The health benefits of good sex – better mood, immunity, sleep, reduced stress – are powerful antidotes to the exhausting consequences of living in anti-Blackness. However, as a sex researcher and psychologist, I realized “good sex” could mean many things, so I studied it. In a 2022 study, Dr. Shemeka Thorpe, sex researcher, and educator, and I asked over 400 Black people to define good sex in three words. These were just three of the hundreds of responses people shared. It was a bold question for Black people. While almost everyone is socialized into a narrow idea of what sex should be, Black people are often cast as the cautionary comparison group; the group others should strive not to emulate.
Racist stereotypes of Black women as “baby mamas,” “gold diggers,” “jezebels,” and men as “players” and “predators” show up everywhere, from media to medicine. Without compassion or context, these labels dismiss ways we’ve been harmed but are resilient against oppressive conditions. To counteract this, many of us grew up endorsing respectability politics rather than questioning whether idealized sexual standards work for us or why they became ideals. Sexual scripts from the Black church and educated elite suggested we should counteract stereotypes by limiting our sexual selves to make the race look good.
But what about how we experience, rather than just look, good? That’s what we wanted to know. We distilled the responses to 20 components. Five topped the list. Good sex is passionate, intimate, fun, pleasurable, and satisfying.
Passionate, that feeling when desire (wanting) and arousal (readiness) meet, was the most common word. Harmonious passion is energizing yet balanced. It’s a direct clap back to the stoicism we’ve been taught will save us.
Intimate is often misunderstood. People reduce it to emotional closeness. Although emotional intimacy is related to increased sexual satisfaction, it’s only one form. The other forms – intellectual, spiritual, physical, and sexual intimacy – are additional ways to create a sense of closeness or being truly known by someone. It cultivates empathy rather than erasure.
Fun sex, joyful and playful, is good. Fun is medicine in a world where we experience grief and stress regularly. Many of us are in places that devalue Black women’s ways of experiencing fun. Good sex can be one of the few opportunities to reclaim that.
Pleasurable sex is good. Although orgasms can be pleasurable, sex can feel good without them. Some of us have become so accustomed to numbing – binge eating, drinking, scrolling – to feel relief from distress that we can’t feel the pleasure that isn’t a culminating explosion. Thorpe says pleasure – enjoying good sensations for the sake of the feeling – is especially important for Black women “in a world that sees us as sexual objects and vessels for male pleasure, failing to acknowledge pleasure as our birthright.”
Satisfying means once the sexual experience ends, all parties are satiated, gratified, and feel their needs were met. In a world that suggests Black women should be grateful for the crumbs we’re given, experiencing satisfaction is a reminder that we deserve to be full.
Whether solo or partnered, good sex is resistance. Along with efforts to realize liberation in the world, what happens in our beds, showers, and sex rooms is an equally fertile practice ground for freedom.
Dr. Nikki Coleman, psychologist and sexual self-confidence coach, says, “Experiencing pleasurable, erotic, carnal, hedonistic desires as a Black woman defies every lie, misconception, stereotype, and limitation ever placed upon us.”
As someone who grew up “fast,” ill-informed, but well-meaning, elders assumed girls enjoying sex were not as worthy as girls who were chaste of all the good life offers.
I say there’s enough for us all.
Good sex doesn’t require what works for others to work for you. If, after considering your definition of good sex, you find more traditional sexual options fit best in your life, then your resistance is sexual autonomy rather than adopting narrow sexual scripts unexamined.
Ultimately, sexual liberation defines good sex for ourselves, with one caveat: consensual. So, take a moment to sexually self-define. What is good sex to you?
Dr. Candice Nicole Hargons is an award-winning associate professor of counseling psychology at the University of Kentucky. Find her on Instagram @dr.candicenicole and www.drcandicenicole.com. Her debut book, Good Sex, will be published by Row House in February 2025.