Lord y'all. Where do I begin?
Like a lot of you, I sat down last night and watched the first two episodes of the six-part docuseries of Lifetime's Surviving R. Kelly. However, I'm not so sure my reasons behind doing it are like most.
My friends and even my (marriage life coaching) clients know that I'm the type of person who isn't nearly as interested in "the tree" (the way a person appears to be or even currently is) as I am in the "the roots" (what's going on underneath it all and the history that led them to where they are).
And so, as a sexual abuse and assault survivor myself, while I was a mixture of saddened, horrified, and empathetic with the various women that R. Kelly has manipulated, controlled, and abused over the span of his entire career (some of us should really let that sink in), it was honestly the first 30 minutes of the first episode that really stuck with me.
But let me lay the foundation for where I'm going with this first.
I was a freshman in college in 1992. R. Kelly and Public Announcement were already out and it was in the late fall of the following year when his solo LP debuted. March of 1993 is when I had sex with my first official boyfriend (I was molested by a family member before that time, but my first love is who I would've chosen to give my virginity to…had I had the chance to choose). The song that was playing in the background was "Honey Love". By winter, "It Seems Like You're Ready" was like a staple in my relationship (and sex life). A girl never forgets her first time so yes, ironically, for better or for worse, R. Kelly will be forever etched into one of the most impactful sexual and emotional experiences I've ever had.
Because of that, I think there is a weird connection I've always had towards him. I didn't just like his songs, they moved me. "Dedicated". "Sex Me". "Your Body's Callin'". "I Can't Sleep". "I Wish". "Just Like That". "When a Woman's Fed Up". "Strip for You". "The Greatest Sex". "R&B Thug". "I'm Your Angel". Y'all already know I could go on…and on…and on. Because no matter how sick he is — and Robert Kelly is indeed not well — it's irrefutable that he's a musical genius. And therein was my conflict.
Maybe that's why, several years ago, when The Boondocks did the oh-so-classic episode of how R. Kelly basically entertained his way through his court proceedings and got off because of it, I found it to be profound but also quite funny. He had already not-so-allegedly urinated in a child's mouth on video tape. And just like writer Jamilah Lemieux asked in the doc-series, "Where was Essence? Where was Ebony? Why didn't the culture say that something's wrong?" At the time, the animated character (who usually had more sense than most of the adults on the cartoon) Huey stood before the court and said, "What the hell is wrong with you people?! Every famous n*gga that gets arrested is not Nelson Mandela." #facts
And really…what is wrong with us? How could things get so far that there is now a six-part documentary series with woman after woman sobbing about the nothing-short-of-torture they've been through at the hands of someone so many of us are still in conflict about?
This is where "the roots" that I referred to earlier come in.
As someone who was molested by a family member for years and then sexually-assaulted in high school by two young men while at the school, only to have family members and then an entire school administration try and figure out how to do everything but what should've been done (which was notify the police so that all three perpetrators could be arrested), it triggered me. How is it that there are people whom are following the R. Kelly situation say things like "Why are they just saying something now?", "If they didn't want it to happen to them, they should've just left" or "Clearly they liked it…they kept doing it." Unless you've been mentally controlled and emotionally traumatized by a sexual predator, you have no idea the kind of hell it can put you through. How confusing, complex, degrading, and baffling it all can be. And then, on top of that, to have people who can't relate re-victimize survivors by telling them how and when they should handle their own violations?! From the very bottom of my heart, anyone like that, please kindly just shut up.
Yet, as I was listening to these women, something hit me.
#SurvivingRKelly: Powerful docuseries gives accusers a voice — and holds all of us accountable. Read our review… https://t.co/BcH3O1hQr4— Rolling Stone (@Rolling Stone) 1546537566.0
The first episode opened up with R. Kelly's childhood. People who knew him said that he was quiet, shy, and gifted. He couldn't read (and apparently, based on what his ex-wife Andrea said, he is still illiterate as an adult). He was great at music. He was quite awkward. And he had been molested, by family members, from the ages of 7-14.
From the famous Tavis Smiley interview where R. Kelly spoke of the abuse while saying that he didn't think it was appropriate to uncover his victimizers, to his music teacher and mentor Dr. Lena McLin saying that she could tell things were wrong at home because it came out in his music, to several of his victims saying that he demanded they call him "daddy" while using lines like, "If you really love me, you'll [do what I ask]" (which is exactly what a lot of predators of children say), to his brother Bruce who was also molested describing R. Kelly's desire for younger women to be a "preference", to R. Kelly saying himself that he was a man who performed in order to lure young children (eh hem, that is what a Pied Piper is) — what came to my mind was something that I once read (and firmly believe) while I was processing how my own molester could do what he did. Someone who also grew up quiet, shy, and gifted.
There are plenty of scientific studies to support that at whatever age a child has been traumatized, they emotionally remain that way until they receive therapy (check out "Childhood Abuse May Stunt Growth of Part of Brain Involved in Emotions"). As some of the people from the beginning days of R. Kelly spoke of him repeatedly seducing 14-year-olds, that theory kept repeating in my mind.
Someone who had his own power taken away at 14 is now, as an adult, making it his mission to do the same thing to 14-year-olds. Y'all, this isn't about sex. Like most sexual offenders, it's about power. He's not "sexin'" these women, he's doing to them what was done to him. He's violating them. He's hurting them. Like his music mentor said, whether he thinks he's so-called protecting his abusers or not, R. Kelly is taking out what was done to him on countless women. I personally believe that he's either rationalizing it or denying it because "childhood abuse stunts emotional development". In other words, a part of me thinks he's right where he was when he was 14. At least emotionally. Because he never got help for his own abuse.
Putting all of this together in my own mind, aside from what these women's bravery is doing in order to heal themselves and be a voice to those who are not yet ready to speak up about their own victimization, whether they recognize it or not, they are also sounding the horn to something that we overlook far too much — the sexual abuse that happens to many young boys and men. Statistically speaking, 1 in 6 have reported experiencing sexual abuse or assault (with the operative word being "reported").
What R. Kelly has reportedly done is beyond sickening, it's criminal. Full stop. But so is what happened to him back when he was the same age as some of the young women he's pursued. And boy, does it bring new meaning to "hurt people, hurt people". Again, what he's doing isn't about sex. It's about unresolved pain.
A couple of weeks ago, R&B singer Jacquees had us all in an uproar about who is the current king of R&B. Understandably, R. Kelly's name was thrown into the ring. But out of all of the blogs and vlogs that I saw on the topic, Diddy's definition stayed with me the most:
"Let's get to the topic of R&B: we talking about rhythm and blues, we talking about sharing your soul, and making love through your music. We're talking about adoring a woman. Not just putting it down or talking about how you just want to smash her, I'm talking about adoring her. So in order to be the king of R&B you first gotta start making some R&B, you have to be vulnerable, you have to be speaking about love, you have to be able to affect women in a positive way and your ass has to be able to sing."
R&B is about adoring a woman.
Between the docuseries and this definition, none of us should be in conflict about if R. Kelly, the self-professed Pied Piper, is "the king" or not.
It's becoming more and more apparent that R. Kelly doesn't adore or even like women, healthy sexuality (one woman said sex with him felt "not natural"), or even himself (how could he?). And that alone totally taints how much of a musical genius he is. That alone leaves a residue of filth and conflict in every song he's written or performed (because if you watched the doc, you peeped the inspiration behind Michael Jackson's hit "You Are Not Alone"...right?).
This alone should make us all want to stop listening to his music (not just until the doc is over but PERIOD) and then do what he requested years ago in "I Wish" — pray for a brother — while still supporting these women in however they want justice to be sought and served. Because whether R. Kelly realizes it or not, he is caught up in a vicious a cycle of victimization and self-victimization. Not one or the other. Both.
Bottom line, no matter what R. Kelly's "tree" has accomplished, his "roots" reveal that he was introduced to sex in a very demented way. The way he's living his life — in the studio booth, on stage, and in his own compound…I mean, home — is a constant reminder of this very fact.
It's not sexy. It's painful. Very. And that is nothing short of sad and tragic.
And how can any sane person slow drag or have sex to a narrative like that?
Surviving R. Kelly – Survivors Speak Out (Part 1) | Lifetimeyoutu.be
Featured image by Rolling Stone via @lifetimetv.
Different puzzle pieces are creating bigger pictures these days. 2024 will mark a milestone on a few different levels, including the release of my third book next June (yay!).
I am also a Professional Certified Coach. My main mission for attaining that particular goal is to use my formal credentials to help people navigate through the sometimes tumultuous waters, both on and offline, when it comes to information about marriage, sex and relationships that is oftentimes misinformation (because "coach" is a word that gets thrown around a lot, oftentimes quite poorly).
I am also still super devoted to helping to bring life into this world as a doula, marriage life coaching will always be my first love (next to writing, of course), a platform that advocates for good Black men is currently in the works and my keystrokes continue to be devoted to HEALTHY over HAPPY in the areas of holistic intimacy, spiritual evolution, purpose manifestation and self-love...because maturity teaches that it's impossible to be happy all of the time when it comes to reaching goals yet healthy is a choice that can be made on a daily basis (amen?).
If you have any PERSONAL QUESTIONS (please do not contact me with any story pitches; that is an *editorial* need), feel free to reach out at email@example.com. A sistah will certainly do what she can. ;)
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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A dead bedroom can kill any relationship. In all long-term, committed relationships, couples experience various phases, from the initial passion to a more complex and enduring connection. Yet, as time passes, sex may decrease, which introduces an issue often referred to as "bed death."
According to Advance Psychology Partners, 'bed death' occurs when individuals in a committed relationship experience a decline in the frequency of sexual activity and fall short of the desires of both or either partner. It is sometimes labeled a "sexless relationship" due to the infrequency of sex. In the U.S., an estimated 20 million people find themselves in such relationships.
This shift is a significant change for couples. Let’s face it: no one wants to be in a sexless marriage or relationship. But how can couples effectively confront the impact of fading physical intimacy on the overall health of their enduring partnership?
"I have found that many factors influence one's desire to dive, and it is often not a majority of just one thing. Most people assume that if they don't desire [sex], they are no longer physically attracted, but in my experience, that has little to do with it most of the time," explained Brittanni Young, LMFT, CST.
"Some of the heavy contributors that I see most often include excessive goal orientation towards orgasm, people not prioritizing their own sexuality, and the landfill of ‘should’s’ that develop from toxic sexual scripts created long ago in upbringing," she added.
Furthermore, these issues are not exclusive to any particular orientation, but it does manifest differently.
Young is a licensed marriage and family therapist, sexologist, and board-certified sex therapist who practices in Georgia and Florida. She has worked in the sexology field for over a decade. Young helps couples and individuals looking to get through challenges of all facets facing sexuality and intimacy, such as desire mismatch, over-compulsion, and dysfunctions. She recently launched a deck of intimacy connection cards called "Show Me Your Cards." Young is working on another product that helps teach children to consent and negotiate appropriate touch. She sat down with xoNecole to discuss what causes the decline in the bedroom, the myth of 'lesbian bed death,' and recommendations on overcoming "bed death."
The Decline In Intimacy
Intimacy often dwindles within relationships, a phenomenon triggered by various factors such as stress, the insidious monotony of routine, and the toxicity of unresolved conflicts, to name a few. While couples manage daily life, exchanging intimate desires and concerns may take a backseat. Sadly, this gradually erodes the closeness once shared in the relationship.
"Typically, the first thing I do when working with a couple on desire challenges is rule out medical causes by referring them to their primary care physician or other provider they are working with," Young shared. "There are times when unmanaged or mismanaged conditions factor into low desire levels. Also, many medications can wreak havoc on keeping desire levels up, such as antidepressants, SSRIs, anti-anxiety, and blood pressure medications, to name a few."
Jeff Bergen/ Getty Images
"Next, I look at the state of the relationship. If there is dissatisfaction in the relationship, then it definitely affects how close and intimate one wants to be to another. There are also plenty of individual factors one can bring into the equation, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, feelings of shame or guilt around one's own sexuality, and external life stressors that can get in the way. I find that life stressors can be a big one for folks, as once you get in the habit of not prioritizing sex, it tends to stick," she added.
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent "bed death." It can involve prioritizing your wants and open communication about sexual needs.
"What tends to be effective for all couples is taking an inventory of how satisfied they are with their sexual behaviors and engagement. Being truthful in this vein can be the start of unlocking inhibitions that can keep you from seeking out and being genuinely vulnerable in intimate spaces," Young explained. "Next, I suggest opening up lines of communication around these truths. When people assume that nothing can be done, hope is lost."
The Myth Of 'Lesbian Bed Death'
The notion of "lesbian bed death" perpetuates a simplistic and inaccurate stereotype about the sexual dynamics within lesbian relationships. Contrary to the myth, the experience of a decline in intimacy is not universal among lesbian couples. The diverse spectrum of relationships among women challenges this oversimplified narrative, emphasizing that the complexities of sexual dynamics extend beyond stereotypical assumptions.
"The notion of 'lesbian bed death' is based on a research study done by Pepper Schwartz in 1983 that found that lesbian couplings fell behind in sexual frequency compared to heterosexual and gay male couplings," Young revealed.
"Several other studies [after] have replicated these findings but give very little information about sexual satisfaction. Despite there being more research needed overall in the sexuality field, more recent research did find that when it comes to the length of sexual encounters, lesbian couples had the longest duration of encounters. To that end, sexual quality over quantity is a better marker of satisfaction, and that is what I pay most attention to in my work. With that said, dissatisfaction can happen in all couplings over time," the sexologist continued.
Factors influencing reduced intimacy among lesbian couples may include communication challenges, societal pressures, and individual variations in libido. Menstruation can also play a role, with some couples navigating discomfort or hormonal changes during this period.
"There are certainly some nuances that come into play with lesbian couples that differ from heterosexual or other-oriented couples. As I stated earlier, physiological factors can factor into the rise and fall of libido. The hormone fluctuations that come from menstruation and menopause can impact desire levels, and it is double present in lesbian couples. Another nuance is the lack of a sexual script from society on lesbian sexual behavior. There are patriarchal roots to sexual research, which have created our societal norms that tend to leave out anyone who isn't heterosexual," Young stated.
Overcoming The Challenges
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While 'bed death' challenges couples, solutions are within reach. By identifying and addressing the underlying causes, couples can rekindle the flame of intimacy and ensure a healthier, more fulfilling relationship.
"In the words of Esther Perel, another sexual professional in the field, 'love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery.' I recommend keeping it in the front of your mind, prioritizing, and keeping it interesting. Be open to learning more about your own sexuality every day, as well as your partner. You are always growing; what worked for you 20 years ago may not be the same today. Stay curious with one another and be open to exploring new ways to pleasure. You deserve it," Young said.
For instance, Young advised that couples should "keep sexual encounters light and playful." And not be afraid to introduce new elements, such as toys.
"Touch often in ways that are consensual and feel safe! I made 'Show Me Your Cards' to serve this purpose specifically. Just because you do not feel in the mood to go all the way does not mean you aren't in the mood to hold hands, exchange body massages, or dance together. Connecting often in any physical form, as long as it feels pleasurable, still counts as 'being in the mood,'" she said.
Overcoming the hurdles of "bed death" and debunking myths surrounding 'lesbian bed death' offers a unique perspective for couples grappling with the difficulties of sustaining a connection. Learning the proper ways to work through a sexless relationship can help foster a healthier, more fulfilling relationship.
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