Sexuality is for everyone, because we all deserve to feel pleasure. It’s long past time for sex education to make race part of the conversation.
There are few times when I am not aware of my identity as I move through the world. As a young Black, cis, femme; I’m constantly thinking about the ways that I’m othered as I go about my life. I’m a writer and a sex educator, which means I spend a good amount of time talking, thinking, reading and working on ideas of sexuality. There’s something really radical and progressive about sex education — but can it truly be these things if we don’t talk about sexuality’s most important problem: centering whiteness?
Racism continues to be such a problem because whiteness and white supremacy continues to be centered in our society. It’s done so with subtle messaging, casual and overt racism, systematic and legislative oppression. This contributes to the racism that people of color endure in almost every facet of our lives. But how exactly does this transfer to centering whiteness within sexuality and sex ed?
When I first started thinking about racial identity within sexuality, I began with sources that were most accessible to people: porn. Because of the inadequate sexual education most people get in schools and their communities growing up, a lot of people are first exposed to porn at a young age. In this way, it’s important to understand the ways that porn plays a vital role in shaping our ideas of sexuality and sexual preferences.
Too often, racial identity is seen as a fetish to be explored. Whiteness and white people are seen as the default — in porn, they remain the ones that hold the most power, the POV that we as the viewer are meant to view from, the one that we are meant to identify with. People of color are rarely seen in the same way through mainstream porn and other sexual explicit media (unless, of course, they are the ones creating it), often reduced to objects and bodies for white sexuality to be projected onto.
It is through porn that racism is constructed as a vital part of the business model. With categories such as “ebony,” “Latina,” “Asian” and “interracial,” racism not only becomes acceptable in the field but a vital business practice that the industry relies on in order to gain economic success.
Racial identity is still seen as something that is taboo in our culture, in ways that makes it especially appealing to engage with in sexuality. But when it comes to sex education, we see the same patterns in regards to connecting sexuality and racial identity. Sexuality-specific literature and research is conducted using similar frameworks, painting whiteness as the default human experience. While we are just beginning to see a wider variety of identities being centered, race is still not being included in the conversation in the same way.
What happens when we construct a sex education and sexuality field that holds whiteness as the default? We push people of color to the position of other, and further ostracize them by creating unsafe spaces for these individuals to explore their sexualities. When we deny representation, we shut out individuals from discovering the fields and subcultures that could help them to discover the pleasure, happiness and freedom of exploration that they deserve, especially being of color.
Though porn is only one facet of the sex industry, it plays an important role in how viewers understand the connection between racial identity and sexuality. Why is it that whiteness is seen as the default, while people of color are reduced to being exotic, fetishes or otherwise just projections of sexuality for the pleasure of white folks? By creating a sexuality culture in which we never see Black or Brown people engaging in sexual acts for their own pleasure or agency, we subconsciously allow a cultural narrative to determine that proximity to whiteness is a requirement to experience sexual pleasure for oneself. And that’s unacceptable.
Indie feminist porn companies are beginning to expand on this, while organizations dedicated to widening the pool of inclusion for people of color (like WOCSHN) are popping up as direct solutions for this issue. But still, the change needs to come from not from people of color within the field, but from the white sexuality experts and professionals that dominate the field itself. We need to begin to demand that those who occupy the most space within the field to make it more welcoming and inclusive for those who do not identify as such.
Sexuality is for everyone, because we all deserve to feel pleasure. By dismantling the long history of centering whiteness within sex ed and the sexuality field at large, we begin to create a better culture for us all.