If you’re a woman, particularly a black woman, society has told you enjoying sex is taboo, having onus over your body is frowned upon and more than one sex partner makes you a hoe. These double standards are often enforced from previous generations causing women to adopt a sexual philosophy that isn’t their own, and leaving them afraid to express their wants and explore their own sexual curiosities.
Realizing the dialogue surrounding sex, sexuality and pleasure was either not being had or not fluid enough for today’s orientations, 26-year-old Dalychia and 29-year-old Rafaella created Afrosexology. The online source acts as a hub and also allows the two to schedule workshops across the country for men and women to create a more sex-positive mind frame, to live their most orgasmic life.
And since orgasms are undoubtedly better than having an unlimited data plan, VIBE caught up with the co-founders to discuss their mission, their findings the importance and wonders of masturbation as a gateway to learning how your body works, and bringing pleasure into your life outside of the bedroom.
This a real grown, sexy and educational conversation, folks. Get into it.
VIBE: How did you two meet?
Rafaella: We attended Washington University in St. Louis. It’s a predominantly white university. So you know how black people gather around one another. We realized we had similar friends and then found out that we had similar interests. At the university, we were in the social work program. My focus is more clinical and Dalychia’s focus—I’m gonna let you chime in…
Dalychia: Yeah, so Raf and I had no classes together. We were both interested in sexuality. Her focus was more clinical and I was focused on economics and social empowerment for black people. I did a lot of macro classes, classes on entrepreneurship. I did stuff on sexuality, on economics. Really, I was just trying to apply all of these concepts to my community.
VIBE: Then you guys met on campus and become friends. How did the conversation even begin? Because it’s not like you two were in a classroom like, “Hey, let’s start Afrosexology!”
D: I know exactly where we were when we started talking about Afrosexology before we had a name for it. We were having lunch and started talking about the extreme need for a different approach to sexuality and education in the black community. We were just like ‘It doesn’t exist.’ ‘Where is it?’ ‘How can we find it?’ Then, we said, ‘Wait a minute, we can just create it ourselves.’
VIBE: While researching I believe I heard one of you say, ‘You can’t expect to experience pleasure sexually if you don’t allow pleasure in your life in other areas.’ How can black women enhance the pleasure in their lives in and outside of the bedroom?
D: I think the number one thing we encourage everyone to do if they’re not doing it already is to masturbate and to come up with a healthy, exploratory relationship with their own body. Then, to figure out the different sensations because it’s really good to know yourself.
For me, my most orgasmic life isn’t just my sexual orgasms. I am using my orgasms as a litmus test for every aspect of my life.
I am questioning my friendships and asking myself when I leave my friends whether I’m less excited or more excited? Do I feel pleasure? Do I feel joy? Do I feel pain? Do I feel heavy? Do I feel tired? Do I feel like I wasn’t respected or listened to? Did it feel comparable to non-consensual sex? Did it feel comparable to bad sex? Was it orgasmic? And I want it everywhere. It’s just the need to really question how everything makes me feel and move more intentionally, toward the things that feel orgasmic in all these different ways.
R: I’m really into scents. I love the smell of sandalwood. I love the scent of peppermint. I have a diffuser and every morning I wake up and I put a different oil in and I have the diffuser going and just bringing that fragrance into my setting on a daily basis is affirming things that bring me pleasure. Also, getting to the root or thinking outside the box in your day-to-day helps. Are you engaging in pleasure? Or are you doing things that are stressful? A lot of the time as black people, we just get used to this existence that is full of stress and trauma that it becomes normalized and we don’t even think about what it means to have these smaller acts of existence through bringing pleasure into our lives by doing other things. We need to focus on centering black joy, things that make us feel good, black love, and not just going through the day-to-day in a mundane and unintentional way.
VIBE: It sounds as if you two are unlearning a lot of things that were taught to you as a young black woman. Growing up how was sex explained to you two? And do either of you have brothers? If so, was the sex talk different for them?
R: I have two younger brothers and one younger sister, and I’m also a survivor of trauma. I was older, maybe in junior high high school, where it was taught ‘You should wait for marriage,’ but I remember it wasn’t something forced upon me. It was just a statement in the household. I remember that I was very much protected and guarded compared to my brothers. Unfortunately, because of the trauma that happened, I feel like a lot of events in my memory are repressed. On the church aspect, I do remember that a lot of the conversation was on having sex with a man, waiting until you’re married, making sure you are able to please him whenever and however they want you to because they’ll go to someone else. So it was always centered around the pleasure for the man in the relationship. Women who had pleasurable sex or really enjoyed it, of course, were labeled as hoes or being fast.
D: I grew up in a religious and conservative home. So there was all this silence around sex. There weren’t a lot of intentional conversations. It was kind of just like you have sex once, you’re married and that’s it. There weren’t conversations around my body in general. When I got my period for the first time, my mom was just like, ‘Here’s a sanitary napkin. Goodbye.’ There was just no conversation. My mom would tell me that I shouldn’t dance in public.
She used to say that we don’t dance like that. That’s for another class.
That I was not supposed to hug men from the front and that I should give “side hugs.” That I was responsible for being modest.
How do you express to women they can enjoy sex as well? How do you explain that notion to women who might not have grown up knowing that sex is a mutually beneficial thing?
R: We set aside a lot of space, time, and energy to talk about where these thoughts come from because not only are we judging other people, but we’re judging ourselves. The first step is to acknowledge those thoughts. We have everybody say what they’ve heard or been called, what they’ve called other people. Then we discuss where they receive those messages from, whether it’s family, TV, or other friends. Then we explore the sort of relationship that they have—not only with those thoughts—but with the value of where they got the message from. So the person that tells you that, is that someone that you should actually value, respect, and look up to? It’s really hard to shake caring what other people think and what other people call us. Then we ask how they feel about and whether they want to change those thoughts, and then how we’re going to get to that.
D: What I’m finding from the women we work with and talk to is if you enjoy sex you’re a hoe. I don’t think a lot of women perceive themselves that way. A lot of women will say, ‘I don’t know how to express my sexuality, but I want to.’ So there’s a desire, and there is a hunger and we talk about external messages that are going to come at you once you start exploring your sexuality. But I’m meeting more people who want something different and want to enjoy sex and want to have pleasure. I don’t think I’m meeting a lot of women who are like, ‘I enjoy having non-pleasurable sex because that’s what I’m supposed to do as a woman.’ I think people are thinking, ‘This has been my experience and I’m stuck and I want something different and I don’t know where to start.’ So I know there are all those messages out there like, ‘You’re a thot,’ ‘You’re a hoe,’ but the people who are engaging are hungry for something else. They know there’s something different out there. For us, it’s about giving people tools, resources, conversation starters, things to think about, to reflect on, to get them to go on that joinery on their own. They already know that they want it. They just need a gentle push or for us to light a little spark.
How has Cardi B helped or hindered this movement? Full disclosure, I love Cardi B.
D: If you look back to the history of black women and our sexuality in this country, black creators and artists have always held on to our sexual liberation and our pleasure. So when you look back at the blues women like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Nina Simone, or other black creators Like Lorraine Hansberry, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and figures like Zora Neale Hurston—they were rejecting a lot of the script around black femininity and black sexuality that people were adopting to and they were challenging it. Bessie Smith was talking about having her husband, and her boyfriend, and her girlfriend, and all of these things.
So when I look at Lil’ Kim or I look at Beyonce, or I look at Rihanna, or I look at Cardi B, I see a continuation of people who are artists, creators, and are still out here fighting for black women’s right to pleasure.
Do you think social media has liberated women to feel and experience their sexuality in a good way? In a bad way? Or do you think social media is just social media?
R: I think social media is definitely serving as a portal for expression and knowledge. When I was growing up, there were Encyclopedias and books that I was sneaking around. I was not supposed to be looking at certain things and AOL was poppin’ off. So I had to do all my exploring with ‘AskJeeves’ which didn’t really know any of the answers to my questions. Now, everything is literally at your fingertips in a good and bad way but to me, it opens up room for dialogue if we’re willing to have it.
D: If all I had in my circle of influence was the people who raised me and the people who were around me, I wouldn’t have been exposed to so many things. As someone who is a lifelong student, I research so much. The reason I was a sex educator in high school is because nobody was talking to me. I Googled everything and then, I knew everything.
I know that I wouldn’t be a sex educator, I wouldn’t be a womanist, I wouldn’t be an activist if it wasn’t for the Internet.
The resources are here and I think, for me what’s really important like Rafaella said is getting people the skills to navigate these things in a healthy way, for them to be media literate. And I don’t think people really do that. When we talked to 11-13-year-olds in our first workshop, I told them that porn is fake. I told them that it was a movie and their minds were blown.
Girl! There are grown men who still watch porn and think that’s how a sexual experience really is. Grown men! Okay, last question: How did you two come up with the name Afrosexology?
R: While Dalychia and I were figuring this out together and envisioning the population that we wanted to work with the energy and the ancestors blessed us with the name Afrosexology. We came up with a lot of different things like African-American People and The Field of Sexology so we just kinda put it together.
D: There was so much energy around it. People had different thoughts and we kept coming back to it. Like, ‘Nah, man. This is it. There is affirmation that this is it.’