Interview by Chante Dyson. Photography by Marge Jacobsen.
My first experience being introduced to the empowering work of Ev’Yan Whitney came through her incredible blog and podcast series labeled as The Sexual Liberated Woman. This was my first time hearing a woman who looked like me speak so eloquently about the importance of finding freedom in erotic empowerment. My relationship with my body as an inner sexual goddess would never be quite the same after digging into her wisdom around topics that many of us struggle with on our journeys to finding true freedom. Ev’Yan is the embodiment of Brown Body Boldness; a woman who owns her truth and even through experiences of trauma, has come to encourage us all how to take pride in nurturing the relationship with the most intimate part of our womanhood.
Chante': I am fascinated by your story about how you struggled with desiring sex with your husband. What did that look and feel like and how did you transition into developing a deserving sex drive?
Ev'Yan: At the time I was dealing with a lot of things in my marriage and around sex at that time, and I didn't really have the perspective back then to understand where the cause was. I just felt like something was wrong with me. And now fast forwarding years later, I realize my sex drive not being super high not just because of the shame I was feeling around sex, but also because I realized I'd experienced sexual trauma in the past, and that sexual trauma was keeping me from being able to access a sexuality that felt free and liberating to me and that felt like it belonged to me. And then I also found out that birth control was a huge factor in my libido at the time. So there was a lot of stuff that was compounding this issue for me and it was very challenging. I was newly married for a few years at the time, and society tells us that this is when you're supposed to have sex the most, you know you're in your early 20s. And all around me I was watching my friends talk and brag about sex, and I would always think, "what is wrong with me?"
I'd rather pick chocolate cake over having sex with my husband who I'm very attracted to. There was some sort of blockage that I couldn't figure out at the time.
But the one thing that has really turned it around was being able to ask myself, "What kind of sexual experience and relationship do I want to have instead?"
I'd never asked myself that before and I feel like most people don't. This idea of asking ourselves about what kind of sexual being we want to be and what standards do you want to have with that? When I asked myself that question, I realized the beliefs that I want to have as opposed to the beliefs of shame that I'd carried for so long. This is the way that I want to come on to my partner. This is how I want to feel in my body. This is what sexual confidence means. This is what autonomous and empowered sexuality looks like.
Chante': Do you feel like you were able to come up with these questions to ask yourself intuitively or did you have some sort of reference guide for finding sexual freedom and confidence on your own terms?
Ev'Yan: I think it was a mix of both, but I feel like I looked a lot to inspiration because I didn't have a lot of experience with the concept of sex being freeing. Because I was dealing with shame and sexual trauma, it was difficult for me to figure out those questions. One writer that was inspiring for me during that time was Anna Isan, she wrote erotica and she was also a diarist who wrote for years and years and they had her diaries put into books. Reading about her sexual awakening journey and reading so eloquently the way that she blossomed into her sexuality and gave herself permission to explore that, that was so validating to me. It also gave me hope because at that time I was feeling so down so I didn't even have the knowledge that sex could be so free. So reading her diaries and erotica really gave me permission to be curious about this and to explore.
Chante': I have a similar experience in terms of redefining the way that I view my own sexuality. I read a book Come As You Are and I felt like after spending a good amount of time getting into the book, I noticed a shift in how I viewed my sexuality in terms of masterbation and determining what I like and what would please me, and also setting the tone for what I want my sexual life to look and feel like. In today’s modern world, what are some of the images that you see particularly regarding the sexuality of WOC in mainstream media/ pop culture? From your perspective, what does society say that sexuality is supposed to look like for people of color?
Ev'Yan: I have two answers for this, one being the mainstream media that is sort of thrown at me that I don't choose to participate in but are sort of the undercurrent of any exchange that I come to have when it comes to black female sexuality. And then what I have intentionally chosen to consume. I am trying to be more intentional overall in what I see. In mainstream media it's Black women with fat asses and huge tits with a tiny waist, as well as the ability to twerk uncontrollably. It's this idea that their sexual appetite is for the male gaze, not necessarily for their own. I think because of the work I do I'm starting to see more examples of women who are subverting the male gaze and are twerking for their pleasure, but I don't think it's the standard when it comes to mainstream media. That narrative is really hard and challenging for a lot of folks who don't fit that. I am a very thin woman and I've dealt with a lot of shame because I don't fit that voluptuous body type and express me sexuality in certain ways.
It can be very daunting for folks who don't have much sexual confidence and are still trying to come up with those questions around their sexual identity. There's just so much pressure. One thing that I learned early on is that I needed sexual role models. I needed to see sexual positivity in a way that included and validated me. Having those sexual role models and seeing sex positivity in ways that were happy and empowering really benefitted me.
The more energy and intention that I put into finding my sexual role models and intentionally choosing images that inspire that in me, the more that it allowed me to be more curious and channel them as an erotic muse when my sexual confidence wasn't high. Even if the image is mainstream, I can see a sexually liberated woman and be inspired by the fact that she is taking up space in this way. That's what I want to feel and express.
Chante': You mention this idea of distorting the male gaze. I want to know what type of advice you can give our readers who may want to use their digital platforms on social media to be their own erotic muse? I feel like it takes confidence and courage to express ourselves in that way. How does one find that freedom to confidently express that through the digital space?
Ev'Yan: I've actually been asking myself that question for the last couple years as I've been figuring out how I want to take space with my sexual body. Last year, I started experimenting with sexy self-portraiture as a way of expressing myself and taking up that space, but also as an act of self love and care. My inclination is always to tell women and femmes to take more sexy selfies and post that. But I do realize I have a lot of privilege to be able to do that, my Instagram is filled with sexy selfies and it's a part of the work that I do. My reputation isn't going to be ruined, it's only going to be enhanced by the work that I'm doing. A lot of people don't have that privilege, they work regular jobs. No matter how well you are subverting the male gaze, female sexuality is always going to be policed. I wish I could say not always, but we have a long way to go.
As much as I'd like to tell people to take more pictures and post them on the Internet, I do realize that's not a viable option for many people and also to do that means you're opening yourself up to a lot of judgment because people still believe that female sexuality is dangerous. Knowing that this isn't always an option for working women, I actually created a digital class called Sexting Myself which is a place for women to learn how to take sexy selfies for themselves but also a platform for women to share their selfies in a safe space. It's a private platform where only people in the class are allowed to enter the forum.
Seeing those women blossom in a safe space and to see themselves as sexual beings through their own eyes is so crucial for those of us who want to take up more space without compromising jobs or relationships.
Even if you have friends who are interested, create a group chat with your friends not for the purpose of lusting after each other, but to say, "I'm feeling myself." There's an aspect of celebration to this and I think some people don't want to do it alone. You can also take sexy selfies just for yourself, not your partner.
Carving out some kind of practice that promotes the sexual energy in you is incredibly healthy and can be very fulfilling on this journey towards sexual liberation.
Chante': I've recently graduated from college, and a lot of the conversations that I've had amongst friends and peers revolves around this idea that casual sex is more erotic or pleasing than say marital sex, and this is also a major theme in mainstream media. Can you explain how you keep sex fascinating within your love life and marriage?
I think there is something to what you're saying about casual sex being more erotic and fun and I think it speaks to this idea of our love for mystery. Unpredictability can seem very sexy, the thought of uncovering someone as you go. Your friends are onto something and there's nothing wrong with casual sex as long as people are protecting themselves in that way. But it's not impossible to keep that sense of mystery and unpredictability in relationships, you have to work on it and refuse to be stuck in a rut. You have to challenge yourself to try new things.
So maybe instead of turning on Netflix for hours, try cuddling or reading naked in bed. It's important to do things that break up the monotony but also infuses the experience you have with your partner in a way that highlights your sexuality and the reason you all chose each other.
My partner and I particularly love naked cuddling and sending sexy selfies throughout the day. We're very blessed that we both work from home, but there are definitely ways to get around that if that's not the case. There is definitely satisfaction in knowing that when I go to bed with my man, he knows me so well, I don't have to tell him what to do. Committed sex can be just as hot and erotic, it's all about your perspective.
Chante': Let’s talk about sexual preferences and how to communicate that to your partner without killing the mood or offending them.
Ev'Yan: One good tip I can give people is to not have sex talks while in the act. So when discussing your sexual wants and needs you are outside of the bedroom. Go to brunch and tell your partner, "Hey remember the other night when you were going down on me, I really loved that." It's about starting this sexual dialogue that isn't limited to when you are having sex. I think that being able to express yourself as a sexual being outside of when your are actually in the act is a huge part of being able to know yourself and how to ask what you want.
Chante': So continuing on the relationship sex talk, I’d love to discuss your thoughts on masterbation and gender roles, particularly for those of us in relationships. Many times it seems as though there are discrepancies as far as which partner is able to freely express themselves in this way.
Ev'Yan: I will say that masterbation is incredibly important for anybody going on this journey towards sexual liberation.
The intimate relationship that we have with our bodies is the most important sexual relationship we can have because it's with that relationship that we know and honor ourselves and we celebrate the sexuality within us.
A lot of women feel that there sexuality is activated when their partner brings it out of them, and if they aren't there than they are not a sexual being on their own. I wasn't always conscious about it, but I was always my first. I was always a sexual being before I even met my partner. Women should do this more, especially if they are in committed partner relationships. There are lots of parts of us still waiting to be uncovered sexually, and relying on our partners to bring it out of us can be fun, but it's my job, I am responsible for that. Your partner can be a part of that but I think it becomes a little problematic when we look to our partners to bring out our freaky side. You can be a freak and sexual goddess without your partner's gaze, and masterbation helps us to explore that. And just as I'm saying that you should be able to honor the sexual being within yourself, your partner should be able to freely express that sexual being within themselves as well.
Chante': Many times sexual trauma can leave women feeling even more shame towards their own sexuality. Are there ways that you can suggest could help positively build back the loving relationship with one’s sexuality and body after trauma?
Ev'Yan: Definitely. I highly recommend finding a therapist that to really help work through this stuff. Speaking as someone who has experienced sexual trauma, there are ways that I've helped myself through that trauma, but having a therapist was amazing and really helped me work through the issues and other areas that I wasn't able to see. Beyond therapy, this idea of building back that sexual confidence and getting that sexual identity back is crucial. A lot of the times with sexual trauma, that identity is taken away from you because the person who gave you that trauma took it from you without your consent.
So if you want to build a new relationship with yourself and body, masturbation and creating a solo sexual relationship with yourself is one of the best and safest ways for you to come to sexuality on your own terms. If masturbation feels like too much, I recommend doing small acts of sexual self care. That is doing your standard act of self care such as a bath or walk, and in that moment you're thinking of yourself as a sexual being and how that particular act of self care is helping to revitalize and heal the sexual being within you. One thing I like to do is take a hot shower and slather my body in coconut oil and as I'm doing this I'm thinking of myself as a sexual being and saying it aloud to myself for affirmation. It's all about intention. I honor my sexuality. I am at peace with my sexuality. As I do this act of self care, I am making space for my sexuality to come through.
You have the power to create a sexual relationship with your body that feels good to you and feels like you have control.
Chante' Dyson, originally born in Washington DC, is now a 2017 graduate of Rutgers University where she majored in Communication and Digital Media. She has followed BGIO for a while now, and was recently drawn to the opportunity to bring her editorial skills that she’s developed in the fashion industry to the wellness space, particularly for women of color. Chante’ is passionate about women’s empowerment and believes that the work of BGIO will positively uplift, inspire, and raise the consciousness of her sisters globally. Her self-care go to is reading nonfiction and self help books. (She also loves exercise and the Headspace app).