Since the times of slavery, America has had a fascination with Black women’s sexuality, something that has been simultaneously lauded and feared. Black women are routinely held to a standard of sexual behavior that is not only unrealistic, but also damaging under the guise of religious conservatism and racism. As far as many are concerned, if you are having sex and not married you are going Straight. To. Hell. Do not pass go. Heaven forbid a Black woman actually *gasps and clutches pearls* enjoys sex and doesn’t try to neuter her sexual identity in order to conform to mainstream social mores.
In an ideal world, men and women would be judged in the same way for their sexual choices. Unfortunately however, the good ol’ sexual double standard is alive and well. “Slut shaming” as this phenomenon is now commonly referred, is the belief that men and boys are free to explore their sexuality with as many willing partners as possible, but women and girls can’t. It’s also one of the easiest ways to elevate or discount a woman’s worthiness – especially for Black women.
I grew up in Central Florida during the 80s, where I attended a predominantly White high school. The main type of recreation most of students engaged in were keg parties and sex. Yet, as prevalent as this behavior was, only a small handful of girls were pilloried for their sexual behavior, alleged or otherwise. Trust me, the girls who were ostracized weren’t the only ones getting busy. Granted, some were promiscuous however some of the girls were targeted simply because they were attractive.
As an adult Black woman I’m appalled at how sexism and racism are used together to keep us in a one down position. A good example of this in action is shown with two towers of today’s pop culture: Rihanna and Kim Kardashian. We are obsessed with keeping a running tab on who Rihanna is sleeping with, yet we stand by mutely as Kim Kardashian “dates” a multitude of partners. Curiously, Kim is given a pass, in part I believe because she publicly claims to “love” the myriad of men she’s bedding and because she’s not Black.
This double standard is one of the reasons why it’s so difficult to prosecute sexual assault against women. How many times has a rape accusation been discounted because a woman was labeled a “slut?” I mean, it’s Defense Lawyer 101 to use a woman’s sexual history against her. This combination of racism and sexism is more dangerous than we give credit. Black people are well aware of how a jury is more likely to convict a Black defendant or impose the death penalty based upon the race of the victim. And in rape and domestic violence cases, statistics show that a jury is less likely to convict a man of any race for assaulting a Black woman.
Look, I understand that it’s unhealthy for PEOPLE to sleep around. Sexual promiscuity not only puts us in physical danger…I think it's also damaging to our emotional, mental and spiritual health. But what I’m talking about has nothing to do with whether or not a woman is promiscuous. It’s whether or not she’s Black, female and promiscuous.
We live in an age where less people are choosing to APPEAR monogamous through social constructs such as marriage, so it’s highly likely that a woman will have sex with more than one person in their life. Thankfully, it’s no longer considered a requirement that a woman remain a virgin until she’s married. This shift in sexual attitude however puts women in the position to buy into the not so subtle message that a woman with any sort of social value would only engage in sex with someone she loves. Hence the Kim Kardashian approach to sexual behavior public relations management.
The bottom line is that it’s no one’s business who you’ve slept with. The only thing that a woman should disclose is her current STD status. My advice to anyone, but especially women, is to keep the number of sexual partners you’ve had to yourself. I’m not saying that we should distort or hide our sexual history just to make a lover comfortable. There is a difference between keeping information private because IT’S NOBODY’S BUSINESS and keeping something to yourself because you’re afraid of how people will respond. This subtle difference in positioning is what makes our choice either based upon shame or personal empowerment.
In the end, the only thing that matters is how a woman feels about herself. And if anyone has the nerve to ask (aside from your gynecologist) or throw your sexual history in your face, tell them to kick rocks.
Sil Lai Abrams is EBONY.com’s Relationship Expert and the author of No More Drama: 9 Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough and a board member of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Follow her on Twitter: @sil_lai and connect with her on Facebook. Want Sil Lai's advice? Email SilLai@ebony.com to have your love questions answered in a future column!