While promoting her new book, We’re Going to Need More Wine, last week, actress Gabrielle Union chatted with Sway in the Morning about sexual desire and, more specifically, sexual gratification and reciprocity.
The Being Mary Jane star discussed why people are sexually repressed; she also broke down why experiencing one’s own pleasure should be a requirement, not something to be ashamed of or run from.
“I’m not here to offer any sort of insight as to when you should begin your sexual journey,” Union says. “But what I’m saying is, whenever that is, whenever you are having consensual sexual relationships, there should be equal pleasure,” she continues. Union goes on to discuss not being a vessel for anyone else’s pleasure and the importance of reciprocity and symbiotic relationships.
Listen in at the 13:30 mark:
In the process of sharing these gems of wisdom, Union also gave listeners some much-needed advice on which we could all chew: It’s OK if you like your ass eaten and it’s OK to eat ass.
Make no mistake: Many men—straight, bisexual and gay alike—like having their asses eaten. I’m exhausted by the show we put on to make it appear otherwise for fear of what that could mean for our performative masculinity. Though everyone has an anal cavity, some of us have deduced that only one gender and sexuality should experience that sort of pleasure. Thankfully, I’ve never been one of those men.
Perhaps it’s because I’m an openly gay and queer man, but I have always been open to the idea of both giving and receiving oral/anal pleasure. It’s a national treasure, the gift that keeps on giving. It’s a skill full of tongue tricks that often requires focus, intensity and the understanding of one’s body. Remember: Not all heroes wear capes.
And it’s something many of us are afraid to discuss because we aren’t used to being honest about our own needs and expectations, which is why so many of us are having horrible sex. But why are we so ashamed of what brings us desire? Why are we afraid that we may throw our legs back (or get on our stomachs and arch correctly) and learn that we may like something new? Is our understanding of what we can discuss publicly really that constricting?
Let me get this out of the way: If you are reading this right now and can no longer stomach the conversation because of understandings of what should and should not be discussed in relation to sex, I’ll conclude quickly—eat an ass (and vice versa) and save a life.
For others, keep reading and get your everlasting life.
Our aversion to discussing bodily pleasure and autonomy is deeply (and wrongly) viewed in “What’s done in the bedroom should be left to the bedroom.” The perception of sexual pleasure and lack of access to sexual health services and resources create an uptick of bedroom inexperience, not to mention increases in sexually transmitted infections. To be sure, it’s the lack of informed sex, not sex itself, that makes public health conversations so unnecessarily difficult. It’s an outdated model—that’s even backed up by evidence—and we should focus on promoting sexually healthy young people.
Understanding sexual pleasure isn’t just fun—it’s crucial.
Many people are acting as though Union made comments like “the Earth is flat” and asked for money to prove it (looking at you, B.o.B.). Rather, she just asked people to recognize something we should have learned but were afraid to discuss when younger: sex and reciprocity. This isn’t a novel concept.
As the complicated, personable lead in Being Mary Jane, both on- and off-screen, Union is known to not pull any punches, often asking us to call into question the meanings of autonomy and consent and why both are necessary, particularly in a pervasive rape culture. She has allowed us a glimpse of her past and present, often discussing personal moments like struggles with infertility and her own sexual assault. Last year she even wrote a heartbreaking and thought-provoking letter regarding actor and producer Nate Parker and The Birth of a Nation, in which she played a survivor of a rape that sparked a movement.
I’ve come to realize that many people are unable to take in Union’s authenticity because it reminds them of who they choose to never be. But Union uses her platform to shape real conversations about our lived experiences. I’ve always appreciated her candor because it allows us to question our bodies and pleasure.
Celebrities have been discussing ass eating for ages. Previously, Trick Daddy explicitly stated that he was the president and CEO of the “Eat a Booty Gang” and discussed why he enjoys doing just that. Also, R&B singer Tank went on the violently misogynistic and transphobic show The Breakfast Club and openly conversed about having (and enjoying) his booty eaten by woman. Of course, because of our limited ideas of sex and how one can receive pleasure, the natural assumption was that these men were gay (are y’all straight people that constricting?), but they still owned up to their pleasure.
The heightened difference in response to Union, a 44-year-old married black woman, is that people have expectations of her rooted in traditionalist, religious, puritan standards, and there isn’t an assumption that she has a right to a consensual sexual history of joy and pleasure.
Many comments addressing Union’s honesty indicated that she hinted at the type of sex she and her husband, Dwyane Wade, enjoyed. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
She’s providing options because so many of us are told that sex should be tied only to emotions (hint: not true). She’s allowing for freedom. She’s removing norms about what men enjoy receiving and what women enjoy doing. She’s empowering us to explore our bodies in a consensual way and to make informed decisions. She’s providing space to clean up (or not; it’s your life) and get your desires met.
Our bodily pleasure will always matter. Maintaining a healthier life is not solely the responsibility of the individual; society and providers must also create safe spaces that are rooted in best practices and cultural competency to allow people to feel as though they can ask all questions related to their sexual health, including what brings us pleasure. Union may not be the first one to have this conversation, but she is continuing one that will be needed for an eternity.
Or at least until we stop being so sexually repressed and start enjoying sex as it’s meant to be—not merely as a tool for reproduction, but one of joy, pleasure, (maybe) pain and exploration.