Umbrellas in Typhoons
Or Sex Education in Black Religious Families
“Roll that condom on down the banana..”
Almost everyone has a story or lack of story about the first time they had “The Talk” with their parents. Some parents go into vivid detail, enthusiastically explaining the finer workings of reproductive organs much to the dismay of their children. Some parents stumble through explaining how to use bright, clown colored condoms. My education on sexual wellness began where all relevant ideas about modern society do: The Bible.
Using religious dogmas as the explanation behind one’s impending sexual maturity isn’t a new concept. For adolescents who grow up religiously, the first introduction to sex is often laden with an overarching message of abstinence in the face of temptation. This is in addition to overwhelmingly heteronormative advice because anything other than being straight is not just taboo, it’s demonized. In a nutshell, sex education was “Now that you’re feeling these things, don’t feel them anymore.”
When it was time for my own “Talk” with my mother, we went to my parent’s bedroom and she fired up her TV/VCR combo. She popped in a tape from a battered sleeve. My sexual education began with static and preteens dressed in pastel colors. Judging by the thickness of the multi-colored sock layers they wore, this video almost as out of date as the bible passages they quoted from.
Crucial elements were missing from this talk such as how to properly use contraception methods and guarding against sexually transmitted diseases. Whether this was due to a religion-based abhorrence towards family planning methods, the assumption that I would refrain from sexual activity or sincere ignorance, these topics were not a part of the initial conversation. It can also be an outcome of the Clinton Administration’s efforts to fund abstinence programs that were heavily focused on inner-city and low-income areas. (Berkeley Journal of African-American Law and Policy. pg 10 ). Either way, the first time I would see a condom demonstration would be in college, much after having seen them put on in person.
As I matured, I came to learn that another vital part to my sexual education was missing: emotional wellness when it comes to sexual relationships. Since my sexual education ended and began with abstinence, my emotional development in regards to sex was also stunted. This left me with questions:
“What does it mean when he looks at me this way?”
“If I say no, what happens then?”
“Are boys just better at this kind of thing?”
Whether they be religious or cultural, each parent has their own reasons behind how much or how little they choose to disclose during the talk. And so often, the feelings that come along with sexual development are not mentioned at all.
To refrain from fully discussing sex education with your children, is also refraining from discussions on consent, sexuality and gender identity, sexual violence, pleasure, and emotional bonding. For some members of the African-American community, this refrainment can be attributed to the relationship of African-American religious identity to Christianity. This can be seen as contributing to modern day misogyny and slut-shaming that is prevalent in some Black communities. Ultimately, this can lead to inadequate sex education for Black youth as sex education without religion is seen as taboo for some Black families.
Without the necessary tools that come along with a proper sexual education, finding wellness while being a sexually active adolescent is a dangerous undertaking. The intersection of sex and wellness can be seen as being well educated on consent and communicating with your partner on what is working and what isn’t.
To deny this extended education only serves to create emotionally underdeveloped sexual individuals that find themselves unprepared for the outcomes of sexual activity which go beyond procreation. Emotional wellness as it relates to sexual activity is a crucial part of sexual education that can be overlooked due to adhering to strict abstinence teachings. Full sex education, with the options of discussing the emotional labor that comes along with it can make for consensual, safe and fulling sexual relationships into adulthood.