YORUBA  (Sudan)





IndexAfricaSudan → Yoruba

Also featured: Nuba, Shilluk, Bari, Dinka, Baja, Kuku, Dogons, Yoruba, Mandari; ®Zande



Among the Yoruba-speaking peoples, girls of better class were almost always betrothed when children, frequently when infants, the husband in futuro being sometimes an adult, sometimes a boy[1]. Virginity in the bride is only of paramount importance when the girl has been betrothed in childhood; but many girls have lovers in secret[2]. Girls were often betrothed from infancy or birth (Caldwell et al., 1991:p239, 242-3)[3], “often at five years of age” (Bascom, 1969:p61)[4]. Marriage was often delayed until two or three years after puberty (Bascom, 1969:p64). Sources on premarital sexuality (Caldwell et al., 1991:p243-4; Le Blanc et al., 1991:p502)[5] are ambiguous. One 1993 study[6] found that for 3.6 per cent of school students, coitus was experienced at “about ten years old” and for 36.4 per cent not until the age of 15 and 16 years. For the majority of those who had had sexual relations, love and fun were the most frequently provided reasons for involvement. In another study on unmarried female trade apprentices in Ikorodu, however, the lowest age would be 11[7].


Yoruba mothers who would kiss her infant below the umbiculus, would be committing incest (Staewen and Schönberg, 1970:p222)[8]. Traditionally, sexual education came from selected same-gender elders, often the oldest of such persons in the village, offered at the puberty rites (Demehin, 1983-4)[9]. With colonisation, Victorian repression condemned sex education, which was found to be rare in association with the absence of puberty rituals (Dehemin, 1983)[10]. Female excision was explained in terms of reducing sexual enjoyment. Virginity was prized; elders generally married off their children soon after puberty to avoid problems. Male children are not punished for public masturbation (LeVine, 1963)[11].


“Up to the age of six the children of both sexes are allowed by the parents to mix freely and to play their little games. But from six onward there is a tendency for a girl to go with the group of girls and for the boy to go with his. After puberty there is definite taboo, which is rigorously enforced by the parents, against the mingling of the sexes in public or private”[12].


“Yoruba husbands-to-be and wives-to-be in the olden days were rightly excited about the expected sexual relations since they were not encouraged to engage in sexual intercourse before marriage. Yoruba children also enjoy sexual fantasies. They play occasionally by imitating adults: husband, wife, brother, sister in a fictitious married life. […] Puberty is referred to as ibalaga. The sign of puberty in males among the Yoruba is the maturity of the scrotum-eggs. When the two drop down properly in the bags, the boy is warned to get ready for fatherhood, if he dares to have sexual intercourse with a ripe girl. The girl’s sign of puberty is the ripening of her two breasts. She would be warned to get ready to get out of her father’s house because her two ripe breasts will attract the males one of whom will eventually woo her and carry her away as a wife. […] Sexual intercourse and the methods of doing it is not discussed openly with children but it is taught to them cautiously at the appropriate time, in closed groups” (Alaba, 2004:p8, 10, 11)[13].


“[…] traditional control prescribes premarital chastity to preserve female virginity at the time of marriage. This results in total exclusion of female adolescents from any discussion pertaining to sex and birth control, a practice that seems to persist in the face of general moral laxity particularly in the urban centres. Hence, they cannot make use of contraceptives openly. Secondly, among those who had secondary and post-secondary education, only a few confessed to have had adequate sex education. Sex education is lacking, most especially in the Muslim controlled schools. […]`gift marriage', a practice by which mostly the Muslims give out under-aged girls of about 15 years old in marriage. Secondly, because marriage attracts high bride wealth, the lower income people who cannot afford to send their wards to formal or non-formal schools give them out in marriage at a tender age. Some of these young brides are not biologically mature […] Sexuality issues are sacredly guarded by the Yorubas. It can only be discussed by the elders. Young members of the society, especially females, are not allowed to discuss sexual matters. This has implications for sex education and contraceptive use. Since elders remain the `gate-keepers' of knowledge about sexuality issues, sex education cannot make an easy in-road to the life of young members of the community. A young woman reported that she dropped out of school when she got pregnant because she could not discuss the issue with her parents. She attempted abortion but it became complicated and thus led to her expulsion from school. Another woman claimed that she suffered from a venereal disease for a long time before she got married because she did not have the money to treat herself and she could not tell her parents”[14].




Additional reading:

·         Anuforo, Prisca O.; Lola Oyedele, and Dula F. Pacquiao (2004) Comparative Study of Meanings, Beliefs, and Practices of Female Circumcision Among Three Nigerian Tribes in the United States and Nigeria, J Transcult Nurs 15:103-13




Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Nov 2004


[1] Ellis, A. B. (1890) The Yoruba-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa. London: International African Institute, p183; Parsons (1906:p73), op.cit.. Talbot (1969 [III]:p431) mentions prenatal betrothal.

[2] Ellis (1890:p154; 183, 184, 185), op.cit.; Parsons (1906:p129), op.cit.; Benedict, R. ([1948]) Child marriage, in Seligman, E. R. A. & Johnson, A. (Eds.) Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. New York: MacMillan. Vol.III, p396

[3] Caldwell, J. C., Orubuloye, I. O. & Caldwell, P. (1991) The Destabilization of the Traditional Yoruba Sexual System, Populat & Developm Rev 17,2:229-62

[4]Bascom, W. (1962) The Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria. London: OxfordUniversity Press

[5] Le Blanc, M., Meintel, D. & Piche, V. (1991) The African Sexual System: Comment on Caldwell et al., Populat & Developm Rev 17,3:497-505

[6] Oloko, B. A. & Omoboye, A. O. (1993) Sexual networking among some Lagos State adolescent Yoruba students, Health Transition Rev 3, Suppl. Issue:77-82

[7] Dada, J. O., Olaseha, I. O., Ajuwon, A. J. (1997-8) Sexual Behavior and Knowledge of AIDS among Female Trade Apprentices in a Yoruba Town in South-Western Nigeria, Int Quart Community Health Educ 17,3:255-70

[8] Staewen, C. & Schönberg, F. (1970) Kulturwandel und Angstentwicklung bei den Yoruba Westafrikas. München: Weltforum Verlag

[9] Demehin, A. O. (1983-4) Sexual attitudes in traditional and modern Yoruba society, Int Quart Commun Health Educ 4,3:231-8

[10] Demehin, A. O. (1983) Sex education in Nigeria: problems and proposals, Public Health [London] 97:228-399

[11] LeVine, R. A. (1963) Child rearing practices in sub-Saharan Africa: an interim report, Bull Menn Clin 27,5:245-56

[12] Ward, E. (1936) The parent-child relationship among the Yoruba, Anthropol Quart 9,1/4:56-63, at p63

[13]Alaba, O. (2004) Understanding Sexuality in the Yoruba Culture. Understanding Human Sexuality Seminar Series

[14]Jegede, A. S. & Odumosu, O. (2003) Gender and Health Analysis of Sexual Behaviour in South-Western Nigeria, African J Reproductive Health 7,1:63-70 [http://bioline.utsc.utoronto.ca/archive/00001700/01/rh03009.pdf]