When she was younger, 31-year-old Dami Olonisakin, the British Nigerian sex expert, relationships advisor and internet breaker known as Oloni, asked her mum where babies come from. She found the answer wanting.
“She told me, ‘God puts it inside of you’. I was like, ‘This sounds insane’,” she tells me during our video call. “It was pretty much her trying to censor the idea of sex and sexuality,” Oloni continues. “I guess I was sheltered to an extent.”
Oloni now leads conversations about sex, sexuality and consent. She has 265k followers on Twitter, 191k on Instagram, a role as an expert on a Netflix show (Sex: Unzipped), a BBC Three show in the bag, a wildly successful podcast and multiple awards and accolades to her name, including being described by the BBC as an “agony aunt for the influencer age”.
As she sees it, her confidence in commanding conversations about sex and relationships stemmed from, not in spite of, the confusion that arose as a result of culture and religion when she was growing up.
“I remember when I was in church before I started writing my blog,” she reflects. “I was probably around 17 or 18 and it was a Sunday school type of vibe. They got all the youth around and put on one of those rusty VHS videos, where this pastor starts using her life as a testimony about abortion. Her vibe was more along the lines of ‘You’re going to regret it if you ever get an abortion’. I just thought to myself, ‘This is wild’.”
Unable to accept this dogma and disinformation, Oloni was spurred on to find answers for herself. “[Church] shouldn’t have just been about sex within marriage or procreation, it should be how to have a healthy sex life or the options you can take if you do decide to have sex, contraception, having a healthy relationship and knowing when someone’s pressuring you into having sex,” she says.
I can relate. I am British Caribbean. I spent many of my formative years going to a church similar to the one Oloni describes so my experience is comparable. I grew up thinking that any form of self-pleasure was a fast track to hell. In early adulthood, with distance from organised religion and coming into my own, masturbation seemed like less of a big deal. One day my flatmate suggested getting a basic vibrating wand from Amazon, which she knew would “change my life forever”.
It did. After having an orgasm for the first time at 23, I had to sit with myself and – rather than mourn the time and orgasms lost – forgive myself and move forward. Ultimately, as long as we live under patriarchy, we will fall victim to problematic beliefs. It is her own acute understanding that women are often conditioned to have backwards and regressive views about their sexual expression because of the shame and stigma that endures around female sexuality that makes Oloni one of the most empathetic sex experts going.
“Even the aunties that were in the church, I kind of felt sorry for them because you surely think someone wants to question this,” she tells me. “I don’t really want to use the word ‘brainwashed’ but sometimes it does feel like that.” When all is said and done, Oloni has more sympathy than frustration for women who haven’t been able to break away from negative ideas about women and sex.
I’d rather get sacked from a job five times than ever go through the pain [of heartbreak] again. It just doesn’t compare.
Although many of us have been able to unlearn some of the more toxic ideas we have about sex and our bodies, these things truly take time. “If I’m completely honest, there are some times where I catch myself, and I have to be like, no, this isn’t correct,” Oloni admits. “For example, I always have conversations with women; they’ll tell me things they love to do in the bedroom with straight men. I’m like, we still have an orgasm gap, and this is what you’re doing? But being sex-positive means you have to respect every woman’s choice. I feel like there’s a lot of unlearning that needs to be done.”
Unlearning isn’t all that’s needed. Oloni thinks we also need to be honest about how much we don’t know and the experiences we may lack. “I had a friend who asked me when I was around 21 if I actually orgasmed when having sex, and I was just like, ‘Yeah!’ I was definitely lying because I wanted to feel normal because I felt like there was maybe something wrong with me, then I realised, none of us are fucking coming!” she says.
The flip side of shame is acceptance. With acceptance comes reassurance. Once we understand that many of us are woefully underprepared to take the reins in our own sex lives, we may begin to feel comfortable with learning and making mistakes along the way. There is no pressure to have it together.
Oloni is a digital behemoth. When she tweets her infamous conversation starter, “Ladies…”, you know you’re about to spend an entire working day engrossed in someone else’s sex-related mess and drama online. Her famous threads have covered everything from male hygiene and lockdown ‘hoe activities’ to horror stories involving moving in with a significant other. These viral and hilarious moments have amassed hundreds of thousands of followers across social media, gaining the attention of other sex-positive stars like Cardi B. Oloni’s style of engagement and conversation online has evolved a lot from her early blogging days, she tells me. “For a very long period, I was just doing dilemmas. I was known as a relationship and dating advisor. Then I was just like, I don’t want to do relationships and dating right now anymore, I want to talk about sex.”
Oloni has continued to thrive because she has evolved. Her constant desire to reinvent how she talks about sex and her determination to involve her audience in the conversation keep her work fresh and relevant. “I constantly have different content in different formats, from dilemmas to threads to my podcast or even doing a text challenge to ask your partner something.”
She has been known to get dating apps such as Hinge trending by asking people to share ‘happy ever after’ stories of the people they met using the app. The reactions to these threads have a profound impact, streams of women replying: “Must be nice.” That’s because the idea of pure and romantic love feels so inaccessible to so many young women today. Last year a study published in JAMA Network Open reported that Generation Z men and women between the ages of 18 and 24 are having less sex, less often than older generations. I ask Oloni if this is related to a dearth of romance and desire in modern dating.
“I feel like a lot of people are just scared to give their feelings to each other because they’re afraid they might get taken advantage of,” she says. “I think that a lot of people are scared to get hurt.” She’s not wrong. As a woman, when you’re so used to having your kindness and vulnerability taken for granted it is easy to keep your guard up. I’ve spent a lot of my mid 20s healing from the heartbreak of my early 20s. “I’d rather get sacked from a job five times than ever go through that pain again. It just doesn’t compare,” she says of her own heartbreaks. I hard relate.
Another concern and, arguably, barrier to making deep and romantic connections is that there is so much choice at our fingertips because of dating apps.
“I feel like we’ve got even more options than ever and this is due in part to the rise of dating apps,” Oloni tells me. “There are more people to pick from so we aren’t forming proper connections and we aren’t bonding properly. When things fizzle out, it is always ‘on to the next one’.”
It does often feel like all of this – the endless swiping and sense that you can always meet someone else – has contributed to a breakdown in communication and loyalty. There are good reasons why modern dating is often described as a ‘jungle’.
“The current dating scene is full of ghosting, crumbing and there is benching too. All these dating trends just show that someone’s not taking you seriously,” Oloni adds.
There are more people to pick from so we aren’t forming proper connections and we aren’t bonding properly. When things fizzle out, it is always ‘on to the next one’.
The undercurrent that runs through all her work is this idea that women should want and aspire to more, that nobody should settle. She is in the business of getting us to wise up and understand we don’t have to accept less than we desire. And that’s why hers is a much-needed perspective.
Frankly – and I speak from experience here – for women, dating today feels like a race to the bottom. It’s all about being able to take as much as you can from potential dates and partners while holding your cards close to your chest and never showing vulnerability. It doesn’t work.
Oloni’s rallying cry has not always been well received by men who actively benefit from this unbalanced system in which it often feels like they have all the power. She regularly receives online backlash.
“I think a lot of these men that have an issue with my content hate that women have autonomy over themselves,” she says. “What I’m hearing and seeing is that [men] don’t want women to be wiser or smarter. [They] want to be able to get away with their bullshit, and when they have someone like myself interfering, they see me as the enemy.”
When men aren’t outright mad at Oloni for encouraging women to question their intentions, they respond to her by asking, “Who hurt you?” These three words dismiss the male manipulation she regularly highlights by trying to make her sound bitter. “Guys always assume that I do what I do because my heart was broken by some man,” she jokes. “The truth is, I just enjoy talking about sex relationships.”
For any woman in public life – regardless of the subject they talk about – sticking your head above the parapet carries a risk of abuse. We are living in difficult times. This is an era where the threat of violent male incels (involuntary celibates) is real, in which young men are being radicalised by misogynistic and so-called ‘men’s rights’ material online. I ask Oloni if she is worried about being on the receiving end of more abuse because of the reach and impact of her work. “Absolutely,” she responds instantly. “I’m completely scared at times.”
Online outrage has been a constant presence for this social media star. She’s been building her digital community for a long time and has weathered more than a few storms. “I feel like there is this weird standard I’m sometimes held to just because I’m a hypervisible Black woman. In general, the internet is not kind to Black women. You can’t have a hair out of place,” she says. She’s not wrong; we know that there are shocking levels of abusive tweets hurled against women of colour in politics and public life – especially Black women, who were found by Amnesty to be 84% more likely than white women to be mentioned in abusive or problematic tweets.
Despite all of this, Oloni’s voice continues to take up space. There can be no doubt that she has changed the way young women discuss sex online. She is resolute and plans to keep doing what she’s doing in the hope it will encourage other young women to question what they’re told about their bodies. “Talking about sexuality and being a sexpert is a dream come true for me,” she concludes. “Growing up, I never really saw women who looked like me talk about sex – and when I say women who looked like me, I’m talking about dark-skinned women – that’s because a lot of us are scared to because of culture or religion.” With one BBC Three show in the bag, a Netflix special, a wildly successful podcast and a huge social following, the only way is up for this emerging Black British media giant.
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