Sex and Love in Times of Peril: An interview with Dr. Lexx Brown-James

Many relationships across the globe are being affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and social unrest. Enter Dr. Lexx Brown-James, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, specialist on sexuality and intimacy, certified sex⁠ educator, and best-selling author of the children’s book These are My Eyes, This is My Nose, This is My Vulva, These are My Toes.

Depression, grief, anxiety, trauma⁠ and other bad feelings are challenging relationships between grandparents, parents, siblings, partners, spouses, friends and others during this troublesome year. Dr. Brown-James' work is focused on healing wounds from all these, and she has a special eye for younger folks and people of color.

In an interview with Scarleteen, Dr. Lexx Brown-James talked about her line of work, how Covid-19 is rampaging peoples’ emotions, and how the work of POC sex educators continues to be devalued, stolen and co-opted.

Scarleteen (ST): What does a "marriage and family therapist" do, anyway? What made you want to be one? What keeps you wanting to do this work, especially right now?

Dr. Lexx Brown-James (LBJ): A Marriage and Family therapist is a therapist who is taught to see people in systems. We are trained to work with people and their relationships specifically. So, for us, it’s not abnormal to see two, four or seven people in a session.

I love and am honored to be able to be a respite for people’s stories and pain. Right now, this work helps me stay grounded in gratitude while also allowing me to help folks working on creating, building and maintaining happiness in the relationships with loved ones.

ST: Why would someone need a marriage or family therapist? 

LBJ: People seek out⁠ marriage and family therapists typically because they have a relationship⁠ issue. Now, don’t limit this. When I say relationships, I mean all sorts. I have seen partners, parents and children, grandparents and parents, and even best friends in therapy!

I tell people in session my job is to take care of the relationship between the two, three, seven of you and how to get that relationship to be something that you all are able to take care of, too.

ST: How would you say COVID-19 has impacted many people's long-term or family relationships?  What about for people in new relationships, or having flings?

LBJ: Covid-19 has created such a seesaw of emotion and connection. On one hand, folks are finding that they are able to slow down and really connect with one another in ways they have not been able to previously. Being socially distant means people are doing more time talking and getting to know one another than exploring each other physically right now. This can be hard on new relationships, and it can also be super exciting because it builds anticipation. While you’re getting to know someone, the excitement of kissing⁠ or hugging them builds. Additionally, if you are building emotional and social connections with someone during this pandemic, you can build comfort that is not always there when you are sharing physical space.

For long-term and family relationships, we are seeing a variety of Covid-19 related challenges.

Sadly, some people are trapped at home with abusive family members and have limited ways of getting away from them. For some folks, there is also a highlight that there is severe distance between family members regarding how they care and support one another. And yet, for some, this has been a time of bonding where family members are able to bond and learn about one another in ways that might have felt impossible before. So, there are many ways Covid-19 has impacted families.

ST: What do you think about couples counseling for very young couples who haven't been together long? If someone wants it who doesn't have their own income, how can they pay for it?

LBJ: I love the idea about getting some couples counseling early and for those who are still learning how to navigate a relationship. One way to get access is to check out teen centers in the local area. They often serve people up to 25 and have trained clinicians. Further, they can often be a reduced fee (as low as 1 or 5 dollars per session) or even free. If there is a young couple who are in school together, it may even be something you can see a school counselor about because they are there to support the emotional wellbeing of students as well.

ST: You're also a sex educator. How are you approaching sex ed in this moment?  What are some things you're seeing people want most right now?

LBJ: During this time of all online education, I’m trying to educate in various places. By collaborating with others, sharing information and using my own social media platforms I am trying to share resources and education in ways that are accessible.

Right now, people are really into finding pleasure and exploring what that means for them, which is my jam! I love pleasure and sexual⁠ liberation - shout out to WAP - because every single person has a right to pleasure in their bodies.

Sexuality education is more than just what people do with their genitals⁠ , it’s a part of it, but not all. I’m hoping to help expand what sexuality education is beyond sexually transmitted infections⁠ , unwanted pregnancy⁠ and sexual assault⁠ . I love to talk about consent⁠ and give people permission to seek out their own pleasure.

ST: What's it been like for you specifically being a Black sex educator right now, in the field and at large? What's gotten better?  What's worse or the same?  What can everyone do to help support BIPOC sex educators now?

LBJ: Being a Black sexuality educator right now has been glorious within my own community of other sexuality educators. Within the field at large, it is a struggle to ensure that people know we are here, we are doing work and that the work we are doing is valuable and ours!

My connection to other sexuality BIPOC sexuality professionals is amazing and only growing stronger as we continue to collaborate, build and operate from abundance. Within the field, I think the expansion and recognition of various types of sexuality educators has been amazing.

Right now, I am recognizing how many ways BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of color) folks become sexuality educators. For example, I have a doctorate in Education and there are BIPOC educators who have taken varied and nontraditional ways of becoming sexuality educators. We are all valid, important and awesome educators delivering amazing content.

Unfortunately, the thing that I see staying the same, maybe even worse, is the devaluing of sexuality professionals of color - especially those without credentials - and the theft of intellectual property. I have seen BIPOC’s content robbed, remixed and resold for a profit too many times. To support BIPOC sexuality educators: book us! Hire us!

Giving us spotlights like this is helpful! If you’re not able to do that, share our content, refer to us and put our names out there in the places where we would never be invited. And of course, follow us and ‘like’ our stuff too.

ST: How do you think the right-wing zeitgeist of this era is impacting peoples’ sexual lives, especially Black and other people of color?

LBJ: I think the right-wing zeitgeist is clearly trying to eradicate marginalized folks’ pleasure and ultimately, lives. Black Lives Matter (BLM) and all that goes into that life too. Access to choose what is best for our bodies, access to comprehensive, compassionate, and informed healthcare – especially pregnancy care - is clearly dangerous for Black pregnant people and the fetuses we carry. Then we have the entire made up idea regarding the hypersexuality of Black and Brown youth bodies. The idea that once a Black or Brown child hits puberty⁠ they are clearly sexually active⁠ , ready for sexual intercourse⁠ , or some type of sexual pariah is still an issue and our youth are being treated like it is their fault.

All of these things have been in existence and kept alive by the right-wing and even our own family members. It’s sad and impacts our sexual lives by giving us that much more that we need to fight against.

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