Blonde redhead silently lyrics
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Once a couple decides to marry, their respective families shift into high gear to “investigate” whether the match is a good one, but these investigations are focused almost entirely on ferreting out the social status and family history of the potential in-laws. Typically, a representative from each family will travel to the community of the potential mate’s family and inquire about issues such as economic status, religious affiliation, and any histories of or reputations for problems like criminality and mental illness. To the extent that issues of sexual promiscuity might come up in such investigations, it would only be in the context of a scandal of women’s marital infidelity in the family, but as far as I know these investigations rarely extend to inquiring about a potential bride’s sexual behavior while she was an urban migrant or a schoolgirl. As a consequence, in the most typical pattern of Igbo marriage, it is quite possible for a young woman to hide her sexual past from her future husband, his family, and his community.
While this explains how in individual cases young women can marry and become good wives without the risk of a previous reputation haunting them, it does not address how women adjust to this transition, or how men reconcile the knowledge that so many young women had concurrent sexual partnerships before marriage with their expectations that their own wives will be faithful. These were extremely difficult questions to navigate in interviews. What I report emerges partly from what can be gleaned from interviews with younger married men and women, but partly from what I have learned through more informal conversations and observations over many years of participant observation in southeastern Nigeria.
With regard to married men’s perceptions of their wives’ sexuality, not a single man in the study reported that he thought his wife had ever cheated since they were married. In part, this may be a function of the stakes of such an admission for a man’s reputation. Most Igbo men will say that if they ever caught their wife cheating, they would divorce her. While this may not always be the case in practice, it would be surprising for a man to admit that his wife cheated or even that he suspected so. But I do not think in most cases that this is what explains men’s responses. Instead, I think most men find it highly unlikely that their wives are cheating, because they know the social sanctions for a woman doing so are so great. None of the wives in the study admitted that they had cheated on their husbands, though obviously their incentives to present themselves this way are even greater than the reasons men want to see them this way. Yet both men and women told stories about specific married women in the community who were unfaithful to their husbands, so clearly women’s extramarital sex is both a reality and a source of considerable social anxiety.
The fact that most men know that most women have had premarital sex seems to be mostly sublimated when people talk about—and even in some cases when they have—marital sex. When I was asking one particularly educated and open man—a civil servant in his mid-forties—about marital sexuality and the kinds of things that he and his wife do to enhance sexual pleasure, he suggested that while he and his wife experimented somewhat in their sexual relationship, there were some things that a man would be unlikely to do with his wife. This was both a cause and consequence of men’s extramarital sexual behavior, he intimated, because men sought novel sexual experiences from extramarital lovers that they thought were inappropriate to request of good wives. Further, even if they were tempted to introduce these practices in marriage (e.g., oral sex, anal sex, or a variety of sexual positions), many men feared doing so because their wives would ask where they learned them.
But the conservatism of marital sex in southeastern Nigeria should not be exaggerated. Many married men and, to a lesser extent, married women reported forms of sexual behavior and experimentation that struck me as quite liberal. And with the change in marriage privileging emotional intimacy, certainly sexual pleasure is something many couples value. But it is also clear that powerful gender dynamics enforce a code that it is the man who should be the sexual aggressor and innovator.
If it was difficult to get men to talk about marital sexual behavior in interviews, it was even harder to get women to do so, much less get them to discuss the adjustment (or at least the appearance of an adjustment) to marital monogamy after a history of premarital sexual activity. For obvious reasons, married women in the study did not volunteer much information about their sexual histories, even when the interviewers were socially skilled fellow women. While some married women would eventually talk about the importance of marital sexual pleasure, we learned little in the study about what sorts of sexual desires women have that are not fulfilled in their marriages, much less whether they acted on them. But the interviews certainly reinforced what is apparent to any observer of southeastern Nigeria: for Igbo women, being married and having children remains the pillar of adult female identity, and women will go to great lengths to achieve and preserve this status, including, it seems, reconfiguring their sexual behavior to meet social expectations.
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