Black female sexuality. What is the difference with regards to our counterparts, you may be asking? EVERYTHING! The obvious reasoning is that we each have our own unique experiences and relationships with sex.
The black woman’s experience is one that has been examined before, though to my dismay, in a very doom and gloom way. We are constantly being shown imagery and articles etc. which remind us that “when he get on, he gon’ leave yo ass for a white girl”.
With the rise of dating apps, statistics are shoved in our faces, telling us we are at the bottom of the barrel for all demographics. Personally, I find this narrative tired and lazy, once again pitting women against each other as competitors for male attention. Furthermore, environments, self-knowledge and self-love also dictate what this experience can be. Having grown up in London, this narrative was pushed by mainstream media, work, music, school, friends and family. Now, living in sub-Saharan Africa, my experience is completely different where the standard of beauty is, well… me.
In order to get a better understanding of the subject, I posed this question to my sister-friends. The response I got was incredibly eye-opening and made me reassess my own relationship with sex. One of the sisters brought to our attention that our first real icon and example of black female sexuality is our mother (or mother-like figure). Maybe Freud was on to something?
My mother is a queen and she never let us forget it. Our relationship has always been one of her wrapping men around her soft childlike fingers and me rolling my eyes. She stalks her prey with such grace and elegance, you would think butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. My mother was a savant in the art of seduction.
When I was 5 she was married to my step dad who is English (pretty fly for a white guy). They were married for 7 years and like all marriages, they had their fair share of ups and downs. Their relationship taught me the complexities that came with interracial dating as well as the benefits. My mother, along with my brothers and I, were exposed to jazz, worldly cooking, travelling the coast of England, art galleries, museums and general exposure to the arts and other cultures.
I was exposed to a healthy amount of affection but the end was brutal. As such, I have never wanted to be my mother. In fact, for the longest time, I strived to be nothing like her. After the first string of boyfriends, I informed her that I had no interest in meeting or knowing their names, because they never did last – she was chasing something, that same something we all look for.
One of my fondest memories is of her turning up to my parents’ evening late, dressed to the nines. All of my friends and even some teachers commented “she looks so nice, just for parents’ evening?” to which I sighed, “no she has a date and then is hitting the club”. She bounced before it was over. The look of shock on people’s faces confirmed what I always knew, she didn’t behave like other mums and neither was her approach to addressing sex with me, her only daughter.
My mother and aunties ran sexual health charities, so lack of knowledge was not allowed and to my embarrassment, we openly discussed sex at our tribal meetings in my mother’s kitchen. She made me know my worth despite the narrative; here was a woman in her late 30s, 40s and now 50s still making men drop to her feet. I never wanted to look like her or have these skills and as such, I grew up trying to create clear differences between us, my main form of rebellion was fashion. Where she wanted me to be girly and pretty, I wanted to be a mash-up of early Aaliyah and Erykah Badu, so when it came to sex I thought it was something sacred, only to be shared with someone special.
Although we never saw eye to eye, I do thank my lucky stars my mother is my original woman. My journey into womanhood was one of ownership; your body, your flaws, your sexuality, your urges and your power as a woman. The same couldn’t be said for all my fellow melanites.
Passion, affection and sexual behaviour was something most African mothers shied away from. Presentation, for most mothers, was of such high importance and the message was that a respectable woman was not freely expressive of her sexuality and most often, motherhood had stripped it away. As such, they roam through adolescence being subtly/not so subtly told how you, as a woman should present yourself and often were made to feel ashamed of any urges or thoughts of a sexual nature. This early onset representation affects all women differently; some become explorative, seeking answers in the outside world and others conform to a dangerous lack of sexual knowledge.
Being surrounded by strong body-positive women like my best friends who empowered me. Boys my age didn’t really pay me any mind when my friends, who are all beautiful in their own ways, were present. Now that’s not to say I didn’t have guys interested in me but it was never for the right reasons in my eyes. I required intellectual and deep conversation, which led to me being friend-zoned.
To comfort my bruised ego and reclaim myself I would always say, “I am an acquired taste” and still stand by that notion when it comes to the western world. I garnered more interest from boys that were more mature, usually black with the rare occurrence of a brave white boy. The one thing I never intended to portray was sexy, this is a description I’ve heard since I was 12; with this came the assumption that I was sexually advanced and older than my age. I held the gaze of men up to 30years my senior without dressing seductively, this attraction frightened me and rightly so. I soon came to realize this was the gift/curse that followed most black girls; I feel in the eyes of most men we are considered adults much earlier on. Phrases like pretty, delicate, sweet and fragile were never used to describe black girls, I learnt that we were considered experienced, strong, loud, sexy and curvy. This ideology was pushed by music videos depicting us as seductive vixens; because of the way in which we dance men were constantly in disbelief of our age and thought they had the right to be inappropriate in their approach.
I have been lucky to live in more than one society so I have a different view on culture/societal influence with regards to black female sexuality. In East Africa, the narrative is obviously not the same as that of the western societies – here the standard of beauty is black women. From the video vixen in music videos to the complex characters in shows/movies, the women are black and this most definitely will alter how young girls here see themselves compared to how I saw myself. Being here I have felt more empowered and confident; me and other repatriates constantly rave about how much this has helped our mental wellbeing. Although, that isn’t to say it doesn’t come with its eye roll moments; you will be catcalled even if only your ankles are exposed, dating outside of your race will come with so many connotations (gold digger) and paranoia of being a fetish. On the one side the elders are conservative but on a cultural level, sex is also something that is discussed openly. There are terms in our languages such as Kachabali and Kunyanza; which are techniques to pleasure women. A film by Olivier Jordan, Sacred Waters, brought ideologies like this to western eyes.
Our representation in society is mind-boggling and expected to be one size fits all; the shy asexual girl walks through the treacherous waters of adolescence asking if there is something wrong with her, the voluptuous girl is called a hoe despite her virginity, the lesbian/bi/trans girl lives in fear every day the ignorance of others could harm her and the sexually liberated girl who enjoys her body in a healthy way will be slut shamed even by the most forward-thinking minds. In each scenario it is apparent to me that black female form is just too much for society to handle so in the past we tempered ourselves; we hush our curves and silence our curiosity for the comfort of others.
Well, not anymore — I told you this would have a happy ending (pun intended). We are taking back our image and sex, with the Internet came connections. These connections allowed like minds to converge and change the narrative – more knowledge and exposure in our community is leading to more inclusion and understanding. Sisters from all over the globe have created spaces, events and forums to express our individuality and find comfort in our similarities; things like #blackgirlmagic are not just trends on social media, it’s an exclamation of “Sis I see you! Even if they don’t”.
Our celebrities show the world our shape can be tantalizing like auntie Beyoncé or it can be athletic like, the only first lady we acknowledge, Michelle Obama.
The way we sway our hips and bounce our breasts to the beat of our own drum may stir some feelings in your nether regions, but that doesn’t give you any right to our magic, so stay off our areoles!