Towards “Good” Sex: Concepts from Music and Pop Culture
Posted by Quasheba A
April 6, 2023
Disclaimer: This blog includes references to sex, genitalia, and implicit erotic and nude imagery. For the purposes of this blog, the context of “sex” will only encompass sexual experiences outside of sexual violence.
In her hit single “Tragic” from the album Heaux Tales, Jazmine Sullivan details an unsatisfying sexual experience with a casual sex partner. Throughout the song, Sullivan discusses her sexual desires and expectations that were not prioritized in the encounter with the guy. Repurposing an audio clip of Representative Maxine Waters’s response to former US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s during a congressional hearing, repeating the phrase “reclaiming my time,” listeners are introduced to the idea of power and agency within sexual partnerships. Over captivating lyrics, Sullivan adds to Black popular culture discourse about the concept of “bad sex.” In heteronormative sexual situations, this looks like having “d*ck that is tragic,” which leads to dissatisfied sexual partners, especially among cis-straight women.
One central theme within the song relates to the Pleasure Gap and how marginalized groups, specifically Black women, seek to navigate pleasure under social conditions that do not prioritize their well-being and sexual desires. In sexual encounters, including casual sex and hookups, there are sexual scripts that reify greater social norms and oppressive ideologies. Sexual scripts are the norms and prescribed behaviors people may abide by when interacting with sexual partners and dating. For example, a typical sexual script in TV and porn has femme-presenting individuals portraying submissive roles compared to masculine-presenting individuals portraying dominant roles during sex.
In the song, Sullivan juxtaposes the high standard she holds herself to—to be “good” at sex and please her sexual partner—against the guy who was “bad” at sex because he prioritized his own orgasmic pleasure and did not put in the effort to please her. She stresses, “Why do you be looking for me to do all the work?” and “yeah I ride you like I’m at the car dealer.” Sullivan further emphasizes that she adheres to the sexual script for Black women to appease men’s ego and confidence even though she is dissatisfied, saying, “and now I’m done pretending that you getting me off.” Even further, Sullivan draws attention to disappointment with her sexual experience in part because the guy exuded so much sexual confidence, belting, “who was lying when they told you, you was all that?”
The overarching themes of sexual politics, power imbalances, and deficits of pleasure faced by Black women and other marginalized groups within the Black community have influenced my own curiosity and exploration of how sex and pleasure is conceptualized within the realm of pop culture. Sexual politics, which are the ways certain groups wage power over other groups through sex, is also a central theme impacting the quality of sexual experiences of Black women that interests me.
Black Pop Culture and Music Portrayals of “Bad” and “Good” Sex
With this topic surrounding “bad sex” and “good sex,” how do Black people define good sex within mainstream discourse? From the observations I have made from consuming music and media, the indicators of what is “bad” and “good” sex are nuanced in nature and often are discussed within the heteronormative context.
The qualities of “good” vs. “bad” sex are often related to the physical act of sex itself and to each of the partners’ genitalia. For example, in Heaux Tales, Sullivan’s song “Tragic” explores “bad sex,” while her song on the deluxe version of the album, “BPW (Best P*ssy in the World),” focuses on “good sex.” Having top-notch “d*ck” and “p*ssy” in physical appearance, sexual performance, and the ability to perform under sexual expectations are emphasized in popular discourse. The physical appearance of genitalia, as discussed in music and media, often refers to the color, length, girth, width, and shape. Sexual performance often refers to the quality of movements while using one’s genitalia, such as “the stroke,” the ability to “throw it back,” and “riding.” The sexual expectation for good sex involves the ability to become erect and aroused, typically referring to “hardness” and “wetness.”
Additionally, being provided with these esteemed titles is the source of sexual confidence for the person. The lack of bodily lubrication and an erection is typically seen as “bad” sex and thus having “bad p*ssy” and “bad d*ck.” As said earlier, the sexual politics exhibited within sexual scripts in Black heteronormative sexual experiences prioritizes the orgasms of cis-straight men over the other partner involved.
Limitations of Mainstream Discourse
While there are important conversations being had within music and media about the pleasure deficit experienced among marginalized groups, including Black women, this conversation maintains orgasms as the sole indicator of pleasurable and enjoyable sexual experiences. Music and media should address other aspects of what “good” and “bad” sex is outside of just orgasms and genitalia. For instance, interrogating the sexual stereotypes of Black people and how that impacts sexual performance and sexual expectations should be discussed. Lastly, expanding how sexual experiences are discussed beyond heteronormative sexual scripts can provide an opportunity to voice the quality of sexual experiences of even further marginalized groups such as Black LGBTQ+ people.
Towards “Good” sex:
“Good sex” is consensual and enjoyable for all parties involved and is inclusive of solo, partnered, and group experiences.
“Good sex” is subjective. We all enter sexual experiences differently and experience sexual pleasure uniquely. The representations of “good sex” portrayed in music, media, and pop culture may not always be aligned with what you want, and that is okay! Being in community with other Black Queer and Trans sexual health advocates, I have learned there is a diverse outlook on what “good sex” can look like. The heteronormative options presented as the standard, one that centers penetration, can limit the totality of the experience. Some people enjoy “foreplay” more, and some people prefer not to have penetration at all. Even the terms “foreplay” and “penetration” can have different meanings among people.
“Good Sex” involves quality communication: Having conversations with potential sexual partners about how you each see a “good” sexual experience could be an effective way of discussing expectations —how does each person conceptualize pleasure? And what kinds of sexual acts might you engage in? This can be in a group or partnered setting, and it is also important to have that conversation with yourself about what you want. Communication is a great tool for boundary setting and discussing communication styles during the sexual experience itself.
“Good Sex” is validating to all parties: In partnered and group settings, it is important to honor one another’s humanity. Through a sexual and reproductive justice lens, the sexual well-being of all involved encompasses sexual agency, bodily autonomy, and empowerment.
Figure 1: “Slick,” Mixed-Media/Digital Painting, 2023
Take Home Prompt: How do you define good sex?
- What do you envision a good and enjoyable sexual experience to be?
- What are some ways and how would you like to communicate that with your partner?