I might have been four years old when I announced to my unassuming parents that I knew what sex was. After they exchanged awkward glances with each other, they asked for my definition. My reply involved standing in the middle of our kitchen and performing a wide-legged dance that mixed deep squatting with a lot of hip gyrations. In hindsight, it was easily identifiable as twerking. That’s right. At the age of four, I believed that sex was the equivalent of present-day twerking.
A few days later, my mother provided me with a hardback copy of Where Did I Come From by Peter Mayle. By then, I could read pretty well, so I initially read it by myself. Months later my mother took the time to read the book with me and learned that I did not properly pronounce the word “vagina.” I remember her saying something to the effect of, “You should know how to say that word since you have one.” As if female anatomy often appeared in my regular reading diet of Little Golden Books.
Later when I was a teen, my mom bought me the Tampax-produced educational puberty and sexuality video Who Am I Now? . I watched it with my fellow Black friend and neighbor Tya all the while vacillating between states of horror and hilarity. Afterward, her and I talked about how squeamish our parents got on the topic of sex and how they seemed to only want to relay the bare minimum. We agreed that the video taught us nothing we didn’t already know.
During junior high and high school in our predominantly Black and Brown community, the promise of sex education during P.E. was never fulfilled. Once and only once, my predominantly Black church had a little talk with all the teen ladies about sexuality. In it, our virginity was compared to apples and we were told that no man wants to eat an apple that’s already had a bite taken out of it. There was never an opportunity to discuss masturbation or erogenous zones or flirtation or foreplay or safer sex or consent or rape or same-sex attraction or sexually transmitted infections or baby-making or anything. But we did receive repeated warnings to not be promiscuous and to wait until marriage. I have no idea what the teen boys were told.
I turned to books and movies (as Mom showed me) to receive some sort of comprehensive education. There was the occasional banter between high school classes, usually with folks of another race who always, always seemed to be more sexually experienced and liberated. I didn’t really have a candid conversation with another Black person about sex until after I was nearly halfway through college. And still the focus was more on how not to get pregnant and how not to get HIV/AIDS. (Which also begs another question: Do we even talk about HIV/AIDS anymore? Sigh. I’ll save that for another post.)
Once again, culturally-speaking, I am not alone in this particular experience. Just two weeks ago, Bustle.com posted a review about Netflix’s Sex Education and had this to say:
For many young Black girls, talking about sex is a taboo subject. We’re often shamed, ridiculed, and labelled if we do. Seeing white women in the show be sexually liberated is clearly positive. But it’s a missed opportunity when Black girls are not shown having a similar experience.
In an article on WUNC.org, the following was noted regarding a study on how Black men talk to their sons about sexual health:
One of the reasons [Douglas Morton, owner of Heads Up Barbershop in Greensboro, North Carolina] thinks the study is needed is because of his own experiences talking about sex with his son and older men in his family. His father was absent in his life and the topic of sex was an absolute “no-no” with his grandfather.
We have hang-ups about discussing sex, Ya’ll. For Blacks in America, much of our reluctance most certainly stems from sexual abuse and trauma suffered during slavery, an example of which is described in the following passage from Stanley Felstein’s Once a Slave: The Slaves’ View of Slavery:
Maria was a thirteen-year-old house servant. One day, receiving no response to her call, the mistress began searching the house for her. Finally, she opened the parlor door, and there was the child with her master. The master ran out of the room, mounted his horse and rode off to escape, ‘though well he knew that [his wife’s] full fury would fall upon the young head of his victim.’ The mistress beat the child and locked her up in a smokehouse. For two weeks the girl was constantly whipped. Some of the elderly servants attempted to plead with the mistress on Maria’s behalf, and even hinted that ‘it was mass’r that was to blame.’ The mistress’s reply was typical: ‘She’ll know better in the future. After I’ve done with her, she’ll never do the like again, through ignorance.
Black men also suffered similar abuse as per Thomas A. Foster’s The Sexual Abuse of Black Men under American Slavery:
The historical sexual assault of men and boys is well known, if mostly unarticulated. The scholarship on early America shows us numerous instances of rape and sexual assault of men and boys. Ramón Gutiérrez has argued that individuals of the Native American third sex, or berdaches, were frequently prisoners of war used for sex and emasculated. We also know through the handful of extant sodomy cases that males have been so abused. The seventeenth-century Connecticut gentleman Nicholas Sension, for example, sexually preyed on his male servants. Virtually all of the cases of sodomy that came to the courts in early America involved individuals violating status boundaries-instructors on students, masters on servants. None involved peers.
But this is Black History Month, and the Black experience extends far beyond the American border. Worldwide, we are known for being religious people and religion and sexual discussions somehow don’t mix. Last year, I had the pleasure of speaking with Nigerian LGBTQ activist and Chief Servant/Executive Director of the Equality Hub Pamela Adie. During our conversation which appears in Issue 12 of Radiant Health Magazine, Pamela shared:
I was brought up pretty much not to talk about it. We were raised to ignore issues of sexuality. That also stems from the fact that we as a culture believe that women are raised for the pleasure of men. We were raised to believe that, as a woman, your foremost duties are to meet the needs of a man. Imagine then speaking of yourself as not straight, as not meeting the needs of a man. It’s an abomination almost, and people frown on such things…
There’s also the religious aspect. If you belong to a faith community, whether it is Christianity or Islam or another religion, there is all sorts of homophobia going on. And not just homophobia but also the subjugation and oppression of women in general.
We’ve had a problem talking about sex for a long time but the tides are turning. Television shows like Insecure and documentaries like Surviving R. Kelly are forcing the topic to the forefront and making it possible for conversations to happen like never before. Kelechi Okafor, civil rights activist, co-founder of Kelechnekoff Dance Studio and Say Your Mind podcaster tirelessly discusses matters of sexual abuse, body and sex positivity and other matters related to Black sexuality. Dalychia Saah and Rafaella Fiallo, the founders of Afrosexology create safe spaces and opportunities in which our people can have open conversations about all things related to sex by way of their travelling seminar.
All of this to say that sex is happening. It’s been happening and it’s going to continue to happen. Therefore, it’s perfectly okay for us dark-complected folk to discuss it. We don’t need to judge ourselves or feel shame about it. Let’s just simply talk about it…okay?