“There are just some things you save for your husband!” Quite a few women can remember hearing this from their mothers, their favorite aunts, or other female friends or family they respected growing up. Some brothers are also familiar with similar refrains, having heard women repeat them as explanations for why they wouldn’t perform certain sexual acts without a ring. Many of us were raised to believe that when it comes to sex, there are some things people, women especially, should “save” for marriage because we simply can’t “give it all away” too soon.
From blowjobs to BDSM to anal sex, the idea that some things are “special” and should only be done with one’s spouse continues on in our discussions about sex. What is it about being married that makes certain sex acts more acceptable to not only do, but speak about? And why do we sometimes harshly judge people who engage in “taboo” sexual activity with people to whom they are not married?
Megastar Beyoncé Knowles-Carter recently released a hot, sexy album filled with delicious details about the steamy sex life she has with her husband Sean “Jay Z” Carter. Several songs contain very explicit lyrics about some rather raunchy sex acts, and the songs have elicited a myriad of responses from celebratory high-fives to “Oh no she didn’t” neck and eye rolls.
I honestly loved the album and consider it to be her best and most complete work to date. I listen to the sexier songs as affirmations of both sexual agency and her freedom to engage in safe, consensual sexual exploration with someone she loves and trusts. I’ve since had several great conversations about how important it is for sex-positive conversations to be framed in ways that are accessible to the greatest number of people.
I truly believe music is a universal way of getting these important messages out. And stars like Beyoncé have enough star power and influence to use their music to encourage people to reconsider previously held notions about sex and sexuality. By allowing listeners (and viewers, for those who can access her 17 new videos) a sexy sneak peek into her “grown woman” sex life, Beyoncé is creating a safe space for more women to speak up and say, “Hey, I love doing that too!” without feeling any less valued as women.
There has been, however, a point being made to naysayers in defense of Mrs. Carter’s explicit lyrics, and it’s that she is doing these things with her husband. A few have argued that being married makes what Beyoncé sings about acceptable. Marriage, for them, provides legitimacy and respectability when it comes to having and discussing “freaky” sex. While I think it’s wonderful Beyoncé has married someone she loves, trusts, and has started a family with, I don’t think we should look at what she and other married women do as only acceptable because they do these things with their husbands.
Where does that leave people who are not married?
Let’s consider the prevalence of marriage in our communities and how it aligns with our perceptions and behaviors. In 2012, 27.4% of African-Americans lived in poverty. Data shows that poor people are less likely to get married for various reasons, and in recent years, more people are putting off getting married in large part because of the recession. Whereas marriage was once considered the best chance a woman had to greatly improve her economic standing, the narrative is changing now that there are sharp declines in men’s annual earnings.
Women of all races are now the breadwinners in 40% of American households. More specific to African-Americans, there are less than 50 employed single Black men for every 100 unmarried Black women (in the 25-29 age range). And it doesn’t look like it’s going to improve any time soon, as Black men have one of the highest, steadily holding unemployment rates in the country. Also, 70% of Black women 25-29 are not married, and this is in large part because more women are waiting until they’re older to get married, usually for educational and career reasons.
These statistics don’t account for the LGBTQ community, who has been prohibited from being married and continue to be discriminated against in 34 states. If women are waiting until they’re older to get married, same-sex couples can’t even get married at all, and African-Americans are less likely to get married overall, what are folks doing with their sex lives in the meantime?
They are having every kind of nasty, filthy, freak nasty, deviant, taboo sex your favorite finger-wagging church mother would condemn, and loving every second of it. There are plenty of reasons why people don’t get married or delay getting married. There are several reasons why people opt against waiting to have sex when they’re married. About 93% of people have premarital sex before age 30—people are getting it in!
I can definitely understand taking time to build trust and progress in a relationship before letting someone tie you up or test a new butt plug on you. I’m not a big fan of waiting to have the kind of sex I really want to have out of fear of being called a “slut,” “ho” or “whore.” Those are words used to primarily shame women into remaining chaste as they wait to be chosen by men who deem them worthy enough of marriage. We need to let go of those words and stop labeling those grown women as anything other than women acting on their sexual agency, rights and freedoms.
We don’t need qualifiers to enjoy the kinds of sex we want to have. The goal should be to have sex with people you trust and respect, who will help get your rocks off in the ways you crave. The goal should be to feel safe enough to try new things, test the limits and push the boundaries of sexual fulfillment. No, you don’t have to be married to have sex in the back of a car or romp around intoxicated on a beach. You don’t have to be married to do a sexy strip tease or have anal sex with your lover.
If you choose to hold onto certain things because you only want to share them with your spouse, feel free! There’s nothing wrong with wanting to build towards something deeper and more meaningful, however you perceive it. It isn’t fair, though, to shame people for doing certain things with people to whom they are not married.
The reality is that ideas about marriage are changing, and with that should come a much-needed change in perspectives about sex outside of wedlock. I’ve been married. Trust me, the sex wasn’t that much better.
Feminista Jones is a sex-positive Black feminist, social worker and blogger from New York City. She writes about gender, race, politics, mental health and sexuality at FeministaJones.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FeministaJones.