In this new series, Masturbation and the Black Girl, we will be interviewing three Black women on their experiences with sexuality, sex ed, and masturbation. Everyone has a unique relationship with their body, and we wanted to give spotlight to three Black women who chose to give readers a look into theirs — because these are not narratives that are told nearly enough. Every other week, stay tuned for the next story. We are grateful these women chose O.school as a space to share their perspectives.
Harsh responses from family members about my body used to be a constant in my life. I was made to feel embarrassed about simply existing in my body, and this criticism didn’t only come from them. My Black baptist church taught me that masturbating was sinful; sex-ed in school told me I would soon get pregnant anyway because I was Black; TV told me that my brown body belonged to everyone else but me, so touching it myself wasn’t something I needed to worry about. I would have a string of incidents in my life that taught me that anything sexually liberating, such as masturbation, wasn’t meant for Black girls like me.
The first time I was called “fast” was by my aunt: She caught me looking at my breasts in the mirror at her house. I was 11 and more developed than my friends. I wanted to explore myself, and learn why I got tingly “down there” if I touched my chest. She immediately shamed me for looking at myself with curious eyes. This was similar to when my white friend Kristina’s mum found us touching our breasts in front of each other. Her mum gently told Kristina that’s something you do alone and in private — while giving me a look that read “fast Shelli strikes again.” It would be years before I undid the emotional trauma that came with being a sexually curious Black girl — and I would learn that others had to put in that work, too.
Exploring sexuality, specifically masturbation, as experienced by other Black women has always fascinated me: learning where they first heard about it, when they began to explore it, and who they got their knowledge from. To learn more, I spoke to three Black women in my own social circles to discuss their experiences with sex-education, masturbation, and sexuality.
As I was putting this piece together, I thought about how unapologetically selfish my own solo play is. I’m at a period in my life where it’s still entirely my own, sometimes I land on staying in bed all day to ride the multi-orgasmic masturbation wave that hits. Days when there is no shift for me to pick up at work and no plans to cancel on in the group text, I choose myself and my pleasure — but that’s not everyone's reality. This is Tracey’s story.
For Tracey, a bartender and single mum of one, masturbation can oftentimes be considered a luxury.
I spoke with her in between her prepping for a cocktail competition and picking up her daughter from an activity. The prep demanded most of her day, but it’s important because of the possibilities that come with winning. Notoriety in the bartending scene, a vacation, and a cash prize. Tracey is in her early 30s and does well for herself, but being a single mum in a costly city like Chicago isn’t easy.
“I worry about bills and rent like everybody else — but having a child, too, is a whole other added expense,” Tracey says. Spending money on sex toys, and lounging in bed all day using them, isn’t at the top of her list. Time with her daughter and growing her career are most important, and she makes space for friends and dates when she can. Through it all, she’s always making sure everyone (and everything) is taken care of. Her profession means coming home after late nights tending to customers, and being a mum means rising early and being present. The rest of the time is spent just figuring out how to make sure her family’s life is as controlled as it can be.
“To be stress-free enough to even consider masturbating often seems unreal to me,” Tracey tells me.
Sex began for her as something you just did, a box you ticked and moved on. “I had sex for the first time at 14 and then didn’t again for a while after that. Years later, though, I found and stole my mother's vibrator and started masturbating,” Tracey says. Simply having a sex toy was a clue that her mother knew about self-pleasure, but like many Black mothers, she only taught Tracey abstinence and told her not to get pregnant.
When Tracye speaks of her mother, the lack of sexual education she got from her isn't something she thinks about often: “Talking about sex with my mother, even now as a grown woman, isn’t something I want to do — it makes me uncomfortable.” The world has labeled Black women as exotic, hypersexual beings, but historically, many Black women are raised to be very sexually conservative. Tracey is taking a contrasting approach with her own daughter. Conscious that she will presumably learn a lot from friends or the internet, Tracey plans to give her child proper knowledge and clarity — and not just teach her abstinence: “But talking to her about pleasure?... I don't know about all that,” Tracey admits.
I then asked Tracey how masturbation fits into her life.
It can take time, patience, and energy — all things Tracey is running low on. “I’m busy. Life has to get taken care of before I can even think of myself,” she says. As we spoke, I discovered that taking care of others is an element of her personality that appears in her sex life: “I’m more of a giver in bed. It’s like, if you’re feeling good, I am too, you know?”. Focusing on herself — even during sex — isn’t her natural inclination.
When I initially talked to Tracey about interviewing her for this piece, I asked about her past with sex toys as an adult. She has had toys (mostly bullets), prefers clitoral stimulation for her orgasms during solo play, and likes when the vibrations are not too powerful. She has never spent over $30 for a toy and was very open to trying out just about anything. We chose the Come to Bed Rabbit Vibrator for her, courtesy of LoveHoney, because it provides that clitoral stimulation she enjoys and features 12 vibration speeds she can test out. This toy doubles as a G-spot stimulator, and we believed she would be totally down to explore that. This LoveHoney vibrator is considered a luxury toy, clocking in at $99. It’s outside of Tracey’s average price point, but we wanted to treat her, and for her to treat herself. With her new toy in hand, Tracey revealed that she still had to remind herself to use it —it would be an entire week before she even took it out of the box.
Her schedule wasn’t allowing her to carve out solo time, so she resolved to using it just before bed — if she remembered. “I’d be like, oh yeah, let me use this real quick so I can talk about it when we meet. I’m not so sleepy yet so let me do this.” When she did have a bit of solo pussy play, she found the toy intense but still pleasurable. “Using this (one) made me feel like it was over before it even started — but it was good,” Tracey says.
Another deterrent in masturbating for Tracey is the fear of not being able to perform or orgasm with a partner — something that is often taught to women to make them more dependent on their partner for pleasure. She expressed not wanting to become too attached to her toys/masturbation so that her future partners didn’t feel like they had to compete. I found it incredible that her selfless nature even manifests in her masturbation — say that three times fast.
She ordered our desserts and as we wrapped up, I asked if she thought masturbation was important.
“I think it is, but right now, at the end of the day for me, a lot of other things are more important. Honestly, I’d probably do it more if I wasn’t dealing with everything life throws at me as a Black woman.”
She jokingly adds, “Also, I lost the damn cord to charge the vibrator! Now it’s really something I can’t think about doing.”