As a Black woman, I can’t help but feel like society doesn’t want me to have a positive relationship with sex. Black women's bodies have been used and abused by others for pleasure and social capital for centuries. Those perspectives have been used to develop policies that affect our lives and reproductive rights.
Each day I remind myself that healing is not linear. It’s a continuous battle with ups and downs.
Sadly, in 2018, it’s not much better — and our sexuality remains trivialized.
Pop culture presents us in a binary system, holding tightly to the images of the asexual mammy or the hypersexualized jezebel.
We experience a uniquely racialized form of sexism that is tied to our double minority status. We see society watching us. It’s been (and continues to be) a long and occasionally exhausting journey. I know I deserve a healthy sexual identity, but with so many influences silently yelling at me, I’ve had to learn to prioritize sexual liberation.
For me, the first step to prioritizing sexual liberation was probably the hardest: overcoming past trauma. Trauma means different things to different people. For some, it’s a sexually repressive upbringing. For others, it’s heavier things like healing from sexual assault. Trauma comes in a variety of forms and can lead to a lot of unnecessary pain. It will tell you lies about who you are and what you deserve as a person. It did that to me.
Moving toward sexual liberation meant evaluating the ways that my past sexual experiences have reinforced negative messages about sex. Reflecting on how being a victim of childhood sexual assault has led to hesitancy around certain experiences isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. With such a high number of sexual abuse survivors in the Black community, we need to process this pain so our community can begin to heal. Each day I remind myself that healing is not linear. It’s a continuous battle with ups and downs.
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Aiming To Enjoy Sex
Exploring sex was the next logical step on my journey to liberation. In the beginning, I was so afraid of being tied to the negative hypersexual perception of Black women that I didn't want to enjoy sex. With time, I’ve had to understand my enjoyment of sex is just as important as my partner's. Sex can be a form of self-care for those affected by chronic oppression. There are plenty of ways to accomplish this — and I want to try most of them. I’m fortunate enough to have married a man who is open to delving into non-conventional sexual experiences. I haven’t gotten comfortable enough to try anything — hell, I’m still terrified of anal — but it’s comforting to know I can explore without fear of being judged.
While I make the slow crawl to comfort, I’ve found that porn (scary, I know) can be a great outlet for sexual curiosity. Porn gets a bad rep for leading men to having unrealistic expectations about sex. But truthfully, it all depends on what you watch. A recent study found that porn is an excellent tool for helping women explore their sexuality. Porn was exceptionally helpful before because Black women are limited as far as safe places to explore sexual likes and dislikes. It provides a discreet, risk-free opportunity to see what I’m into. Plus it’s really useful for showing your partner positions you want to try or getting turned on together.
Surprisingly, watching porn has given me a more realistic perspective on sex. It’s not that hard to look at a scene and know what’s acting and what isn't. Good sex isn’t anything like 50 Shades of Gray made it out to be — and frankly, that disappointed me. Getting real about my sexual expectations (Will my legs go to sleep? Can I silence my thoughts in this position? Is this position orgasm-friendly?) is helping me evolve my liberation crawl into a slow walk. False expectations about sex lead to conflicts that make sex a lot less enjoyable. I’ve had to let those unrealistic expectations lift like weights off my shoulders. And it transferred to other areas.
One of those other areas is my sexual image. I’ve spent a significant percentage of my life trying to look as ‘asexual’ as possible. I was so afraid of being misrecognized as an oversexed hoe that I instead ended up missing out on a lot of things I wanted to do. I went to the opposite end of the spectrum and hid as much skin as possible. You know it’s bad when your own mother tells you you’ve dressed too conservative for date night (it was bad, y’all). That was my reality check that it’s ok to be sexy — if I wanted to. Sexiness isn’t a binary. One decision to dress sexy isn’t a commitment to “sexy or die” forever.
But more importantly, I’ve had to understand that other people’s opinions of me (real or imagined) shouldn't stop me from living authentically. I have more than enough to deal with, like the daily stressors of fighting institutional racism and all the other -isms I fight. I can’t afford to allow my fear of others to keep me from the only de-stressor in my toolkit.
As I said before, sexual liberation isn’t linear. I don’t know how long it will be before I stop allowing others' fears of Black sexuality from affecting my views on sex. But I know I’m doing a damned good job of moving towards it. One porno, see-through shirt, and orgasm at a time.