10 Things Black Women Should Know About Sexual Health

by Nneka M. Okona

For Black women, talking about sex — let alone sexual and reproductive health — can be a slippery slope. Turn on the T.V., flip through magazines or scan through radio stations and you’re sure to be bombarded with images which hypersexualize Black women and Black womanhood, touting us as solely objects of male affection. On the other hand, take a glimpse into Black churches, institutions which have long been the heart and soul of our communities, and look closely at their teachings and theology. These teachings and theology share a longstanding history and commitment to patriarchy, pushing the path to purity and discouraging sexual identity, exploration and liberation.

Where does that leave Black women in regards to their sexual lives and their reproductive health? Somewhere in-between, in the middle, caught in the fray.

Here is a list of 10 things to know, most definitely not exhaustive, to making sure as a Black woman your sexual and reproductive health flourishes.

1. Black women contract STDs/STIs at the highest rates.

Yes, this is quite possibly a morbid, negative reality, but the truth is, let this information empower you and the decisions you make within your sex life. Choose partners carefully. Ask for test results or even make it a joint activity that you do together. Making responsible, methodical decisions isn’t just limited to every other area of our lives but should include our sex life to maintain a proper level of sexual health.

2. Prenatal care is important though often neglected among Black women overall. 

According to United Healthcare, Black women are 2.5 times more likely than non-Hispanic white mothers to begin prenatal care in their 3rd trimester or not at all. The care before a baby arrives is important, especially since rates of infant mortality are higher for us, due to health disparities.

3. Pap smears are crucial, especially if you have a history of abnormal results. 

New guidelines suggest women from 21 to 29 as well as those over 30 receive a pap smear every three years. For those 30 and over, combining the pap smear with an HPV test is recommended.

4. Masturbation is healthy, normal and is a key to self sexual exploration. 

It’s not strange, it’s not weird and it definitely shouldn’t be taboo. If you don’t know yourself then how can you expect someone else to? 

5. Learn your anatomy. 

Reproductive and sexual anatomy includes not only the genitalia most of us are familiar with but also the internal and reproductive organs. Look at diagrams. Look at your genitalia in a mirror. Get familiar!

6. Communication is the key to a fulfilling sex life. 

Talk to your sexual partners — before and after the act. Talk about your expectations, what you liked, what you didn’t like, what you’d like to try. The key to satisfaction is vocalizing these things and not being afraid to speak your truth or to push the envelope, if that is what your heart so desires.

7. There are more contraceptive options than the male condom and the pill. 

For many women, birth control pills is the antidote to solving excruciating menstrual symptoms (or an otherwise heavy cycle), but for others, the unwanted side effects from birth control — ranging from weight gain to blood clots — isn’t a feasible option. There are diaphragms, female condoms and IUDs, to name a few options.

8. Women are more likely to orgasm when it’s not just solely vaginal penetration. 

According to the National Study of Sexual Health and Behavior, for women, an orgasm is most achievable when a variety of sex acts as well as when oral sex is included alongside penetration. What does that mean? Be creative. Stimulate your clitoris. Integrate toys into your routine. 

9. A mild soap and water are the best cleansing agents for your vagina. 

Contrary to popular belief, douching and any other methods of cleaning your love below aren’t recommended nor healthy, as many end up with the adverse effect of further throwing off your pH from its optimum level. Only cleanse with unscented soap and water if you don’t feel your cleanest and freshest.

10. Reproductive and sexual health is in your hands. 

Owning both your reproductive and sexual health is a journey that ends and begins with you. Do your research, talk to medical professionals if you have specific questions, open up the lines of communication about it with friends and partners. It’s your life. Claim your agency.

What do you think is important for Black women to know about sexual health?

Photo credit: Deposit Photos

Nneka M. Okona is a writer based in Washington, DC. Visit her blog, www.afrosypaella.com, her website, about.me/nnekaokona or follow her tweets, @NisforNneka.

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