What Color is Your Orgasm? Sex-Positive Advice in Black and White

by Guest Contributor AJ Plaid, also known as The Cruel Secretary

    Latoya’s Note: After the jump, AJ (The Cruel Secretary) takes us on an interesting and illuminating journey through the world of sex-positive advice. However, this post includes explicit language and graphic depictions of sexual acts. Reader discretion is advised.


To all the women—young, middle-aged, and elderly—who still believe that we were placed on this earth to “service” men. May this book liberate your pussies, free your minds from the chain of sexual oppression, and make you realize that you are entitled to fuck your way.

This book is about fucking. This book is about love. This is a book about what love has to do with fucking and fucking has to do with love…I have never been one to sugarcoat anything, so why start now? Dear G-Spot is an in-your-face, straight up with no chaser book about fucking. How to fuck, how not to fuck, and knowing whether or not you have any business fucking in the first place. While there have been countless books written about sex, in the tradition of my short story collections, I seriously doubt you will ever red another one quite like this bitch here. I am “coming hard” so you can “cum hard” later. Some of the parts of this book are very graphic, and they were meant to be.”

~~Zane, from the dedication and introduction to her book, Dear G-Spot

Usually, I don’t read Zane, an Essence best-selling African American erotica writer, because I find her literary style clichéd. However, when I read this, I thought to myself, She did it! This Black woman wrote a raunchy-fun sex manual for us. Thank Sappho and the Song of Solomon lovers! But why isn’t her sex-advice column in Essence or Jet or Vibe—or an “alternative media” like the Village Voice or Nerve.com? And, if she’s gonna get down like that, then where are the pictures?

If I had to place Zane in context, she’s belongs to the Sex-Positive Advice Club. A brief definition the sex-positivism, from Wikipedia:

The sex-positive movement does not in general make moral or ethical distinctions between heterosexual or homosexual sex, or indeed masturbation for people who are otherwise celibate, regarding these choices as matters of personal preference. Some sex-positive positions include acceptance of BDSM, asexuality, polyamory, transsexuality, transgenderism, and other forms of gender transgression in general.

Most elements of the sex-positive movement advocate comprehensive and accurate sex education as part of its campaign.

I’d also put Zane in the tradition of sex-positive feminists. A brief history of that movement, again from Wikipedia:

Sex-positive feminism, sometimes known as pro-sex feminism, sex-radical feminism, or sexually liberal feminism, is a movement that was formed in the early 1980s. Some became involved in the sex-positive feminist movement in response to efforts by anti-pornography feminists, such as Catharine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, Robin Morgan and Dorchen Leidholdt, to put pornography at the center of a feminist explanation of women’s oppression (McElroy, 1995). This period of intense debate and acrimony between sex-positive and anti-pornography feminists during the early 1980s is often referred to as the “Feminist Sex Wars”. Other, less academic, sex-positive feminists became involved not in opposition to other feminists, but in direct response to what they saw as patriarchal control of sexuality. Authors who have advocated sex-positive feminism include Ellen Willis, Susie Bright, Patrick Califia, Gayle Rubin, Avedon Carol, Tristan Taormino and Betty Dodson.

In this zeitgeist, authors wrote books and columns: Susie Bright, Tristan Taormino, and Patrick Califia helped usher in a new era of erotic literature aimed at all genders as well as proclivities. Entrepreneurs opened women-friendly sex stores, like Good Vibrations and Toys in Babeland (changed later to Babeland), complete with classes about different sexual practices. Filmmakers like Candida Royalle created women-centered porn.

One sex-positive educator, Charlie Glickman, linked the movement to struggles to end other forms of bigotry:

In many ways, learning to break sex-negativity down is linked to working to end other prejudices. Sex-negativity is used to enforce sexism every time a woman is insulted by being called a slut. The myth that people of African descent are hypersexual and are therefore less developed than those of European descent clearly depends on the idea that sex is bad. Every time we’re shocked that our elders are sexual beings, sex-negativity reinforces ageism and it’s certainly one of the roots of homophobia, which is based on some peoples’ sexuality not being within the allowed norms. While these examples are certainly over-simplified, it’s easy to see that sex-negativity is braided into all of our prejudices and conversely, our other prejudices inform and help define our sex-negativity, so it’s not surprising that working towards ending one requires working towards ending the others. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that not working towards ending all of them limits how far we can work towards ending any of them.

~~”The Language of Sex Positivity,” The Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 7/6/2000

In the spirit of inclusion and identity–and, for publishing houses, the aura of diversity and, by extension, profit–authors of color, like Jewelle Gomez, Chrystos, Samuel Delaney, and David Mura, wrote erotica and joined in erotic-lit anthologies as well.

A wide choice of erotica exists for almost every race/ethnicity (the classics On a Bed of Rice, Under the Pomegranate Tree: the Best New Latino Erotica, Caliente: The Best Erotic Writing in Latin American Fiction, and Erotique Noir/Black Erotica come to mind) and sexual orientation, gender, and proclivity. Norma Alarcon, Ana Castillo, and Cherrie Moraga edited The Sexuality of Latinas. Good Vibrations’ film company, Sexpositive Productions, released Please Don’t Stop: Lesbian Tips for Givin’ & Gettin’ It with cast of women of color.

Off the top of my head, I know of two African American women who are running sex-toy businesses and received regional and national press: Tami Brooks, owner of Huneypot Parties, and well, Zane.

When it comes to publishing advice for the sexually curious, however, for every Tristan Taormino and Dan Savage and ex-Nerve.com advice writers Em and Lo, there’s….

Okay, well, beyond Zane, there’s Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, a gynocologist and columnist for Essence and Glamour, who wrote Pleasure: A Woman’s Guide to Getting the Sex You Want, Need, and Deserve. And then there’s….

Exactly.

Why aren’t there more sex-positive sex advice columnists of color on the wider-syndicated and/or book-deal getting scale of Taormino, Savage, and Em and Lo?

I’m not just talking about the dime-a-dozen, dating-and-relationship advice columnists, the ones who tell a female reader to buy flowers or get some of the above-mentioned erotica for that Special Someone she’s interested in order to keep his attention. With few exceptions –and depending on the publication — dating-and-relationship advice is very hetero-centric and geared at women. I am looking for a columnist who provides all that, but one who also, say, gives advice on safer-sex practices for a stiletto-heel fetishist like Taormino. Or like Savage, who advised a newbie to anal sex struggling with how to tell her boyfriend she finds the act painful even though lubrication is used and he “takes his time” with her, to give the man a “consciousness-raising session that involves” her “doing the boyfriend’s ass with a dildo that’s roughly the same size as his dick.”

My first answer I have received in response to my questions is that the advice is applicable to everyone because we’re all sexual beings and, at some point, someone’s going to cover the question I’ve been dying to ask—or introduce me to a practice or another nugget of sexual information–in one of the major columns. The columnist’s race shouldn’t matter, right?

I saw that answer as naively colorblind.

The reality is—as it has been played out in other controversies around race and publishing, especially in feminist blogosphere lately—the overwhelming number of these sexperts are white. Taormino—who has collaborated with authors of color for her erotica anthologies—has her own film production company whose DVDs are a staple in women-friendly , women-owned sex shops. Savage is a regular correspondent on Real Time with Bill Maher. Zane—whose bluntly graphic writing style matches Savage and Taormino–established herself as an erotic fiction writer about a decade before releasing Dear G-Spot. According to the Wikipedia entry about her, a casting call went out in 2007 for a series based on her writings, but there’s no premiere date.

So, that reality brings up the interrelated issues of voice and authority and the sexual underpinnings of racism in this society: who is considered an expert and why, who awarded the microphone and the camera’s gaze and why, who listens and why, and which race is considered the yardstick and the bottom-line of sexual attractiveness and normalcy and why.

And I’m not the only person thinking this way.

One of the things that really irks me about sex-bloggers is that they really aren’t dealing with race enough. It’s pretty much a bunch of white people, or minorities who don’t talk about being minorities…I’d forgotten the world wasn’t a bunch of white people fucking!

~~C.S. Lewiston, commenting on Susie Bright’s blog, October 4, 2007

I also thought this answer, though true, wasn’t fully fleshed out. I mean, it’s not all about white folks’ racism and white-skin advantage. As Latoya posted while back, women of color in the US have had a long and undocumented history of activism in the reproductive justice movement. As quoted from Kimala Price:

Drawing from human rights and social justice principles, women of color activists have re-defined “reproductive rights” into what they now call “reproductive justice.” Reproductive justice is not just about the individualistic right to have an abortion (i.e., the right not to have children) but to include the right to have children and to raise them in healthy and stable families. Accordingly, these activists have broadened reproductive rights and freedom beyond abortion rights, the rights to privacy and “choice” which are normally associated with the movement. In sum, reproductive justice encompasses many other issues such as economic justice, immigration rights, housing rights, and access to health care.

My reaction to that quote is “isn’t giving sex-positive advice part of that platform, too?” To me, giving non-judgmental, supportive counsel to newspaper-reading and ‘Net-surfing audiences of color (and, yeah, raunchy—for the sake of relating to people and giving information in a plain-spoken way) about, say, anal sex or sex toys is just as much about access to healthcare as being financially and physically able to get to a women’s clinic. That is a point of activism, too. (One sex activist , Dr. Carla Stokes, does exactly this. Check out her website and her Alternet interview.)

I posed my question about sex-positive sex advice to my staunchly Baptist, up-from-segregated-Mississippi, baby-boomer mom. I told her about writing this post, and we hashed out four major reasons why, at least, some African Americans in particular might shy away from the position—and I do mean “hash” because we went ‘round and ‘round about stereotypes about white women’s promiscuity, The Post-Bellum Black Community’s monolithic dignity, the Post-Desegregation Black Generations’ monolithic waywardness from that dignity. The reasons:

1) Historical sexual exploitation and its legacy, such as many white slavemasters and overseers raping enslaved African and African-American women. My mom recalled stories of white men in the Jim Crow South “who walked into the homes of Black men and had sex with whichever woman in the home he wanted, and the man could do nothing about it or else he would be killed.” These sexual situations bolstered and justified–and were justified by:

2) Sexualized racial stereotypes and African Americans’ sexual conservatism stemming from values interpreted from religious texts as well as perceived racial duty to “uplift the race.” Many an African American mother’s admonition to their daughters to not be a “fast” girl, “keep your panties up,” “keep your business out of the streets,” and certainly “don’t sleep with a white man” served as an familial check against personifying the hypersexual, promiscuous Black woman stereotype. “Black people during my time became buttoned up, almost sexless when we interacted with the larger world,” Mom said.

3) The perception that plain-spoken (and even graphic) sexual advice, especially the “do-you-and-y’all-with-full-consent-of your-partners-and-protection” ethos of sex-positive advice, is “white people’s domain,” which plays into the stereotype that white folks are sexually adventurous, indiscriminate, and indiscreet and, as mentioned before, the myth that the white body embodies sexual attractiveness and normalcy. An integral idea undergirding human beauty is the idea of, to be blunt, fuckability. This myth of the white body as the epitome and baseline of those concepts is partly perpetuated through the constant centering of white people in romantic leads in TV and films and featuring them on the cover of beauty and fashion magazines and mainstream porn. (And don’t forget the historical praising of white beauty in Western literature—and the exoticizing and denigrating of people of color.) Part of defining “Blackness” for some African Americans is the parameters of observed or perceived behaviors of white people and flipping the stereotype script. When it comes to sexual practices and proclivities, the flip to, say, a suggestion to try watching porn together or getting oral sex is “That’s what white folks do,” complete with a sneer and arm-crossing. So is displaying or discussing one’s sexuality in public spaces or for others’ consumption, why is why there was the uproar within Black communities over Ugly Betty’s Vanessa Williams photo spread in Penthouse, which cost her the Miss America crown a couple of decades ago.

4) The perception that “low-class” people use profanity and otherwise talk “nasty”—and such talk is usually considered scatological or sexual. The twin idea is such “nasty” talk is seen as “edgy” as well. This is probably why Dr. Hutcherson medical pedigree and writing style appeals to Essence readers, who tend to be mostly middle-class and middle-aged Black women who may feel more comfortable with this description of one of her fellatio tips: “Place a piece of ice in the hollow of your cheek. Now insert the penis into your otherwise warm mouth. The hot/cold sensation will be exciting.” Zane fans—and even Taormino and Savage fans–may snicker and say, “Fellatio? Penis? Are you for real?” (Unlike Zane, I do give Dr. Hutcherson some points for having illustrations, though they’re of straight couples.)

I wrote an email to my blogger friend Tami—she and I are Gen Xers–and asked for her thoughts about this. She responded (and I quote with her permission):

I think despite the blatant sexuality found in some hip hop culture, we black folks can be very Puritanical in our thinking about sexuality. We may be anesthesized to the cartoonish, shaking asses on BET, but it is hard to find frank discussion of sex between two consenting black adults, even within progressive black blogosphere. I find that generally among my people, hypersexual images = okay; healthy discussion = nasty.

Tami then made a great point about the polarized stereotypes upon which African American sexuality seems to occupy: the bestial and oversexualized (“the animalistic and sexually voracious black buck and the exoticized and wanton black woman) and the essentially sexless (“the desexualized mammy”). She added:

Then I think there is a strong layer of sexism thrown on top of that. I’m not sure we, as a people, are comfortable with strong, sexual women. Even the hypersexual images that we consume through hip hop are largely very woman submissive. I cannot even imagine a black woman in the role of sex advisor a la Dr. Ruth or that other woman that comes on Oxygen. Remember what happened when Dr. Jocelyn Elders talked about masturbation? Bill Clinton fired her.

Then Tami concluded her email: “I guess the short answer is that perhaps our sexual baggage makes us uncomfortable about really talking about sex in public.”

But I still feel like my answer is incomplete, so I open the floor to you. Do you know of any other people of color doing this kind of advice? Should there be race- and ethnic-specific sex-positive sex advice that discuss the weight of the history and stereotypes, the current and the ongoing stereotypes of a particular group that keep people from consenting to great sexual and sensual experiences, and the real statistics of sexually transmitted infections within communities of color, and all the while teaching people to say “yes” to sex in all of its multitudinous splendor? Where should these columns appear and why? What are other reasons people of color don’t become sex-advice columnists beyond personal choice or consideration?

Because it’s not like we’re not doin’ it.