POC: Tell Us What You Want!

Sexuality in ColorThis year, we'd like to invest some extra energy in being sure we're doing our level best to serve our readers of color well.

By all means, a lot what we do here is applicable to everyone and can serve everyone, and there are a lot of parts of sexuality and relationships that are fairly universal. At the same time, we know -- either firsthand or by proxy -- there are some issues or aspects of sexuality, sexual life and relationships and sexual health which are different for people or communities of color, or where there are additional barriers or complexities.

For example, being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender often poses additional challenges when you're of color. Access to sexual and/or reproductive health services is often more limited. How the media treats the sexualities of people of color is sometimes radically different than the sexualities of white people are treated. Body image issues in white communities can be very different than in communities of color. Compound oppressions or marginalization -- like being of color and female, or like being of color and in poverty -- also can make any given issue, and addressing it comprehensively and inclusively, far more complex.

Suffice it to say, ethnic or racial bias and bigotry also still looms large in a lot of people's ideas about sexuality. We just had a reader write in last week who had a partner tell her that her vagina as a woman of color, because she was a woman of color, was radically different internally than the vaginas of white women and that he preferred how white women's vaginas felt, blaming her for his inability to reach orgasm because of the "race" of her vagina. I really wish I were kidding.

The idea that the topography of the vagina or vulva (not talking about color differences, here) is radically different between white women and women of color is absolutely false, and something which study has shown to be false (and which any practicing OB/GYN with a racially diverse group of patients can also tell you is false). But this reader didn't know that. So, it was a lot harder for her to deal with what that (now ex, thank goodness) partner said, because she didn't immediately write it off as clearly racist. I probably also don't have to tell you that there are a lot of sexual stereotypes out there around race, whether it's about how a given person's body or genitals look or function, or ideas of what one race does or doesn't do sexually or is or isn't like sexually, not as individuals, but as people of a given race considered to be or look a given way sexually solely because of their race. People of color are also still often tokenized or fetishized both in sexual media and entertainment as well as in a lot of people's heads.

So, like we do things around here overall, I'm asking you what you feel you need and want so we can work to provide exactly that. We can self-identify some issues, for sure, but in my experience, it works a whole lot better to simply ask people what they need.

How can we best serve you? What sexuality issues from and/or addressing POC perspectives do you want or need to see addressed here at Scarleteen? What existing articles that you've read here do you feel need adjustments when it comes to people of color? Can you tell us what you think those adjustments are? What has come up for you when it comes to sexuality and race that you'd like to see us bring up?

If you could leave your comments here, that'd be fantastic, and be as in-depth as you want to be. If your thoughts feel murky or unclear, that's okay: go ahead and share them anyway. We all know it can be hard for any of us sometimes to articulate what we need in sexual information, after all. (And just in case, please don't worry about offending us. We know and experience that sometimes conversations about these issues can be awkward or tense, and that's okay. We are talking about sex here every day, after all, so we're more than used to awkward.)

We're also glad to engage in a conversation in the comments about this to work together in figuring out how we can be sure that POC feel as VIP at Scarleteen as we want every reader to feel.

P.S. If you want to write something for us, please let us know! The Sexuality in Color section of the blog always needs more guest writers, and we also are always up for more articles or In Your Own Words pieces. Scarleteen's budget is such that we are rarely able to pay any of our writers, unfortunately, so paid pieces are rare, but we can offer a big mess of viewers for our writers, as well as the opportunity to get your voice out there saying what others need to see and hear. At least, that's what I've told myself with the pieces I have written here over the years, which most of the time, I haven't gotten paid for, either. :)


What an interesting question. Honestly, the information here on Scarleteen is so amazingly relevant that it never really occurred to me that there might be a need or desire to address a racial perspective, but now that you mention it, you do have a point. One topic I would like to see addressed is the ridiculous stigma on men of color, particularly blacks and latinos. No matter where I turn, there's some TV ad or movie or show that presents men of color as lazy, cheating, abusive spouses. Even though I've been raised around responsible African-American husbands and fathers, I'm still guilty of the bias. I tend to be more attracted to and more willing to pursue a relationship with a white guy over a black guy, and I can't think of any other reason for it besides the horrible models I see in the media. It has to stop.

Second thing that comes to mind is men on the "down low". The African-American community is extremely homophobic to the point of being dangerous. I have heard so many stories of black men secretly having sex with other men while remaining married or attached to a woman. And then they contract AIDS and give it to their partner unknowingly. It's not fair to either party. No one should feel pressured to hide who they are. There is no shame in being gay. People at my high school are pretty relaxed about gay or bisexual peers, but I've noticed people in their late twenties or older are less tolerant. Maybe because they grew up when being homosexual was more taboo? My dad refuses to buy me sanitary napkins because for some reason, it embarrasses him. All the guys I know don't admit to crying, feeling pain, wearing pink, or even giving cunnilingus because it's not 'manly'. Why? Men of color have it really hard. They have to live up to this rigid, sexist vision of what a real man should be. Of course the same goes for all other men too, but it seems to be more rampant in the black community.

What else... colored women are beautiful. The media tends to show lighter, slimmer women as more desirable. Most colored women I know have medium to dark skin and wide waists and/or hips. Most black women I know do not have naturally long, silky hair - we have thick, curly hair. You do not need a weave, light skin, and a size 2 waist in order to be beautiful. I'd like to see someone give darker women some positive exposure for a change.

I realize the intent of this post is to make sure POC readers don't feel alienated at this site, but the title ("POC: Tell Us What You Want!") seems, to me, to have that exact effect. While I can't at this moment think of a better idea, since the owner of this site is after all a white female who doesn't live the experience of POC yet does need to include such experiences in her site lest it become exclusionary, it does seem like the old "educate me!" request.

Angelica: sorry if it came off that way, and if you have ideas for better wording, please let me know, and I'm glad to make an edit.

To be clear on what I'm asking for here, I'm not asking to be personally educated nor is my intent exactly about avoiding alienation, particularly since we have many users of color already here. It's far more about doing what I can to assure relevance.

Rather, I'm asking for POC (who I, indeed, am not) to fill me in on what you want here that myself and our staff and volunteers (who are not all white) can provide when it comes to sexuality/relationship information you feel needs to take race into account, or where issues can or do vary according to race in ways I might not see as acutely.

The overall educational model of Scarleteen is and has always been based on what all our readers ask us for directly: that's most of how we figure out what to write and educate about here. What I'm asking of your users of color is the same thing I ask our users who aren't.

So, as that's true for our readership as a whole, it's also true for subsections of our readership. While I can personally identify some areas where race makes a difference, as usual, I'd prefer to have our readers do the identifying, rather than having me do it for them. I try and do the same with our overall model because of age differences and the vast diversity of identities and sexualities. Get what I mean?

I also think that often what happens when it comes to any marginalized group is that so often it's assumed (unfortunately, often validly) that special or distinct interests won't be served that no one asks for very specific things, likely in part because of being mighty tired of asking and hearing crickets. As well, I want to do all I can to avoid being colonial in this, and making assumptions about what POC express you feel you want and need because I'm not of color. Thus, why I put out a specific call.

Editor & Founder, Scarleteen: Sex Ed for the Real World
Author, S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and Col

In light of your tweet (that you ask all readers similar questions), I do think my main issue with this post was just the tone of the title, that it automatically irked me, because I didn't find anything especially problematic with the content of the post itself. The title of the post which asked the same of young people in general -- "What Do You Need to Speak and Feel Heard?" -- seems far more, shall I say, "tactful" than "POC: Tell Us What You Want!" does. The idea that you can't cover readers' interests unless they're made known to you isn't a bad or controversial one when we're talking about sex education, but in any other context, if someone were claiming that they couldn't accomodate the interests of POC unless POC specifically let them know what they wanted needed to hear, I'd think that was offensive. So that's where I'm coming from on this. And I'm a white female as well, by the way.
(This comment font sure is big!)

I haven't yet heard any people of color have an objection to the title, for the record, and it was retweeted by people of color who I know would feel comfortable calling me out, and know they could expect me to be open to that.

I'm still open to suggestions about retitling, but I do want it to be specific to people of color (and ideally coming from people of color, should they have an issue), because as I think is clear, what I don't want are people who are not of color telling me what they presume people of color want or need. That's whay I assumed you were of color yourself, given your response, and I think you can see how that's problematic.

Editor & Founder, Scarleteen: Sex Ed for the Real World
Author, S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and Col

Something on issues of attraction? I am biracial (half black, half white), but i grew up in a virtually all white environment (went to catholic grade school, private all girls high school, pretty white college - University of Michigan). I am bisexual, but I am only attracted to (usually, there are rare exceptions) white people. Specifically, when thinking of men, white "hipsters" (think Ryan from the Office). The men who are usually attracted to me are, well, not what I'm looking for, but the skinny hipsters i dream of generally want to date...other skinny hipsters. i don't know if its a race thing, and i feel pretty bad that im not attracted to a race of which i am part. ive never dated anyone or had sex (im 22) and im feeling really lonely and not sure what to do. maybe something on navigating those issues- feeling "white" or "black" and the problems that result from same?

Thanks for reaching out to POC Heather. Speaking as a young black and queer woman, I already think the website and the advice that all of you give is POC friendly and comprehensive.

I definitely would love for the site to expand on body/skin issues such as having different flesh tones around the genital regions and having kinky/curly hair. Also, I also agree with the other commenter that discussions around social issues such as black gay/bi men being seen as "the problem" and on the 'down low' in many communities, bisexuality not being seen as legit in some minority communities, and the effect of transphobia on POC.

I notice you're having a roundtable discussion for GLBT people of color. Could you specify exactly what you mean by 'people of color'? To my understanding, this grouping is mostly one that African American and/or black people relate to..would you agree?

...we're talking about black people, latino/latina people, chicano/chicana people, Asian people, Arab people, Native American/First Nations people, other indigenous non-Europeans and biracial/multiracial people.

Editor & Founder, Scarleteen: Sex Ed for the Real World
Author, S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and Col