An Exploration of Black Female Sexual Expression

by Ashlee T. Brown

Credit: Justin Richburg

I sometimes wonder how my girlfriends and I became so pro-black woman and sex positive. I think back on my own upbringing and that of my closest girlfriends (the black experience isn’t a monolith, but there are some strong themes).

At age 8, when my mother was pregnant with my younger sister, we had the chat about the birds and the bees over a Sunday night hair combing session, replete with Liv grease and the brush that made my baby hairs pop perfectly. I left the conversation vaguely knowing how babies were made and was sworn to never share any of this with my “lil friends at school.”

Fast-forward to the next day in music class when I couldn’t contain myself and told the story of birds and bees to everyone who cared to listen. A little snitch (whom I won’t name) went on to tell our teacher, who called my parents, who showed up at the school and whooped me and took away my TV privileges for a month. (I’ll never forget you, little snitch. You remain my mortal enemy.)

I never heard about sex again until my parents accidentally learned that my teenage-self was having it. That day I was everything but a child of God. I was told I better not bring no damn babies in their house, because they weren’t raising them.

And by the time my mom saw the picture of my first girlfriend on the background of my flip phone and found out I was a bisexual ? All hell broke loose. All.

“Pick a side. … It’s a phase. … It’s an abomination.”

When I started shopping at trendy clothing stores it was, “Where do you think you’re going in that?” I started asking to stay out late with my girlfriends in high school, and it was “Ain’t nothing open that late but Waffle House and legs.”

Take those sentiments, put them on repeat, and there you have it, basically — my teenage years. The lines in the sand were drawn and I’d learned the lesson they subconsciously taught: Sex was never ever to be a topic of discussion.

But that never stopped the show.

I vividly remember being 9 and dancing to Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” with my best friend and stripping out of our shorts and T-shirts to reveal swimsuits, our adolescent reenactment of the music video. I remember spending the rest of our adolescent years “hunching” other little boys and lying about losing our virginity, when in reality, we had no actual idea how sex even worked.

It wasn’t until I was much older and in college that I realized that there were so many things I didn’t know about sex — the stages of the menstrual cycle, fertility, orgasms, how to masturbate, what condoms did and did not protect against, the likelihood of STI transmission, that vaginal canals didn’t transform into haunted caverns after multiple sex partners. Just … nothing.

This tends to be the case for countless other women, too, who grew up in the South, specifically in Mississippi where abstinence-only sexual education is the only way and Christians all but expect you to stave your sexual desires by cuddling with Jesus Christ himself.

The idea that black girls and women can celebrate themselves and their skinfolks warms my heart. The unfortunate reality is that the culmination of carefree is a celestial celebration many of us aren’t socialized to experience. It’s a sense of pride and acceptance we foster, in retrospect.

I think about all the agents women are exposed to that reinforce the notion that our bodies are to be reserved for our spouses and in the bedroom only. Anything outside of that subjects us to be cast into hoe-dom.

When a woman accuses a man of sexual assault, especially one of notoriety, people call every aspect of her being into question before turning toward the accused. What was she wearing? What’s her profession? Why was she with him in that hotel room? Then come the accusations. She’s just looking for a paycheck. She’s just trying to keep the Black man down. There’s no way all those women could have been raped by Bill Cosby.

When a woman, famous and not, leaves the house scantily clad, a similar barrage of commentary is offered up, even though no one asks for it: Why is Lira Galore saying people should respect her? She was a stripper. What’s the point of Amber Rose’s Slut Walk? To celebrate being a hoe? Fellas, would you let your woman leave the house dressed like this?

Men and women who wouldn’t stand a polar bear’s chance in hell to even sniff these women’s armpits feel so entitled to offer up their two cents.

Couple all of that with the opinions of white women who feel threatened by a simple maternity photo and gossips rags who laud white A-listers for certain trends and criticize women, like Rihanna, for doing the same, and you have a recipe for a culture that makes it difficult (just shy of impossible) to feel like your body and choices are for your own consumption.

But this is my favorite thing about Black women: We are resilient. We’ve been demeaned by mainstream media, criticized in the church, side-eyed in the grocery store, mean-mugged in the club and put on blast at family functions. But we’re still here. We’re taking control over when and how we choose to offer our bodies. We’re learning that sexuality can be fluid and doesn’t have to confined to lone choices or binaries. We’re wearing our Fashion Nova and Pretty Little Thing outfits in peace and educating our baby sisters and play cousins. We’re uniting to call bullshit. And it’s really just the beginning.