In this feature, VICTOR AYENI writes on how the thriving fitness culture in the country has provided a cover for men and women to engage in intimate affairs, sometimes leading to harassment at the gyms.
Isaac Madu’s legs swayed in excitement as he chugged on his smoothie and relished the taste of grilled chicken set before him. His light brown eyes dimmed each time he laughed; his fingers intermittently fondling his long thick beard as he leered at some ladies who passed by the pub at Surulere, Lagos.
Madu, a 29-year-old native of Orlu, Imo State, works part-time as a gym instructor at a fitness centre on Lagos Island.
He cuts the picture of a Hollywood hunk, with his fitting black shirt and trousers which made his bulging caramel arms, well-toned and muscular thighs quite apparent.
The graduate of International Relations waxed eloquently with our correspondent about how his profession regularly brings him in touch with enlightened people, a privilege he admitted had changed his outlook on life.
However, there is often a salacious, even lewd currency of exchange that often takes place with certain learners – some of whom he unashamedly admits are married women.
“I am not a bad guy and I don’t go all out seeking to go down with my female clients,” Madu told Saturday PUNCH with a wry smile on his face.
“I respect boundaries and understand what unwanted intimate solicitations can bring. But in my profession – shall I say the location too plays a big part – there are women who come to the gym not just to be fit, but also to fulfil their intimate needs.
“Such ladies come to the gym because they are bored with their relationships or marriage; they want some spice in the bedroom. They want someone younger and athletic to take them to new dimensions, if you get my drift. Gym instructors like us are their easy choice because they come under the guise of the desire to be fit.
“One of them always described her husband as ‘old and fat,’ and, maybe as a reflex, she didn’t hide her motive for coming to our gym from day one.”
When our correspondent asked for more details, Madu initially declined and looked around carefully to be sure no one was eavesdropping.
“The devil is in the details,” he said with a giggle, as he brought out his phone, which had been beeping in order to respond to his messages.
After a while, he continued, “There was this Lekki babe who registered and started coming to our gym. And as an instructor, it’s my job to figure out what is the best way forward from wherever you are starting and I like motivating people I work with.
“I told her to start slowly on one of the treadmills, which she struggled with it for a while. So, I was always there to guide her. From there, I began to see just how beautiful she is, her curves and contours were well set. But I tried hard to focus on my work and not give her undue attention.”
He dived into the details.
“One day, while taking her through some deep stretches and beginner-friendly exercises, she looked at me in the eye with a seductive smile and smacked her lips. I caught the code but there were other people in the gym so I acted like nothing happened. But from that day on, we would give each other lusty eye contact even when I am with another guest.
“I would make her bend over while my hands supported her and put pressure on her lower back, and as she writhed in pain it would send a rush of blood down my system. It became a routine. I deliberately wanted to take things slow with her.”
From there, Madu told this reporter in graphic detail what started out as a workout session but eventually became a full-blown sizzling intimate affair.
“Sometimes, she came to the gym in the evenings and we would start right there if no one is around. There are times we use a hotel and sometimes she spent the night at my house. Our affair lasted for more than a year until she relocated out of the country. She is now married,” he added.
Thriving fitness culture
There has been a burgeoning global awareness of the need for stable physical and mental health, and Nigeria is not left behind in this regard. More citizens, both young and old, have adopted different regular exercises to keep their bodies and mind in good shape. Also, organisations encourage their staff to engage in physical activity to stay healthy.
In Nigeria, many fitness centres or studios have sprung up, especially in the major cities and highbrow areas, and like magnets, they attract enlightened citizens who have a high consciousness of physical fitness and can afford it. The thriving fitness culture has created a viable space for fitness enthusiasts to work as trainers, helping women who feel insecure about their physique and weight as well as men who hit the gym in order to regain their confidence.
A biomedical scientist, Nnaemeka Duru, told our correspondent that going to the gym was one of the best things to happen to his body.
He explained, “I used to be physically flabby and had low self esteem but since I hit the gym and have been consistent in going, I now feel good about myself and my body confidence has increased. Working out is one of the best things I did for my body.
“Within a few months of workout, I notice I have greater stamina and better self esteem. I learnt that physical exercises naturally boost testosterone and I must say, even in the other room, the story has changed.”
Another fitness enthusiast, Emmanuella Mnena, described it as a lifestyle that more people need to adopt in order to improve their well-being.
“When I started out in the gym, I would wake up the following day with body aches and I almost gave up but the gym instructor was very patient, always encouraging me, telling me ‘no pain, no gain’. That motivated me to continue and now, I see it as a health-boosting lifestyle that more people need to adopt,” she said.
Commenting on the benefits of physical exercise, a physiologist, Ifeolouwa Ojo, told Saturday PUNCH that regular exercise helps to lower the risk of developing chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer.
He said, “Exercise is a crucial component of a healthy lifestyle, and engaging in regular physical activity has several advantages. The beneficial effects of exercise on cardiovascular health are among its most important advantages.
“Regular exercise can assist to increase blood flow, lower blood pressure and lower the risk of heart disease.
Furthermore, it may be helpful in boosting muscular strength and stamina, which can enhance overall physical performance and lower the chance of injury.
“Exercise can be good for your physical and emotional health in addition to being physically beneficial. Regular exercise has been shown to lessen the signs of depression and anxiety, boost mood and encourage sound sleep. In addition, it can help in lowering stress levels, which may have a big effect on general well-being.”
He stressed that a healthy lifestyle must include regular exercise, which everybody could benefit from.
He added, “Regular physical activity has numerous advantages and is a crucial component of a healthy lifestyle. It can help to strengthen and sustain muscles, increase energy levels and lower the chance of developing chronic conditions.
“Increased energy and decreased weariness are two additional advantages of exercising. Regular exercise can assist metabolism, which can result in more energy and better overall health.”
Saturday PUNCH learnt that monthly registration for gyms in Lagos falls between N15,000 and N80,000, depending on the location, fitness regime involved and the type of facilities available. Some fitness enthusiasts, however, tend to spend more money to hire personal trainers and fitness coaches to meet their specific workout needs.
A number of gym trainers are professionals who are often reached by clients through mutual contacts or social media, while the others work part-time as club bouncers, personal escorts and ‘hook up’ guys.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines hook up, as “to begin a romantic or s3xual relationship with someone.”
On a broader perspective, hook up culture is one that accepts and encourages casual intimate encounters, including one-night stands and other related activities, without necessarily including emotional intimacy, bonding or a committed relationship.
Far from leading clandestine lives, many Nigerian hook-up men and women meet their clients via social media or are mediated through an adult agency.
A ‘hook up’ bouncer and gym trainer whose Instagram name is Donatus (surname withheld) admitted to our correspondent that he receives much patronage across several states from both women and men.
He stated, “I am a fitness trainer and I work as a bouncer. I tend to meet more beautiful and high-class women when I am doing my bouncer job than in the gym. You know, in clubs and parties, these women openly approach me and tell me they want me. They could send their drivers to give me their contact or they give me personally.
“It is a matter of negotiation. We talk about what they desire and we get busy; we are adults. Transactional intimacy is nothing to be ashamed of, except in a hypocritical society like ours. Some men too approach me, though some just admire my body and keep it moving.”
When our correspondent inquired if he also has intimate liaisons with ladies who come to his gym, he added that it could come with conditions.
He stated, “If I like her and she really wants us to have fun, fine, we do it. There is usually no transaction involved. But if she is wealthy and she can afford my service, I am game. There are women who actually come to the gym to find men that will satisfy them and we do satisfy them, even with threesomes sometimes.
“I’m not ashamed of what I do. See, I worked so hard on this body for me to be giving it away to just anybody for free. It’s not easy to become a bodybuilder. It takes years of workout and taking supplements to reach this point and now it gets me gigs too.”
A mother of two, who gave her name as Anike, disclosed that some women do form cliques when they go to the gym to hunt for intimate partners.
She stated, “Those who do these things might not tell you but I can tell you that it happens. I used to visit a gym in Isolo area of Lagos where a woman was the ringleader of women who were there to look for intimate partners under the guise of workout. They go after young men who come to the gym and only those who know this will know.
“When these women saw that I wasn’t joining them in their prostitution, they began to display antagonism towards me and I had to stop going to that gym.”
Reacting to the trend of those who use gyms as an avenue for illicit affairs, Ojo stressed that exercise improves people’s appeal.
He added, “Some could contend that the main reason individuals go to the gym is to find partners for love making when it comes to gym culture. While it’s true that some people might use the gym as a networking opportunity, it’s crucial to keep in mind that exercise offers numerous advantages beyond just improved health and intimate appeal.
“Additionally, it has advantageous impacts on mental health, including lowering stress and anxiety, boosting mood and facilitating better sleep. It’s crucial to keep in mind that the advantages of exercise go well beyond only physical beauty or sexual appeal, even though some individuals may use the gym as a way to meet new people.”
Married men differ
Our correspondent inquired from several married men whether they would allow their wives to go to the gym or have personal trainers. While some men saw no problem in the idea, others raised their objected to it.
A civil servant and father of three, Mr Damilare Olalekan, said, “I won’t allow my wife to go to the gym. I have seen some social media videos of how some of these men inappropriately touch women, in the name of training and I can’t allow such a thing.
“There are home exercises that she can do and there are female personal trainers and wellness therapists she could consult.”
Similarly, a clothier, Ahmed Ojomo, told Saturday PUNCH that as a Muslim, his religion frowns on men physically touching other men’s wives.
“My religion frowns on a man touching other men’s women, and some of the things these women wear to the gym are too revealing. The men attending to them are not made of wood,” he said.
Conversely, an architect and father of two, Mr Deji Alatiba, said there was nothing wrong with the idea.
He stated, “I registered my wife in a gym because I want her to be physically fit and burn off excess calories and we even workout together. It is a matter of perception and emotional security. If men could have no problem going to the gym, why should women be barred?
“If you don’t trust your partner, then you can devise a means of physical exercise that works for both of you, but if there is trust and true love in a marriage, you won’t be bothering your head with all of that.”
Buttressing Alatiba’s view, a data analyst, Prince Njoku, said, “Unless there is a gym where I am credibly sure that women are being romantically harassed or my wife has given me reasons to doubt her fidelity, she can get registered at any gym.”
Meanwhile, a fitness instructor, Osaze Innocent, described the reports of romantic liaisons in gyms as being rooted in a wrong but widely held misconception about gym trainers.
He said, “The allegation that ‘no one gets free romance than a gym instructor’ is a lie and a misconception that needs to be challenged because this is how a narrative gains a life of its own when repeatedly used without being countered.
“Yes, some gym instructors do sleep with female learners, just as we have some lecturers who sleep with their students, but that doesn’t mean it happens everywhere or it is even ethical. Many of us are in serious relationships and we respect our partners not to sleep around.
“I know I can’t speak for everyone, but personally I don’t know any gym instructor who sleeps with their learners, though I won’t say such things don’t happen. People get these ideas from porn materials and from there they start making general claims that are false.
“Like so many other professions, some unscrupulous people with impure motives come into the sector, but people like these need to be stopped and if non-consensual, be made to face the consequences.
“I once had a client whose husband always called on the phone to monitor her movements whenever she was in the gym because of this widely believed misconception. These are issues we all need to speak against.”
In his reaction, a psychologist, Kolawole Afolabi, explained that more Nigerians need to have a full understanding of romantic addiction.
He added, “Although there are no available data that can be referenced, it would seem that some of these men and women who have turned fitness centres into romantic trysts might actually be suffering from intimate addiction.
”This is a disorder that is now recognised by the World Health Organisation and is defined as “a persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive s3xual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive s3xual behaviour.
“Symptoms of such addiction may include repetitive s3xual activities becoming a central focus of the person’s life to the point of neglecting health and personal care or other interests, activities, and responsibilities; numerous unsuccessful efforts to significantly reduce repetitive s3xual behaviour; and continued repetitive s3xual behaviour despite adverse consequences or deriving little or no satisfaction from it.
“So, we should be alert to the possibilities that individuals who indulge in repetitive s3xual acts in public places, without regard for the consequences, might be s3x addicts. They would need to see a professional counsellor and go through therapy.”
While there are some women who seek intimate affairs in the gym, on the flip side other women decry the rate of harassment that comes from men in fitness centres.
According to Collins Dictionary, harassment is a behaviour that is intended to trouble or annoy someone. Similarly, s3xual harassment is defined as any unwanted s3xual behaviour that makes someone feel upset, scared, offended, or humiliated.
A study published in Women’s Health magazine indicated that two in three British women avoid exercising at the gym, 45 per cent choose to go with a friend, and four per cent go with a partner because “men make them feel uncomfortable.”
For instance, a banker, Bolanle Arowolo, bemoaned how she was groped by a man while working out at a gym.
She narrated her experience, “I was at a fitness centre which I used for a while. That day, I was working on my glutes and from behind, I suddenly felt a hand grip me around my waist. I initially thought it was my instructor, only to turn around to see this creepy man who should be in his late 40s lustfully smiling at me.
“I was so shocked that I couldn’t even chastise him. He even leaned over and said ‘Fine girl.’ I just stopped whatever I was doing, went to change my clothes, walked up to him and hissed loudly at him and walked out. I could hear him laughing as I stepped out.”
A media consultant, Omolola Bello, said that women do feel uncomfortable when men glare at their bodies or laugh at them while working out.
She said, “I don’t feel comfortable going to the gym if there are many men there because I know they will be glaring at my backside while I’m working out and that disturbs my energy.
“This is not something that is uniquely my experience, I know several women that will tell you the same. Apart from the fact that it’s rude, some men are in the habit of catcalling you or following you because you are in the gym with them.
“Some will even be making a jest of you and poking fun at you as it happened to me. These kinds of unwelcome remarks towards women are disrespectful and yes, they qualify as harassment.”
A Gender Studies for Men survey asked respondents if they thought women wearing tight and skimpy clothing at the gym is a form of s3xual harassment of men. It is interesting to note that about 83 per cent of respondents said they saw it as s3xual harassment while 17 per cent dissented, describing it as women’s empowerment.
In February, videos with hashtags such as #GymCreep and #GymWeirdo became viral on TikTok and garnered more than 100 million views. The terms were used to describe male gym-goers staring at or approaching women who were trying to have a workout. Based on the comments, many people could relate to the uncomfortable situation.
However, some social media users suggested that men were unfairly targeted by the videos, and there was criticism of people filming without permission.
Decrying the rate of s3xual harassment in Nigeria, a legal practitioner and founder of Emeka Chinenye and Co., Mrs Chinenye Emeka, explained to Saturday PUNCH that such unwarranted acts could be verbal or physical and could also happen in a workplace or within a community.
She stated, “S3xual harassment is an illegal act punishable under Nigerian laws, however many women are timid to complain of s3xual harassment because of fear and shame. S3xual harassment at any level has negative emotional, physical and psychological health effects on the victim such as anger, fear, depression, shame, humiliation, loss of control, etc.
“Section 360 of the Criminal Code provides that any person who unlawfully and incidentally assaults a woman or girl is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for two years.
“Other authorities that protect the interest of women include the Nigerian Constitution, the Sexual Offences Act Bill of 2013 and the Violence Against Persons Provision (Prohibition) Act 2015.”
Highlighting steps that could be taken by individuals being s3xually harassed at the gym, Chinenye urged them to document their evidence and seek legal assistance.
She added, “You can confront the person because someone might be harassing you s3xually not knowing that they are committing an offence. In such a situation, let the person know of the offence and warn them not to repeat such acts.
“If the offence continues after confrontation, start documenting your evidence to build your case. Report to the appropriate authority of the police with a trusted supportive close person like a family member and engage legal assistance.”