Written by 'Nonye Ben-Nwankwo - Punch, Nigeria
Her husband is dead. She is jobless. She is saddled with five hungry mouths to feed. The burden of the next house rent lies solely on hershoulder, no companion, no friend. She is being scorned by not a few but also pitied by many others. This is the life of a typical Nigerian widow.
You see her; the picture she paints is that of a helpless woman who is more worried about her financial incapability. Ask 10 widows and nine out of them would tell you their major problem is money. But no, that is not the major predicament, it goes beyond that.
Above all the challenges and concerns, a widow is first of all, a woman who has needs – sexual needs. How does she cope when that urge, that craving and that feeling of wanting to have a man satisfy her sexual needs, comes up? How does she quench her sexual desire?
As you watch her cry at the graveside of the husband, wanting to fall into the grave with the casket, it is not only because she has lost a helpmate. She cries most importantly because she has lost a friend, a companion and of course, a lover- a sex mate!
The perception that a widow doesn't and shouldn't have a sexual need lies in the minds of the ignorant. The urge is there, stronger, deeper and certainly more intense.
"I am not too old, somebody should be around me. The urge to have sex comes on once in a while, it is the grace of God that keeps me going all this while," says 53-year-old school teacher, Getrude Oyetayo.
"Personally, I came to realise that my profession of being a teacher has helped me a lot. I am disciplined. I try to make sure I am myself. I respect myself and forge ahead. I don't dwell along that line. If I put my interest there, I will lose focus. Peradventure it comes again; I only ask God what He thinks I should do. God has always been there. God will ask me if He is not sufficient for me. If I have any sexual feelings, I engage myself in the house of God. It has helped me not to think of it.
"When I feel the urge, I run to the church. The first few years I lost my husband, I would always go to the church to sweep it. I will listen to the radio. At times, my kids would not be around, they would go back to school. I don't even have a maid. But I will manage," she explained.
Oyetayo said she had had to battle with the issue of loneliness since her husband, Williams, passed on five years ago.
"As a human being, the loneliness comes up. It is terrible. If you are not careful, you will lose focus. Loneliness is something a widow battles with. You look right, you don't see anybody and you look left, you don't see anybody. You are just on your own. My companionis my transistor radio. If I am not singing praises, I will listen to radio or watch TV. Before you know it, it would be night and I would sleep off and wake up the next morning," she says.
Five years down, Oyetayo says she is still not used to the fact that she is a widow, saying she would not wish the condition for her worst enemy.
"I was traumatised for a long time. I went through a lot of psychological and emotional pain. But God has been there. It is His grace that has been sustaining me. Being a widow is something you will not wish your worst enemy. I thank God anyway."
Thirty-year-old shares her experience
Oyetayo's story is not different from that of 30-year-old Ibienne Ekile, (not real names), a Rivers State banker based in Lagos.
Ekile, whose husband died in 2010, three years after the marriage, said the sexual urge is still as fresh as it was when she met her husband.
"In my own case, I wasn't devastated because I wouldn't be able to take care of my home and our son. Thank God I have a good job. But I realised that I would not be able to make love to my husband any longer. Our sex life was very healthy when we were together. I just didn't know how I was going to manage. I doubt if there is any widow that would say she doesn't crave for sex.
"I managed to live a life of chastity for three years. I am a human being and I am young. I had to get into a relationship so that I don't jump from one bed to another. My husband's death was painful. He died in a motor accident and it has not been easy. For a woman to stay and have nobody to 'lubricate' her is not easy at all. I will not lie and tell you that I have not slept with any man since my husband died."
'I sewed up my vagina'
But a female catechist of a Catholic Church in Lagos, Mrs. Maria-Rose Aganbi, claimed she has not slept with a man since her husband died 21 years ago and might never in her lifetime.
"My husband died when I was 30 years old and after five years in marriage. It was terrible! I had my five children in those five years. Things were not so good. But I made a vow to God that He would be my husband.
"I will not say the passion was not there. However, I killed it with prayer. If I had slept around or had affairs, I wouldn't have been able to train my son who eventually became a priest. I sewed up my vagina. I can beat my hand on my chest and say that I have never slept with any man since my husband died. However, when the urge comes, I go to the sanctuary of God and I pray and pray," she said.
"The urge still comes on so strong even at this age. But I have made a vow to God and I intend to keep it no matter what. I don't masturbate, I don't even have immoral thoughts and I don't play with sex toys. However, I switch off and occupy my mind with other thoughts," she said.
Aganbi would not likely forget in a hurry what she went through to train her kids.
"Things were so hard. I used to hawk Aloe Vera in Lagos Island. I soakedgarriin water and allowed it to rise before I gave it to my children. I used to hawk rice and so many other things. We were living in a thatched house. The life of a widow is certainly not a bed of roses," she said.
But Mrs. Sandra Maduneme, a clothier based in Egbeda area of Lagos, said she didn't find it difficult to adapt to the loss of her husband in terms of sexual needs because she has a low libido.
"Naturally, sex has not been 'food' for me. I may not be frigid but I can do without sex. So, when my husband died, sex really never came to my mind. In that aspect, I have been able to cope very well. My husband was not always around even when he was alive. He was based abroad but he trusted me so much because he knew I was not too keen about sex.
"But few times when I even thought of it in the middle of the night, I would just call Jesus and I will sleep off again. If I get the urge early in the morning, before I know it, my kids would enter my bedroom and I would play with them and prepare them for the day," she said.
Advances from men on the increase
One common experience among the widows, as they told our correspondent, was the rise of advances from the men.
Virtually all the widows our correspondent spoke with said men demand to sleep with them mostly before they could assist them in any area.
Recalling her experience, Oyetayo said the first person to make sexual advances at her was her late husband's best friend.
"He was my husband's best man during our wedding. Just one month after my husband died, he came to me and asked me how I would be able to pay the rent and my two children's school fees. Before I could even answer him, he said he was available and he would give me anything I wanted as long as I slept with him.
"Apart from him, I have had several other advances from men even till tomorrow. But I know myself, I don't intend to mess up and I will always be focused," she said.
But Aganbi recalled that she actually went out with some of the men simply because she needed to eat and get extra food for her children.
"I remember a man that met me one day that I was crying. He asked me what was wrong with me and I told him I needed N800 for my kids' food and transportation to school the following day. He gave me the money but also suggested I follow him to a HOTEL because he wanted to "take me out."
"While at the restaurant, he ordered for chicken and rice. I devoured my rice and even asked for more. They brought it and the man went to the reception to 'arrange' for room. I quickly told him I was going to urinate and I took off with the rice. That was what my children ate that night," she said.
From a psychiatrist perceptive
A psychiatrist, Dr. Adeoye Oyewole, attributed a number of issues such as religious, economic and cultural as factors that might stop a widow from having a strong sexual drive.
"A widow has a psychological sense of loss. There is the challenge of bringing up the children. There are challenges with the in-laws who want to chase her out of the house. There is also the religious challenge. The widow is expected to be holy and be focused and be satisfied with her life and not desire sex which is carnal because she is expected to 'need' God more than any other person.
"There is also the expectation of the society. A good number of widows don't want to be seen in the hotel. They wouldn't want to be seen in another man's car. A widow would feel if somebody sees her with another man, the person might feel she was the one that killed her husband because of that man."
Oyewole said that most men primarily want to sleep with widows and perhaps, take advantage of them.
"When an average man sees a widow, he knows that she is desperate and can be taken advantage of. A widow is not interested in the sexual release but in the quality and intimacy of the sex and it is difficult to get that. Most of us that are married, our wives are struggling to get that kind of intimacy, talk less of a widow. The men available to those widows are usually friends of their husbands. Most times, they are the ones that would be the first to ask the widow for sex. The woman will see it as a taboo as if she is betraying the dead.
"Most widows also want men who can be economically responsible for them and their children, a problem solver. That kind of man is not common again. The widows cannot go for younger men. The responsible men are the married ones. It gets to a time the widow gets attached to this 'wonderful' man who is nice and who picks the bills and solves problems and before you know it, she gets jealous of the wife at home. Wahala will start and the man will tell her that his wife is number one," he said.
However, Oyewole believes that things are changing with the modern generation.
"Modern widows of this generation are somewhat different. It is a cultural thing but the culture is also melting," he said.
Findings revealed that many widows who did not have wealthy husbands or inherit wealth or property belonging to their husbands either by will or proxy are either at the mercy of male suitors who would promise heaven on earth in exchange for sex or they just stay away and manage their loneliness.