Why We Should All Be Advocating For Sexual Self-Care
Self-care is perhaps one of the most overused buzzwords in the wellness sector. We know that it brings up connotations of candlelit baths and slow mornings (which we are definitely not knocking), but we also know that self-care is a term that feels rooted in white-middle-class-privilege. Africa Brooke (she/her) is an impressive 26-year-old womxn of colour, whose work in advocating for shameless female pleasure led Ferly to asking her to talk on our panel event last month, where we touched on the privilege of the sexual wellness industry. We caught up with Africa to talk about why we should ALL be advocating for sexual self-care.
CAT: What was your upbringing around sex?
AFRICA: I’m from Zimbabwe, Africa, and I came to the UK when I was 9 years old. I grew up in a very Christian home, so when it came to things like intimacy, and sexuality in general, it just wasn’t a topic we spoke about. When I came to the UK, I was suddenly exposed to things like advertising, film and tv shows, where sexual energy was much more present. These were the times that I started to get very curious about my own body. But I had grown up believing that sex was wrong. I remember when I was 6 years old, my mum ‘caught’ me self-pleasuring, and when I saw how disappointed she was, that started to really form my sexual shame.
C: Do you feel like you have carried that memory into your adult sexual life?
Definitely. I started getting older and my arousal started growing, and I would feel very guilty for even feeling that way, so the sexual shame just kept on growing and growing. And by the time I started drinking, it was a mess. I felt very confused because there were conflicting messages everywhere. By the time I got sober when I was 24, I knew that I needed to start dealing with what was going on, because it did manifest in ways that were very unhealthy - like through casual sex. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it if it’s safe and connected, but the kind I was having was nothing like that at all.
C: And now you run a sexual wellness company called Cherry Revolution - can you tell us a bit about that?
A: When I made the choice to stop drinking, I knew I couldn’t run away from that stuff anymore; I had to deal with it. But I didn’t have anyone to talk to. So I started exploring through literature, first by reading tantric books, and then I started experimenting with self pleasure, trying to remove that shame from myself first and foremost. I would find out all of these interesting things that I would then bring to my friends, and we would have the most amazing conversations. But it didn’t feel enough for me because after we left wherever we were, the conversations would just stop. It was like we were accepting that all of these have happened, but not giving any solutions as to ‘what do we do now?’
I started the Cherry Revolution as a way of putting an end to that within myself and for opening up conversation. I realised that I had to create something that couldn’t see for myself.
C: Let’s talk about the privilege of sexual self care, as we touched on it at our panel event in April, about how often those who need access to this aren’t necessarily centered in sex positive spaces. How is that feeding into your work?
A: For a black womxn to be having these types of conversations; I haven’t seen anything like it, especially here in the UK. It’s very easy for me to have these conversations in white spaces, because they take place more in these spaces. But I find a big part of my mission is to bring back these conversations into my own community, because that’s where a lot of the shame really is, and there are so many reasons why that is. One of them is looking at the effects of colonialism - it’s a big one when we talk about sexuality and sexual shame. That’s why I think it’s important for anyone doing work in sexual wellness to bear that in mind, because it’s very easy to have these conversations with people who are already on this journey; people who have access and resources, people who are able to go to these events and are able to be part of this experience. But we can easily forget those who don’t have that access - they are the ones who probably need this message much more. I think a lot of people do unfortunately think that pleasure is a luxury and it’s just not.
C: What do you think the problem areas are when it comes to how we learn about sex?
A: In 2019, children are having sex younger and younger and younger. And because caregivers aren’t speaking about pleasure as an aspect of sex, people are learning from porn. So what tends to happen when people learn from porn, is that they perform what they see in porn. You’re not told about waking up your partner’s arousal, being very careful, being very gentle. It’s about - once you see the erection, that’s it. You’re not told that actually the female erectile network actually gets hard itself - it actually plumps up - it actually opens up and lubricates in a way that actually welcomes the penis. So you are actually supposed to wait for the body to be ready. But porn doesn’t show you that. It just shows you to go straight in. So a lot of people do end up bleeding during their first time; it’s very painful for those reasons.
C: We’ve spoken before about redefining what sex means to you. How has that helped in your journey?
A: What I’ve had really useful and amazing, is to explore the different ways to have sex without penetration - that’s something I’m really big on. Just knowing that you could experience such pleasure from your partner through intentional kissing, through breast play, through tantric massages - you can experience pleasure and orgasm from so many other things that don’t require penetration.
Even though my mission is to make shameless pleasure a priority, I really want you to understand that it doesn’t always have to be sexual. When I’m talking about pussy gazing and looking at yourself, I always recommend to not do it in a sexual way to begin with. Just think of it as an old friend who you haven’t seen in a while - you’re just trying to reconnect again. We’re just trying to normalise our body parts in the same we do our noses, elbows, lips. That’s all it is. And another thing I always stress is the language we use - to really avoid saying things like ‘down there’. Because that just creates more shame.
C: What does mindful sex mean to you?
A: The overarching key word I would use is communication: with yourself first and foremost, so you’re confident in what you want and what you are trying to express, and then with whoever your partners are. It’s about being able to set boundaries - and realising that there’s a big difference between boundaries and barriers. A boundary is something you agree with yourself and communicate to someone, whereas a barrier is a decision that you have made in your head, and you expect the other person to just know. To actually put forward your boundary and be able to communicate it to someone; that is so hard.