My mother always taught me to “keep my knees kissing.” It was our way of talking about sex that made it a little less awkward and a little funnier, even though she was not joking.
I took her seriously, of course, but was able to get around her rules by finding solace in the sexual feminism of Black women’s music.
Khia’s “My Neck, My Back” comes to mind as one of those songs. The first time I heard it, my mouth flew open. I was barely nine years old when the track was released in 2002. It wasn’t until many years later that I heard it and appreciated its value as more than just a song with sexually explicit lyrics.
Everything that the song stood for was unapologetic. It embraced the nature of sexual prowess as something magnetic that had a message beyond its vulgarity. With her lyrics, Khia demanded a certain satisfaction that was once silently ignored. The rapper made everyone uncomfortable and birthed an anthem at the same time.
I was in middle school when Rihanna stepped on the scene, owning all that her Bajan roots had to offer. Her songs were catchy enough to be my first cellphone’s ring tone, but it wasn’t until the peak of my high school experience, on the cusp of starting college, that I found something tangible in her music other than a catchy hook over a pop beat.
After experiencing the liberation that she sings about, I’m able to hear Rihanna in an entirely new light. With tracks like “Skin,” like “S&M,” “Cockiness (Love It),” “Shut Up and Drive,” “Let Me,” “Kiss It Better” and countless others, she acknowledges that women should have the courage to embrace their need to always be satisfied.
I remember when Beyoncé released the video for “Déjá Vu.” I loved every bit it, from the choreography and the wardrobe, to the moment Beyoncé seductively dropped to her knees in front of Jay Z. It was free of fear, and when she released her fifth studio album featuring hits like “Blow,” “Partition” and “Rocket,” that’s when we knew just how free she could truly be.
As I have grown older, I understood why my mother taught me about sex the way she did. In addition to the birds and the bees and other tidbits in between, her catch phrase always stuck with me. It was part bashful, slightly comical, and completely full of fear. It was a reminder that, for a woman, the act of sex was taboo. It was confirmation that a woman’s sexual power should be as non-existent as her conversation about enjoying it.
The taboo topic of sex isn’t a talking point for women in the Black community, but more like bullet to dodge. Through songs, from artists like Trina, Lil Kim, Mya and others, I grew to embrace my sexuality without apology; I learned how important feminism was as a Black woman in a modern world. They reminded me, when my mother couldn’t, that there was nothing to be ashamed of.
My sexually unapologetic fairy godmothers don’t stop with these three. Honorable mention goes to Lil’ Kim, Trina, Kelly Rowland, Mya, Nicki Minaj, Cassie, Kelis, Salt-N-Pepa, TLC, Jill Scott and Adina Howard.
Lauren Porter (@LJSP_writes) is an editorial intern at ESSENCE.com and a recent graduate of Syracuse University.