The guy with the scarred face is wagging your phone in your face. He has a face that, either by intention or by genes, only a mother would love. He is also standing too close, and you can smell that he doesn’t brush his tongue, or he has a nasty case of halitosis. You give him your pin number, you would prefer not to, but his two friends look like they don’t mind getting their knuckles bloodied.
You brought yourself here though, and you can’t be angry at anyone. You know how sometimes when things go south, you want to find someone to blame? Someone to be angry at, say that if they hadn’t called you, got you out of the house, made you drink those shots, smoke that weed, then you’d not be in a dingy, musty house in Githurai, sitted on the dirty floor, getting blackmailed.
I had the same expression you have on your face as I sat down with a friend yesterday as I heard his story. I talked to him about overcoming sexual addiction, how he managed to go from a wild, insanely risky ‘hoe phase’, to staying sex-free for the last eight months, and not even thinking about going back to it. ‘It’, the addictive game that is chasing sexual highs, and meeting all of your body’s sexual desires, no matter how lurid, deviant they may be, and at whatever cost. Meeting people from social apps who are just as eager to meet and get their sexual desires off them, as you are.
Although local statistics aren’t available, in the UK, a self-help website for people who feel they are struggling with sex or porn addiction surveyed 21,000 people who have visited the site for help since 2013. 91% were of these visitors were male and only 10% had sought help from a GP. In America, researchers at the University of Minnesota found that the number of Americans struggling with difficult-to-control sexual desires may be increasing. Some 10 per cent of men and seven per cent of women struggle to control sexual thoughts and urges, the study reveals. A healthy sex life has been shown to have benefits for health and happiness, but when sex becomes a compulsion it can interfere with every day functioning and cause distress to those who must constantly fight urges.
I asked Jim* what his epiphany was, that moment that he realized that his addiction would lead him to a place he’d live his life regretting. He told me about a habit that had him pick guys off the social apps 2go and Grindr. Being gay in a conservative society means that meeting people for casual sex mostly happens away from the prying, judgmental eyes of the public, and in the clandestine gay chat spaces where one can hook up, within hours, with guys looking for easy sex.
He tells me this in between movements of people at Uhuru Gardens, where we met, it’s mid-morning on a bright Sunday, and most of Nairobi is in church, arms raised in supplication, or sitted listening to sermons. Overcoming sexual addiction isn’t what a lot of sermons are about and a lot of people struggling have to seek individual sessions with pastors, if they even have the courage to. The fact that same-sex activities and relationships are criminalized by law and shunned socially and religiously means that he was wary to seek guidance.
It started off harmless, an online space where one can easily conceal their identity, and if they want to, alter everything except their fantasies. Be as nasty, as crazy, as maniacal with their desires as they can, and meet like-minded people quicker than it takes electric kettles to turn cold water hot. Young people unashamed and proud of their sexuality, curious ones that want to have a feel of what it feels like, older men who cannot afford to reveal their identities, men who harbor a deep hatred for gay men in broad daylight, and send them risqué texts in the cover of darkness. It’s harmless, you think, until one finds themself surrounded by thugs in one of Nairobi’s most notorious crime hubs.
A flirtatious text that grows into a steamy thread, that promised him what his body was hot for. From a lazy Saturday in bed, that turned into one of the worst days in his life. One minute he was meeting someone at the crowded Githurai stage, mistaking the alarm bells going off in his head for excitement, thinking he was about to get laid in the filthiest room in filthy Nairobi, the next minute, two guys emerged from the shower cubicle, and he realized this isn’t a gang bang, but a well-orchestrated robbery. After it was clear he was being blackmailed and robbed, they took his phone, his money and cleared his M-pesa balance and proceeded to take a huge mobile bank loan, and withdraw that as well. Then they gave him Ksh 200 and told him to walk and not look back. A classic blackmailing heist, where because hooking up for gay sex, let alone being gay, is a crime, it rules out the victims pressing charges and the gang lay in wait for the next victim.
I ask him what he fills the void that was once contained sexual desire and fantasies with, and he says meditation. Waking up daily at 5 a.m, without fail, to seek clarity, see things for what they are, to master emotions, so that he controls them, and not the other way round. He started meditation in 2013, a google search after a bout of suicidal thoughts after a tumultuous period in his life where he had moved houses, was flunking exams and had no friends in his new area led him there. He is adamant that meditation itself is NOT a cure for sexual addictions, and when a cure comes, it is more likely from the effects of knowing how to master the brain as opposed to a direct treatment for the addiction.
I ask him about easing off bad habits, versus going cold turkey, and he tells me that he advocates for easing off the habit, as it is easier to master what you understand. Cold turkey, (abruptly stopping the habit as opposed to a gradual reduction) has worked for some people, but what he attests to is how wild the desire comes back as if not properly addressed. That understanding where your addiction stems from; a tumultuous childhood, a need for validation, masking abuse by over-indulgence, a weak self-control system, can help to know how to address an addiction problem. That the guilt and self-hate after is your body rejecting what harms it, the mental anguish is worse than the fears of contracting STIs, getting robbed, or physically harmed in pursuit of sex.
“Do you fear relapsing?” I ask him as we dust of the seats of our pants to leave. Nairobi is hot at this time of year, and we have to stop for a dust devil to pass. Once the leaves, debris and litter left behind by a careless population pass us, he answers that no, he don’t think so, that he has tremendous confidence in himself right now, and there’s simply no way he’s going back. Then we walk away having small talk, my thoughts partly lost in how rough having a sexual addiction is in Nairobi, and how much we desperately need a space that recognizes and holistically treats sexual addiction, regardless of age, orientation or gender.
*not his real name