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Sweet Like Brwn Suga: A fight for the sexual liberation of Black women


The Black Sexualities course taught by Dr. M. Nicole Horsley has inspired students at Ithaca College to rethink the way that they view Black female sexuality. Horsely’s course aims to expand the discussion of sexual liberation for Black women and tackle the complicated history of their sexuality in the United States.
“Initially, what propelled me to create the course…was thinking about the lack of attention that we give to Black females and Black sexuality period across the gamut devoid of gender,” Horsley said. “There’s a whole historical kind of understanding…a political understanding to our sexuality, our sexual ideals, ideologies and pleasures…I wanted to have a theoretical, and I think, radicalized conversation around black sexuality and what that means.”
While Horsley’s classroom creates an open space to talk about the sexual liberation of Black bodies, she highlights the difficulties understanding Black female sexuality due to outside constructions of blackness driven by Eurocentric points of view and ideals.
Within her course, she discusses how Black women’s sexuality is talked about in terms of shame and respectability politics leading Black women to be taught that they should conceal their bodies and be ashamed of them.
Photos taken by Maya Lewis for her photo book titled Brown Sugar

“[Black women] have been taught to be ashamed of who we are and not to embrace the fullness of ourselves, our sensual selves…we’ve been taught that our bodies are excessive, they’re grotesque, they’re ugly, when we know that’s a lie,” Horsley said. “Colonialism did a number on so much of what we think about and how we’re able to exist and breathe.”

Inspired by Horsely’s teachings of how to decolonize the understandings of Black female sexuality, students Maya Lewis and Sofia Meadows-Muriel created the Instagram page Brwn Suga for people of color to organically talk about sexual education and pleasure, and to dismantle stigmas surrounding these topics.

“We’re both very passionate about sexual education,” Lewis said. “As a woman and gender studies minor…it has opened that passion and interest for me in terms of advocating for Black women and Black sexual rights.”

Sofia Meadows-Muriel, co-founder of Brwn Suga. Image provided by Meadows-Muriel.
Lewis and Meadows-Muriel hope that the followers of their page learn about sexual education within the realm of their identities.
“I feel like society and people, especially in the academia field, can underrate the importance and the power that sex has,” Lewis said. Through the information that they publish on their Instagram account, Lewis said she hopes people will become more comfortable and “be able to explore themselves and maybe break boundaries that they had in the past.”
In order to continue this dialogue surrounding sexual liberation, Lewis and Meadows-Muriel have collaborated with We Roam Freely, a non-profit organization dedicated to uplifting women and non-binary artists of color, to conduct Instagram lives that talk about sex work, the adultification of Black girls and the concept of virginity in media and the arts.
Maya Lewis, co-founder of Brwn Suga. Image provided by Lewis.
“Black women have not had the space and the freedom to feel sexually liberated,” Lewis said. “We aim to kind of dismantle a lot of those stigmas that are attached to the Black female body that will prevent Black women or a femme identifying person from doing that.”
Horsley said that she is proud of the work that Lewis and Meadows-Muriel do with Brwn Suga.
“It takes us into the inner lives of who they are, as amazing women, Black women, as sensual subjects, as human beings…they’re healers,” Horsley said. “I’m just really in awe of what they’ve developed and I look forward to seeing it grow.”
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