Sometimes, when I'm working with engaged couples who I sense don't know each other as well as what marriage actually requires, I'll encourage them to check out a list of questions that I happened upon, many years ago. No biggie, right? Well, that's until they find out that the list has a whopping 276 questions on it (you can check it out here). It never fails that at least one of the partners will say something along the lines of, "Does it really take all of that?"
In a nutshell, yes. I mean, if you're willing to vow to spend the rest of your life with someone, shouldn't you want to know as much about them and how the two of you mesh as much as possible?
I feel similarly when it comes to sex. Although the movies want us to think that it's all well and good to bypass any real communication and just hop into bed with someone because anything less would hinder romance and spontaneity, real life says that sex is serious. It can impact your health. It can affect how you process present and future dealings with other people. Shoot, based on the outcome of each sexual experience, it can totally change your life. No exaggeration.
That's why I'm all about couples holding a bit of an interview session before doing-the-do. Because if someone in your mind is worthy enough to get that close to you, there are some things that you definitely should be clear about. I'm hoping that these 12 questions can help.
1. How Often Do You Get Tested?
I can't believe that there are still grown ass people in this world who say ridiculous things like, "They don't look like they've got a sexually transmitted disease." What in the world? Listen, years ago, I had chlamydia for a couple of years without even knowing it. A bout of mono and strep throat (yep, at the same time) revealed that it had been lying dormant in my system. Moral to the story—if you are sexually active, you need to be getting tested no less than annually. If you're shy about doing it in a doctor's office, these days, you can also get tested in the comfort, convenience and privacy of your own home. You can usually find them at your local drugstore. If you want a list of some of the best ones that are currently on the market, you can check 'em out here.
And yes, if you are contemplating having sex with someone new, you need to ask them how often they get tested. If they say "every year," ask them if it's been within the past 12 months. On the other hand, if they look at you like you're crazy, share with them what I just shared with you—that they can cop a test at Walgreens or CVS and, if they want to be with you, that is exactly what they should do.
2. Do You Always Use Condoms?
I've got a friend who has herpes. If you think that's uncommon, in the United States, it actually isn't. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, close to 1 in 5 people between the ages of 14 and 49 have it. I personally know at least six. Anyway, something that they're always trying to figure out is when to introduce their status into the conversation of a prospective partner. Whenever they ask my thoughts, I'm on the tip of, as soon as you see things could head towards something sexual, that would be the time. I then follow up with, "outbreak or not, make sure to always use a condom". Sometimes they comply. Sometimes they don't. SMDH.
Y'all, unless you're in a committed long-term relationship where there is a mutual discussion and understanding that things are exclusive, there really is no reason to not put a condom on. It doesn't matter if you're on some other form of birth control or not because that isn't going to keep STI/STDs at bay.
So yeah, if you're considering having sex with someone, getting their views on condom use is important. It speaks volumes to how responsible they are when it comes to their own health and well-being, along with how accountable they are to their partner(s).
3. How Do You Know When You’re Ready?
Now that we've gotten some of the clinical stuff out of the way, let's tackle some other areas because, whether folks choose to acknowledge it or not, sex isn't just a physical act; your mind and spirit get involved too (even when it comes to men, no matter how much they think otherwise). That's why I think another important question that needs to be raised is, "So, how do you know when you're ready to have sex with someone for the first time?" Is it raw attraction? Is it chemistry? Is it once they feel like they and someone else see life the same way? Do they have a steadfast "date count" (date one, date five, date 10)?
The reason why this is so relevant is because oftentimes couples experience a breakdown in communication and it's all based on assumptions and expectations as it specifically relates to sex. Getting clarity on how a prospective partner views the timing of sex can help you to understand if you both want the same things, at the same time—which in a relationship, is crucial.
4. Do You Automatically Become Exclusive When You Start Having Sex with Someone New?
Speaking of "never assuming", lawd. I don't know what makes so many people—in this case, I'm gonna say women—assume that just because they start to have sex with someone, that person is automatically going to stop having sex with other people. Don't let these rom-coms trip you up. The only way you know if someone intends to be exclusive is if you ask them. And yes, this needs to transpire before you give up the goods. No, not so that you can manipulate someone into being only with you by "dangling the carrot" so to speak. It's so that you can be clear on what you're signing up for—physically and emotionally.
Sex is a really intimate act. You have every right to know if you are sharing yourself with someone who is sharing themselves with another person or other people. While the details of what they've got going on is up for grabs, anyone who thinks this question is none of your business honestly doesn't deserve to be up in yours (if you know what I mean).
5. Will You Rate the Importance of Sex from 1-10?
Whenever I'm counseling married couples, something that I discuss with them is how important it is for them to share with their spouse how important sex is to them personally. It's because a huge issue that a lot of long-term couples deal with, isn't the fact that they aren't sexually compatible, it's that their expectation for how often they want to have sex isn't the same.
A one-off, sexually, is one thing. However, if you're planning on having sex with someone for quite a while, it's critical that you ask them to rate how important sex, in a relationship, is to them. Because listen, if you say "4" and they say "9" (or vice versa), I can promise you that there is gonna be some conflict up the road. Better to figure out if you can find some common ground before hopping in the sack. Trust me.
6. Do You See Sex in “Levels”?
What exactly do I mean by this? Last year, I wrote an article for the platform about how friendships come in levels. Well, something else that does is sex. Some people see sex as being purely recreational. Some people only have sex once some sort of emotional connection has been established. Some people wait for sex until there is a long-term relationship or even marriage. And with those levels, oftentimes comes the amount of vulnerability and sharing that they are willing to do, both in and out of the bedroom. I know several people who go through the mechanics of sex without really revealing much of themselves at all. Meanwhile, some of their partners have ended up feeling devastated because they were going "all in" on their end. Never assume that passionate sex is a solid emotional connection. Getting this kind of understanding comes from verbal communication not sexual activity. Again, just about everything has levels to it. When it comes to what your potential partner's levels are—ASK.
7. What Are Your Sexual Priorities?
Priority is an interesting word. It speaks to level of importance. It speaks to when something should occur. It speaks to what deserves to receive special attention. Keeping all of this in mind, knowing what someone's sexual priorities—yes, in this context—is really important as well. Is foreplay a big deal to them or not? How do they feel about afterplay? Do they have things on their sex bucket list that they haven't tried (and want to with you)? How open are they to trying new things? How important to them is their partner's pleasure? Learning what someone prioritizes in the sexual realm can give you a whole lot of insight into their approach to sex overall. And listen sis, the less you are blindsided, the better.
8. What Are Your Sexual Boundaries?
A couple of years ago, I penned an article for the site entitled, "These Are The Deal-Breakers You Shouldn't Hesitate To Have In The Bedroom". The reality is, even though you really can't get more naked (literally) with someone than when it comes to sex, most of us aren't so uninhibited that we have absolutely no boundaries or limits at all. What is your partner willing to do? What are they not willing to do? Do they feel some type of way about having sex in their home or their partner spending the night? What are some sexual pet peeves or irritants that they've got? Are there some things that are open to compromise and if so, what are they? Listen, I don't care how much chemistry you have with someone, never assume that your idea of great sex (more on that in a bit) is the same definition they've got. Again, the only way to know for sure is if you talk it out. Disrespecting somebody's boundaries are a big deal. Bedroom limits are certainly not exempt.
9. How Do You Feel About Oral Sex?
While it personally blows my mind, how many grown men and women can take a pass on oral sex (because usually it's the giving not the receiving that they don't like), that doesn't change the fact that it's the truth. Some people in my own world could do without it and boy has it caused problems in the bedroom for them (married and single people alike). You don't want to find out after you've given on your end (or even once you're just naked) that your partner has no intentions on returning the favor. So, if oral sex is a big deal to you, you need to find out if 1) they are down and 2) if they enjoy doing it or merely tolerate it as a means to an end. Hmph. Let me tell it, the folks who are down to receive and not give are revealing more than just their views on oral sex; they're low-key telling you if they're a selfish lover or not because if they want what they aren't willing to give…isn't that the textbook definition of what selfishness is?
10. Does Sex Change the Dynamic of the Relationship for You?
I'm the kind of person who believes that sex changes everyone to some extent. I mean, the oxytocin (the natural hormone that comes from kissing, cuddling and having sex that bonds you to the person you are doing those things with) is enough of a reason to support this stance. Still, some folks definitely end up getting way more attached than others. Plus, not everyone sees sex from the same perspective. I know people who immediately think they are in love after their first time with someone. I also know people who can chalk sex up to being something cool to do, so they don't find themselves super emotionally invested at all. That's because, even if science says that their bodies are connecting with someone, if they mentally and emotionally choose to check/tap out, that can still hinder anything serious from developing.
So yeah, you definitely need to find out if the person you're thinking about having sex with only wants to have sex or if they see that as a sign of taking the dynamic to another level. Again, far too many people create movies in their mind of what they think sex should be and do for them. Then when they get disappointed, they blame the other person. Sex doesn't translate for everyone the same way. The only way you'll know how it affects them relationally is by openly and genuinely talking with them about it.
11. Have You Ever “Faked It”? If So, Why?
Wanna know how egotistical someone is when it comes to sex? Ask them if they know that someone they've had sex with has faked an orgasm before. I don't care if it's a man or a woman, if they come at you with "Oh, I KNOW that hasn't happened"…EGO. The reality is that 75-80 percent of women haven't had a vaginal orgasm before and 1 in 4 guys have admitted that they've faked climaxing. For us, an orgasm comes with contractions (which means our partner should be able to feel some pulsating going on if they are inside of our vagina). For guys, it needs to go on record that a man hasn't automatically had an orgasm just because he ejaculated (men can have an orgasm without ejaculating too). That's why, all of that yelling and wall-climbing aren't a dead orgasm giveaway. Sometimes it's literally just an act.
The reasons why people choose to fake it are vast. Some want to hurry up and get sex over with. Some feel self-conscious about not having one and they don't want their partner to know. Some are unhappy in bed and yet want their partner to be pleased. The bottom line here is faking it is never "just faking it"; there's a story behind it and whatever that account is, it can reveal a lot about a person. For this reason, asking a prospective partner if they have faked it and, if so, why they thought that was the "right" thing to do.
12. How Do You Define “Great Sex”?
When you get a chance, check out "What GROWN Women Consider Great Sex To Be". I wrote it with the objective of expanding the concept of what "great sex" is for mature individuals. And for that reason, I'm gonna close out here. Like most things in life, defining "great" is highly subjective, especially when it comes to sexual activity. Some people think that someone who is down for whatever is great. Some feel like those with a super high libido are great. Others think that sex within the confines of a serious relationship make for great sex. While yes, some things you won't discover on the "great scale" until the act actually transpires, having some sort of insight into what makes someone walk away from a sexual experience with a huge smile on their face can happen before everyone's clothes come off—and it should.
Whew. There you have it. Listen, no one is saying that this has to be an interrogation. Just over a couple of glasses of wine, express that you'd like to learn a few things in the sex department. If he has a mature approach to sex—and you—he'll be open to the discussion. And whether you ultimately decide to move forward or not, you'll have a lot more peace of mind. Guaranteed.
Join our xoTribe, an exclusive community dedicated to YOU and your stories and all things xoNecole. Be a part of a growing community of women from all over the world who come together to uplift, inspire, and inform each other on all things related to the glow up.
Featured image by Giphy
- How Music Affects Your Sex Life - xoNecole: Women's Interest, Love ... ›
- Have Sex Every Day For A Month - xoNecole: Women's Interest ... ›
- How Often Do Married Couples Have Sex (on Average)? - xoNecole ... ›
- Ask These Sex-Related Questions BEFORE You Marry Him ... ›
- How Often Should You Be Having Sex - xoNecole: Women's Interest, Love, Wellness, Beauty ›
After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (email@example.com) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
Director of Content: Jasmine Grant
Campaign Manager: Chantal Gainous
Managing Editor: Sheriden Garrett
Creative Director/Executive Producer: Tracey Woods
Cover Designer: Tierra Taylor
Photographer: Ally Green
Photo Assistant: Avery Mulally
Digital Tech: Kim Tran
Video by Third and Sunset
DP & Editor: Sam Akinyele
2nd Camera: Skylar Smith
Camera Assistant: Charles Belcher
Stylist: Casey Billingsley
Hairstylist: DaVonte Blanton
Makeup Artist: Drini Marie
Production Assistants: Gade De Santana, Apu Gomes
Powered by: European Wax Center
Better Off Braless: The Benefits Of Not Wearing A Bra More Often
Somewhere between the start of the pandemic and entering the late stages of my 20s, bras become less and less of a priority.
Within that span of time, I, like most of the world, spent my days inhabiting my small bubble, staying in the house with loose-fitting loungewear, and being on Zoom calls that only required me to be presentable from the neck up. So as the demand to have my breasts at their perkiest form, so did my commitment to wearing bras.
The relationship that most women have with their bras is… well, complicated. While society has led us to believe that they’re required for us to be deemed as “ladylike” and “neat,” many of us find the garment to be a bothersome (and optional) accessory at best.
From underwires that poke and dig at our sides to push-ups that spill over, the argument in support of bras has begun to wane over the last few decades, with women of all cup sizes asking themselves if it’s better to just go braless.
Courtesy of Harper Wilde
“Many years ago, I ditched wired bras and opted for going braless out of a desire for freedom and celebrating natural human form,” multi-hyphenate Alyson Stoner tells xoNecole. The movement activist best known for their fly dance moves with the likes of Missy Elliott and on Step Up 2: The Streets, shares that when it comes to their bra selection, comfort is key. “As someone who enjoys moving their body, I found that I do want an underlayer that provides some support without interfering with comfort and mobility.”
A source of concern when choosing to go braless is whether or not the lack of support from a bra will, in turn, affect the firmness of one’s breast, resulting in early sagging. However, Sabrina Sahni, M.D., an oncologist at Mayo Clinic in Florida, shares that breast sagging is a result of age, not whether you’ve ditched your bras.
“Sagging breasts – also called ptosis – generally occurs due to chronic aging,” she tells xoNecole. “The breast is made up of a combination of glandular and fibrous tissue and fat tissue. Over time, the glandular tissue may become replaced with fattier tissue, and that can lead to more sagging. Wearing a bra or not wearing a bra ultimately does not change that.”
"Wearing a bra or not wearing a bra ultimately does not change that."
Women with heavier breasts may find that going braless may have its set of drawbacks, but Dr. Sahni says that you should always pay attention to your comfort levels since bras are a garment designed to support your back and correct your posture. “Those with heavier or larger breasts who choose to go braless may actually have worsening back/neck/shoulder pain,” she says. “Wearing a bra may allow them to correct their posture and help alleviate tension on those muscle groups.”
“Women with larger breasts may benefit from wearing a well-fitted, supportive bra as it may alleviate things like upper back pain or neck pain,” she shares.
Listening to your body is key when choosing whether you want to toss out your bras forever or just for a day. The beauty in a woman’s body is that it will tell us what we need to know before we even have to ask. There are common misconceptions about tighter bras being linked to causing health issues like breast cancer.
And while studies do show that Black women are “twice as likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer early when compared with Caucasian women,” the manifestation of this disease is predetermined by other varying factors.
“There are a lot of myths out there about going braless being better for breast cancer risk. It is completely false,” Dr. Sahni explains. “Whether or not you wear a bra does not have any bearing on your overall breast cancer risk. Ultimately, your risk is dependent on a variety of factors, including family history, your breast density, your lifestyle, and your reproductive history.”
If you’re looking for classic, weightless comfort that’s close to going braless, Alyson Stoner recommends Harper Wilde, a body-inclusive intimates brand on a mission to create a more comfortable world for womankind. They currently have a capsule collection with the intimates brand in partnership with their company, Movement Genius.
“Harper Wilde has been my go-to for years now because the materials are truly soothing on my sensitive skin, the amount of support feels like you're being gently hugged (not squeezed), and the styles are flattering and beautiful enough to wear as shirts or visible layers,” they say.
Courtesy of Harper Wilde
The brand offers super soft, breathable cotton fabric in their Triangle and Scoop Bralettes ($40 each) that will put the bliss and comfort back in your bosom.
Dr. Sahni says that choosing to opt out of bras or keep them close to your chest “truly depends on the individual” but it should be understood that “wearing or not wearing a bra won't significantly impact your overall health.”
“Ultimately, it comes down to comfort. There are some women with chronic breast pain where perhaps changing their bras to something more supportive and well-fitted may help,” she says. “Alternatively, some women find that going bra-less will alleviate their breast pain. I tell women that they should choose a bra that is comfortable for them, feels supportive, and one that they can wear regularly.”
So whether you choose to free the tatas or wear a bra that feels like it’s barely there, remember to listen to your body because ultimately, the choice is yours.
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
Featured image by Delmaine Donson/Getty Images