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What sexual liberation looks like for me as a black woman

Words: Rukiat Ashawe

One thing that has been on my mind for a few months now is ‘what does sexual liberation look like for black women?’ and more personally, ‘what does it look like for me as black woman?’

I still don’t have the full answer yet, but slowly I am beginning to figure it out.

brief look into the history of black women's reproductive health

It was only this year I found out that gynaecology was founded on the mutilation of black women’s bodies due to Dr James Marion Sims, aka the so-called “father” of this practice. He operated on black female slaves with no consent, no anaesthesia, and no regard for their lives.

By using black women as his guinea pigs, he was able to treat reproductive health issues in white women. Hearing how the healing of white women’s bodies was at the expense of black women’s own made me realise just how different our sexual liberation is to other women, and how much we need it.

The disregard of black women’s bodies is still evident today in childbirth mortality rates. Black women in the UK are five times more likely to die during childbirth in comparison to white women. Not only does this show how disregarded black women’s bodies are, but it also proves how much lack of care and empathy is afforded to us when it comes to our pain and suffering. 

WAP and the sexualisation of black women's bodies

While I saw many non-black women – especially white women – praise WAP, I also saw many black women express their concerns for it. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved WAP, and so did other black women, but I couldn’t ignore the ones who didn’t and their reasons why.

Many black women questioned whether WAP truly represented self-ownership and emancipation when it came to our bodies, or whether it fed into the “jezebel” stereotype about us.

The “jezebel” stereotype is the belief that black women crave sexual fulfilment and are insatiable when it comes to sex. Black women are so hypersexualised, that others struggle to see them as more than objects, which leaves them vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and a lack of empathy. This stereotype enforces the belief that black women’s bodies exist merely for other people’s entertainment and consumption. 

Although I do believe that the song was a display of sexual agency by both a black woman and an Afro-Dominican woman, I don’t blame other black women for having such doubts. Hip hop culture is one of the biggest perpetuators of the “jezebel” stereotype. In the realm of hip-hop/rap, women only exist for the male gaze.

For black women to overcome the negative images and assumptions created about them, I believe that balance is needed when it comes to black female sexuality and how it is represented.

What sexual liberation means to me

Sexual liberation for me is not just about sex toys and how many people you choose to sleep with. It is about freeing the black woman’s body from the negative stereotypes which plague her. It is about black women receiving proper care when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health. It is about releasing black women from the shackles that continue to suppress and regulate our sexualities and sexual expression.

Rukiat is an award-winning sex educator from London whose aim is to provide sex-education that is future-forward, pleasure-focused, and inclusive for all. Follow her on Instagram.