Shedding the Shame: Embracing the Beauty of Black Women’s Sexuality

For the month of February MommiNation continues our conversations about love, sensuality, and sexuality with reproductive justice activists Brittany Brathwaite, MSW, MPH, and Kimberly Huggins, LSW, MPH, MEd. Ms. Brathwaite and Ms. Huggins are co-owners of Kimbritive, a sexual wellness platform for Black women. This time we talk about sexuality, sexual wellness, and shame.

MommiNation: For a lot of women sexuality is shrouded in shame. We’re socialized to believe women are not supposed to be good at sex, or we’re supposed to shield our bodies. How do you help women to navigate shame around sexuality?

KH: One of the things that we do in our workshops is name the messages that we receive that tell us that we should feel shameful, whether those messages come from music, media, culture, or our families. Once you recognize, “Wow, I have this deep-seated belief about sex and pleasure because my grandma used to say that ‘fast-tail girls are this,’ and that’s still in my mind as a 30- something year old, you have the ability to begin to rewrite that, and be in conversation with that negative thought. You can say, “Actually, that’s not true! I’m an adult woman. I can and I should be able to experience pleasurable expressions that are safe and consensual.”

BB: Shame takes a long time to unearth. It’s a reflective process to figure out where we are storing shame. What are we feeling shameful about? What parts of our lives are we refusing to live because something told us we can’t. And, particularly, our thing is Black women’s sexuality. People have worked really hard to construct our sexuality. So, we are sort of redoing those constructions. And, one of the one of the things we ask people to do is be gentle with yourself.

We continue to think about who constructed those ideas for us. And sometimes it is our grandma who constructed these ideas. And we need to think about what permission did she not have to be that in her life? If we do that, if we can empathize with that, we make our way towards releasing shame.

MommiNation: How might we as women begin to think intergenerationally about having conversations with our daughters about sex, and pleasure, and their bodies?

BB: This is our jam! One is being an “askable adult.” Sometimes when people decide they need to talk to their young person about sexuality they’ve already started writing these scripts where they think that they’re giving their kids permission to have sex. That’s not real. But, what is real is your child’s need to understand that they can ask you about anything. So, you shut down asking when you start preaching about things that were in your past.

If you do that, they’re never gonna ask you about the things they care about because you’ve already preached the sermon about it. So, the easiest sex ed lesson we give to any adult is be an askable adult. Be a person that young people can come to with questions. Don’t create an environment where that doesn’t get to exist.

Mommination: How do we do that?

BB: You need to be on your own journey of self-discovery. People in their adult lives have some things to release around their sexuality, like concerns about when they became sexually active, or maybe they had an abortion, or maybe they had an STI.

And then now you’re a parent, and so you’ve moved into this next phase of your life, but all of that stuff, if you haven’t thought about it, it’s gonna follow you, and it is going to impact the next generation. So, it’s a duty we see in
terms of parenting for liberation, to unpack your own stuff before you pack other people’s stuff.

MommiNation: Are there different ways to think about sexual wellness with boys or young people who identify as male versus young people who identify as female or women?

KH: When this young man grows up and becomes an adult, what experiences do you want to make sure that they had so that they are having a fun and happy and safe life? Think about those experiences and impart that to young people.

BB: We work hard at constructing gender for folks. We did a workshop at a Baptist church, and the majority of this room were young men. And someone came in middle of my workshop and decided to take over my workshop. And her focus was on consent, but her whole focus was “don’t go to school and sexually assault these girls, because then you will get kicked out of college and your life will go down the drain.”

It was this very targeted message that she had for them that I felt completely discounted their lives, their experiences, their presence. And that led me to think: ‘how are we educating boys about sexuality?’ Is it just about how to avoid sexual violence? Who asks them the right questions like, Does this feel good to you? Should we
continue? How do I understand what it means to be coercive? So, I think that everybody should get the same kind of education so that people could be on the same page.

MommiNation: What does Kimbritive do to engage people in that kind of education?

KH: When we first started this work, we were mostly working with young people. But, as we’ve grown and evolved we’ve had to ask, “As a Black woman, do I even have a space to learn and process these things?”

I’m a 30-year-old woman who never had sex education, but I’m expected to know all these things. We aim to fill in that gap for women. Brittany and I, we have our own things, too. But, the beauty that we have is that we can lean on each other. There’s community there.

I want women to be able to experience that so they can say, “Hey, I am going through this thing. What do you think? What are some supports that I could access that I can get closer to what I need?” We want to be able to model that.

This is what our business intends to do—we create a safe space for Black women to learn more about themselves and be in community with other Black women and be connected to resources and support.

Bio: Kimberly Huggins, LSW, MPH, MEd is a licensed social worker, a therapist, and a sex educator. Brittany Brathwaite, MSW, MPH is a Public Health Social Worker, reproductive justice activist, and sex educator. Kimbritive is a growing digital platform of educators, wellness practitioners, and doulas supporting Black women their sexual wellness journey providing content community and expert care where we feel seen, heard and celebrated.