How #BlackChurchSex Shed Light on the Reclaiming of Black Women's Sexual Identities

by Anna Gibson

Black Twitter recently opened up a discussion around sex and sexual identities within the context of the Black Church under the hashtag #BlackChurchSex. Since the initial hashtag, this discussion has been expanded by many online, such as For Harriet’s recent dialogue on Faith and Female Pleasure and Brittney Cooper’s controversial article, “Single, Saved, and Sexing.”

Sex has traditionally been a topic shrouded behind the wedding veil, meaning conversations about sex had to be within the context marriage and viewed only as a reproductive act. Sex as an act of pleasure is rarely discussed, except when speaking about “sexual sin,” the “weakness of the flesh,” and wanton lust.

This is highly unusual from a Biblical perspective, as some books—such as the Song of Solomon—speak openly about the pleasure that can be found between two people engaged in an intimate relationship. This means that at some point, open and nuanced discussions about sexuality became shameful, especially from the perspective of conservative black theology. This is particularly true for black women’s sexual identities and sexuality.

The open discussion seen in the Song of Solomon seems to contrast other older books within the Bible, as the text itself is one of contrasts—replete with temptresses that draw men away from the path of righteousness, or women who cause men to fall from grace due to personal weakness.

Blackness adds another layer to the discussion, as it has strongly been associated with evil in both ancient and modern times. Blackness is mentioned prominently in certain parts of the Bible, particularly when discussing women who aren’t simply extensions of men. For example, Delilah’s name is translated roughly to mean “amorous,” “night,” and “temptress” in Hebrew.

According to some, early accounts of Genesis in the Bible told the story of a woman named Lilith was created from the same dust as Adam and functioned as his equal. Lilith’s name is a derivative of the Hebrew Laylil, which roughly translates as “blackness” or “night.” In the story, Lilith was driven from the Garden of Eden for wanting to exert her sexual autonomy. She was engaging in sex with Adam, but when she wanted to be on top, Adam was less than pleased. After this incident, Adam complained to God; he was angry that Lilith wouldn’t submit to him. God eventually kicked Lilith out of the Garden because of this. Shortly thereafter, God created Eve from Adam’s rib to be his servant and “helper.”

The idea of the “black temptress” would be replicated thousands of years later, this time under the guise of slavery. Slave masters needed any excuse to reconcile Christian beliefs with the horrible acts they committed everyday, especially in regards to the rape of black women slaves. By creating the Jezebel myth, black women were blamed for “tempting” their slave masters.

According to Dr. Joy Degruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, we must also consider the complexity of black relationships and their deterioration because of the trauma caused by rape during slavery. Degruy explains that when black women were repeatedly raped by slave masters, they understood intellectually that black men couldn’t help them for fear of the family being auctioned off or worse. However, that didn’t stop them from distrusting black men, feeling that they could no longer protect them or their families.

Alternately, while black men understood that black women couldn’t fight back, they resented it anyway, and began to distrust black women because of what occurred clashed with their values and their sense of manhood. They would begin to project this onto women. This distrust from both parties would proceed to be carried with us over centuries.

From this historical trajectory, and the fact that black Christian faith makes up a significant percentage of our community, we can better understand both how intimately the Black Church is tied into the black community, and how the Black Church carries out this baggage from centuries past.

The question is, where do we go from here? How can women take back our bodies, reclaim our trust in our relationships, and reconcile ourselves with black men? The excellent conversation referred too earlier on For Harriet’s YouTube Channel, “Black Church Sex: A Dialogue on Faith and Female Pleasure”, between Kimberly Foster, Candice Benbow, and Candace Simpson, deepened the discussion on shame and the reclamation of black women’s bodily autonomy.

One of my favorite aspects of the discussion was when Candice Benbow said, “There will have to be spaces where women can do the work, where we can heal ourselves… There has to be a space where I can see myself.”

As Candice would later point out, there are some spaces where women have to come together to discuss issues that apply to them outside of the male gaze. It can’t be denied that there are sensitive issues that women only feel safe discussing with each other women—from sexual assault to reconciling our sexual identity. These spaces are integral to women’s healing.

Another tool for healing that both men and women can engage in together is wrestling with and questioning the Bible. While the Bible is usually criticized for being filled with contradictions, it could better be understood as a fluid text, one that transforms itself according to the times, as it’s already true that people mold the Scripture in accordance to the current time period. For some, homosexuality is supposedly a sin and God made Adam and Eve, but not Adam and Steve. However, when the Bible has been used to justify slavery and genocide, historical records are frantically scoured to find one scrap of information that shows these problematic verses are “out of context.” If this can’t be found, the verse is conveniently ignored. With this in mind, we need to place the Bible under greater scrutiny. Only by constantly engaging the with it in the context of a specific socio-political and economic history can we grow toward a greater understanding of it—both as men and women—and heal our relationships.

From the pastor using misogyny to speak about women’s sexuality as “dangerous” and sinful,” to our own internalized shame about how we show up in the world, we need to understand that we don’t have to reconcile ourselves according to a tradition that shames us for our personal autonomy. We can show up as sexual beings in whatever context we wish, with or without the approval or permission of a man or restrictive spiritual dogma. As black women, we need to take back our psychological and bodily autonomy. The only way we can do that is for men and women to reshape our stories and heal ourselves in our own spaces, then come together to gain a more nuanced understanding of our faith.

Photo: Shutterstock

Anna Gibson is a student at Wayne State University and freelance journalist who resides in Detroit, MI. She’s also a Theravada Buddhist who seeks to create a safe space for the marginalized to tell their stories. If you think she’s awesome and would like to get in touch you can catch up with her on Twitter @TheRealSankofa or on Facebook under the name Anna Gibson.

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