The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a Licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible version of ourselves.
Today, Tanya Bass, also known as the Southern Sexologist joins us to talk about how we can engage in more sex positive thinking throughout our lives. She and I discussed some of the lesser known areas of sex we should be exploring, what it means to be asexual or aromantic, how to discuss your sexual health history with a partner and she shares some of her favorite resources for any one who wants to learn more.
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Session 174: Sex Positivity Throughout the Lifespan
Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for session 174 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. All month long, we’ve been having conversations on our social media channels to celebrate sex positivity in an effort to normalize conversations about sexuality and pleasure and we’re capping this month off with our Sex Positive September Celebration this coming Friday night. We’ll be joined by some of your favorite guests from the podcast and other special guests for some fun and conversations about things like exploring your kinks, how colors might be impacting your orgasms and how to feel more affirmed in exploring pleasure. Grab your tickets to join us at SexPositiveSeptember.com.
In line with that event coming up this week, today we have an amazing guest joining us to talk about how we can engage in more sex positive thinking throughout our lives. Today, we’re joined by Tanya Bass also known as The Southern Sexologist. Tanya is the founder of the North Carolina Sexual Health Conference (NCSEXCON) which is North Carolina’s only conference that provides opportunities for agencies and individuals to share information, strategies and best practices around sexual health across the lifespan. Tanya is committed to increasing health equity and is pursuing her PhD at Widener University, in Human Sexuality studies.
Tanya and I chatted about some of the lesser known areas of sex we should be exploring, what it means to be asexual or aromantic, how to discuss your sexual health history with a partner and she shared some of her favorite resources for anyone who wants to dig in more. If something really resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share with us on social media using the hashtag TBGinSession. Here’s our conversation.
Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining us today, Tanya.
Tanya: Thank you. I’m excited and glad to be here.
Dr. Joy: You are affectionately known as The Southern Sexologist.
Tanya: Yes, that's like my brand name and I love it. It took me a few years to develop it and decide on it, actually, based on some of the ideas around being a southerner and what that looks like. And I'm originally from Brooklyn, but my family is from North Carolina so it was also like, is this part of my identity? And I said I think yes, I've been living here long enough, I'm definitely into that. And so I started my work actually from prevention lens in sexuality, doing work around HIV, STI information and education.
Then, literally, I remember the year in 2003, I finished my master’s and I started working on a project for persons living with HIV and AIDS to talk about intimacy and sensuality and disclosing. Realizing just because you have a diagnosis of conditions such as HIV or AIDS, doesn’t mean you stop being a sexual being. And so like all my worlds collided because here I was challenging aspects of my prevention side with aspects around holistic approach to sexuality. Fast forward, just adopted the name Southern Sexologist when I fully committed to doing work that was more sex-positive and embracing sexuality throughout the lifespan.
Dr. Joy: That's a really interesting point that you bring up, just the idea of even talking about sex as a southerner. I think that the discussion around sex and sexuality can be difficult for lots of different people, but it definitely feels like there's something about being in the South that makes it even more taboo. Can you talk a little about that?
Tanya: Absolutely. My family is originally from Eastern North Carolina, that's where our family roots are and so we have been challenged–both in my immediate family and then cousins–around talking about sex, sexuality, growing up in a Christian household. Like I literally walked to church when I moved to North Carolina, the church was across the street from my house. While I appreciate some of the values and the impact that my church and my religion had on my life, it was also some of the ways that I was challenged in my own worldview around sex and sexuality. Even though I didn't have words for it at a young age, some things that I would hear wouldn't feel right in my body and it just made me feel sad and I didn't know why until later.
In my family again, we had persons–family members, cousins–who passed away from HIV and AIDS in the eighties and the nineties and no one would talk about it. It was just so taboo. And it's kind of like once you put two and two together, you realize what was happening and then when you tried to talk to somebody about it, they wouldn't want to talk to you about it, even as a professional. To this day, there's two people who passed away in my family that a subset of my family will not talk about the cause of their death.
Dr. Joy: It definitely does feel like some of those kinds of religious backgrounds intertwined with these conversations that even makes it more difficult to discuss.
Tanya: I think religion is a core element of a self and I think there's a lot of historical aspects of like, why is that even true? But then I also think about when I say southerner, kind of like that idea of prim and properness and what you should be talking. Like what are the words that are coming out of your mouth in public? What are the topics that are appropriate to be talking about, whether it's in school or church or even in your home, in front of other people who aren't your immediate family?
Dr. Joy: Very good point. And that kind of reminds me of something you said earlier, just the idea of a more holistic approach to sex education. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Tanya: Right. The way I look at it, and there's a model entitled The Circles of Sexuality, it was made most famous by Dr. Dennis Dailey but he wasn't the originator of this model. Some people don't like it, but I think it's a good way to start and I like to use it when I'm teaching and for myself, it’s that we are sexual beings across different aspects. This model has five areas which includes sensuality, intimacy, sexual and reproductive health, sexualization, and then sexual identity. And I think as we go through our lives and through development, we probably get the most information on sexual health and reproduction, and even that has its limitations. You know, you might learn about body parts and birth control and STI prevention, etc., it's kind of confined there but oftentimes, we don't talk about how our senses bring us pleasure.
Like when you taste something really good, and I love when people say something is better than sex, because honestly it might be for them. But something tastes so good, it brings you so much pleasure, or hearing something that can resonate and make you feel good. So ultimately, we have to look at sex from those different areas, so including our senses.
Another area I don't think we talk about is intimacy. I often ask my class, like, how do you think somebody might get catfished? And they're like, I can't believe that someone would fall for that, but we don't really talk about the desire that people have for intimacy. And not just physical intimacy, like just the connection with your friends, with your family. The reason why so many people are glued to even social media now is because they're not able to physically be with folks that they can connect socially and have intimate conversations even on social media.
And then sexualization, we probably talk about that next after sexual and reproductive health, because we do want to protect each other, especially children, from predators, etc. and we tend to always talk about sexualization from that negative side of like sexual assault, sexual abuse. but there are some good sides to it like flirting and just using power dynamics in your intimate partner relationships. I love that model. I know there probably are other models out there, but I think it helps us look at it from the time we're born until the time we die, we're sexual beings and that's the wholeness of us.
Dr. Joy: Okay. I think you covered four of the circles. Was there a fifth one?
Tanya: Oh, the fifth one is important, too. Sexual identity. Because I think that's the one that says, who am I? How do I show up? How do I want to be seen or perceived? And things we can't control is how do people see and perceive us? Like our expression, sexual identity. Not to go on so much, I think about you asking me about southern roots. When I think about sexual identity, I'm old school and when I was in college, it was like Boyz II Men era and I had like baggy pants. I literally went into the “men's department” and purchased ties on sales and button-downs and I wore baseball caps.
I remember going home on one of our college breaks and one of my classmate’s friends was like, why do you always wear those ball caps? You better not come home again after being in college, wearing a ball cap. And I was thinking, why don't you like what I have on? But she was really addressing my gender identity and my gender expression, because for her, I was presenting in a masculine way. You know, a young lady shouldn't dress like that. She actually came for me during that time and it stuck with me about if we believe in a binary or subscribe to that, it's kind of like maleness and femaleness and how you show up in the world. You get to choose that, you get to express yourself the way you want to express yourself.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, I appreciate your sharing this model. This is not a model that I was familiar with and I agree, it definitely sounds like it's a good place to start. I'm wondering if you have some thoughts about how we can maybe start with these circles and what kinds of things we should be thinking about, or even what kinds of things we should be talking with little people about, just in terms of beginning to embrace all of these different circles related to our pleasure and sexuality.
Tanya: Right. And the circles, if you think about the model, they're not just like single circles outside of their own; they kind of overlap each other. And so I think talking with young people, if I had to pick three, I probably would go sexual and reproductive health, probably intimacy and sensuality. I would like to talk about one of my colleagues uses the difference between some tickling, like playing, being able to play touch with somebody but then what is considered inappropriate touch or touch without your consent. I think understanding that some touch is going to feel good to you even if you don't want to. Even if you don't want to be tickled, you still might laugh because it felt good or it made you laugh but you didn't consent to it. You didn't want to be tickled, like understanding those boundaries.
And also understanding what it means to feel good. If you get this ice cream–I love ice cream–and I just think about like how good it feels to get a cone or a cup of ice cream that tastes really good and the joy that it brings. You don't have to tell your child, “Oh, this is sexual pleasure.” We can say, “Yeah, it’s pleasure. You like ice cream, you really like ice cream,” and have conversations about what else do you like? So that they can start thinking about what they like at young ages so that when you get into these intimate relationships, you don't have to sit down and just say, hmm, what do I like? Or why don't I like that? Like you can have that dialogue already.
And then of course knowing proper terms for your body parts and being able to articulate that at a young age as a protective factor and to help with conversations later on with your parents or whatever nurturing environment that you're in.
Dr. Joy: When you are working with clients, Tanya, do you primarily do more kind of speaking to large groups? Do you work with like individuals or couples? Tell me a little bit more about how you work.
Tanya: I primarily do large groups, whether they're sexual health professionals themselves or aspiring to be, college students, also faith community congregants and different religious groups around the area, primarily Christian, for my work and my perspective. I do a lot of large groups or at least when I say large I mean more than at least 10 people or something like that. I have done some one on one counseling so I applaud therapists; I just don't believe I have the capacity to do that because I'm such an empath. Like I want to fix everything and cry with you and all of that, but I feel like I can do good at *[inaudible 0:14:22] counseling. I have some counseling certifications specifically around HIV too, so I'm able to do that. So I do some one on one, but mainly large groups.
Dr. Joy: Got it. And where do you typically start with that work? Like what do you feel like is foundational to know when you're working with a large group?
Tanya: I think that you have to know thyself. I'm doing my research on comfort and capability with community-based sexuality educators. In order for you to do this well, and even if you're not degreed, like whoever you are, if this is a conversation you want to have with folks, you have to be comfortable in who you are and also know that there are some blind spots within yourself. Somebody could say like I used to think, “No one can say anything because I've seen it all, heard it all, said it all,” and then you have that moment where you're like, “Oh, but that threw me for a loop.” I think being able to know who you are in your own sexual beingness is important. You don’t have to share that with folks, but be comfortable in who you are.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm, got you. Is there a spectrum as it relates to sexual health or sexuality that is healthy versus unhealthy? Or do we not want to look at things related to sexuality as unhealthy?
Tanya: A lot of people are in the viewpoint of not necessarily unhealthy. We even play around with like what's safe and safer and it's challenging because I'm from the thought of just let people be. With the exception of causing unwanted harm to someone else, harming children, anything that doesn't involve consent I think can be healthy. Like there's some things you just like and you just want and then there are other things that you might be willing to compromise and try just out of curiosity. I think one thinks about healthy when it's causing yourself or somebody else unwanted harm.
Dr. Joy: Got you. That makes sense. Yeah, because if we think about like just the history of mental health diagnosis and things that have been deemed “unhealthy” or abnormal, we know that where we were as a field even 20, 30 years ago is not where we are today. And so I do think it's important to not kind of demonize or make something seem abnormal simply because it's what someone enjoys, barring the exceptions that you've listed.
Dr. Joy: Something else that I think that we don't talk enough about are people who maybe identify as asexual or aromantic. Can you tell us more about that?
Tanya: It's interesting that you bring it up because when I'm teaching, especially, and folks are talking about just overall sexual identity and what that includes... So that includes your attraction, how you identify, maybe if you use the term orientation, etc. And so even when we're talking about orientation and using acronyms like LGBTQIA and then everybody's like, what’s the A? Then some folks will say ally and other folks will say asexual and then that piques another level of curiosity.
And so I think with asexuality, it's something that I think has gotten more attention. And I want to believe, although I have no research to confirm this, that it's allowing people a little bit of affirmation of why they might not have been attracted to someone in a certain way while the other people have been, if that makes sense. Like, sometimes you just wonder what's wrong with you or what's going on because it seems like you're different than everyone else. And I think having conversations about asexuality is important. And even aromantic, so not having that romantic attraction to other folks.
I'm going to use this because I don't know if we can say it but you can tell me. In that one of my former students just posted about Girlfriends. You know Girlfriends is on Netflix right now, and so they posted about Lynn and William started having sex and they were just like, I just wish that never happened. Although I remember maybe one episode where it got complicated. For the most part, it was kind of like neither one of them were romantically attracted to each other but they were fulfilling sexual needs that we have as human beings for one another. And I know other folks may say, well, that crosses a line of our friendship, but they were two consenting adults and they were getting parts of their sexual needs met without a romantic attraction to one another. And I think that also is something people didn’t see in the story because it just seemed like there was more a line of the friends with benefits than it was about Lynn and William getting their sexual needs met in that capacity.
Dr. Joy: And you are seeing those as two different things? Because I think that's how I would have thought about it, too, as like friends with benefits.
Tanya: Yeah. I'm seeing those as two different things only because there's an opportunity for a romantic attraction in my mind with friends with benefits. Some people do come to an agreement, but I feel like Lynn and William had a clear agreement that sometimes friends with benefits have too many unspoken rules.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Yeah, I definitely would agree with that. We've talked about that on the podcast like how to assess whether that is something that you really want to get involved in and knowing all the benefits and the risks that you're taking in a relationship like that. I had forgotten that William and Lynn slept together and now I'm still in the middle of my rewatch and I'm trying to think about like, how was that handled when William and Joan started dating? I don't remember if there was any conversation about the fact that William and Lynn had been together.
Tanya: I'm not sure either. Now I have to go back and look!
Dr. Joy: Yeah, because I don't know, was it public among the friend group that William and Lynn were getting together?
Tanya: Now, that I can't remember, but I feel like at least Maya knew. I feel like Maya knew and I can't remember why or how she might have found out. Because I feel like I think she used to say like somebody was nasty.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. Maya did say that quite a lot. Stay tuned for the answers to these questions after we finish rewatching! You talked earlier, Tanya, about the importance of even talking to young people about enjoying things like ice cream and that kind of thing. But I'm wondering as we grow up, are there other things that we need to think about that would help to create an environment for positive sexual experiences and pleasure?
Tanya: I do. I think that we need to think about… And I'm just really about introspection and reflection, so thinking about why you might not like a certain thing or why you're desirous of something and being able to articulate. I know, at least in my small circle of even friends and colleagues, some of the biggest challenges has been around communicating with their partners and being able to articulate kind of the why. Not necessarily that you have to explain to someone something, but to really reflect on what could be some of the reasons that I don't like a certain behavior or that I really, really desire this more than I can articulate. So being able to reflect. I think when we look back on our childhood, when we look back on past relationships, we can get a better understanding as to the “why” and then we can communicate that.
And I think that when we go into new relationships, especially as adults, if you have like that past, you take those past relationship expectations into the new relationship sometimes. And you expect someone to kiss you or hold you, respond to you or even understand your love languages the way that someone else did, and that could be very disappointing.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. And I'm glad you talked about the communication piece because I do think that is something that comes up often in our community, about how to even maybe tell a partner that you maybe have a kink that might not be something that people expect. Do you have tips for how to maybe negotiate those conversations?
Tanya: I think I will call it the “before the lights go off,” although lights don't always go off. But just having like a chat to say what is it that you like or have you tried this? And sometimes you might have to use a crutch, like maybe you’ll say “I saw this on TV. I was wondering if you like this or would you want to try this?” I feel like my community oftentimes are very… And it is private but I feel like they don't often embrace something that isn't just standard, what you've seen on TV or read in a book or tried yourself. So anything that other people… or if you haven't experienced it, it's seen as taboo or freaky. We like to use the term freaky in my small community when it's kind of like, no, it's just different. It doesn't make it wrong; it's just different or it's new to you.
And so being able to ask people to take risks with you. Vulnerability and risk taking, if we go back to that circles model, is within the circle of intimacy. Think how risky it is to tell someone about one of your fetishes. Like you are getting that close to them and you want to experience that with them or just disclose it to them. That's risky emotionally and is a level of vulnerability that is really important to relationships, too.
Dr. Joy: I'm trying to keep track of all my thoughts because you said so many good things that I'm trying to connect now and I'm like, no, I don't want to lose that thought. But that what you just said helped me. Like I said, I've not seen this model that you're talking about so it sounds like some of the circles overlap but it does feel like there is an important conversation to have around the intimacy piece and then the pleasure. Because it does feel like people will often be very comfortable just getting naked and having sex but those conversations that you're talking about, that really deepen intimacy, are much more difficult for people than sometimes just the act of sex.
Tanya: Exactly. I wholeheartedly agree with that.
Dr. Joy: And is there a way that you need to do some work around the intimacy to really enhance pleasure?
Tanya: I think when you start connecting and sharing. Communication is not just about articulating your needs; it's also about being able to share and connect. And so that allows you when you're able to… I'll use the term let your guard down or let somebody in into you, then I think that that's what facilitates that. I think you're able to gain that level of trust. And to be quite honest, I had a conversation with my class and they were saying, well, how long does that take? And to be quite honest, it could take someone like a couple of hours because of the connection they have with somebody, where it might take somebody else a few years or months to actually get to that place.
Dr. Joy: And another thing that often comes up in our community, Tanya, you've kind of touched on this a little bit, is having conversations about STIs. If you've been diagnosed with something and you’re in a partnership or if you have a history of a diagnosis and are newly dating, like when do you share that? How do you share? I'm curious to hear if you have any tips about that.
Tanya: Yeah. Now, that's a big topic. I came into this work, like I said, doing HIV and STI prevention testing and counseling and it's so much stigma around having an STD. We've been socialized to think somebody is either clean or dirty, and dirty meaning they have an STI. But probably when we think about it, the majority of people at least have had one or been exposed to it. I probably shouldn't go that far because I don't have the data in front of me, but I feel confident that that's how easy some things are actually transmitted from person to person. And some of them are STI like herpes that can be transmitted in a non-sexual sense, like from mother to child or something like that. I just feel like our work has been so rooted on “this is a bad thing.” It's something that you don't necessarily want, but it's not necessarily like this is the worst thing and for some people that can happen.
I know I'm saying that from a very strange perspective but hear me out in that I worked in a student health center on a college campus, I worked in a local health department and I work in a community-based organization where people were diagnosed with HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, all the things. And I think more so on the college campus, nobody wanted to come to Student Health just because we offered STI testing or that assumption of, if you're in Student Health, then you must have something because that's primarily what we did. We had to let people know that our services were for everybody, try to change the community or the culture of the campus to even offer up that STI testing is also a prevention method as well. So if you know what your test results are, know your status, then you're less likely to pass it onto somebody else.
To get that into the world… It was hard on the campus but to get that mindset in the world is even harder because we say such negative things about folks when they do have a diagnosis. It makes it hard for them to share with other people and to sometimes even seek treatment for whatever it is that they have.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. I worked on college campuses as well and completely understand what you're talking about and it does take a lot of effort to really kind of push that conversation forward around “there are lots of different reasons why you could be in Student Health that don't involve necessarily an STI or testing.” And even if that's the case, then making it okay to kind of be in charge of your own health information, like to be armed with facts so that you can then make decisions accordingly.
Tanya: I have some friends who are both sexual educators and have disclosed publicly their STI status and from their perspective, they encourage people to be open and honest to kind of normalize the conversation period. So not only are you able to… when we were talking about how soon can you gain trust? It also boosts up that trust factor because you just shared this thing with me. You trusted me enough to do it. And as the relationship continues to grow if it does, it also allows for communication to say, “Well, I'm not afraid to talk about STIs or HIV with you because we already started out the conversation this way.”
Dr. Joy: I'm curious, Tanya, have you seen any similarities between what's happening even with COVID testing and relating it to STI testing? It feels like there's some of that same stigma.
Tanya: Sadly, it is. Again, using my family and they know who they are, ultimately with our family not having conversations with our cousins who were infected with HIV and passed, we had the same situation where there were cousins who had COVID but they didn't tell anyone. And they were still not… I won't say social distancing. They were supposed to be quarantining and social isolating and they are just going around, still visiting people or running a public-facing business instead of telling people and trying to figure out. And I struggle with it because I'm like, well, here's a business owner, if you have COVID, then you have no business, you have no income. But at the same time, you're putting other people at risk and it was just the secrecy around it. And it finally just came out and we don't even know if the whole story is out.
But a lot of that is going on because there is a stigma. There is a stigma with any condition except I don't ever remember anybody asking, like, how did you get cancer? I feel like people will ask you even with COVID, how did you get it? Because they want to know what were you doing that put you at risk. So that will be the same way as like, what were you doing sexually that put you at risk for whatever disease or infection?
Dr. Joy: I'm wondering, Tanya, and I know that much of that reaction of course is a way to kind of protect ourselves. If you were infected with COVID and there was something that you were doing that was risky, then I feel better about myself because I didn't do that risky thing? Of course, not knowing that we can get COVID very simply even if we do everything that we can to try to protect ourselves. And so I’m wondering how we can kind of expand our thinking from it being a personal responsibility to more of a system kind of a thing. Both with COVID and STIs.
Tanya: I think the systems approach is to be able to normalize the fact that some people are going to get sick with different things, whether it's COVID or an STI but we can lessen that when we're able to talk about it. Think how much communication was needed to combat... When we first heard about COVID, we weren't even given a lot of the information. There was still information withheld, I believe, from us and so the same thing happens when we're talking about STIs or HIV. If we were able to normalize having the conversations, not demonizing folks who were either infected or in treatment or care for different conditions, I think that would help build that space for combating it. Because now we're having conversations like, well, you know what? I'd love to have sex with you tonight but I'm taking the medication for my chlamydia, I need to wait until I'm done with that before we can engage. By the way, let’s talk about how you protect yourself from STIs or etc. Have you ever been tested?
You know, it seems weird to ask people. We get on that scale. As soon as we go to the doctor's office, we get on a scale, we urinate in a cup and I don't think there's any anxiety around telling somebody that's what you do when you go to the doctor's office. But if you start asking about STI testing, a lot of people do feel weird about it, even if they're negative, because it's almost like you're insinuating that they might have something.
Dr. Joy: So your stance is really to just kind of make this a part of your regular kind of dating conversations. And I'm guessing probably not first date, unless you're gonna sleep with the person, but just in casual dating. That you start to have some of these conversations pretty early when it looks like you may even be heading towards becoming intimate with one another, physically intimate.
Tanya: I think so. Because I even think about when you're on a job interview, not that they ask you inappropriate or frustrating questions, but they do ask you all these questions and you have to decide and they have to decide. You have to decide if they hire you, are you going to take the job and they have to decide based on your answers, do they want to hire you? I feel like that's kind of the perspective. It’s like, let's just ask some hard questions and make some hard decisions.
Dr. Joy: And I think I see this most often with diagnoses like maybe herpes or HIV, ones that are not necessarily easily controlled or like there's a medication you can take for seven days and then you don't have to worry about it. Would you still suggest people being open about that very early in relationships?
Tanya: I think with HIV in particular, and I feel like both are stigmatized and that's how I started getting into the holistic area of sexuality. It’s that with HIV, there's a lot of risk of disclosing that can be detrimental. So not saying that it wouldn't happen with herpes, there's your voluntary disclosure of it with the intimate partner but then there's the involuntary disclosure that you can't control–should you break up, should they decide not to continue seeing you–even if it's like on a first date. That requires, for some people, a level of critical thinking to say, am I willing to take this risk? Because there are going to be the pros and the cons with disclosing for any condition and I think any person has to be at a place where they are willing to at least sit down and address the cons, knowing you might not be able to prevent them.
Dr. Joy: Got you. Okay. You started talking earlier, Tanya, about the level of introspection and reflection that you need to do to kind of really be able to approach this work. And I know something else that has come up in our community often is the faith roots like you talked about and how so much of faith and religion, in a lot of ways for a lot of us, has really kind of gone against sexuality and sexual pleasure specifically. And so I'm wondering if there are some questions or ways to start digging into that for yourself if that is something that you're really struggling with. So having trouble kind of engaging with sexual pleasure because of religion and spirituality.
Tanya: Yeah. I think for that, it's like that values reflection of why do I feel this way? What bothers me about it? What scares me about it? We do something in sexuality education called a sexual attitude reassessment or SAR. I don't know if you've heard of it, but it forces you… I don't want to say force, but you go through it willingly and it addresses topics that might be seen as triggering or offensive or different or challenging. And I think going through something like that, not as a sexuality professional. Because you can do it for a professional or people who just want to process some things for themselves can go through one. But it forces you to face kind of the things that you're most uncomfortable with and then how they reconcile with why you feel that way.
In my experience, when I think about, let's say, same gender loving couples and some of the people I know in my faith community, that's a challenge for them. So then asking them, what is it about that, that challenges you? What happened or what have you heard or seen that made you feel this way about this type of relationship? What does it do for you in terms of emotional and vulnerability? And just sitting down and having those conversations with yourself. That's kind of where I am with it.
Dr. Joy: I'm glad you shared that, Tanya, because I wasn't aware that people who were not training to be a sex therapist or a sexuality educator could do a SAR.
Tanya: Yeah. I forget, there were two places… Of course, COVID, but there are two places. I want to say like Vermont, up that way, and then someone had one in the South or the Philadelphia area, too. I think Widener was connected to that one. And yeah, you could do that and you can process some things. I am pretty sure we don't have hundreds of people wanting to go to it because it's pretty intense.
Dr. Joy: Are there pieces of it that you could maybe think about for yourself if you can't necessarily afford to do that? Or I would imagine also, I don't know the two that you're speaking of, but I would imagine there are some cultural pieces to sexuality that we would want to make sure that are a part of that conversation for it to be a safe place to engage.
Tanya: Oh, absolutely. And there are some SARs… Again, I'm going to professional now, but people can create them where it's for black, indigenous and other people of color only or making sure that you address culture and intersectionality within the SAR, and that's one of the huge things. I have some colleagues, that's their only SAR that they conduct because of the lack of inclusion in sexuality work and the whitewashing of sexuality overall. And so that's their main intent when they're doing SARs. I love that.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. I'm glad that people are offering those and I would imagine that maybe even some other sexuality educators or sex therapists maybe do this work as a part of the work they do with individual clients or maybe smaller groups.
Dr. Joy: Okay. Tanya, I want to also hear, just because I'm not as familiar and I have little ones–they're four and six so they’re really just kind of starting school. But I think about my own education with health education, thinking about that one circle that you talked about in terms of reproductive health and sexual health. I'm curious to know if we are seeing advancements in terms of health classes or like what kinds of curriculums are being shared in schools that have a much more sex-positive focus?
Tanya: Well, Joy, there's good news and there’s bad news. This is the honest truth so I don't know if you want the good news or the bad news.
Dr. Joy: Let's start with the good news.
Tanya: The good news is from an overall standpoint, in my experience, the curricula are not changing per se. There's been advancements. Even here in North Carolina when I was doing some work with working at the department of education in 2009, our standards changed for reproductive health and safety education. But ultimately that's just a small bit of it and a lot of the evidence-based curricula that's being used in communities and schools, that stuff was published and set out in the nineties and the early 2000s, so it's not as inclusive. It's not as affirming.
The good news on that is that educators are realizing that these are the things that they're mandated and required to teach but they're learning for themselves how to be more sex- positive, how to be inclusive, how to change language. Keeping still with the fidelity portion of the materials that they're using, but expanding it so that it's more holistic in their teaching. So it's really about the teacher themselves than it is about the actual materials that are out there. But then with the use of technology, understanding technology, there are online portals that people can use, videos, podcasts, etc.
Dr. Joy: Basically, what you're saying is that if we want to make sure that the young people in our lives have a more sex-positive approach to sexuality or more positive approach to sexuality, it's really going to be on us to make sure that we're sharing materials and books and videos and those kinds of things, to start those conversations because it's unlikely they'll get it in schools.
Tanya: Right. And I always use this analogy because I'm horrible at math, but I say in North Carolina, we have 115 school districts. If you multiply that by the number of schools that actually are teaching this content, multiply that by the number of teachers who are actually providing it, then that's the number of ways you're actually gonna get sexual education in the state. Because it's going to always land with what the teacher can and feel supported and is knowledgeable in doing, all the way up to the superintendent of the school district supporting them doing it.
Dr. Joy: Got it. Tanya, can you share any resources that you really enjoy for people who maybe want to dig more into some of the things that you've talked about today?
Tanya: I really like books. I feel like my library is extensive because I like old books. Like right now, I'm reading a book from 1983 on sexuality just to see how things have evolved, so those are some good books. But I know you have my colleague, Dr. Lexx James, she has a cool book that's for children on teaching about body parts. I'm looking over there now to see, like there's volumes of books around sex and how it's changed so I think books are a good resource.
And I also like reflecting back on old sitcoms. Like we were talking about Girlfriends, but like Good Times is a classic way to discuss sex and sexuality with various people because there were so many episodes that really looked at gender and representation, etc. I hate to say TV, but TV is also a good way to do that.
Dr. Joy: Now I am very curious to hear some examples from Good Times because there are so many episodes but I don't think I've ever looked at it through a sexuality or a kind of information lens in that way. Can you give me an example of something that you might use from Good Times?
Tanya: Oh yeah. There was one episode where, what's his name? Philip Michael Thomas was in it and he was dating Thelma. He was a college student and working on either his dissertation or thesis. I believe the thesis title was something similar to like Black Sexuality and the Ghetto Girl or something like that. And it was a conversation of Thelma was reading it, but her father, James, saw it and thought it was okay because he thought JJ was reading it. And he was even okay, although Michael was younger, that it might've been Michael reading it. But he flipped his lid when he found out Thelma was reading it and so that played out like the gender dynamics around that.
When I see some of those episodes, I try to dig deep. Plus, I see myself as a black woman in Thelma, Willona and Florida. It’s like, that's all the people that were in my life at the time and I see myself in them.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. I think it is interesting to kind of look at some things that we looked at when we were maybe younger, and now from an older approach and through a professional lens because of course your work then informs how you're viewing media, which is interesting. I love that. I appreciate you sharing that. Anything else that you want to share with the audience, Tanya? Any other resources and definitely share with us where we can find you online as well as any social media handles.
Tanya: Oh yes. Some great resources include Sex Positive Families for those who have young people or kiddos in their life, so that they can have conversations, especially as a trusted adult. Or most importantly parents because that is a lot of stress, especially now with COVID. Afro Sexology is a great resource too. I like to use some of their worksheets when I'm talking about pleasure and that conversation is like, what do you like and what you don't like or your fetishes and your fantasies. So Afro Sexology. Those are my main go-to ones.
My contact information is TanyaMBass.com and I put videos up there, but you definitely can contact me and get information from me and on Instagram as well.
Dr. Joy: Perfect. We appreciate you sharing that, Tanya. And I appreciate you and Afro Sexology and Sex Positive Families because something you said earlier around using, “Oh, I saw this on TV,” to something that you want to try. I really feel like the work that you all do gives people that in, right? If I see a sex educator share something on Instagram, then that's an easy thing for me to show to my partner and say, “Oh, did you see this thing that Tanya was talking about? Maybe this is something that we can try.” I do think it makes sexual education just much more accessible for people and gives them language that they might not have had otherwise.
Tanya: Absolutely. That's so true.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing with us. I appreciate it.
Tanya: Thank you.
Dr. Joy: I'm so glad Tanya was able to share her expertise with us today. To learn more about her and her work, be sure to visit the show notes at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/session174. And don't forget to grab your tickets to join us Friday night for our Sex Positive September Celebration at SexPositiveSeptember.com.
If you're looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory. And if you want to continue digging into this topic and connect with some other sisters in your area, come on over and join as in the Yellow Couch Collective where we take a deeper dive into the topics from the podcast and just about everything else. You can join us at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/YCC.