We've all seen the hashtags. The #BlackBoyJoy movement has been an inspiring, empowering, and refreshing one to watch. On social, we see the lighter side of our kings as fathers, bosses, lovers, mentors, and friends, and with that has come a wave of brothers exploring all the dimensions of themselves that venture far beyond the typical black male stereotypes. Part of that conversation and celebration of black manhood involves facing the issue of mental health, with men showing it's OK to be emotional and cope with addictions and illnesses.
Kelli Richardson Lawson, founder of The Sonrise Project, has watched this manifest in her own family. Her platform provides a safe space and community for parents or guardians to explore mental health issues with their loved ones. As a wife and mother of two sons, she faced challenges with her eldest, Kyle, a 17-year-old who began to show behavioral changes related to depression and drug use in his early teens. Right before his entry into high school, Kelli said, Kyle lost interest in swimming, a sport that he loved and was excellent at---so excellent that he was invited to train for the Olympics and set to earn college scholarships.
"He came home and said he didn't want to swim anymore," Kelli explained. "We started to see him change. We thought it was typical teenager stuff. He [was just] going into high school, so [we thought] this is what they do. They become moody, they start just hiding out in their rooms all the time---all of that. What we didn't realize was that he was starting to experiment with drugs, specifically marijuana. He was 15."
Courtesy of Kelli Richardson Lawson
With time, Kyle's behavior became "progressively worse," and he'd lock his bedroom door, become defiant, and experiment with marijuana. "Previously, he was a straight-A student, a happy kid---an easygoing, happy young man. Things suddenly changed---his grades, his interest in school. Even his friends started to change," Kelli recalled. She and her husband, Keith, decided that they needed to seek help to figure out what was going on, so they consulted a mental health professional. The two had already been familiar with therapy, having participated as a family with Kyle and his younger brother, Kristopher. Through testing, Kelli said, it was discovered that Kyle was indeed dealing with depression and faced challenges of ADHD in addition to the consistent marijuana use.
The Lawsons are among thousands of families of color impacted by mental health issues. African Americans are reported to be 20% more likely than other groups to face "serious mental health problems," suicide rates have been on the rise---particularly for black boys and teens---and black men experience damaging professional and personal effects of major depressive disorder (MDD) at a higher percentance than white males.
Kelli and her husband continued to seek professional help via psychologists and psychiatrists, and they eventually enrolled Kyle in special boarding programs where he could get consistent access to therapy and life skills lessons. "Many of my friends say, 'Kelli It's just weed. it's just weed.' Yes, one could say that, but there's also the mental [health] component that is really challenging, so we're working through both of those things."
Image Courtesy of Kelli Richardson Lawson
Though Kyle has seen his ups and downs in behavior, grades, and marijuana use, Kelli said, today, he is progressing step by step, looking forward to his senior year of high school and applying to colleges. "He loves music and he is creating all kinds of songs all the time," she said. "He wants to be a musician and he's talented. He's doing online classes and a handful of courses from his school, and we're taking it day by day, trying to help him stay clean and stay well."
Kelli wanted to help other parents and that's where the idea of The Sonrise Project came from. "The project is really meant to be a space for parents [with children who have] mental illness and addiction issues," she said. "What I found going through all of this over the past couple of years is that there are really no places to talk, share, learn and cry and to have a sense of community. It's a huge issue."
"Our community still has a stigma associated with mental illness, and no one wants to talk about it. I learned, through many of [the mental health] programs, the power of talking with other parents who are going through the same things, and so that's what this is supposed to be."
Through her platform, families can participate in free weekly chats where they can share their stories and ask questions. "We have calls [in the morning], and they're confidential," Kelli explained. "I'm not an expert in this. I can only share my journey, but there's an expert---a psychiatrist, psychologist, or an education specialist---on every call."
The platform also provides information on mental health resources, and it has even evolved to expand its reach. "Because I wanted to make sure my family gave permission to do all of this and that Kyle was OK sharing his story, we talked about it. [Kyle] wanted to change some of the language, and I did. And he also said, 'Mommy this is not just black boys. It's all boys.' I said, 'Good point.' I've even had multiple women reach out saying, "I'm having issues with my daughter.' The bottom line is it's a place for people to come together to have an outlet to share, to listen, to learn, and to go through this together."
For more information about The Sonrise Project, you can visit their website here.
Featured image courtesy of Kelli Richardson Lawson
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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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
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.
Feature image by Vladimir Vladimirov/ Getty Images