Black sexuality has long fueled stereotypes against Black women. Tropes of jezebels, vixens, single mothers, being “too fast,” and “getting thick” were not just the themes of the media that raised me, but were also pervasive in all aspects of my upbringing. It echoed in the whisperings of “grown folks talk,” to who we avoided at church, to who was talked badly about at school. Whether a woman was deemed to be “respectable” or not, often came down to her reputation a.k.a. the public representation of her sexuality. It didn’t matter what she actually did with her partners, what mattered was what other people thought she did. I became aware of this at a very young age.
From the time I was young, sex ran my life. I was obsessed with doing things I wasn’t supposed to be doing, and I was a curious child. I was a “why?” child, and I promise you my parents are saints because they weren’t so annoyed with me that they dulled my sense of curiosity; that tends to happen to so many “why?” children. But even if they didn’t outright deny my curiosity, I still knew there were things I was allowed to be curious about and things that I wasn’t. This was the perfect setup for me to learn how to put on a facade. I learned how to code-switch between who I was supposed to be at any given time in front of any given person, and then living up to that. Not every person needs to know the whole of you, but compartmentalizing to the point of dishonesty can ruin you.
The importance of secrecy in my youth meant that I didn’t talk to other folks in depth about my sexual encounters. Occasionally the discussion would arise with friends as something else to giggle about. But mostly I thought sex was that physically pleasurable secret that was only between me and the people who I was experimenting with—that it was something simple, like farting or taking a shit, and something that everyone did, but that people didn’t really talk about. Years later I discovered sex was something that could affect your entire well-being, your entire outlook on life, and your spectrum of relationships with others.
And so I ascribed myself to the label of sexually free. I knew it was a reality that I liked to have sex and be touched in intimate ways. I surrounded myself with other people who were sex positive and my progressive values reinforced the fact that this was okay. Yet, it was all still on a surface level. Sex positivity. Slut walks. I enjoyed and found value in these things, but I hadn’t yet been serious about thinking what sexuality actually means for me. Everything was still so surface level.
I wanted to go deeper.
It is not just me who doesn’t feel like they have space to talk about sex at a deeper level. I, like so many others, have been navigating layers of trauma without the vocabulary to articulate what was happening or how I was feeling. A dullness lurks within when I don’t have the language to express what I’m experiencing. That language came to me in the form of sexual liberation.
Rather than focusing on being free and having my sexual identity being tied in doing what I want to do because I want to do it, I started to wonder what it would mean to be sexually liberated—to think of my sexual agency in the context of my relationship with others and society. What could it mean for me to contextualize my experience with my history and culture, rather than acting without understanding why I am doing so?
In this book, I define sexual liberation as agency to sexually accomplish whatever I want with whomever I want; the interpersonal reciprocity of recognizing myself and my partner(s) as whole people with needs, wants, emotions, and boundaries even if they are not things we discuss during the act; the institutional socialization that dictates norms I continually learn and unlearn that shape my ideology on sexuality.
This definition has been shaped by many Black women authors who come before me, but also by my experience as a Black sexual woman. Patricia Hill Collins taught me that the social constructs of race and gender must be understood in the context of sexuality because sexuality has been used at the core of discrimination against race and gender. And Audre Lorde taught me that in order to escape the social constructs created by our share history, I must define the Erotic for myself and acknowledge it as the superpower that I can wield only if I truly understand its potential.
I want to deconstruct my reality and figure out what it is I actually believe. Why do I still have this nagging feeling every time I have sex that resembles shame? Why is it that I have sex when I am feeling upset? I want to better understand the sexual rules I am “breaking” and how they might be affecting me (if they are at all).
I will take you down my path toward sexual liberation through stories that lead me to these self-realizations—touching on themes from protection to substance abuse. I wrote this book because I wanted to share my authentic self in an effort to normalize discussions about what sex is, what it can mean, and why it is important to reflect upon it. I want to live in a future where sex isn’t something used to sell products or for snickering about in jokes, but where sex is acknowledged as a part of our social human experience that centers self, but is shaped by the world.
White supremacy tells us that good stories have to be a certain way in order to be worthy, that they must be neatly tied because it is satisfying to the reader. My life isn’t neatly packaged, and yet my story is legitimate. My experience is legitimate. And it is what it is.