Film Review: The Sunny Side of Sex in Uganda

By Jen Thorpe

It has often been said that we only receive one type of message about Africa – the bad one. Worse are the stories we hear about women in Africa – that they suffer violence, poverty, inequality and are worst hit by changes in the environment. We don’t hear much better messages about the lives of people in Uganda. That’s probably why I found The Sunny Side of Sex – Uganda a really positive and enjoyable film.

Sunny Bergman, the director, meets a group of Ugandan women in her home town of Amsterdam. These women are not ashamed to talk about sex, show their favourite sexual positions, or to describe the way that they learnt about sex. They are proud of their sexual prowess, and proud of the knowledge they can share with other women. Sunny is intrigued and travels to Uganda.

In Uganda she learns about the ‘Ssenga’ tradition whereby women are educated in how to have sex to pleasure themselves and their husbands. She learns about the practice of lengthening the labia majora, outside of the the generally westernised criticism, and finds that many women in Uganda believe that it enhances their ability to enjoy sex. She learns that women young and old are proud of their sexuality.

Her investigations explore the processes of girls who assist each other with labia pulling, in a context of fervent homophobia in Uganda. In the film she speaks with activist David Kato, who explains that homosexuality is in fact a historically common trait in Uganda, and is not a western import as many (American) Christian pastors in Uganda would have people believe. Kato was murdered in his home in 2011.

The film is fascinating, and Bergman does a good job of asking the right questions. One of my favourite lines from the film happens when Bergman explains that in Amsterdam, the labia minora are often called the ‘shame lips’. Her guide for the trip asks ‘but how can you be ashamed of your own body?’ A question that many of us could ask of ourselves in many contexts.

I really enjoyed the film. It is positive, and interesting.

You can watch it at the Encounters Documentary Film festival at the following dates and times:

CT: NuMetro V&A Waterfront Wed 13 8.45 | Fugard Mon 18 8
Jozi: Bioscope Thurs 14 8.15

It screens with another incredible documentary called ‘The Cut’.

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