Let’s Talk About Sex
How we talk about sex has largely been shaped by whiteness — it’s time to change that.
The word autonomy has become a part of the lexicon in my household.
My daughters may not fully understand the definition, but it’s become part of our regular communication. It’s a reminder that they have a say in what gets to happen with their bodies. I want them to understand that their voices matter, and they get to choose what they do with their bodies, regardless of how the world may try to dictate it for them. It matters to me because they matter to me.
Growing up in the Bronx in the ’80s, autonomy wasn’t an option I thought I had.
I watched sex happen before I was old enough to know what it meant to watch two bodies collide with sweat, saliva, and bone. The very first time, I semi-crawl-walked into the living room and watched my father and mother move to a rhythm that looked like a subtle sway that then moved to a vigorous thrusting. It sounded more like a fistfight than the BET movie love scenes I later watched as a semi-adult. While my parents convulsed, there were faint images on the screen of white people dancing with each other. I didn’t stay long, but my young boy self knew I was in on something I should not have been, peeking behind a curtain that no one knew I knew was there.
That accidental encounter would lead to more. I found sex everywhere in the house while I looked for something to feed all of my appetites: food, information, love, attention, and pleasure. Exploring my little Black body was not something I felt entitled to. I was never taught about it without it feeling scientific or wrong.
The next accident would be the Penthouse magazine stashed away in my big brother D’s dresser. He told my mom it was there when we moved. She let him keep it and, with my curiosity piqued, my six-year-old self would spend hours rummaging through the pages in the bathroom or sneaking it into the living room when everyone was sleeping, working, or too busy to bother with a precocious child and his handful of imaginary friends and stories. There would be sex video game ads and reviews, with pictures to help describe the action, and in articles I could barely read (and definitely did not care to). But I gravitated toward the white warrior lesbians time and time again. I didn’t necessarily understand whiteness, but I knew to distinguish skin color. Teachers, firefighters, cops, and porn stars were white. The warrior lesbians dressed in armor. After coming back from some battle, they would retreat to each other.
I learned how to masturbate from a science book. Before that, I watched porn purely for the sensation of blood flow, for entertainment and shock value. The book explained ejaculation. It was simple because all I needed was the diagram. It explained that my urine and sperm would be coming out of the same hole but traveling through two different parts of my penis. My first time masturbating was just as much about teen testosterone climaxing to its fullest potential as it was about the curious call of young male curiosity — I wanted to see and needed to know how my body worked.
Black boys don’t get taught how to use their bodies. The first porn I ever came to was a Playboy Pay-Per-View movie I ordered after my mom left for work one night. There were no porn trailers, so you had to judge them by name. And I watched three white women eat, lick, suck, giggle, and cum themselves into shapeless oblivion. We are taught how to use the bodies of women. I had dedicated myself to leaning into whatever pleasure I could make come out of my growing body. I had always been this way. It didn’t matter if it was white women, Black women, brown women. But the access in the world of porn for my teen self was limited to white porn. So I had to find other inventive ways to exercise my pleasure — Suzanne Somers ramped up to a hundred.
When I couldn’t get my hands on real porn or sneak flashes of breasts played over poorly performed elevator jazz music on Red Shoe Diaries, I’d wait for Christie Brinkley during her Total Gym commercials. I’d wait for Sofia Vergara on Fuera De Seria or the models on Sabado Gigante; Rachel from Video Soul and Caribbean Rhythms; Bienvenidos on Telemundo; the big-breasted character on USA Network’s Duckman; BET Uncut. All the women were, no matter how naked, either of a light complexion or basic white. It didn’t matter if they were married, if they liked reading Proust or Nietzsche, if their plants had names, if they attended PTA meetings or remembered the songs their fathers would sing off-key during summer vacation road trips to ridiculously little towns named after stolen family heirlooms. None of it mattered; at that young age, I believed that women were objects to be had, used, and objectified. The white women of our begotten fantasies were the most sought-after coveted prize. Fairy tales, primetime sitcoms, syndicated reruns — white women getting ahead, white women being moms, secretaries, detectives, lawyers.
I was practicing maybe what happened to me when I was too young to know what it meant to have a bigger boy want to put his thing in you. Or maybe I was performing what I saw in all those movies I was too young to have seen. But soon enough, I was pretending to have sex with the plastic horse that had the blonde wig, imagining the horse as my girlfriend. Her edges were sharp. She was a light mustard yellow. I forget her name, which in hindsight feels like peak misogyny and patriarchy — I couldn’t even remember the name of my toy plastic fake girlfriend pseudo dry hump buddy. I cut my leg trying to hump her on our bunk bed. I remember because my mom had gotten a bunch of the KFC chicken sandwiches I loved for the party. I was bleeding and when the adults asked, I lied and said I cut it running in the house.
That practice became making my G.I. Joes fuck whichever girl toy that happened to be laying around. Normally it was the female villain character from the TV cartoon show Bionic Six. It was the movie under my mother’s bed, Ice Cream, with the taboo sex of the step-uncle and niece, and bushy ’80s vaginas, and thick mustached white men getting their dicks sucked without any real effort needing to be exerted for the scenario to occur.
The practice became looking for porn everywhere, in everything. It became discovering the tape that had House Party 2 recorded on it, which was recorded over Chinese Super Ninjas which, when you fast forwarded enough, led you to an unknown porn that featured a lot of sex with no insertion shown but would feature Black stars I recognized from Black Velvet, the porn I snuck to watch by breaking into my brother’s deposit box where he held some of his extra savings. I saw when he tucked the VHS into the box alongside some pocket money. But my focus was the porn.
Not one thing ever is one thing forever. So even in porn, we are examining and glorifying, fetishizing a body, the woman’s body at that. In that same breath, we are watching the beauty of it. My mother, my beautiful Black mother with her Caribbean mouth and full body would walk around her room free and topless sometimes. Sometimes I’d see her while I went to ask for something from the kitchen or went to pass her the phone. But her body was a mother’s body, my mother’s, so not much attention was paid to it. Black Velvet was the first time I saw Black women’s bodies: the curvature, the thighs as ham hocks, the soft and plush of the ways their breasts and buttocks found a mattress and made it a place to find love, to fuck, to be free in. Watching that Black Velvet VHS porn in my mama’s room on her VCR was the first time I felt like I’d seen Black women on a cover asking to be loved, even if it meant bad jazz elevator music during sex scenes. The practice became reading the adult book my mother had stashed under her bed with the white woman running on the beach with half of a nipple exposed and getting hard while the book described sex with words in a way I had only seen done to other bodies in practice. The practice became trying to find versions of sex that didn’t involve me having to have sex with another person — the glimpses of breasts in the movie my brother rented when his girlfriend came over and he made to stay in the room but not change to channel 64, and when I caught a glimpse of her brown areola when she was slipping her shirt over her head.
It became spending my summer in Indianapolis and finding the VHS on top of my sister’s fridge and hoping, praying it would have what I needed. It did. It became a hot summer in Pensacola, Florida, with my father masturbating to a single picture of anime while snippets of Usher’s “You Make Me Wanna” filled the radio dial every day. It became working on a roof in Lakeland, Florida, and using extended bathroom breaks to try to find images to jerk off to keep myself from jumping off the same roofs we laid urethane foam on. It became me in high school learning of the room in the back of the bodega where they sold DVDs and me running through anything featuring a Black woman bent over. I was gaining my discourse of how to lay with Black women from 90 minutes of sweaty backs on disheveled living room floors with fifty other niggas waiting their turn, or five minutes of drum kicks and women on boats getting Hennessy poured down their throats.
The weaponization of the Black body has always been real. The demonization of women’s bodies, to be treated as property, as unidentified own-able objects solely for the purpose of patriarchal use has always been real. Our liberation from it will have to be just as real — an honest and healthy dive into how we consume, what we consume and why we consume the things that push us away from our truest selves while viewing our bodies through the constant lens of whiteness.
I want more for our daughters, for my daughters. I want more for all of us.