When Sex Becomes Too Political


In American culture, it's no secret that sex is a loaded subject. And according to Washington State University professor and NewBlackMan (in Exile) contributor David J. Leonard, the intimate act often means more than a reflection of love. In some cases the exchange is an opportunity to subjugate women by refusing sexual reciprocation while expecting her to serve her partner without question.

We live in a society where men and women get messages about whose pleasure matters, who has ownership over another's body, where women, particularly women of color, are reduced to some of one's parts; the questions around sexuality and pleasure are immensely political. How else do we explain the pornographic standard of male orgasms?

How else do we explain popular culture emphasis on male-gaze, one that places women as objects to be consumed along a pathway to pleasure? How else do we explain what Heidi R. Lewis' highlights in her brilliant article ("Li'l Wayne and the New Politics of Cunnilingus in Hip Hop"), where she documents the relationship between hip-hop and cunnilingus (which led to countless conversations). How else might we explain the narratives about giving a woman oral pleasures ("cranial maneuvers") as "gross," "dirty" "nasty" and otherwise "unnormal"? …

The question of pleasure and whose sexual gratification is tantamount is telling, in a society where women, particularly women of color, are required to put their needs aside, to delay their own gratification for the good of the family, community, and even nation. "Black women are expected to take care of others' needs before their own (others= family, partners, employers, colleagues, everyone else, non-black and black)," notes Juliana Chang, adding "Claiming that they deserve care and love IS political. Who "deserves" care and love is a political issue. Sex is an issue of care, not just pleasure."

The politics embedded within and revealed by the resistance to see sex and sexuality as immensely political has grave consequences.


Read David J. Leonard's entire piece at NewBlackMan (in Exile).

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

David J. Leonard is an associate professor in the department of critical culture, gender and race studies at Washington State University, Pullman.