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Black women are sexual beings, like all human beings. It’s not groundbreaking news or gasp-worthy, but it is a less spoken reality. When black women are not telling their own stories, the media paints their sexualities in extremes. They’re the celibate church ladies saving it for their husbands. Or they’re the video vixens dropping it like it’s hot for some rapper’s new song. All stereotypes have truth, but many black women are exploring their relationships with sex, pleasure, and expression somewhere between the extremes. In safe spaces of sisterhood and open conversation, you’ll find them curious, excited, and ready to explore the boundaries of their sensual lives. Sex workshops and pleasure parties are not off limits. In fact, you’ll often find black women there shopping for sex toys and fun information, like other races of women.

“Black women are much more multidimensional and extraordinary than popular stereotypes. I’ve seen brown-skinned beauties at erotic reading series, at pleasure parties, in sex toy shops, and other venues,” says Twanna Hines, sex educator and blogger at funkybrownchick.com. Given that black women often combat the video vixen image with a prim external aura, this information often seems shocking. Yet our participation at sex-themed bashes is common.

Pleasure parties and educational seminars allow women to learn about sex toys, and sometimes get messages, manicures and enjoy other sensual delights. While exact numbers are hard to come by, anecdotal evidence of who is attending such affairs — which are held nation-wide — will often reveal that numbers include a surprising amount of sisters. An event held in recent months at a successful sex toy store called Babeland in the Soho area of New York City (far from any black neighborhood) attracted about 60 African-American women out of an audience of 70.

Revealing this feels like a scandalous secret, but our participation in such forums is not. Black women want to enhance their relationships with pleasure like anyone else. So why might it stun people to imagine them at sex-related soirees? Perhaps it’s the lack of complex black female characters in modern life.

“If we were to see black women laugh, giggle, swoon, smile, blush, or cry in vibrantly emotional scenes involving sex on the page or silver screen, that would mean we were as uniquely individual and diverse as any other ethnic group. It’s much easier to write us off as religious prudes or slutty whores,” Hines explains to theGrio.

The media is always a sensitive spot when it comes to black women, as many screenwriters and television producers fail to capture black women’s heterogeneous humanity compared to women of other races. The mainstream seems to fail to an extreme when it comes to depictions of black women’s sexualities, which Hines cites as a universal characteristic of oppression and dehumanization.

The resulting stereotypes are tiring, frustrating, and perhaps even damaging for black women who look to see themselves on screen — even as they explore their sexual appetites. It doesn’t help that we are too often seen as asexual Mammies or hypersexual Jezebels.