These days, we very often see stories about sexual experiences, troubles and general openness to discussing sexual health coming from women. It is not seen as ‘brave’ in the same way if a 20-something year old straight black man opens up about what makes him uncomfortable about sex in today’s society.
Men and women – not always, but commonly – differ in their psychological relationship to sex. Men tend to attach more self esteem to it, i.e. “If she lets me have sex with her, I’ll feel confident building a romantic relationship.” Whereas women relate emotion to sex, i.e. “If we have a strong emotional connection first, then I’ll feel confident having sex.”
Because it is understood that women are emotional in this way and men are not, men do not naturally open up about the complex emotions they may feel in their sexual relationships.
Regardless of whether it is emotional or purely a physical act to you, the important thing is having healthy a relationship to sex. Certain things in society have the ability to shape our views on it as we grow up, and the different ideas that may develop.
Society uplifts the player, the ‘pimp’, the chauvinist. The type of guy who brags about a threesome and is seeking sexual fulfilment through more and more indulgence. As I mentioned earlier, this is due to patriarchy, as well as celebrity culture showing successful men as the ones who get a lot of women – e.g. James Bond. And this has become the only acceptable view of masculinity, so for the young man who is not the ‘James Bond’ personality, this can result in him being made to feel abnormal and unsuccessful. This is Toxic Masculinity.
It’s in our schools, young men being called “pussyhole” instead of comforted by his friends because he couldn’t defend himself from being robbed. It’s in our rhetoric – “boys don’t cry”, “man up”. It’s in our media – the music and movies that refer to “always gettin’ pussy” or “every hole is a goal”.
This is a particular problem in the black community, because the media has consistently portrayed a hyper-sexualised, hyper-masculine version of the black man (and woman), where we are nothing but sexual brutes. Whether it’s Eddie Murphy in his tight leather trousers, or black men with their shirts off in music videos surrounded by gyrating women. Tupac explains briefly about how this contributed to him being accused of sexual assault. Porn perpetuates this too, shamelessly selling the fetishisation of large black penises.
So if people are trained to view the black man as a sexual animal with a big penis, what did this do to me and other impressionable young men?
I have recently come to understand that for a lot of my life I had a dysfunctional relationship with myself and my emotions. Black cultural identity is difficult to pin down, and many will try to tell you who you are based on their own perceptions. I therefore had a significant amount of background noise whilst figuring myself out as a young man.
The major impact that black toxic masculinity had on me as a teenager was that I was desperate for a rite of passage into manhood and felt I should be ready for sex when I wasn’t. My only available black male role models were in the media, so when I heard Lil Wayne and Chris Brown lost their virginity at 11 and 8 respectively, I came up with obsessive plans to have my first sexual encounter. To me the illusion was real. I was convinced that real black men have sex for all the wrong reasons. Not because they’re ready, or because they love someone, but to “hit the baddest chicks”. I subscribed to this even though it was counter-intuitive and unnatural for most people with respect for themselves.
I would find that certain types of girls seemed to be more turned on (or turned off) by my skin colour than anything else about me. It would seem they too had a fantasy or preconception of what my skin colour represented. Young men in my community all seemed to be having sex (whether this was true is a different story) and if you were the odd one out it was so easy to be made a punchline of everyone’s jokes. And so, rather than being myself, I wanted to live up to the image.
This didn’t work well for me.
I had gotten some female attention and had finally been invited to her house whilst her parents weren’t home. I knew this was it. I had told all my friends. We were making out on the sofa and she suggested moving it to the bedroom. We took off all our clothes. She told me she was ready. But… I was soft. I had been hard the whole time but nerves and performance anxiety made me go limp. Why was I so nervous? What was wrong with me? I was the black sexual beast, right?!
I was a 14-year-old child who simply wasn’t ready for sex yet. All mature men would have been able to handle this situation, but instead of reacting maturely I internalised it. I hated myself. I wondered what the fuck was wrong with me. I thought I was seriously abnormal.
Healthy Sexual Attitude
Like I mentioned earlier, men relate sex to self esteem. For ages I lied about what had happened that day. For the next 6 years I let people believe I was sexually active so I wouldn’t be judged and mocked. I kept making these obsessive plans to have my first sexual experience. It had damaged me to go around with this unhealthy sexual attitude. Trying to live up to society’s expectations meant that being a virgin made me feel embarrassed and ashamed (even though sexual inexperience is nothing to be worried about). And I had no one to talk to because men aren’t traditionally supposed to have these feelings.
But this stopped once I gained a healthy perspective on sex (and met my amazing current girlfriend). Psychologically, whether you see sex as emotional or a way of achieving self esteem, whether you’re a man or woman, the key thing is having respect for yourself. Unfortunately media doesn’t teach our kids this. It’s not okay to disrespect women, and it doesn’t make you a man to seek validation through more and more sexual partners. No, you don’t want to be a 16-year-old babyfather with no way to make ends meet.
Masculinity comes in many shapes and forms, and until the day media decides to reflect this, we need to spread this message in the black community as much as we can.