We Need Sex Ed for Black Girls
By Tara Jones
My sophomore year of college I took a psychology course on sexual development. Seeing as we were all eighteen to twenty-somethings enrolled at university, the professor decided to share statistics about sexual assaults in college. “Among undergraduate students, 26.4% of females and 6.8% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.” There I sat, one of two Black girls in the class, looking at the shocked white faces that sat beside me. I understood that these statistics were theirs. They were not mine. Whatever fears they might have had could not compare to my understanding that the statistics for Black girls were far more grim. “Black women at a PWI reported higher rates of sexual intercourse due to physical force (8.2%) and emotional pressure (10.5%), relative to White women (2.7% and 2.7%, respectively).” And that doesn’t even take into account the social barriers that deter Black women from reporting, considering that for every Black woman that does report, there are 15 Black women who do not. As someone going out of my way to supplement the sex education I didn’t receive in grade school, and as someone paying thousands of dollars to an institution to be able to learn what I want to learn, so many lessons missed the mark. Every issue that affects white women affects us in uniquely worse ways. Yet, the issues endured by Black women routinely go unrecognized. Especially regarding a topic that people are already afraid to speak about, sex.
The difference in sexual experiences for Black and non-black girls does not start and end with sexual assault. As a Black girl, I’ve often felt less deserving of pleasure during sexual interactions, since who in society is telling me I’m deserving of much at all? I’ve had trouble speaking up, not only because of my long-undiagnosed anxiety (another Black girl problem), but because in so many areas of my life as a Black woman, I’ve been conditioned to fulfill this people-pleaser role. Why would sex be any different?
Imagine if I did speak up; advocate for my orgasm. What would my partner think of me? What would I think of myself? I’d be a whore, a jezebel, the seductive, sinful stereotype of Black women that remains from the times of slavery. The hypersexual, bad, Black girl, who white slaveowners couldn’t help but fall victim to (really rape). Regardless of what we do, we are demonized in some way or another. We were the villains then, and we are forced to walk around, and sleep around, in fear that we always will be. Black women have historically been villified and sexualized for simply existing, and have consequently been trained to be passive participants in our own sex lives in order to avoid the perception of being too promiscuous.
Our inability to talk about Black girl’s pleasure only creates a world in which it doesn’t exist. But as with every other thing that has been strategically kept from Black people through violence, stereotypes, and socioeconomics, there is a reason sexual pleasure is meant to be inaccessible to Black girls. It has the potential to liberate. Experiencing pleasure would counteract a major threat to our livelihood, minority stress. Pleasure brings us back to a nature that existed before race was ever invented and before our labor was ever exploited.
So what does Sex-Ed for Black girls look like? It encourages conversations about sexual attraction, since contrary to popular belief, attraction is absorbed rather than instinctual. Western media and mainstream porn have told you that Black women are less ideal partners than our white counterparts, grotesque even, or that it isn’t normal to be sexually attracted to us. Thus, turning us into a shameful fetish. So here we remain, the least swiped-upon on popular dating apps, or the objectified stars of your “Ebony” PornHub search. The first step to decolonizing our “preferences” is acknowledging that Black girls too have sex, and that we deserve to experience pleasure and respect.
Sex-Ed for Black girls prioritizes conversations about sexual healthcare, since STIs can present differently on black bodies and many healthcare professionals remian unaware of how the symptoms differ for Black people. For example, Black birthing people die at ridiculous rates at the hands of medical professionals who dismiss their pain and who’s implicit biases put their lives in jeopardy. And though the onus is on doctors who should be equipped to accommodate for us medically just as well as they do for white people, we should be taught about our own health the way non-black people are when learning about sexually transmitted infections.
Sex-Ed for Black girls acknowleges the disparities in rates of sexual assault and reporting, and the cultural and social reasons as to why Black girls so seldom speak up. Be it loyalty to abusers who may be members of our own race, distrust of the police or carceral system, knowing that we won’t be believed, or fear that we’ll be turned into stereotypes, there are so many reasons behind our silence that no one is talking about nor working to resolve. Sex-Ed for Black girls requires advocacting against the sexual abuse to prison pipeline. The pipeline references the 31% of girls in the juvenile justice system across the US, a disproportionate amount being Black, that have been sexually abused. Since there are so few solutions in place to address Black girl trauma, since after assault we are so much less likely to receive medical and psychological help, that trauma surfaces in other ways. Even saying that assumes incarcerated Black girls did something to warrant these arrests in the first place.
Sex-Ed for Black girls coincides with much of the work that is being done for prison abolition. Abolition isn’t just tearing down prisons, police stations, and the violent positions people occupy within them. Abolition is building up community systems that actually protect and make people feel safe. This involves investing in public services like community refrigerators so that people don’t have to resort to “crime” in order to survive. It also involves revolutionizing education and mental health services in order to prioritize rehabilitation instead of imprisonment. Sexual harm such as assault, abuse, pedophilia, exhibitionism and sexually motivated killings, are best combatted through methods of care and education that stop harm before it happens in the first place. In other words, when everyone learns Black girl Sex-Ed.
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