After years of wearing wigs and quick weaves, I recently decided to give my hair a break and try protective styles—and the transition sexually liberated me in ways I never expected. For years, I’d navigated anxiety and insecurities around body image and my sexual performance, but I can also say I’ve spent countless sexual encounters stressed about the security of my wig. No matter the position, I was always asking myself, is it slipping? Lace fronts were the biggest cockblockers of my 20s.
Unfortunately, this fear comes from a place of experience. Years ago, I decided to hook up with an old fling. It was the beginning of my sophomore year in college; my shorts were tight and my wig was even tighter—at least, I thought it was. We were getting past the foreplay and things were heating up (due to my dorm’s lack of air conditioning); as we switched positions he decided to pull my hair...
And as much as I enjoy an edge-snatching orgasm, this was not what I had in mind.
In seconds, I went from feeling like Beyoncé to feeling like ODB. I was mortified; neither of us knew what to do, but we managed to both finish. The embarrassment and anxiety that followed me over the years just about ruined sex for me.
That is, until recently, when my waist-length box braids gave my hair a much-needed break and my sex life the spark it needed. After my first week with my braids, I found myself in the middle of an intense session with one of my partners experiencing all of the pleasure and none of the anxiety. Sex with braids was far more fluid and freeing than anything I had ever experienced with a wig.
This was the moment I realized that as a black woman, my choice of hair had a major influence on the kind of sex I was having. We hardly have conversations about sexual experiences as black people because it’s a long-standing taboo—and we definitely aren’t having conversations about the many ways our identity and experiences shape how we find pleasure. There are discussions happening every day about the impact that our blackness has on our lives and how we show up in spaces, but never in the realm of pleasure.
I found myself having the clichéd discussion, bragging about that recent orgasm over drinks with my girls, when the versatility of hair occurred to me: I wasn’t alone in my lace front paranoia. Even my friends who wear their hair in natural styles and blown out expressed their frustrations about sweating their hair out and how they policed their performance during sex according to how “hot and sweaty” the session was.
Their transparency was a relief and quite familiar, as we’ve had the same conversation about how other physical activities affect our hair, such as yoga and cycling classes, but we’d never given thought to how our hair showed up during sex. This conversation led me to some self-inventory: Knowing how many times I’ve used my hair as an excuse to not work out, what other ways was my hair holding me back, especially during sex?
I then realized the restrictions I had set around where and how I had sex. Shower sex was an automatic ‘hell no’ because I was never going to intentionally get my hair wet for any reason, let alone for some dick. My appearance before, during and after sex was too important for me to take that risk and I was too insecure to put on a bonnet or shower cap, so those weren’t even options.
So, I decided to put my box braids to the test—we had shower sex and I got my braids wet. The braids were heavy as hell but the sex was everything I thought it would be. I was so annoyed that I’d been depriving myself of all of this pleasure on account of what I considered to be “pretty sex.” Had I just tied my hair up before I could’ve known this kind of pleasure!
Now, I’m at the point where if you can’t lay up with me in my bonnet, do you even deserve me in my bundles? These braids opened up doors I didn’t know existed. I went from paranoid vanilla sex to having kinks and questions I never knew I had. Shower sex was just the tip of the iceberg; next thing I knew, I was getting my hair pulled and exploring masochism and getting my hair wet while practicing fluid play, y’all.
All this to say it’s hard to believe I was really out here wasting time in sex stores, blowing my coins on lube, sex toys, and crotchless panties in an attempt to spice things up. Apparently, all I needed was a trip to the beauty supply around the corner and an afternoon with my favorite kitchen beautician.
Brandi Collins-Calhoun is a menstrual maven, pleasure-positive baby mother and birth worker writing and critiquing culture through a reproductive justice lens as a member of Echoing Ida.