Not too long ago, I logged into Twitter and saw a tweet that had Black Twitter buzzing, a practice commonly associated with certain oft-repeated topics. The offending tweet simply and matter-of-factly stated:
“Real men don’t moan during sex.”
What ensued next was a gaggle of co-signs spattered among a litany of fervent dissent and ridicule. Although the lines weren’t drawn by gender, it’s clearly Black men who were taking the L in this debate, because regardless of which position we individually took, unfettered Black masculinity found itself, once again, hung in the crucible for all to judge. It was just another thing to tick off on the long list of bullet points outlining all the many ways a Black man can relinquish his masculinity—a list that is just as exhausting to perform as it is to keep informed of.
What’s truly sad about this entire discussion is how seemingly interminable it is. The idea that a Black man must adhere to certain hyper-masculine standards in order to remain a “real man” even during the intense vulnerability of sex, is not a new concept. For me, growing up in West Indian communities, that list was—and, in many ways, still is—very long.
As my friends and I grew older and became intimately familiar with our sexual desires, it was equally important for us to retain information about everything we were not allowed to do in order to not be considered gay or effeminate. That list was preached to us through the music we listened to, the movies we watched, and the elders in our community. The rhetoric was then reinforced through a fierce system of shame that we conducted against one another—boys and girls alike. That list included things such as:
- NEVER allowing any part of your body to touch any part of a woman’s rectum
- NEVER licking a woman below her waist
- NEVER being louder in bed than her
And this list of “masculine-card” revoking infractions went on and on and on. So, for some men, they didn’t engage in sex in ways that would promote an intimate transfer of emotions, or a freeing act of sensuality, but rather a test of their intrinsic manhood which could be “forever” compromised by even a moment of sincere based humanity.
We all, young and old men and women alike, were taught “the rules” and we rigidly held one another to them, even at our own displeasure. I remember making out with a girl when I was 14 years old, and she made sure to inform me that I was “being too loud” when she was kissing my neck. Her request wasn’t for me to moan softer, her request was for me not to straddle the line of our culture’s perceived masculinity, so I made sure to be quiet—for almost two decades.
The reason I hate seeing tweets and opinions stating that there is a certain list of actions that a man must avoid in order to successfully perform “strong male qualities” even in the act of intense sexual intimacy, is because it reminds me of how far we have to go to truly untangle the complex sexual dynamics surrounding Black masculinity. It’s restricting, damaging and hurtful, and it allows men to disconnect from their emotional core to embody fake characteristics they consider “manly.”
While this definitely requires a historical revisiting of how slavery, oppression and white supremacy created these hyper-masculine cultural norms, it should include a deep discussion of how men and women need to work together to untangle our collective minds from propagating harmful ideologies. The next generation not only needs that, but they deserve it.