My partner and I have been together for 6 years now and I have been actively suppressing my sexuality for about as long.
Let me explain.
In my single, sexy, and free days of college, I kept my feelings about sex light and carefree. I did it when I wanted to and with whom I wanted to. I liked it that way. I never believed sex was inherently intimate or emotional. Some called me fast, I called me fun.
A couple years after graduating, I moved to Brooklyn and became radicalized. I joined a Black nationalist organization and regularly participated in political education groups. While I was developing an astute political analysis on race and gender, I was simultaneously beginning to stifle my sexual self. I think this says something about the spaces activists of radical politics might find themselves in.
What does it mean to be in radical spaces where womanist politics are being explored void of discussions of sexuality? To be clear, we grappled with diversity in gender expression and heterosexism. I read Black feminist works that articulated my right to love whomever I wanted. But I never read anything that said it was okay to desire being tied up. And I never heard a workshop on the importance of pleasure and sexual consciousness for Black women.
“Women can’t just fuck randomly without catching feelings.”
“She doesn’t love herself and needs validation from a man.”
“She’s a ho. She must have really low self-esteem.”
Image: Stuart Heath via Flickr
I started to construct a pathology around my sexual history. Maybe this sexual liberation business is only for white women of the "Girls Gone Wild" variety. Or those “other” women. Definitely not something for “conscious” Black women.
At the same time, I was falling in love with my husband-- a self proclaimed feminist, pro-Black man. While my husband never tried to suppress my sexuality in anyway, I quietly and steadily did it on my own. He had fewer partners than I had, and his lovemaking style was different than mine. I converted myself to “he’ism" - whatever he enjoyed, I enjoyed. I mirrored his sexual style, for fear of what my more rambunctious style said about me.
I rejected and discarded my sexual identity as deviant and nasty. I counted, like literally wrote down on paper, all the partners I had had. I stared at this list for a long time and then buried it deep, deep inside me. I ran away from the city where my sexcapades went down and felt deep shame and regret every time I had to set foot there.
What if one of them saw me!? What if people knew?!
Reclaiming & Researching
Not long after we had our first child, a couple years later, I had an itch I just couldn’t scratch. Giving birth changed me in a lot of ways. One of which is that I became insatiable. And grew uncompromising on my demand for fulfillment. I began to recall and challenge what I had done to my sexual self in the name of wifeydom and feminism. I became keenly aware of something knotted and neglected in the core of our relationship. Though I had had a long history of having sex, at 30 and married with one kid, I actually had no idea what I was doing. I had stopped learning my body, my desires, and I knew nearly nothing of his.
Thus began a journey towards reclamation and healing of my sexual self. I confessed to him that I had been hiding our entire relationship. That in actuality, I liked it rough. I felt ashamed and confused by my fantasies of being tied up and dominated by my man. We both struggled with this. He had a hard time getting past what felt to him as a performance of traditionally masculine and patriarchal archetype. It just didn’t sit well with him. I lovingly empathized and told him to do it anyway.
I’m a nerd, so once I opened the pandora’s box of sex and sexuality, I dove in head first. I researched everything! I started listening to podcasts like Better Love & Sex, Swingercast and I Want Your Sex and of course I read the obligatory Ethical Slut. I uncovered a world of kink and fetish that I never could have imagined. I was floored and titillated by the entirety of it all. And every night, I giddily shared what I had learned and what I wanted to try with my lover. I took on the task of sexual liberation and fulfillment, with the fervor of the newly converted.
In addition to exploring the possibilities of pleasure, I started to wonder about my previously unquestioned orientation. Growing up, my heterosexuality was assumed. I never even considered that I could be anything else. Even monogamy stopped making sense to me. Why continue to propagate the heteronormative monogamous tradition that I had never seen work? When I opened myself up to the possibilities, I realized on a visceral level just how damaging it can be to force ourselves into these boxes. Smashing these boundaries has been extraordinarily liberating for the both of us. And also very, very sexy.
Salt -N-Pepa Said it Best
This period was really transformative for me. What it really made me most aware of is the glaring lack of sex positive spaces for Black women’s sexual expression and dialogue. Yes, our sexuality is layered by a history of oppression and objectification. Frankly, I’m done being defined and confined by that shit. Let’s talk about sex damnit! How we do it, how we like it, and how does it feel?? The more we talk about it, the more we create space for other possibilities. And the more snugly our feminist and freak can coexist. Just ask Bey.
Marly Pierre-Louis is a writer and community cultivator currently biking through the rain in Amsterdam. She writes about race, gender, sexy and parenting. You can find her at www.marlyatlarge.com and @MarlyOnella.