I was reading a memoir today and the author was telling a story about this time at a sleepover when she had to “sleep pretty.” You know, that thing when you have to catch some zzz’s but you lie deathly still on your back and don’t move your head on the pillow cos you just got your ‘do did? Or you’re with a new guy so you couldn’t wrap your hair up in front of him but you don’t want to wake up looking like Buckwheat? We talk about hair and sex so much as black women. But rarely the two together, which is kinda weird. I don’t know about you but my hair has always had a starring role in my romantic relationships.
Back when I had loose natural hair, in the middle of hot and steamy foreplay, suddenly a thought would cross my mind: “Yo, could I get a yeast infection from my boyfriend fingering me, after his hands had been all up in my afro — which contained no less than five store-bought hair products?” “Is Taliah Waajid Lock it Up Gel safe for coochie consumption?” The thought would pop into my head and refuse to leave. I’d be enjoying the fingering but trying to map out where the nearest Walgreens was, just in case a chick needed to get some Monistat. If I wasn’t asking myself sex-related hair questions when I was getting it on, I was wondering how dude felt about some aspect of my hair: Did he like how it felt? Would he mess up my twist-out or tug too hard on my Marley braids? The first time I kissed my college boyfriend I had wood smoke in my braid extensions (from a barbeque gone awry). I remember crossing my fingers that he wouldn’t smell it.
As that relationship blossomed, my hair would become part of the foreplay. After I’d worn those smoky Marley Twists for a couple of months, my ex helped me take them out. Every time he pulled a braid extension off and liberated a lock of my real hair he would slide it between his fingers, slick with oil and dirt. Then he would make this satisfied sound like he’d eaten something yummy. Seated on the carpet between his open thighs, my heart and my coochie would swell at the same time. I would get wet as hell. Even more smitten. A dude who could take out some Kanekalon? I was going to marry this man. The moments of doubt only set in that summer when my well-moisturized coils left coconut oil stains on the very expensive pillows in his parent’s house, and both of us were scrambling figuring out what to do. And the time when I took out my braid extensions on vacation, and his white mother saw me go into the bathroom with twists and come out with a matted afro, and looked like she had been caught in the matrix. And he thought that was both racist and hilarious.
He himself, didn’t really care what state my hair was in. But I did.
As sistas, hair carries weight with us. And we take that weight into the bedroom. Don’t we all know a couple of girls who can’t relax during sex because they are too busy trying to keep the guy’s hands out of their weaves lest it snag in a track? I’ve talked to sistas who won’t have sex unless they are on top, because they don’t want to risk their wig shifting or coming off in some acrobatic position. I have some loc’ed friends who prefer to have sex with their hair wrapped up and out of their eyes, but wear their hair down because the guy begged them to — he’d always had a fantasy about being ridden by a Rasta girl with thick ropy dreads swirling around her face. There are undoubtedly some naturalistas who won’t take a shower with a man because they got those big Tracy Ellis Ross curls from a perm rod set and the water would snitch that they actually have 4c hair. I know girls who wait until the guy falls asleep before they put on their bonnet and wake up before him so they can take it off. And everyone, from women in my family to girlfriends from school, has a story about getting a set of cornrows or braid extensions that snatched their edges so tight they couldn’t even make out because their whole face hurt.
But the truth is we don’t just care about our hair because we’re frivolous or have too much time on our hands. We care because our hair has such a politicized history. How we wear it has always dictated how the world judged us, what kind of jobs we got, what kind of men were attracted to us, what our dating pool would be, how “woke” other black people would say that we were.
That’s a tough road to hoe. But my dream is a world where we love and accept ourselves enough that we don’t define ourselves by our hair. We don’t let it dictate how pretty or desirable we feel. We don’t let it limit our capacity for sexual pleasure in the bedroom or deprive us of opportunities to be adventurous. We find sexual partners who make us feel desired in all ways; sexual partners who could not care less if their hand got caught in a track, if the wig fell off, if our locs are up or down, and who have absolutely no hierarchies for hair type, hair length or hair health. People who don’t let what we have on our heads be the basis for whether they are attracted to us or want to be seen with us.
So, this is your homework for the future: Next time you’re in the hair-shop and you can feel shit about to hit the fan, woman up and tell the chick in the doing your ‘do that her braids are robbing you of your edges. No matter how much she tries to convince you that they will soften up, insist that she loosen them or take them out and do them over. Don’t leave that hair-shop needing an Advil. And find lovers who won’t even fuss about not getting any that night, because they understand how much your unrequested facelift hurts and sympathize with the fact that your brain is on fire.