The African dream: A Malawian fashion designer’s colourful dreams

A Malawian fashion designer’s colourful dreams

African Dream: Malawi’s Lilly Alfonso

Malawi’s Lilly Alfonso dreams about her future in colours as vibrant as those of the clothes she makes.

New York, London, Milan and Cape Town are some of the cities that come to her mind when asked where she would like to see her designs 10 years from now.

As a matter of fact, some of her clothes were already shown in the UK capital last year, during the Africa Fashion Week, but she is convinced that this is just the beginning.

“Everywhere where fashion is, I want to be there, and I see myself making it. I’m not doubting on that one. I dream big and I’m dreaming in colour,” she told the BBC’s series African Dream.

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“Start Quote

Everywhere where fashion is, I want to be there, and I see myself making it. I’m not doubting on that one. I dream big and I’m dreaming in colour”

According to the designer, her passion for fashion was already there as a child when she loved to play with fabrics in the southern city of Blantyre, where she grew up.

“I’d say fashion, I was born with it. I started when I was young, at the age of six. My mum would bath me and dress me, and I would totally change the design of the dress,” she remembers.

“As I grew older, people liked what I was designing, what I was wearing, so that inspired me and I started working on other people.”

She had two second-hand sewing machines that belonged to her mother and she started off with a tailoring business, when she was 24, but she says that fashion designing was still “a mere hobby”.

That hobby, however, helped her to launch her career when she won the Malawi Fashion Edition (FAME) award as country’s best fashion designer three years ago.

Financial challenges

“I never thought I was a designer until 2010 that I had a lot of clients and I’d design for Miss Malawi, I’d design for quite a lot of people,” Mrs Alfonso told BBC Africa’s Raphael Tenthani.

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Lilly Alfonso

Lilly Alfonso
  • Age: 33
  • Married. Has two daughters
  • Education: Advanced diploma in business administration. Attended a design summer course in Milan, Italy
  • Started off with a tailoring business when she was 24
  • Winner of the Malawi Fashion Edition (FAME) Best Fashion Designer award, 2010
  • Her designs were shown at Africa Fashion Week, London, 2012
  • Company: Lillies Creations
  • Brand: Lilly Alfonso
  • Employees: 7
  • Annual turnover: $90,000 (£60,000)
  • Hobbies: Hanging out with family and friends, travelling, listening to music

These days her studio – located in her house in an upmarket suburb of the capital, Lilongwe – is a bastion of activity as people organising weddings and other events troop to her for advice.

Although designer clothes are not cheap anywhere in the world, Mrs Alfonso says that her prices depend on the client that she is working for.

If the product is going to Europe, for example, she knows that she can ask for more money if she uses higher quality fabrics.

Back home, however, she can be more flexible with her pricing.

“Our economy right now is not really doing well so… I always use any reasonable resources to accommodate my country, for the people that can’t afford the other fabrics, but I still design the same design,” she explained.

Recently, Malawi’s currency, the kwacha, lost almost half its value and this has put a strain on the running of businesses.

Also, the inflation rate is hovering at around 33% while bank-lending rates are at about 40% in the southern African country.

All these factors are presenting extra challenges for people who, like Mrs Alfonso, want to expand their businesses.

“I’m having problems with raising the money to have massive production… to be able to reach my goal, I still need extra 10 machines,” she said.

“The prices of the fabric have been changing, the prices of everything have been changing; keeping the staff has been a problem because of how to balance up with the economy as it is,” added young entrepreneur, who has seven employees and many other weavers and tie-dye fabric designers.

Nurturing talent

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I’d advise everybody who has any talent – it’s not only in fashion – I’d advise everybody to believe in themselves, and do whatever it takes to make it happen”

Despite these challenges, Mrs Alfonso encourages other people to pursue their dreams and start their own businesses.

“I’d advise everybody who has any talent – it’s not only in fashion – I’d advise everybody to believe in themselves, and do whatever it takes to make it happen for them because God gives us this blessing but it’s only us to start acting on it.

“So if you know that you can do it, don’t stop it; no matter how criticism is, work on it because criticism is what makes us best. Believe in yourself and do it, and go for it”.

Now that she is 33 and has two daughters, she also recommends parents to support their children’s creativity.

“If you see that your child is gifted in a particular area – encourage them to pursue that alongside school.

“If you see a gift in a child – they need to research on that particular field and support the child in every way,” the award-winning designer who liked playing with fabrics at the age of six said.

If you have any questions for Lilly Alfonso, please join her in a live Q&A on the BBC Africa Facebook page from 1600 – 1700GMT on Friday 22 February.

African Dream is broadcast on the BBC Focus on Africa radio programme every Thursday afternoon, and on BBC World News throughout the day on Fridays

Every week, one successful business man or woman will explain how they started off and what others could learn from them.


Gunmen claiming to be from Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram threatened

DAKAR (Reuters) – Gunmen claiming to be from Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram threatened on Monday to kill a kidnapped French family of seven if authorities in Nigeria and Cameroon do not release Muslim militants held there.

France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius speaks to the media next to his Peruvian counterpart Rafael Roncagliolo (not pictured) after the signing of bilateral agreements at a meeting in Lima February 21, 2013. REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil
France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius speaks to the media next to his Peruvian counterpart Rafael Roncagliolo (not pictured) after the signing of bilateral agreements at a meeting in Lima February 21, 2013. REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil

French ministers said they believed the three adults and four children seized in Cameroon’s far north near the Nigerian border on Tuesday were being held by Boko Haram, which has killed hundreds in an attempt to establish an Islamist state in Nigeria.

The first sign of the family since they were captured came in a video posted on YouTube in which they appeared surrounded by three gunmen wearing turbans and dressed in camouflage.

“We have been taken by Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad”, one of the male hostages said in the video.

“They want the liberation of their brothers in Cameroon and their women imprisoned in Nigeria,” the man added, reading notes in French as he sat on a red rug on the floor.

Beside him sat a woman dressed in a black veiled dress, another man and four young children.

The hostage-taking highlighted the risk to French citizens in Africa after Paris sent thousands of troops into Mali last month to oust Islamists operating in the country’s vast desert north.

“A video of the French family kidnapped in northern Cameroon last Tuesday has just been posted by Boko Haram,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. “These images are terribly shocking and show a cruelty without limits.”

The kidnapping brought to 15 the number of French citizens being held in the region.


France has carried out hundreds of air strikes and dispatched 4,000 troops to Mali to defeat the mixture of al Qaeda-linked groups that hijacked a separatist Tuareg rebellion and occupied the northern two-thirds of the country.

After swift victories in Mali’s main towns, French troops risk becoming bogged down in a bloody conflict against an enemy that is using guerrilla tactics and suicide bombs, and has pledged reprisal attacks across the region.

“The president of France has launched a war on Islam and we are fighting it everywhere,” said one of the apparent kidnappers, speaking in Arabic and identifying himself as a member of Boko Haram.

“Implement our demands. If you leave out even one, we will kill these people,” he added, with a pistol at his feet.

The governor of Cameroon’s Far North Region, Augustine Fonka Awa, said he was not aware of any Boko Haram members being held in the country.

The Nigerian militant group has previously posted videos in Hausa, a language spoken in northern Nigeria. Yet the video, whose date of recording was not clear, was only in Arabic.

The black and white flag that hung behind the hostages in the released video is more associated with groups tied to al Qaeda than Boko Haram.

A spokesman for Boko Haram had denied any connection with the kidnapping at the weekend, saying it remained committed to a ceasefire.

However, security experts in Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil exporter, say Boko Haram is made up of multiple cells, without a defined command structure.

“It is therefore not unsurprising that you have one group claiming a ceasefire, just as another splinter cell is raising its profile with this kidnapping,” said a Nigeria-based Western security source, asking not to be named.

The militant group is known to have had some links to al Qaeda factions in North Africa and Mali, where fighters are believed to have spent some time training.

Although limited for now, the conflict in Mali appears to have deepened connections between mainly Arab Islamist militants in North Africa and black African movements south of the Sahara.

(Additional reporting by Asma Alsharif in Cairo, Joe Brock in Abuja and Elizabeth Pineau in Paris; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

French children kidnapped in Cameroon ‘shown in video’

French children kidnapped in Cameroon ‘shown in video’

Still from the video alleged to show the French victims
French authorities are trying to verify the authenticity of the video

A video published on YouTube appears to show seven members of a French family, including four children, abducted by Islamists in Cameroon.

The video shows an armed man reading a statement in front of two men, a woman and four children.

Claiming to be from the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, the alleged kidnappers demand the release of prisoners in Cameroon and Nigeria.

The family were snatched last Tuesday by gunmen on motorbikes.

Following the abduction, the French government said it believed the couple, their children aged five, eight, 10 and 12, and an uncle were taken across the border into Nigeria, probably by Boko Haram.

The family live in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, where the father worked for the French gas group Suez. They had been returning from a visit to Waza National Park when they were kidnapped.

‘Terribly shocking’

On Thursday, France confirmed it had “received information that the group Boko Haram is claiming to be holding the French family”.

“These images are terribly shocking and display cruelty without limits,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement.

In the video, one of the male hostages said they had been kidnapped by Jamaatu Ahlis Sunna Liddaawati wal-Jihad – the Arabic name for Boko Haram.

One of the alleged kidnappers warned that France had launched a war on Islam.

Behind him, the alleged family is shown flanked by two armed men in camouflage uniforms.

A source close to the family confirmed their identities to the AFP news agency.

France’s foreign ministry said it was still trying to verify the authenticity of the video.

Last week, a French minister wrongly confirmed reports that the family had been found and released in Nigeria.

Cameroonian soldiers and officials surround the car from which a French family of seven were kidnapped The family were seized from this vehicle as they toured northern Cameroon

Meanwhile, French nationals have been urged to leave northern Cameroon “as quickly as possible”.

The French foreign ministry said on its website citizens were “officially advised not to go to the far north of Cameroon (the shores of Lake Chad in the South Maroua), and the border with Nigeria, until further notice”.

Boko Haram has staged many attacks across northern Nigeria in recent years, targeting churches, government buildings and the security forces.

Another Islamist group – Ansaru – is also active in the region.

Last Sunday, Ansaru claimed the abduction of seven foreign workers in Nigeria.

Italian, British, Greek and Lebanese workers are thought to be among those held after an attack on a construction project in Bauchi state.

Ansaru also says it is holding a French national, Francis Colump, who was seized in the northern state of Katsina.

Italy’s election: Your views

Italy’s election: Your views

A man casts his ballot in a polling station in central Rome Italians have been voting for two days

Italians have voted in the country’s general election

The election was called two months early after Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party withdrew support for Mario Monti’s government.

Mr Monti’s reform and austerity measures have been unpopular with many voters.

BBC News website readers in Italy have given their views on the election.

Eleonora Antonelli, Rome

Eleonora Antonelli

The atmosphere in Rome is vibrant. This election feels different from the previous ones.

I voted for the Democratic Party. I like the party’s leader, Pier Luigi Bersani. I feel I can trust him.

Italy doesn’t need another big personality like Berlusconi. Berlusconi came along and he seemed to be acting on behalf of everyone in Italy. People really believed what he told them.

But Italy has had many problems with corruption. I feel that this is Italy’s chance to finally get rid of Berlusconi. But more than that, it’s the first real chance to get over the past and vote for a change in the country.

Beppe Grillo, the leader of the Five Star Movement, is too distractive. He has a big personality and a lot of people are voting for him as a protest vote, rather than for his policies.

We have many problems in Italy with our culture. People often stick with their political ideologies and are reluctant to change. They may vote for the same party as their parents.

But this election represents an opportunity for Italians to take responsibility and change things for the better.

Paolo Betta, Brescia

In this election I finally withdrew my support for Berlusconi after supporting him for 20 years.

Paolo Betta

Italy needs change. It needs new politicians – honest men and women.

I voted for Mario Monti. I wanted to support a new party, so I didn’t vote for Bersani’s Democratic Party or Berlusconi’s People of Freedom because these parties are old.

The Five Star Movement is new, but it’s only really a movement of protest. It is a party without structure. For deep change to take place, a party needs structure.

Italy has many problems, including economical ones. It’s strange to have this feeling of stillness and stagnation in the country.

Many sectors are no longer doing well. For example, building and mechanical engineering aren’t seeing much movement. We need to relaunch our markets and show our excellence in mechanics, food, fashion and tourism.

We can’t bear all this mess and disorder any longer.

Ralph Holland, Rome

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I suspect many many more than predicted will vote for Berlusconi”

Only Berlusconi has the experience to deal with the situation.

The Beppe Grillo movement is an Italian phenomenon that is so bog-standard here. No-one will vote for him. All will pretend to have voted for Bersani and his Democratic Party, but I suspect many many more than predicted will vote for Berlusconi.

The one and only thing holding back Italy is the Euro. It is fixed at the wrong rate – the German one – and Italy’s pricing points across the board are not geared to Germany’s pricing points.

At the very least, Berlusconi will have a strong say in the next legislation, and he just might win the election and become prime minister again.

Margaret MacLeod, Arezzo

I am originally from Scotland, and have lived here for years with my Italian husband and three children.

My husband and I both chose to vote for Beppe Grillo and the Five Star Movement. The alternatives are simply the same old, often corrupt candidates just re-presenting themselves.

Margaret MacLeod

Before the many complex issues are dealt with here, we need new faces who can give people hope that we can finally turn the page over and start over.

Things are not in the best shape here. A lot of people that were previously complacent and have good jobs in local authorities and banks, are now suffering and finding that they are not getting paid.

I don’t normally go for extremes, and the same is true in elections. But I get the impression that Beppe Grillo is an honest man and ready to represent the people.

Italy desperately needs representatives who are trustworthy and genuine to improve things for everyone. We don’t want politicians simply looking to line their own pockets.

Voting for Grillo is really the only effective way of getting that message across. Fingers crossed that things are going to change for the better here.

Giusi Cavaleri, Milan

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I am worried about our public debt ”

I voted for Mario Monti because I think he worked well during the technocratic government.

If Silvio Berlusconi obtains a considerable proportion of the vote, we are in danger. We are in a deep recession after 20 years of his government, but a lot of Italians still vote for him because he is a good communicator.

I am worried about our public debt. I believe that we can’t have real growth with this dangerous state.

Monti wants to reduce our huge public debt and to reduce our high cost of work to encourage companies hiring workers.

He thinks our companies have to become more competitive on the international scene and invest more in research and development.

Unfortunately, Mario Monti’s party has not engaged in civil matters very much, such as looking at marriage for homosexuals or immigration issues.

He wants economic and fiscal reform, but he remains conservative about civil rights

Profile: Pier Luigi Bersani, Italy’s centre-left leader

Profile: Pier Luigi Bersani, Italy’s centre-left leader

Pier Luigi Bersani, 2 December 2012
Pier Luigi Bersani is a former Communist who has pushed economic reform

Pier Luigi Bersani, the Italian centre-left’s candidate for prime minster, is a down-to-earth veteran of party politics who led efforts to liberalise the economy as a government minister.

Although exit polls after the February general election indicated he would be Italy’s next leader, when it came to the ballot box his coalition was unable to secure outright victory in both houses of parliament.

In his stolid style, he stands in stark contrast both to the man he defeated in the Democratic Party’s primary, the youthful mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi, and to the man who has dominated Italian politics for most of the past two decades – Silvio Berlusconi.

“We have to win but we can’t win at any price,” Mr Bersani said after comfortably securing his party’s nomination for the elections in February 2013.

“We can’t win by telling fairy stories because you can’t govern that way. It won’t be easy but the country needs it.”

Mr Bersani, 61, is the son of a mechanic and owner of a small petrol station near the northern city of Piacenza. A practising Catholic, he wrote a thesis on the history of Christianity for his philosophy degree at the university of Bologna.

After a brief spell as a teacher, he worked his way up through the ranks of the Communist Party in the regional stronghold of Emilia Romagna.

He became the party’s regional president in 1993 as the Italian left was struggling to modernise, following the end of the Cold War and cross-party corruption scandals.

Humble approach

In 1996 he entered government for the first time as industry minister under then-Prime Minister Romano Prodi. He pushed through the liberalisation of the electricity market in 1999, before switching to the transport ministry.

After the centre-left lost power in 2001, Mr Bersani embarked on a nation-wide tour of Italian industrial sites, writing a book and then a series of policy proposals as he returned to government as minister of economic development in 2006.

But his campaign to liberalise several more areas of the economy ran into fierce resistance from Italy’s entrenched interest groups – a campaign that was later picked up by technocratic Prime Minister Mario Monti.

In 2009 the left was back in opposition, and the recently formed Democratic Party held a primary to elect its leader. Mr Bersani easily beat the more centrist Dario Franceschini.

True to his roots, Mr Bersani appears most at home chatting with the party faithful at rallies or summer festivals, cigar between the teeth.

Critics have accused him of being outdated, but the left will be hoping that his humble, pragmatic approach will have a broad appeal.

Mr Bersani has, however, tried to freshen his image by engaging in social media. After his victory over Mr Renzi, he tweeted a photo of himself pouring beer in a bar for party volunteers.

He has also pledged to “make space” in the party for younger generations.

Focus on jobs

Italy’s left has been wrought by divisions since the 1990s, and it repeatedly failed to present a convincing alternative to Mr Berlusconi’s coalitions.

Now the left is much more united and it is the centre-right in relative disarray – but Mr Bersani is still likely to face a challenge keeping the various strands of the left behind him.

He was backed in the second round of the primary by the radical left Ecology and Freedom movement of Nichi Vendola, yet may face dissent from younger or more centrist voices.

Party officials say that if he comes to power, Mr Bersani’s priorities would include cutting payroll taxes to create jobs, strengthening anti-corruption laws, and bolstering state institutions.

“It won’t be simple but we can’t ignore the fact that we are facing the greatest crisis of the post-war period and the greatest problem of all is jobs,” Mr Bersani said.

Italy election: Deadlock after protest vote

Italy election: Deadlock after protest vote

The BBC’s Katya Adler says many people are lost for words over the re

Italy’s parliamentary elections have ended in stalemate and the possibility of a hung parliament.

With all domestic votes counted, Pier Luigi Bersani’s centre-left bloc has narrowly beaten ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi in the lower house but has failed to secure a majority in the Senate.

Control of both houses is needed to govern and a Berlusconi official said the election was “too close to call”.

A protest movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo won a quarter of the vote.

Meanwhile a bloc led by current Prime Minister Mario Monti came a poor fourth, with about 10%.

The outcome of the election, which comes amid a deep recession and tough austerity measures, was so close that the margin of victory given in interior ministry figures was less than 1% in both houses of parliament.

“It is clear to everyone that a very delicate situation is emerging for the country,” said centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani as the last of the votes were being counted.

Continue reading the main story

image of Gavin Hewitt Analysis Gavin Hewitt Europe editor, Rome

A complicating factor in the election is the extraordinary performance of the protest movement led by the comedian Beppe Grillo. One in four voters backed a movement that was built on disgust against the political class. Many of its new MPs will be young and inexperienced.

There will now be a period of horse-trading to see whether any party can build a coalition to govern the country.

The centre-left will try first to form a coalition but many believe that within months there will have to be another election.

Italy is the third largest economy in the eurozone, and already there is anxiety in the markets as to where this results leaves economic reforms.

Angelino Alfano, secretary of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, said the result was “extraordinary”, and he urged the interior ministry to wait before declaring a final result.

The interior ministry figures were not official, he argued, and were “inevitably subject to a margin of error”.

With returns from all polling stations processed, the interior ministry figures gave Mr Bersani’s centre-left bloc 29.54% of the vote for the lower house (Chamber of Deputies), barely ahead of the 29.18% polled by Mr Berlusconi’s bloc.

Mr Alfano said the result was “too close to call” given the tight margin between the two blocs.

Votes cast outside Italy are still to be collected.

Mr Bersani also won the national vote for the Senate, but was unable to secure the 158 seats required for a majority.

As bonus seats are distributed in the upper house according to regional votes, Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right bloc was expected to emerge with a higher number of seats.

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Italy’s knife-edge result

Chamber of Deputies (lower house):

  • Pier Luigi Bersani’s centre-left Democratic Party-led bloc: 29.54% of the vote
  • Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Freedom Party-led bloc: 29.18%
  • Beppe Grillo’s anti-austerity Five Star Movement: 25.55%
  • Mario Monti’s Civic Choice movement: 10.56%

The Senate (upper house):

  • Neither of the two biggest parties and their allies thought to be close to the 158 seats needed to have a working majority
  • Latest figures show the Democratic Party bloc winning about 113 seats (31.63% of the vote)
  • The People of Freedom Party bloc to win 116 seats (30.72% of the vote)
  • Five Star Movement to win 54 seats (23.79%)
  • Civic Choice 18 seats (9.13%)

Source: Interior ministry

Mr Berlusconi was heading for victory in three of the four big regions – Lombardy in the north, Campania in the centre, and Sicily in the south.

‘War of generations’

Initial exit polls on Monday afternoon gave Mr Bersani’s bloc a clear victory, prompting the Milan stock market to soar by nearly 4%.

But as the close result became clear the markets fell back. In New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.55% and Asian markets lost between 0.7% and 2.2%.

The apparent split between left and right in the eurozone’s third largest economy is likely to cause great anxiety among leaders in other EU member states.

The BBC’s Gavin Hewitt says a period of horse-trading will now follow, and the leading blocs will try in turn to form a coalition.

But, with the electorate apparently so divided, many believe a second election will have to follow in a few months.

Mr Berlusconi, 76, left office in November 2011, facing claims of economic mismanagement as the eurozone struggled to contain Italy’s debt crisis.

Italians have had more than a year of technocratic government under Mario Monti. But his attempts to reduce spending caused widespread public resentment and his decision to head a centrist list in the parliamentary elections attracted little more than 10% of the vote.

“Some supposed we’d get a slightly better result but I am very satisfied, we are very satisfied,” he said.

In a surge in support, Beppe Grillo’s anti-austerity Five Star Movement attracted 25.54% of the vote, making it the most popular single party in the lower chamber.

Correspondents say this was an extraordinary success for the Genoese comic, whose tours around the country throughout the election campaign – hurling insults against a discredited political class – resulted in his party performing well in both chambers.

“We’ve started a war of generations,” Mr Grillo said in an audio statement on his website which taunted the leaders of the mainstream parties.

“They are all losers, they’ve been there for 25 to 30 years and they’ve led this country to catastrophe.”

As the extent of his success became clear on Monday night, Mr Grillo’s supporters in his home town of Genoa celebrated early into Tuesday morning.

I am shy about anything other than ‘vanilla’ sex with my husband

I am shy about anything other than ‘vanilla’ sex with my husband

We used to be more adventurous, but now I can’t even bring myself to do oral sex with him

I love my husband, who is father to my two young children, but over the past few years I have become very shy about doing anything other than “vanilla” sex. I dream of doing things we used to earlier in our relationship, but just can’t bring myself to do even fairly standard things such as oral sex. I think that I would have no problem doing them with a stranger, and I know my husband would very much like me to do it to him, but I have a mental block that I can’t get over.

For all the right reasons, you view yourself as a good wife and mother, but people are multifaceted and there is another, important part of you that you are currently undervaluing. Your dreams and fantasies reveal your longing to reconnect with your sexual side. You might find it helpful to read Carl Jung’s notions about balancing one’s “mother”, “amazon” and “courtesan”, but in practical terms you need to find a new way to express yourself erotically.

Consider setting up a role-playing date with your husband in which you meet in the bar of a hotel and pretend to be strangers hooking up; such games will often give couples permission to act in uncustomary ways. Sometimes returning to the locations of your early courtship can break an impasse. I also recommend you take a class to physically release your sensual self – for example salsa or Brazilian dancing, such as lambazouk or samba. Such dances are excellent for releasing the hips to allow for sensual expression and sexual awakening.

Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist specialising in sexual disorders.

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I’m depressed and scared that I can’t get an erection

You have split up with a long-term girlfriend and so you are understandably down. But don’t be ashamed about it, advises Pamela Stephenson Connolly

Depression is frequently an underlying cause of erectile problems.

Depression is frequently an underlying cause of erectile problems. Photograph: Alamy

I’m a male 21-year-old university student. I recently broke up with my girlfriend of three years, who was my first sexual partner. This left me feeling quite unstable so I got together with another girl. That ended after a month, mainly because I couldn’t keep an erection during intercourse – a problem I’d never faced before. Since then, I’ve lost all confidence and become a social recluse. I can’t sleep and it’s affecting my grades. I’m scared that if I do have sex again, I won’t be able to get an erection. I don’t want to go to a GP and admit I’m depressed because I will feel as if I am letting my family down.

Depression frequently follows loss. Since you’ve lost not only your girlfriend, but also your sexual and social confidence, it’s entirely understandable that you might experience a mood slide.

Suffering from any kind of mental health issue shouldn’t be a shameful thing, so don’t prolong your pain. You’re now an adult with a right to privacy, so you don’t have to share your physical or mental status with your family, but don’t suffer alone; tell someone close to you about your feelings.

Depression is frequently an underlying cause of erectile problems but this reaction is usually temporary. Unfortunately, the intense anxiety a man often feels after a few erectile failures can hamper future physical arousal and compound the problem. Summon the energy to see your GP, do more physical exercise and acquire some relaxation techniques. You’ll heal in time.


I can’t maintain an erection and it has ruined my confidence with women

Men imagine women are critical about every sexual performance, but this is not the case

I’m a 21-year-old male student but my sex life is non-existent. I haven’t had a girlfriend in four years and the sexual experiences I’ve had have resulted in humiliation, due to my inability to maintain an erection, especially when using a condom. I wouldn’t describe myself as sexually driven, but I long for an emotional connection with a female. I very rarely indicate interest or approach girls I like due to a complete lack of confidence in my sexual performance. Any advice on how to change this depressing situation would be much appreciated.

Many men imagine that all women are critical about sexual performance and expect perfect erections at every lovemaking session. This is absolutely not the case. Most women would much rather be with someone who is caring, so approach them with that in mind.

Take your time to find a relationship where sex is not anxiety-inducing, but is about you pleasing her. Intercourse is not necessarily a woman’s favourite part of sex. If you find out exactly what a particular woman likes – how to stimulate her clitoris manually or orally, for example – she will appreciate that far more than nervous thrusting. Once you know you can arouse her without using your penis, you will find it easier to relax and have intercourse.

Experiment with different types and sizes of condom until you can masturbate to orgasm; then it will be easier to use protection with a partner

My boyfriend can’t come. How can I help him?

Some men take longer to climax than others. Ask him to tell you what he needs, advises Pamela Stephenson Connolly

Couple sitting on edge of bed

‘Two months beyond virginity is a very early stage in one’s sexual life.’ Photograph: Lofty/RelaXimages/Getty Images/Cultura RF

I have been with my boyfriend for two months and we were both virgins when we had sex for the first time. I feel so sad because I can’t get him to come. We do foreplay and I give him oral sex to get him in the mood. He says once he enters me it feels good but after a minute he doesn’t feel anything any more. Can you please help us get over this problem?

Some men simply take longer to ejaculate than others, and sometimes this is because they require more intense penile sensation than most mouths or vaginas can provide. Ask him to help you understand exactly what he needs; that is the essence of good love-making. Learning about his masturbation style would be a good start. Some men are used to self-pleasuring in a high-friction style – for example, with a rough towel – and that can make the switch to partner sex more difficult. Two months beyond virginity is a very early stage in one’s sexual life, so don’t be too concerned.

In terms of delayed ejaculation, other possibilities are that your boyfriend may be struggling to stay focused on the task. Some people find intrusive thoughts or anxiety prevent them from reaching orgasm, so it is important to help reduce any performance anxiety. For both of you, taking the pressure off achieving orgasm, and simply focusing on the giving and receiving of pleasure, is the way to develop a lifetime of enjoyable sex.• Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders.


• Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders