How to cultivate more intimacy, according to a Black sex guru

Whether coupled or solo, Senegalese-American sex guru Penda N’diaye shares how we can achieve greater intimacy this Valentine’s Day.

As we mark another Valentine’s Day this year, intimacy is naturally on many people’s minds. For those in relationships, there is often a lot of pressure to have a meaningful, love-filled day. For those who are single, it can be a reminder of what they don’t have. But if you want to achieve greater intimacy with a partner, you have to start with yourself. At least, that’s the advice of renowned pleasure enthusiast Penda N’diaye. 

During a recent chat with theGrio, N’diaye, founder of Pro Hoe (a sexual wellness platform) and a forthcoming sex toy brand, said “intimacy,” roughly defined as a close familiarity or friendship, can’t fully be explored with others until one understands how to be intimate with oneself. 

Penda N'Diaye Black love theGrio lifestyle
(Photo credit: Getty/ svetikd)

“Intimacy is a beautiful way to come into yourself and reevaluate what really makes you feel good,” N’diaye said, adding, “I think sometimes we forget that intimacy is a human emotion and physical thing that we all participate in.”

N’diaye noted intimacy varies from person to person. For some, intimacy could be as simple as having a cup of tea in the morning. For others, it could be binge-watching Netflix with someone, taking a nice hot bath, or even self-pleasure. She also said it’s not always about what others can do for you but rather what you can do for yourself. 

“It’s really about where you find yourself being the most vulnerable and opening yourself to just experiencing good feelings and good vibes all around,” she said. 

Isolating what makes you feel good or what intimacy looks like for you, said N’diaye, makes it easier for you to communicate that to others. However, discovering what makes you feel good also requires figuring out what might be holding you back. N’diaye said for members of the Black community, it’s common for there to be a lot of shame around intimacy and pleasure rooted in familial expectations, religion, or even societal norms. 

Penda N’diaye (Photo credit: Penda N’diaye)

N’diaye was born and raised in Denver. Her father was Senegalese and Muslim, and her mother, a Black American. N’diaye described performing differently around her father’s side of the family than she would around her mother’s side of the family. 

“It’s really about not measuring [yourself] to some moral standard,” she said. 

Shame in any form thrives on silence, said N’diaye. Talking with friends and family, if you’re able, about intimacy, pleasure, sexuality, and sexual expression is a way to begin to combat the shame. N’diaye’s own journey is living proof; after being gifted her first vibrator by her mother, they both realized how little dialogue exists around sexuality and sexual expression, particularly in Black communities. That gift from Mom felt like a metaphorical passing of the torch. 

“It inspired me to create a space for other folks who don’t have the gumption or the education or just the resources to understand more about it. And I feel like there’s something really special about storytelling and using that as a way to create empathy and get rid of shame,” N’diaye said. 

In addition to breaking down layers of shame around sexual expression, checking in with family is a way to understand yourself better. You may notice that specific patterns in your relationships or ways of being intimate have unrecognized roots in your family history.  

“There’s also something really beautiful about returning to ancestors and older family members and talking about sexuality. That’s a great way to start cracking,” she said. 

Another obstacle to having more fulfilling intimacy could be a lack of imagination around the subject and related topics, N’diaye said. 

“One of the big things, specifically for Black people, or all people, is having a more imaginative understanding of what sexuality is, what pleasure is, and really defining that for yourself,” she said. “I think that we’re getting closer to the actual definition of sexual liberation, but it’s really dependent upon freedom.”

Freedom comes from expanding our definition of intimacy, pleasure, and sexual expression. N’diaye said we’re in a special time where “we have a chance to redefine language and identity.”  

“Let’s remove the kind of performative nature of what you think intimacy and pleasure should look like and just lean more into actionable pleasure and doing things that really feel like you’re pouring into a romantic partner [but for yourself],” she said. 

There are admittedly few holidays more performative than Valentine’s Day, and just like approaching intimacy, N’diaye suggests reframing how you approach the day.  

For those who are single, N’diaye suggests treating yourself to a well-cooked meal and spending some time reflecting on love, intimacy, and what you want in a future partner. Also, don’t feel compelled to spend the day alone just because you’re not coupled up; you can always phone a friend.   

“Communing with other people is really special if you have that available to you,” she said. 

You can invite friends and family over to love on them in person, or you can call them up and catch up in the name of love. For the really courageous, N’diaye has another idea: shoot your shot. 

“Maybe take [the day] as an opportunity to reach out to someone that maybe you have been feeling in an intimate sense, and you want to convey your feelings or emotions — if you feel like that’s a safe space for you to communicate,” she said.

Overall, N’diaye’s advice for Valentine’s Day and inviting intimacy into your life on any day is the same. 

“Treat yourself really well,” she suggested. “Have a little bit more honesty with yourself about what you would like to see in a partner or what you want in your future. That’s a great way to manifest it in your life.”

Kay Wicker is a lifestyle writer for theGrio covering health, wellness, travel, beauty, fashion, and the myriad ways Black people live and enjoy their lives. She has previously created content for magazines, newspapers, and digital brands. 

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