This article was originally published on BLAC Detroit.

Sexual double standards are nothing new in our society — with women usually bearing the brunt of the bias. However, Black women face an additional set of unique challenges regarding their sexuality and are often the subject of additional layers of discrimination, stereotypes, and shame.

From Jezebel in the Bible to today’s hyper-sexualized portrayals of Black women in the media, these stereotypes have been deeply ingrained into our cultural consciousness for centuries — so much so that a recent survey found that less than 30% of Black women reported feeling comfortable discussing their sexual health with healthcare providers.

To dismantle these harmful double standards, talking openly and honestly about the intersectionality of Black women and sex is critically important. 

What are some of the double standards that exist for Black women when it comes to sex?

Several double standards exist for Black women when it comes to sex, including:

  • Hypersexualization: Long-standing stereotypes have caused the media to portray Black women as promiscuous and hypersexual — think of any rap music video you’ve watched from the past 30 years.
  • “The angry Black woman:” The “angry Black woman” stereotype perpetuates the idea that Black women are sexually aggressive. For decades, this harmful stereotype has been used to shame Black women for expressing their sexuality and desires.
  • Sexual threat: Black women’s sexuality is often viewed as a threat, especially to white men. This has led to a long history of violence and sexual abuse against black women. In fact, 38% percent of Black women experience sexual violence other than rape in their life. Additionally, more than 20% of Black women are raped in their life, which is more than among all women. 
  • Slut shaming: Black women are often judged more harshly than white women for engaging in sexual behavior — also known as being “slut shamed.”

How do these double standards affect Black women’s lives?

Whether you feel comfortable talking about gender inequality, feminism, and sexual empowerment or not, the double standards that exist around Black women and sex are extremely damaging and can have lasting effects on both mental and physical health.

Constantly feeling ashamed, afraid of being judged, and like you have to hide certain parts of your life can devastate your mental health. This can manifest as anxiety and depression.

The damage is more than just mental. Black women who are the victims of sexual violence and harassment are more likely to suffer from physical health issues, including STDs and unwanted pregnancies.

What can we do to dismantle these double standards?

Dismantling stereotypes and double standards around Black women and sex is critically important so our daughters and granddaughters don’t have to live in shame. Here are some ways to take action:

  • Get educated: Take the time to learn about the history and impact of the stereotypes and biases that exist around Black women’s sexuality, whether it’s by reading studies or books, watching TV and movies, or speaking with elders in your community.
  • Use your voice: Don’t be afraid to speak up and do what you can to call out harmful stereotypes and discrimination when you see it. You can even advocate for policies that protect and empower Black women and get involved with local groups and politics that are taking action.
  • Speak openly: Change starts with you. Start speaking candidly about sex and inspire others to open up as well. Ensure you listen actively and without judgment when someone shares an experience with you.

What role does intersectionality play in this issue?

According to the intersectional theory, people often face disadvantages by multiple sources of oppression, including their race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other identity markers. These forms of discrimination will sometimes co-exist and overlap; other times, they will occur during different events and stages of life. In other words, intersectionality is the idea that a person can face many types of discrimination that are connected and overlap with each other throughout their life.

For example, a Black woman may not only face discrimination based on her gender but could also be discriminated against for her race. This double whammy adds stigma surrounding sexual health, whether the woman is at the doctor’s office, sitting in her mom’s kitchen, chatting with friends, or anywhere else. These stigmas can lead to reduced access to healthcare and increased feelings of shame and/or embarrassment, which can also cause these women to feel too ashamed to talk to a healthcare provider about these concerns.

To address these double standards, an intersectional approach is required that considers all the unique experiences of people facing multiple forms of discrimination.

How can we create a more inclusive dialogue around Black women and sex?

If you’re ready to lead the charge in creating a more open and inclusive dialogue for Black women and sex, consider the following strategies:

  • Acknowledge stereotypes: To foster real change, you can’t ignore the lifetime of stereotypes that Black women have faced. Instead, don’t be afraid to tackle them head-on. Step up and challenge harmful narratives you see playing out, whether in media, pop culture, or a conversation with a co-worker.
  • Create a safe space for dialogue: Create in-person and online support groups, workshops, meet-ups, etc., where Black women can connect and build a community free to discuss their perspectives on sex and sexuality openly.
  • Address systemic issues: Racism and sexism are systemic issues. It’s vital to fight long-standing policies, beliefs, and stereotypes and create a more equitable society where Black women have access to the same resources and support to live a healthy life — sexually and otherwise — as everyone else.

Black women face unique challenges regarding their sexuality — and have for generations. We can start dismantling these harmful stereotypes by creating an open dialogue and a safe space for judgment-free conversations — and focus on empowerment instead of shame. 

As a media platform dedicated to highlighting the experiences and perspectives of Black communities, BLAC media is committed to creating a more inclusive and empowering dialogue around Black women and sex. Browse our latest sexual health articles here.

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