One day on a trip to IKEA in my early teens, my dad decided that it was time to have the talk with me. “Kira,” he said casually as he edged closer to the car park, “I don’t know if you’ve had sex yet, but when you do, make sure you’re safe.”
I stared awkwardly out of the windshield and wished that the conversation wasn’t happening, let alone that my dad was the one having it with me. “Oh my god, Dad!” I shrank into the passenger seat and covered my face.
“I’m just letting you know that I don’t expect you not to do it – you’re a teenager – but when you do, protect yourself.”
“Okay!” my voice was muffled by my hands. “Aren’t you supposed to be telling me not to have sex?”
“I know if I tell you not to do something, you’ll probably do it, so I’m telling you to be safe instead.”
“Okay… well, I’m still a virgin, but thanks!”
My parents didn’t put unrealistic expectations on me
When I share the story of my Guyanese Dad having ‘the talk’ with me, most people are taken aback. Like myself, they expected my mum to do it – a talk that usually wholly consists of, “Don’t bring no babies in my house!”
I still look back on that day and cringe a bit, but I’m grateful that it happened. Fast-forward to the present day; my Dad sent me an article from The Guardian where I talk about having balls in my face. I died inside. We (I) laughed. It’s fine!
My parents didn’t project any unrealistic expectations onto me when it came to sex. They understood that I was entering my womxnhood, gave me agency over my own body and if there was something I wanted to discuss with them, I knew that option was there. For a lot of people growing up in a black household, this wasn’t always the case.
Where the shame comes from
When it comes to sex, the common experience is that it isn’t ‘proper’ to discuss it, that outside of marriage it is a ‘sin’, being queer is ‘wrong’, casual sex is for ‘hoes’ (only if you are a vulva-owner, though), and if you are a ‘hoe’, no mxn will marry you *gasps dramatically*.
These ideologies are reiterated to us constantly, particularly in religious spaces and on social media in the irritating form of ‘body counts’ – the less sexual partners you have, the higher your ‘wifey material’ score *snorts* – and ‘Pick Me’ culture, in which womxn uphold and spew patriarchal and misogynistic views in order to set themselves apart from other womxn who are deemed ‘unwifeable’, to demonstrate that they are the perfect partner for marriage.
Where did this shame start?
In a video that I have yet to complete editing for my YouTube channel (it makes me sad), I discussed the history of black sexuality. It was hard to learn about, but it gave me a better understanding of the black community’s view of sexuality. Please be warned that there are some descriptions of sexual assault and slavery in the next section.
Where the shame started
Slavery and racism played a BIG part in our attitudes towards our sexuality.
In pre-colonial West Africa, womxn were equal to mxn, sex was sacred, and sex work was a divine service carried out by priestesses. Once colonized, we were stripped of our own religions, which were replaced with western ones that saw sex as something to be done to procreate and only to be enjoyed by mxn. Our bodies were and still are hypersexualized, a prime example of this being Sarah Baartman, otherwise known as the ‘Hottentot Venus’, who in the early 19th Century was paraded around Europe so that people could ogle at her body (she was THICCCC AF!). Wealthier customers were even allowed to have her for private events where guests could touch her.
Slaves couldn’t be legally raped and from the end of the American Civil War up until the mid-60s, no white mxn were convicted of raping or attempting to rape a black womxn, even though it was extremely common. The consensus was that black people were ‘lustful savages’ that were always up for it. An example of this was the abolitionist (lol), James Redpath, who claimed that slave womxn were “gratified by the criminal advances of Saxons”. Another tradition of slavery was ‘Buck Breaking’, in which the slave master would rape his male slave (the ‘Buck’) in front of a crowd to break his spirit and biracial womxn were often sold into prostitution.
Stigma around black sexuality has created an aversion in our communities
The emergence of ‘Blaxploitation’ films in the 1970s was the first time black people were seen on screen en masse. These films, majority written and produced by white mxn, glamourised the ‘ghetto’, depicting black mxn as pimps and drug dealers, whilst black womxn either played the ‘jezebel’ or, if they were the main character, were depicted as aggressive and hypersexualized.
The brutal history of black sexuality and the stereotypes it perpetrated created an aversion to it within our communities as a way to protect ourselves. The only times people were somewhat comfortable with it being discussed was when scholars such as Ana Julia Cooper, Ida B. Wells, E. Franklin and W.E.B. Du Bois spoke about it.
We’ve come a long way, with the help of the sex positivity movement, but there is more work to do. There is no use in avoiding conversations and education about sex within our community because every day we see more examples of why we need it. From things like the importance of consent, the spectrum and fluidity of sexuality, unlearning shame, and challenging patriarchal and religious ideologies that are disempowering. We must take control of our own sexual narratives, because like feminism, it is important that sex positivity is intersectional as cultural experiences will differ.
Unlearning the stigma around black sexuality
People are naturally curious about sex. If we don’t embrace openly educating ourselves about it, what happens is that people will look elsewhere, namely pornography – and mainstream pornography is one of the worst ways to learn about sex. It’s entertainment that sets unrealistic standards and expectations and often shows dangerous portrayals of how sex is supposed to be.
Sex is not a bad thing. It’s just sex: a natural instinct to procreate, yes, but also a source of pleasure, a deeper appreciation for the wonderful things our bodies are capable of, and a way of connecting with one another.
So, how do we break the stigma around black sexuality? As with unlearning anything, you must ask new questions and be open to new answers.
Things that I asked myself were:
- Who taught me to be ashamed of my sexuality?
- Why do I believe these teachings?
- What do these values uphold and how does it serve me?
My answers were:
- Sexual shame was taught to me through older generations and religion.
- I believed it because everyone else did.
- Those values upheld misogyny and it didn’t serve me. It left me disempowered.
Ask yourself the same thing and see what conclusion you come to.
Shakira ‘Scotty Unfamous’ Scott is an inappropriately fancy, London-based sexual wellness content creator, multi award-winning erotic romance author, co-founder of the sexual happiness experts MSSS and #DumpHim queen!
She started her blog to help women of colour explore and remove the stigma around their sexuality, educate them in the art of sensuality and promote and inspire self-love and body confidence. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.