Jill Nelson tells it like she sees it, whether the topic is police brutality, workplace racism, or sisterhood. The journalist and author of a diverse catalogue of books such as "Volunteer Slavery" and "Finding Martha's Vineyard," made a spicy splash with her 2003 novel "Sexual Healing." The bestseller centers on female friends who open a brothel for women called "A Sisters Spa." Nelson recently returned with the sequel, "Let's Get It On," which continues her satirical commentary about feminine power, relationships, sex, and politics. Books on the Root chatted with the "Straight, No Chase-her" Harlemite about good sex, great sex, social constructs, and "The One."
Books on the Root: What do you hope "Let's Get It On" adds to the conversation regarding female sexuality and power?
Jill Nelson: The ability to laugh about our sexuality and sexual desires, an openness in talking about our desires, and publicly recognizing and embracing that part of ourselves that wants fabulous safe, multi-orgasmic sex without having to justify it by fantasizing it into a relationship. "Let's Get It On" is a satire, and satire is the truth taken to its most absurd. I wanted to challenge the notion that middle class women don't want to get their freak on, that being sexually explicit, aggressive and voracious is something reserved for poor or working class women. That construct plays into antiquated and dangerous ways to oppress, divide and conquer us into "good" or "bad" girls, and deny us our right to great sex and our obligation to be grown up women. I wanted to talk about that, and more, in a book that was funny and sexy.
I also hope that "Let's Get It On" arouses readers. Women deserve a stroke book that describes women's pleasure on women's terms. I've had enough penis-centric erotica. A reader of "Sexual Healing" told me that she loved the book and her husband loved it too, adding that he hadn't read it, but had benefited from her reading of the stimulating sex scenes. That was high praise indeed!
BOTR: The dedication of your book thanks people in your life who taught you, among other things, that libido has no expiration date. Do we talk enough-in both public and private spaces-about the sexual needs of middle-aged black women?
JN: Absolutely not! Middle age, absent the possibility of pregnancy and the desire to nest, with thriving libidos and years of experience, can be a time of enormous power and sensuousness for women. We don't talk enough about the sexual desires of black women of any age. Too often we're stuck confusing good sex with love. Most of the time it isn't, but that doesn't mean women shouldn't feel comfortable going for great sex.
My mother was an incredibly frank person when it came to just about everything, including sex. I've been lucky to benefit from her candor and that of her close friends who are still living, women in their 80s and 90s who are willing to talk about anything. I've surrounded myself with women of all ages. My September sisters are able, sometimes with much cajoling, laughter, and an alcoholic beverage, to talk candidly about sex as well.
BOTR: Do you think a spa for women that included services like massages and body wraps, along with safe, multi-orgasmic sex with men who are trained in the art of pleasure, would flourish in the real world?
JN: Absolutely. The most frequently asked question I hear is, "Does A Sister's Spa really exist?" No kidding.
BOTR: Lydia, one of the book's main characters, and co-owner of A Sister's Spa, suggests that she and her partners began the business so that "women can come and indulge in fabulous sexual satisfaction absent the complications and head games of feeling compelled to convince ourselves-or be convinced-that the only way to feel comfortable getting our freak on is to pretend we're in either love or a meaningful relationship." Do you think that women aren't always honest with themselves when it comes to intimacy, sexual needs and desires? Or that we're socialized in certain ways?
JN: We're not honest because we're socialized to feel that sex without love, a relationship, yearning, etc. is meaningless; that meaningless sex is bad, and only bad girls enjoy meaningless sex. I don't accept the concept of meaningless sex - it always means something. And it is enough if it means purely physical intimacy, relaxation, and a fabulous orgasm. This is true even when you're having it all by yourself.
I think as women we are also socialized that after a certain age, probably our mid-20s, and a few years of obligatory but not too freaky sexual experimentation, we're supposed to focus on finding "The One," who offers the whole happily ever after package. It's as if we put on blinders and don't stray from our steadfast pursuit of "Him." I think that as black women we are often still trapped in, or trying to work our way out of, cultural stereotypes. The question is not simply what is the space between the extremes of being the desexualized Mammy and the mulatto seductress; but what unexplored spaces are beyond, above, and below those constructs, and how do we get there?
BOTR: You throw in a lot of references to issues ranging from our last presidency and Hurricane Katrina to black identity politics. Can you talk about some of the specific cultural and political points that you wanted to impart in the book?
JN: One way or the other, women are often getting screwed; whether it be by the government, the mob, expectations based on gender, race, class, color, body type, a bad relationship, or our own fears and conditioning. In spite of all that, we can and do overcome and win, become free or freer women, just as Lydia, Acey, and LaShaWanda do in "Let's Get It On." One of the points made in the book is that sexuality isn't static, it's a continuum; and you can choose to go just about anywhere you want on the dial. Life's the same way.
BOTR: How can women maintain a healthy sex life?
JN: Talk honestly to your friends and sexual partner(s) about what you want-what feels good, sounds good, tastes good, smells good, what you'd like to try. This isn't easy because our sexuality and desires are so charged and co-mingled with how we want others to see us, but take the risk. In doing so, you give those around you the okay to take the risk as well. And make time for masturbation. Explore your body and discover what makes you feel great, where your erogenous zones are, and how you like to be pleasured. Then ask for what you want. Basically, don't self-censor! Every time I sit down to write, I have to knock those self-censoring nay sayers off my shoulders. Most of us have to throw those censors off to explore our sexual desires as well. It's worth it, and the only way I know to produce a good book. Or orgasm.
is a writer, speaker, author of books for adults and youth, and the book columnist for The Root. Her most recent book is \"The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-Hop’s Greatest Songs.\" Visit her at feliciapride.com.