Pleasure Noir: An Overdue Conversation
by Thea Monyeé
The silence around pleasure and Black womanhood is weakening as new conversations emerge.
Until recently, I hadn’t engaged in a single conversation about pleasure with anyone in my family, and I don’t recall having conversations with my closest friends about pleasure until I was in my late twenties. Even then, my initial response was a mixture of avoidance and curiosity.
In my current work with Black women to reclaim their right to embodied pleasure, I’ve witnessed the emotional ambivalence that comes from discussing pleasure more times than I can count. I’m acutely aware when I inquire about their erotic satisfaction that I’m boldly knocking on the door of a topic they have avoided out of fear, trauma, or sheer intimidation since they first felt something tickle “down there.” Raising the issue of pleasure captures their attention, but moving them from attentive to invested in their personal pleasure journey requires more than a google search of sex tricks.
The articles and marketing targeting Black women often insinuate the issue with Black Femme pleasure is a lack of desire. Black women don’t lack desire. We demonstrate passion for our families, our careers, and our communities. Our creativity knows no bounds, even before this current era of #Blackgirlmagic. This abundance of spanda, what tantric tradition recognizes as raw/transformational energy, is evident in every aspect of Black womanhood from our hairstyles to our speech patterns. We don’t lack desire; we lack access.
Standing at the intersection of white supremacy and patriarchy, Black women often find themselves volleyed between two dominant groups staking claim to our bodies and everything attached. We scream, fight back, protest, but our declarations often only fall onto the ears of our sisters, invalidated and dismissed as background noise by the world around us. Our silence around what we want is not evidence of an absence of desire, it is a consequence of being ignored. It is an unnatural byproduct of being the woman and mother who suckled the soil on which we all stand, without reciprocity, recognition, or respect.
Acknowledging these painful truths makes the erotic power of Black womanhood even more salient. Though our foremothers often hid their sense of pleasure to safeguard against relentless exploitation, they still chose to access spanda, their raw energy, to create the transformational pleasure found in Nina Simone’s voice, Maya Angelou’s words, Beyoncé’s genius, and Michelle Obama’s grace and intelligence. The #Blackgirlmagic which has historically sustained our culture and the lives of others is harnessed from the center of our being: Our pleasure. We never stopped laughing, dancing, playing, caring, or creating. We still ache for touches, kisses, and spontaneity. Now is not the time to stifle our desires.
I created Pleasure Noir, an online webinar, to validate the curiosity and desires of women like me. Women who may have never seen their vaginas because they were told to keep it hidden and clean; women who endure sex with inattentive partners because they’ve been instructed to maintain a “happy home”; women who have experienced trauma and were nearly strangled by the silence of their community in the aftermath. Pleasure in its simplest form is the right to explore and experience what pleases us. Together we create a space where we liberate our fantasies, inquiries, and giggles; we release spanda. We produce non-sexual and sexual erotic energy and liberate one another simply by giving ourselves permission to say what we want aloud. It is a space where we can carry on the traditions of our foremothers, tapping into the secrets they wouldn’t dare speak of publicly. Our existence is evidence they engaged their erotic energy making it possible for us to laugh, dance, love, create and even destroy when necessary. Their pleasure and all the creative power within it has given us the opportunity to break the cycle of secrecy and silence around our right to embodied pleasure.
Most of us may not have grown up discussing pleasure, but with our foremothers standing beside us, nothing can stop us from having the conversation now.