VOICES

It's Time To Stop Policing Black Women's Sexual Expression

15/02/2017 08:39 SAST | Updated 15/02/2017 08:45 SAST
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sexy black woman with red shoe

Growing up, Samantha never felt comfortable opening up to her parents about sex.

Despite being raised by black parents with a strict military and Southern Baptist background, Samantha, who asked to use a pseudonym, said her parents wanted her to know that when it came to sex, she could ask them anything. But as Samantha matured and her sexual curiosity heightened, her mom, who had Samantha at 18, became reluctant to actually talk about it.

"As we got older and it became a real part of our lives, she just couldn't handle it," Samantha told The Huffington Post. Sex became a topic both her and her parents tip-toed around. "Sex was never something I felt comfortable talking with them about or even seeing TV sex scenes with them in the same room and especially not when it had to do with my own sex life."

So, she had to figure sex out herself. And though this is common for many women, black women often have other obstacles to face when navigating the world of intimacy alone.

Black women can have a hard time finding images and spaces that empower them to unapologetically embrace their own intimacy. After all, the sexual trauma they can carry stems from a white gaze that dates as far back as slavery, and exploitation, rape and fetishization have since become synonymous with the black body. Slave owners would view black women as Jezebels, meaning sexually promiscuous, to justify raping them.

This history ― combined with religious beliefs, limited sex education in schools and other factors ― has prevented many black women from openly engaging in sexual dialogue. Even today, when more and more women are being encouraged to take pride in their orgasm, black women are often left out of the conversation.

Dalychia Saah and Rafaella Fiallo also faced the challenges of discussing sex within their communities growing up; therefore they wanted to foster an environment in which black people could learn and engage in a healthy dialogue about intimacy. So they create Afrosexology, a St. Louis-based website aimed at creating a more sex-positive black community.

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Saah and Fiallo created the site in 2015 to promote self-love and to empower black people to take ownership over their own bodies without regard to society's gaze.

This mission is important for Saah and Fiallo, who, like Samantha, received a lot of negative messages about sex growing up. Both women, who have backgrounds in sex education, noticed a sexual liberation movement taking place without black women and wanted to change that ― something for which feminist pioneers Audre Lorde and Patricia Hill-Collins advocated. Using their website and social media, they're working to make sure black sex is represented.

"Growing up, there was just a lot of silence around sexuality," Saah told HuffPost. "When I had crushes or partners, no one had conversations with me about that and the conversations that I was receiving were so conflicting. I was getting messages from media and music videos that insinuated that everyone's having sex and everything's super sexy and black women are dancing and twerking in the videos and then comparing that to the messages I was receiving in church where sex was really shamed... there was no one I could just get the truth from."

The duo use their platform to host traveling workshops on twerking and oral sex, among other topics; provide worksheets on masturbation and suggest books related to the black body, feminism and/or intimacy in hopes of sparking conversation among black people. Afrosexology also shares sex-positive artwork depicting black people of all shades, genders and sexualities on their Instagram ― a reminder that "black pussy matters." The art shows that black people can be in love, black people can be romantic and black people can be vulnerable.

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"What's unique about us is that it's pleasure-based education. So it's fun and we laugh, we cry, whatever, but it's a really different space," Saah said. "We're not just sitting there talking about what it means to have unwanted pregnancy and what it means to have an STI. We're talking about things that people don't have spaces to talk about."

Lexx Brown-James, Ph.D, founder of The Institute for Sexuality and Intimacy, told HuffPost that just as society has forced black women to apply respectability politics to their dress, tone and hair in order to succeed, it has done the same with their sexuality.

"If we sleep with too many people, we're too sexually open, we're whores, we're not good enough," Brown-James said. "If we're chaste then we're virginal and nobody's gonna want us. And it's trying to figure out what that is, I think that black women have not been allowed to truly experience intimacy."

My orgasm is the biggest fuck you to white supremacy ever. Dalychia Saah

As Saah and Fiallo note, there's something radically beautiful and politically empowering about black women embracing pleasure and breaking out of the molds we didn't create for ourselves.

"My orgasm is the biggest fuck you to white supremacy ever," Saah said. "Despite everything you've done, my body experiences immense pleasure and I'm going to fully embrace and rejoice in that. So I think, for me, I definitely see it as a form of activism."

The goal is to get even more black women to realize the power they have to choose their sexual exploration journey without shame. Part of that is through their community workshops and love notes they ask black women to write themselves.

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"I think we underestimate the power behind talking to ourselves in a positive way because we don't even realize how powerful it is when we talk to ourselves in a negative way. Especially when we're already getting negative messages from school, from society, or whoever who say 'your body's not beautiful' and then we start to believe that," Fiallo told HuffPost. "There's so much evidence to show that if you affirm yourself, if you use positive words... then you can challenge all that negative shit and really pull yourself up."

Ultimately, black women have agency over their own bodies and platforms like Afrosexology, and women like Saah and Fiallo, urge black women ― and men ― to physically reclaim their liberation. It is, without a doubt, ours to have and to love. As Saah noted:

"How can you have economic agency, political agency, social agency, if you don't have agency over yourself?"

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