Sexuality and Female Pleasure

Every semester that I teach either Feminist Philosophy or Philosophy of Love and Sex, I ask my students a series of questions. First I ask how many of them had any formal sex ed classes in school. Usually, slightly less than half of them had. I then ask the ones who were taught sex ed in school what they learned. The overwhelming majority of them say that they learned some variation of "don't do it." Some were "treated" to the dramatic abstinence-only demonstrations that compare sexual activity to things like used gum and passed around cups of spit. Then I ask everyone how they learned about sex and from whom. Most tell stories of encounters with parents, friends, and occasionally their religious institutions. I ask what messages they received. Overwhelmingly, the messages were either some variation of "don't do it" or how to avoid pregnancy and/or disease. Finally I ask what they were taught about sexual pleasure. The room goes largely silent. Sometimes my students look puzzled. Once in a while a male student, always a male student, will recount learning something about sexual pleasure.

That's why I was intrigued a few days ago to read the HuffPo headline, "Jada Pinkett Smith to Daughter Willow: 'By Your Age... I Gave Myself Multiple Orgasms.'" I read the article and watched the Facebook Live episode that featured Jada, 17 year-old Willow, and Jada's mother and was struck by the importance they placed on understanding sexual pleasure. Pinkett Smith says that she did not want Willow to have shame of any kind about sexuality. So many young women don't ever receive the message that it is ok for sex to be pleasurable, and I love that Pinkett Smith is ensuring that Willow hears that. In this episode, Pinkett Smith's mother, Adrienne Banfield Norris,  talks about struggling well into adulthood with the idea that "good girls" aren't supposed to find sex pleasurable. 

I think I'll use this episode in class. I appreciate seeing three generations of women discussing the messages they received about sex and sexuality and also how it impacted their sense of their own sexual selves. And about the multiple orgasm headline that drew me into the story-- Pinkett Smith says that her grandmother taught her about sexual pleasure. Her grandmother felt it was important for Pinkett Smith to understand that she could create her own sexual pleasure, and that it didn't come from a man. Pinkett Smith says her grandmother taught her this when she was nine years old. I happily imagine the world that we could live in if we: (1) didn't shame girls about sexuality, (2) taught them that sex could be pleasurable, and (3) taught them that they didn't have to depend on a man to experience sexual pleasure!

While I found this episode inspiring, some black Christians saw this as evidence that Will, Jada, and the family need prayer. My prayer is that everyone gets to experience respectful, pleasurable, good sex -- even uptight black Christians.