normal.
- That vaginal discharge can bleach underwear, and it’s perfectly normal.
- That vulvas come in different shapes and sizes.
- That vaginas are self-cleaning.
- That a man’s ejaculate can cause a change in a woman’s vaginal PH levels.
Soso (28) learned online that abortions do not lead to infertility as Nigerian movies led them to believe. Nunya (31) learned that they had vaginismus. Ranmi also learned that “women go through an incredible lot from conception to childbirth. For most women, childbirth is not rosy, postpartum depression is the pits.”
A common response learned by these women from social media is that the process of sex should be enjoyable for both parties.
Nigeria takes its place among the most religious countries in the world with its population of 200 million people made up of predominantly Christians and Muslims. As such, Sex education is influenced by religious overtones and much of the subject is not explored in schools.
Despite the gradual normalisation of ‘western’ practices, Nigerians are conflicted between a scientific approach to sex and the limitations put in place by religion and culture. This leads to poor exploration of the subject at home and at school.
Evidently, social media continues to further a sense of community among women and facilitate sharing, learning and unlearning. We can only seek to continue to better these spaces and make them even safer and more comfortable for women.