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Cotonou, Benin — “I am in the business of pleasure,” 33-year-old Antares Adjibi said, a blue dildo and silicone breasts sitting on a shelf behind her.
Adjibi’s sex shop in the heart of Cotonou is an unlikely enterprise in Benin, a west African country steeped in tradition and religion.
Nearly half of the population is Christian, almost 28% is Muslim, while more than 11% practice Vodun, or Voodoo, which originated in the region of the French-speaking West African nation and is widely regarded as its birthplace.
There are a few online businesses in Benin which sell sex accessories, but boutiques specializing in the products are uncommon. In neighboring Nigeria, sex shops are growing in popularity in Lagos, but are rare outside of cities.
“Sexuality is still taboo in Africa, particularly in Benin,” Adjibi says. “Women don’t have freedom of expression. They are not free to express their sexuality.”
Adjibi opened her store Abasik in 2013 with the aim of changing that. The walls of the small shop are lined with brightly colored, flowing lingerie for women. The shelves of a separate room are filled with phallus shaped toys, handcuffs, and flesh-colored molds. But Adjibi wanted to do more than sell lingerie and sex toys, so she enrolled in sexual psychology courses and began holding free workshops for women seeking sexual advice. In the years since, she says she has helped to counsel hundreds of couples.
The concept of a sex shop was so novel in Benin that when it was launched, Adjibi was invited to speak on a local radio station about the importance of women’s sexual pleasure. The backlash was immediate.
In spite of the online opposition, Adjibi’s free workshops are still crowded with women and couples. She estimates that 70% of her clients are single women and the majority come to her for issues regarding pleasure.
Veronique Tognifode, a gynecologist and obstetrician from Cotonou, who works with the Association for Education, Sexuality and Health in Africa (APESSA), says that taboo associated with sex, and speaking about sexuality, is slowly changing in Benin.