Despite being identified as the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States, Black women still lack representation in one of the fastest growing and influential sectors of society - technology. One 2018 Kapor Center study reports that Black women account for less than 0.5% of Silicon Valley tech leadership positions and less than 4% of female-led tech startups. How can Black women confidently hold positions in the technology world, use their power as a catalyst to empower communities and fuel the next generation of innovation?
Chicago-based marketing consultant and app entrepreneur Amanda Spann is on a mission to change that narrative.
She's a fierce advocate for helping people of color make their mark in the tech industry - a space that we often count ourselves out of. Through her work, she helps build and brand startups while also helping aspiring and emerging founders bring their technology-focused ideas to life. Her company, Happii, currently consists of three different business verticals: apps, entrepreneurship-focused digital products and ebooks, and consulting services for startups and enterprises. Her new podcast, The Minimal Viable Podcast, provides Blacks founders a platform to talk candidly about their experiences in tech. She also hopes it will be a safe space for listeners to learn about the intersection of technology and entrepreneurship.
xoNecole spoke with Amanda about her journey, challenges many tech entrepreneurs face, tips for thriving as a new entrepreneur, why we need more Black women in tech, and the bigger impact funding technological innovation will have on our communities.
Check out the interview below!
How did you become interested in technology?
I've been in the space for about ten years now. I've always been interested in technology since I was a teenager, but I think there was some apprehension about being involved in the space because I felt like I couldn't be a part of it unless I was coding. As someone who has a nontechnical background, that was an initial barrier of entry for me. I could have gotten into the space a little earlier if I didn't have those insecurities about my skill-set and impostor syndrome looming over my head. The more I learned and researched about the space, I realized there were capacities and opportunities for everyone. There are opportunities to create your own role within the tech space or fill a lot of necessary roles at existing companies.
How did working in public relations help you as an entrepreneur?
Publicists organically are great founders. You tend to have to wear a lot of hats. You become your client's manager, therapist and confidant, in addition to becoming their friend. Likewise when you're running a tech startup or a company, there is always something to do. You can't be hands off with any part of the company even if that is not your sole responsibility. You have to be agile and fluid about your roles and capacity. You have to be able to move in a lot of directions. Being able to learn how to be flexible and malleable to learn from every mistake really set me up to be a startup entrepreneur in the future.
"When you're running a tech startup or a company, there is always something to do. You can't be hands off with any part of the company even if that is not your sole responsibility. You have to be agile and fluid about your roles and capacity."
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I always had side hustles. At some point, it became faith versus fear for me. I realized as I kept entering back into the corporate space, I wasn't as happy or fulfilled. I felt like I was never going to be able to give as much to these companies as I would my own. It had been tugging on my heart strings and mind for a really long time. It started to feel debilitating that I was haunted by my ideas. At some point, I had to make a choice whether I was going to stink or swim. A big part of that was taking the leap and not looking back. I felt like I was never going to get my products to where I wanted to be if I didn't dedicate myself to it full-time. It's been one of the most difficult yet rewarding experiences of my life.
What's the biggest challenge most entrepreneurs face when starting?
Money. Between running the company and business development, you're getting pulled in a lot of directions. It's hard to work on your business when you're working in it. You have to learn the discipline to balance and allocate time for both.
One thing that I encourage entrepreneurs to do is to start small and scale up. I just had a friend who wanted to open a restaurant. I suggested to start with selling just sauces. That might provide you with the capital to open a brick and mortar business. You don't want to assume too much risk so soon. There's not that much risk associated with buying the time you need at an open kitchen and buying the supplies you need to make the sauce. The returns are good. You can build up the capital as opposed to taking out a loan.
I don't want to discourage people from dreaming big. Keep your long-term dream in mind, but there are a lot of different paths to get there. It doesn't always start with the biggest iteration. You never know where it might take you. You may find yourself on another path.
What are the critical keys to successfully scaling a business?
What we try to encourage most founders in tech when they are building their product is to build a minimal viable product (MVP). This is the leanest, simplest version of your product possible. How do I build the simplest version of this product, get it out to the world and learn as much as I can about my consumers so I can make it better and make more money in the process? You're not going to know everything. You do yourself a disservice if you give all the bells and whistles upfront. What's in your head isn't necessarily a guarantee that people might like it. You eat up a lot of your money by adding features that [are not] always critical at the time of launch.
If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, then you did too much or you did it wrong. You're not going to catch everything. You are going to make mistakes and be embarrassed. That's part of the process. You can always improve the product. Take the leap and start. Don't be embarrassed to admit what you don't know. You have to learn to be patient with yourself and know that everything will come in time. Don't beat yourself up every step of the way about getting it perfect because it never will be. It's more important to start, keep going, build, and iterate as you go.
Courtesy of Amanda Spann
What are some of your favorite business resources for tech entrepreneurs?
Use Google! Everything that you're looking for is figure-out-able. You'll be surprised at how many people ask questions and don't take the time to plug it in and search. If you're going to go into tech, Building A Startup is a really helpful book about the process of building a MVP.
User acquisition is a big challenge for tech entrepreneurs. What's your go-to marketing tip for getting customers to know about one's product?
The biggest thing is understanding who your target audience is and narrowing that down. There are a lot of people who build a product and say it's for Black people. Which Black people? Elderly? Millennial moms? Generation Z? Define and hone in on the demographics and psychographics of your target audience, what motivates them to purchase further, where they are living online (and offline), what they are reading and how they get their information. Not enough entrepreneurs are doing the due diligence to figure out who they are really targeting.
How do you get into the tech industry as a non-technical founder?
You have to swallow your fears. Know that you're going to have to operate through fear. Broaden your idea of what it means to be a tech entrepreneur or someone who works in the tech space.There are plenty of opportunities in several roles. Tech companies are businesses just like any other company. They need operations, business management, accounting, etc. A lot of us have those skill-sets. We just need to figure out how to transfer them over to the space.
Open yourself up to networking. A lot of times people are getting these roles because they know the right people or the right people know them. It's easy for us to pull ourselves off solely into Black spaces - which I encourage to some degree. In order to step into this new space, you're going to have to step into new territories you've never gone before. That may make you uncomfortable but you are more confident and capable of being there than you know. People need your skills, ideas, and perspective. They'll never get it if you never take that leap into entering the space.
"You have to swallow your fears. Know that you're going to have to operate through fear... That may make you uncomfortable but you are more confident and capable of being there than you know. People need your skills, ideas, and perspective."
What tech industries are in desperate need of Black voices?
All of them! The cannabis industry needs a lot of ancillary professionals - people who aren't necessarily growing or distributing the products. They need people who are helping them streamline their operational practices...there's a huge opportunity there. Gaming and e-sports is wide open for Black women. Artificial intelligence, augmented reality...there's a great opportunity to learn more about that. Any tech industry overlaps with everything we already do. Use the skills you have currently and figure out how you can apply those and add value to existing tech companies and where they are going. Your expertise is valued and wanted but we have to figure out better ways of making a bridge for ourselves.
People always ask me about how racist the tech industry is. It's definitely racist but it's not always a willful racism. [Tech folks] are consumed with themselves and what they are building. When they need someone to fill a role, they reach out to their network. If you are only in the tech space and don't step outside to other industries and spaces, you will only get people who are like-minded or like you - even if what you ultimately need is outside of that. That cycle happens again and again. Because they have so much money and resources, it isn't always second nature to step outside. As the landscape of this country changes and we become more involved in the tech space, there will be an even greater demand and it will require white entrepreneurs and executives to look outside their spaces and be proactive and thoughtful about seeking out Black and Brown talent.
What are the biggest challenges that women of color in tech encounter?
We often pursue ideas that we believe should exist, but we don't necessarily think of them in terms of businesses. I see a lot of Black women creating service-oriented businesses or a product that is difficult to scale. We have to think about our ideas in terms of how we can monetize them and not just in terms of bringing them to life. We need to think of a business in terms of "How can I build or provide something that is so valuable and solves such a big problem that they will actually pay for it?"
[The reason] why you don't see as any Black women tech entrepreneurs is not because we're not entrepreneurs, it's because we're entrepreneurs in other spaces. So many women are starting skincare, haircare, cleaning, or event planning services. I think it's cultural to some degree. We're passionate and generous givers and tend to be more service-oriented. We've oftentimes put ourselves in position to be the mules of our family and community. We need to be mindful of that in terms of our own self-care and well-being.
This is not to say these can't be tech businesses. We don't think about how we can infuse tech to scale our business, get it to more people and make it more affordable and accessible to people so they can buy and we can make money while we sleep.
More Black women need to be afforded educational opportunities and information on what they can do with technology. It's not even about thinking of yourself as a tech founder, it's about leveraging what is out there to make your business better. A lot of people call me a techie - but I don't call myself one. I solve problems out in the world by way of technology.
What are "innovation deserts" and how do they impact our communities?
If you go into a lot of Black neighborhoods around the country, you will notice a lack of (or limited) type of commerce. I live on the south side of Chicago. We have coffee shops, but when you go across town, you're seeing wi-fi cafes and places where people can build and create - places where people have access to computers and information. As a result of lack of access to information, technology, and innovation - we are falling behind in a lot of industries and falling behind financially. The lack of information is costing us money. There is a Black tax for a lack of information, financial resources and access. Poverty costs.
When people don't have access to information or innovation, our communities stay behind. Other communities are being built up, progressing and attracting new residents, commerce, and jobs. In our communities, all you have is chicken shacks and liquor stores on every corner. [We] deserve more than that. It's important that we support entrepreneurs who want to bring businesses into our communities. Advocate amongst our Congress people and representatives to bring innovation centers to our schools and buildings in our community so that our youth and adult population are better educated on how they can create new jobs and further communities for themselves.
"As a result of lack of access to information, technology, and innovation - we are falling behind in a lot of industries and falling behind financially. The lack of information is costing us money. There is a Black tax for a lack of information, financial resources and access. Poverty costs."
Will creating more innovation centers change the landscape for Black entrepreneurs?
There will be a dynamic shift in our economic and mental empowerment. We are already an amazingly resilient and dynamic people. We have survived and created so much with nothing. Imagine what we could do if we were provided access. Imagine how the landscape of our communities might change if the three most savvy entrepreneurs you know are now afforded money and access to capital. Now those people are economically empowered, secured, can pour into their kids and relatives and create new opportunities for the next generation.
Who are some of your favorite Black woman tech crushes?
I have a soft spot for Myleik Teele being that she was a publicist and is now running a tech-enabled business. I see a lot of parallels in my life with hers. As far as women in the tech space, [I admire] Felicia Hatcher who does so much to ensure that we are included in the conversation and are disrupting innovation deserts around the country. My former business partner Sheena Allen is the youngest Black woman in the country who owns an online bank.
Megan Holston- Alexander is a Black woman venture capitalist who is making sure we have representation out there in Silicon Valley. There are a lot of dynamic woman in the startup scene who are rising quietly and building. It's an exciting time for all of us. Over the next five years, you will see an increase in women taking the reins of their financial and economic future and as tech entrepreneurs.
To learn more about Amanda, her products, consultations, and podcast, visit www.amandaspann.com.
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Rana Campbell is a Princeton University graduate, storyteller, content marketing strategist, and the founder and host of Dreams In Drive - a weekly podcast that teaches you how to take your dreams from PARK to DRIVE. She loves teaching others how to use their life stories to inspire action within oneself and others. Connect with her on Instagram @rainshineluv or @dreamsindrive.
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7 Sex-Related Problems That Ruin Sex (And Possibly Your Relationship)
Not too long ago, while in an interview, someone asked me to define one of the main purposes of sex in a long-term relationship: “Probably the most intimate form of communication that we have is sex because it’s an act that connects one’s physical, mental and emotional state to another human being simultaneously — and communication doesn’t get much more profound than that.”
That’s part of the reason why the term “casual sex” irks me to the billionth degree (check out “We Should Really Rethink The Term 'Casual Sex'”); it’s because, even if you think that sex with someone is next-to-nothing, there is so much going on within you (oxytocin highs, if you’re unprotected, fluid bonding, chemical reactions in your brain, etc.) that doesn’t know if someone is “the one” (in your mind) or not. So, in many ways, it acts like they are (check out this YouTube video from a Catholic woman who studies some unexpected ways that sex affects us physically here; sex goes deep, y’all!).
Yeah, sex is so much more than a notion, and that’s why I’m a firm believer that it is such a barometer for long-term relationships overall — because, as I’ve shared before, I once read that, “Good sex in a relationship is 10 percent of the relationship while bad sex in a relationship is 90 percent of the relationship because sex tends to set the tone for what’s happening in the rest of the house.”
And that’s why I think that there are certain sex-related issues that can not only damage your sex life with your partner but could also end up ruining your relationship if you’re not careful (very careful). Let’s get into seven of them now.
1. Being Unaware of Your “Body Clock”Giphy
I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had who’ve come to me in some serious trouble, in part due to their flailing (or partly nonexistent) sex life. When I ask them if they went to premarital counseling (if you’re engaged, please do; you have a 33 percent greater chance of avoiding divorce when counseling transpires), many say “no” and the ones who say “yes” usually say that it was no more than 3-5 sessions and the topic of sex barely came up (le sigh). Meanwhile, with my premarital meetings, I try and stick with intimacy for three months if I can because there is a lot to unpack, from what you learned as a child, to your first time (or if you are a virgin), to your needs and fantasies, to how you see it from a spiritual perspective — like I said, there is a lot to unpack there.
Take the mere practicality of sex, for example — and more specifically, your body clock. Do you prefer to have sex at night or in the daytime? A lot of couples struggle with intimacy because one prefers the former while the other likes the latter. Do you keep track of when you’re ovulating? It’s pure science why you are probably hornier during that time of the month (because your body is signaling that it’s time to conceive) vs. the fact that you might not be the most interested in sex when you’re PMS’ing. Are you premenopausal? Hormones shift a lot during that time, and here’s the thing — while menopause only lasts a year, the premenopausal stage (which typically starts between 45-55) can last between 7-14 years. Even paying attention to when you have more energy (some do in the day…morning sex, anyone? While others do early in the evening) can play a role.
So yeah, getting to know your body clock (and discussing your partner’s clock with them) can play a role in how much — or how little — sex you have…and that can add life or drain it from the relationship overall.
2. Comparing Your Present with Your PastGiphy
There is a wife of almost 20 years I know who, when I asked her if she thought that her husband was good in bed, she paused for a second, shrugged her shoulders, and simply said, “I was a virgin when I got married, so I have nothing to compare him to. I mean, he’s good to me.” On the flip side, there’s a now divorced couple who I also know (who almost made it to 20 years) who had multiple partners before each other while also having a deep interest in porn who once said to me, “Sometimes, there’s as much as 15 people in our bed because of all of the people from our past and the porn that we’ve seen that’s running through our heads.” Yeah, y’all can act like body counts don’t matter, but there is so much evidence out here that says otherwise — that couple just gave one that doesn’t get talked about as much as it should.
You know, one of my favorite throwback shows is King of Queens (Kevin James, Leah Remini). A few weeks ago, I watched a rerun where Doug and Carrie were talking about the images that come up in their minds, sometimes during sex. Neither was too happy about it, and I can totally see why. I mean, if sex was just about “getting off” (and it’s not), then whatever. However, AGAIN, it’s also about connecting with your partner on a mental and emotional level, and that’s hard to do if you’re there with them in the body while you’re fantasizing about a celebrity, a porn actor (porn is usually acting, don’t let it fool you) or an ex (check out “You Love Him. You Prefer Sex With Your Ex. What Should You Do?”).
And what if that is what’s going on? I once spoke with a sex therapist about this very thing. What she said is people should be less concerned about celebs (if it’s on occasion) and more concerned about that ex because rarely is sex with an ex…just about the sex.
And that’s why this point made the list. If you’re physically with your partner and mentally or emotionally with your ex at the same time, please don’t ignore that. There are definitely some unresolved issues there that you need to work through, whether it’s with a therapist, counselor, or coach, a trusted friend (who won’t add fuel to the literal fire), or even with your ex — although you might want to run that by your partner first because…I’m pretty sure you’d want him to do that with/for you. RIGHT?
3. Not Being Clear About Your Sexual NeedsGiphy
Question — if someone were to walk up to you right now and ask you what your top seven sexual needs are, along with what your top five sexual dealbreakers are, would you be able to answer? It really is kind of wild how many people get upset with their partner for not being able to sexually satisfy them when even they can’t articulate what they need/require in order for that to happen. Yeah, it’s another article for another time about how many people UNREALISTICALLY (and yes, I am yelling it) think that someone loving them well means that they should be able to read their mind. Nope.
It truly can’t be said enough that sex — especially good sex — is about communication. Hmph. It makes me think about a clip that I saw from Tonight’s Conversation podcast (can’t find it at the moment; sorry) where a woman asked how she should tell her partner that he hasn’t been pleasing her, I believe she said for years. My first thought was if he doesn’t know that, she must be faking orgasms (more on that in a bit) which is not only lying — well, it is —, but it’s also pretty counterproductive because while he thinks that he’s “getting the job done,” she’s not fulfilled and resentment is setting in.
Please don’t let rom-coms (fiction) and social media (which is oftentimes fictitious) have you out here thinking that a good lover is someone you automatically gel with who knows exactly what to do; sometimes that is the case, and oftentimes it isn’t.
So, if the sex-related issue that you’re having in your relationship is that your sexual needs aren’t being met, first do you (and your partner) a favor by doing some sex journaling (check out “The Art Of Sex Journaling (And Why You Should Do It)”) so that you can tangibly see what those needs are and then plan time within the next week or so to pour a couple of glasses of wine, put on some 90s R&B and discuss with your partner what you need. Because actually, what a good lover is, is someone who listens and retains. This brings me to the next point.
4. Minimizing Your Partner’s Sexual NeedsGiphy
A husband once told that when he and his wife were in premarital counseling, something that he mentioned was a bona fide need was fellatio. According to him, his wife told both him and their counselor that she loved giving head. Fast forward to eight years of being in their union, and guess how many times that act went down? A measly four. FOUR TIMES (check out “Sooo...What If You HATE Oral?”).
It’s another message for another time, the amount of people who will “false advertise” during the dating stage in order to get to their goal of marriage. It’s also another message for another time how much that is a form of manipulation that tends to backfire in ways that the manipulator is oftentimes not prepared for.
For now, what I will say, is never think that just because something may not be a need for you that it isn’t a legitimate one for someone else. I mean, how would you feel if that’s how someone treated you? Yeah…exactly.
Yet that is just what happens in a lot of relationships, including when it comes to their bedroom. They will think that their needs should be met, hands down, yet when their partner comes with what’s important to them, all of a sudden, there is dismissiveness, nonchalance, and/or excuses — and how could that not rear its ugly head on so many levels?
Your partner’s sexual needs are essential, even if they are not your own. Never assume that you automatically know everything about them. Also, never assume that what worked two years ago is what will “scratch the itch” now. Hmph. Come to think of it, while you’re sipping on that wine and clearly articulating to him what turns you on, use that as an opportunity to ask him to return the favor. Listen with humility, receptiveness, and intent — the best kind of relationships process their partner’s needs with this kind of vibe…across the board.
5. Taking the “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” ApproachGiphy
Lazy lovers. When you hear that phrase, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? If it’s someone who is just lying there during sex, that would certainly qualify; however, I’m actually speaking of a different kind of laziness here. Believe it or not, some synonyms for lazy include words like apathetic, inattentive, tired, passive (cough, cough), procrastinating, neglectful, and slacking. So yeah, if you and/or your partner can use any of these words to define what sex is consistently like between the two of you — red flag, red flag…RED FREAKIN’ FLAG.
Speaking of being passive, another potentially serious sex-related problem is taking on the attitude that if something ain’t broke, you shouldn’t fix it. What I mean by that is, just because you know that getting on top and riding for exactly six-and-a-half minutes is what will get your partner off, that doesn’t mean that it should be your automatic go-to all of the damn time.
Why? Because. While a part of the fun of having sex is “reaching the peak,” another component that should never be underestimated is discovering new territory: trying new positions, creating a sex bucket list, taking (more) sexcations, playing sex-themed board games (put that phrase in Amazon or on Etsy’s site and go ham!)…you know, doing what will inspire creativity and deter either of you from becoming bored.
That said, a husband of 17 years once told me, “A man can be satisfied with the same woman. We just don’t want the same kind of sex with her.” Words to live by. Yes, indeed.
6. Using Sex as a Deflection or Coping MechanismGiphy
A few years ago, I wrote an article for the platform entitled, “Make-Up Sex Might Be Doing Your Relationship More Harm Than Good” — and with good cause. Words cannot express how many divorced (or soon-to-be divorced) women have told me that a part of what kept them in their marriage, for as long as they stayed in it, was the fact that the sex with their husband was beyond amazing…even though so much other stuff completely and totally sucked. Hey, good sex isn’t a bad thing (c’mon now); however, if it’s the only real thing that’s keeping you with someone, it can turn out to be a toxic deflector.
The reason why I say that is the purpose of sex isn’t to make love; it’s to celebrate it. And if all you’re doing with your partner is f — king and fighting or avoiding issues by stripping down or thinking that sex will “make it all better,” all the while not really knowing what the problem/issue is or what needs to be done to get down to the root of it, that is using sex as a pacifier and again, that’s not what sex is designed to be. Sex doesn’t deserve the pressure of being the end-all to “fixing” ish.
So, if what’s transpiring in your relationship lately is very little talking and a whole lot of sexing, and then once the sex is over, something still feels “off,” that’s a good indication that you’re misusing sex on some level. Get out of the bed, put on a robe, and do some talking (preferably in a room other than the bedroom; leave that space for sex and sleep only as much as possible). Because remember — as much as the wives that I mentioned said that their husbands once had them climbing the walls, those men are still ex-husbands now. Bottom line, sex is good, yet when it comes to keeping a relationship together, it will never be enough. Again, it was never designed to be.
7. Faking ItGiphy
I will never be a fan of faking orgasms. Maybe it’s because I’m a Gemini (we may be a lot of things, but “fake” isn’t really our style). Maybe it’s because I’m a very word-literal individual, and I know that fake means things like “prepare or make (something specious, deceptive, or fraudulent)” and “to conceal the defects of or make appear more attractive, interesting, valuable, etc., usually in order to deceive.” Or perhaps it’s because I don’t get how acting like you’re sexually fulfilled when you actually aren’t is doing anyone any good. Whatever it is, whenever a client (or someone in general because men fakealmost as much as women do) tells me that it’s something they do, I immediately find myself on a mission to shut that mess down (check out “Why You Should Stop Faking Orgasms ASAP”). ALL THE WAY DOWN.
The main reason is that, regardless of if the motive is to hurry things along, not hurt your partner’s feelings, or it’s something more cryptic than that (cough, cough, some form of manipulation tactic), there’s no way around the fact that fakeness is tied to deception and deception is a word that should never be connected to a healthy sexual dynamic.
Besides, one could argue that faking is a form of deflection as well because…wouldn’t it be better to just get it all out in the open WHY you are doing it than to keep pretending when life is too short and great sex is too good to not get the absolute most out of it, as much as possible?
Besides, again, chances are that if you’re faking that you’re sexually pleased, you’re probably faking something else in your relationship (or situation), and how could that possibly be good, right, or beneficial?
Yeah, when it comes to being satisfied across the board, please don’t fake it. State your case in the way that you’d like to hear something said to you, and let the chips fall where they may. If you’ve got a good man, he’s gonna — no pun — rise to the occasion. If his ego can’t handle it, well…that’s something that you should find out sooner than later — when it comes to the bedroom and outside of it? Right? #shoyouright
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Featured image by Giphy