The summer before entering my freshman year in college, I found myself listening to various family friends, older cousins, and church members relive their college glory days and offer up a list of instructions on how to make the “best years of my life” better. In the midst of all the advice, the rules given to me on sex were simple: avoid pregnancy, any thing or body that looked like it needed to be tested, and keep the list of “most used” booty call lines somewhere close to my phone for texts received after 11 pm. With that in mind, and my momma’s voice in my ear (singing “no, no, no, no, no” circa Destiny’s Child) how I would handle sex as an eighteen-year-old freshman was a question that’s answer choices were limited.

September came of the new year, October came faster, and I found myself in a relationship; he had an apartment, paid for dinners, and dropped me off and picked me up as I asked. Eventually he approached with the question I knew was coming, but in my head thought I could field: “Are you ready yet?”

Sounds like a typical story, but a few years, a few pregnant friends, stories of abortions, and STD scares later, I found myself questioning what it meant to be a young, Black woman entering into her sexuality. With one end of the spectrum advising a balls-to-the-wall approach to sex, and another advising abstinence until marriage with little to no middle ground, sex is answered by either you do or you don’t. That line of thinking, on either end, just doesn’t match up as the whole of late-night conversations had in dorm rooms and in the midst of study groups. Sex never stood alone. It came with friends who thought they were in love, one in lust, a few that couldn’t figure out what they were in (nothing like no labels to make things more complicated), and one who’s advice and choices were along the lines of “if they do it, so can we.” In the middle of forming our own opinions on sex we looked to each other for affirmation on decisions, be they right or wrong, and wiped tears, coached, and scolded as needed. What I’ve noticed in the time since is the gap between being ‘16 & Pregnant’ and being a ‘Single Lady’ that needs to be filled with advice beyond “movie nights” having nothing to do with seeing a movie and “chilling” (alone, on his couch, and with nothing between you but a blank stare) meaning sex. The remainder of the instruction manual is there, but filled with blank pages of stories never told and feelings explored, but only among friends.

When model Jessica White opened up about her choice to be celibate on Essence.com she mentioned the physical connection that inevitably comes with sex; the connection that makes ending relationships so much harder for some women. That may have been a conversation I needed to have as a freshman entering college. What about Jill Scott’s dialogue on being “dickmatized”? The amount of women that could relate to some level of that theory as 20 and 21 year olds should make it clear that these are the types of ‘lessons learned’ that need to be talked about and explored. The who, what, where, when and why of the road through sex and sexuality is filled with emotional, physical, spiritual, and social implications that make decisions far from static and certainly far from the one-sided and general conversations had with young women today. How much of a difference would it have made if you knew that your story was similar to the senior you looked up to, or the older friend who had it all together? Let those dorm room conversations become relevant to younger sisters (real or adopted), and open up the dialogue on sex and sexuality for those just stepping into their own decisions.

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  • Great piece. Definitely agree with everything you have written.

  • Great piece.

  • ThisIshRightHereNinja

    Excellent. I gave a few knowing nods as I read along. I think it’s an excellent idea to try to do more to help young ladies who will inevitably encounter the same experiences. Thing is though, a major feature of being 18 and feeling grown (when you aint) is that you take advice from your equally inexperienced peers and assume that advice from anyone older is inapplicable (I know I did, lol). Also, they [correctly] say that “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Even if I had a cool older cousin or a college mentor, no way I would’ve known to ask “so, when they say quote-unquote ‘movie night,’ what does that really mean?”

    For me also, there was no one I looked up to who was willing to speak frankly about sexuality. The extent of my grandmother’s advice on the day they dropped me off at the dorm was “keep your draws on, hear.” My mom’s advice was phrased in threat form “if I EVER find out you’ve been doing XYZ, I’m gonna….” My male figures ignored the fact that I was a young woman who was leaving home at the exact time that younger versions of themselves were gaining access to my naivete. It begs the question: who is in the best position to impart such wisdom?

    • Chrissy

      I agree, especially the second paragraph.

      It’s like sex comes with so many different things…especially shame(sometimes) so who would be willing to give 100% real advice? Because a lot of experiences we have as young women…once upon a time our mothers and grandmothers have had the same experiences. But no one says anything

  • Perfectly written! Great piece. You are right, we need to be having those conversations in those in-between years (18yrs old… but still not grown). I was able to hold on to my virginity until I was 19, even though most of my friends were doing it by then… I STILL wish I waited a lil longer… but I was “grown” right?!! LOL

  • Bekah

    Love this article.

    As a young woman in her early twenties, I like to think I’m coming out on the other side of the epiphanies that have resulted in finding my sexuality. They are realizations that every woman (hopefully) will reach on her own. However she doesn’t have to. Luckily I have a very candid, older sister that always preached and warned with her “been there done that” advice. I still did my own thing. Not because I thought I was grown. I just thought my experiences would be different. Every young woman deserves someone to guide them in this matter. A mentor that won’t berate you for having sex, nor encourage a “guys do them, so you should do you” mindset, but rather reduce the element of surprise in the consequences of sex (whether they be good or bad).

    With my sister’s testimonies and knowledge gained from my own experiences, I can now set sights on my ideal sex life, and not settle for anything else. I’m still working out the kinks (no pun intended) of what I feel will be my sexual liberation. But I wouldn’t change anything that has happened along the way. When the time comes, I can pay it forward and show the ropes to other young women in my life when they begin to explore their sexual selves.