Masturbation. Say it aloud. I mean it. Actually let the word leave your lips. For some people, that’s easy. You’re on a website that sells pleasure devices. Talking about, thinking about, and seeking out pleasure should be exciting. But there are some that browse this site and are still ashamed to admit they desire self-stimulation. Sexuality and pleasure have rarely been topics deemed “appropriate” for women of any background. I grew up in the South—Alabama to be exact. Being “lady-like” wasn’t a characteristic; it was a requirement. Talking about my desires, or wanting to understand my own body was not lady-like. Still, there was something much deeper than being Southern that kept me from being comfortable entertaining the thought of masturbation.
It’s no secret that black women’s bodies are hyper-sexed by society. The phrase “bubble butt” is almost exclusively associated with us. Features like our thick lips and curly hair are now so “in '' they’ve become minutia. Even the few representations black women had of themselves in the media were a part of some warped Madonna/Whore complex—if the Madonna could also just be a jovial servant and humble sidekick. Not to relate everything to slavery, but presenting our naked bodies for purchase on the auction block is not a good way for black femininity to be introduced to the world. From the Hottentot Venus to Nicki Minaj, our bodies are sexed for everyone but ourselves. When sex is so expected, people tend to become ashamed of it. I’m not saying the public perception of black women’s’ bodies is the whole reason for extreme prudishness, but I’m sure it helps. I’m also sure you can imagine my mother avidly avoiding the sex talk, or any talk involving my vagina, with me.
So, I’m writing this article. I admit; I’m still working my way through my masturbation issues. But, part of working through this is walking the walk. Welcome to my journey of discovery. Black girls do work it out.
One of my first times coming face to face with the idea of masturbation came from a teen flick parody, Not Another Teen Movie. Yeah. That movie. I snuck and watched this smuck-filled comedy because I saw a large unrated label on the VHS cover. The opening scene features a very awkward girl getting caught with a vibrator wriggling under her covers. That thing moved so ferociously it almost pulled the poor girl off the bed. I was so afraid of vibrators after that. They looked like long erasers that whacked your vagina until you couldn’t feel anything anymore. Why would someone want to torture themselves like that? When I realized almost every woman I knew had one in her top drawer, I actually felt sorry for them.
Everything after that went downhill. Masturbation was yet another one of those “white folks” things because there were so few examples of black folks exploring their own bodies without it ending in devastation. The closest thing to normalization of self touch was Shug showing Celie how to give herself an orgasm in The Color Purple. I felt Celie’s embarrassment. I felt her shame in both being asked about her knowledge of masturbation and having to admit she knew nothing at all about it. I wondered if black women had always been afraid to pull their panties down and look there. I knew I had.
So, I did. I looked. It didn’t look like some Holy Grail or a Playboy Centerfold that had hypnotic powers over men. It looked a little like the opening of my purse. My mother calling vaginas pocketbooks finally made sense. I couldn’t bring myself to touching. I was afraid someone would burst in my room and find out. What would they say if they knew I was doing that. Would they tell me I was hanging around white folks too much?
I’d grown weary of black communities labeling everything out of the norm as “acting white.” I was also over the white majority’s idea of blackness being so sexual it seemed shameful to actually do the things in music videos and movies. Black women can pussy pop up the Billboard charts, but when we discuss exploring our own sexuality, it’s seen as just...weird. If you disagree, remember Tweet? The singer wrote a popular song about masturbation and most of us thought she and Missy Elliott were lesbians afterward. We sure as hell didn’t think too kindly of Whoopi Goldberg when she shyly followed Shug’s lead in The Color Purple, either.
The first step I took in making masturbation less weird was learning about my actual vagina. Turns out the parts responsible for turning you on aren’t even called the vagina. The vulva, or the external part of female genitalia, protects the sex organs. Our vulvas are like beautiful petals protecting our precious pistils. Respect the vulva, sis! Get to know the vulva, luv! Overstimulation of the clitoris (probably the only scientific name people know when it comes to vajayjays) is probably part of the reason masturbation feels weird and abnormal. If you’re going at it, and only it, too hard, you’ll just cause discomfort. Work your way across your lips, thighs, and clitoris. Take your time memorizing the uniqueness of your particular parts. Once you’re familiar, breathe and realize just how normal this is.
Once I got comfortable with my fingers, I got braver. I wanted to tackle the world of sex toys. Little did I know, vibrators aren’t scary in real life, especially when you take the time to figure out what type of pleasure device works the best for you. Not Another Teen Movie was just a silly movie. Vibrators don’t all whirl around like rabid dogs. As a matter of fact, most of the ones in my collection are more G-spot focused and don’t vibrate much at all. When I like a nice little vibe, I only like devices that focus on the clit. I like varying speeds so I can determine the levels I want to get to. Sometimes it’s just a casual little pick me up. Other times, I need the power of a Jumbotron in Times Square.
Now that I’m older, I realize representation and de-stigmatization matters. In order to have healthy sexual relationships as adults, we have to be taught about sex in healthy ways. Watching TV doesn’t help much when the images of sex and masturbation are so...whitewashed. If the media can’t give us the information we need, we’re going to have to go back to the source of all education: home. If you were riding with me this whole article, I’m sure the idea of talking to your mother about masturbation might make you jump ship. I’m not saying that. What I am saying is own your sexuality, even amongst those closest to you. Open the door for conversations about sex. It’s going to be awkward. It could also be very funny as well.
I called my aunt last week to tell her about my new beau. She casually reminded me not to go to his house after a fresh blowout because he might blow my back and fresh hairdo out. Then she asked if I got it several times. That made me laugh harder than I had in years. It also made me remember: family members have sex too. Most likely, they’ve experimented with masturbation as well. Family means so much to black communities across the diaspora. It’s the thing that unites us all. From inviting folks to the cookout (don’t do it,) to knowing when dinner will actually hit the table on Thanksgiving, families and our relationships to them are all a part of the culture. It’s all about gathering and sharing love.
So, why can’t you share your honest questions about self-love? I became a writer for many reasons, but one of the utmost importance was to give people a way to be seen. All different types, races, cultures, and backgrounds of people need to feel represented, heard, and seen. That sounds like an easy ask, but when black women can’t feel empowered enough to learn about masturbation or any other vaginal concerns, that just cannot happen.
So, if I have to be the only one writing strong images of black girls bossing up and rubbing one out, I’ll take the charge headon. In the meantime, let’s practice what we preach. If you want to talk about getting busy with yourself, DM me. Hit up the comments. However you want to reach out, my Queens, I’m here. Hi. I’m Erika, a black woman from Alabama. I touch myself, and it feels really really good.