As we enter a new year, you and your partner are coming off of enjoying a few days off and you’re (hopefully) discussing some of the ways that you want to improve your relationship in the upcoming months, I hope that one of the topics that come up is your sex life. Because while a lot of people seem to treat sex like it’s the icing on the cake of their dynamic, I prefer to see it as an ingredient in the cake. It really can’t be said enough that one of the main things that (usually) set a long-term relationship apart from all of the other connections that people have is the sex — and since that makes sex exceptional, it should be treated as such…wouldn’t you say?
So, keeping this in mind, what kind of sex do you want to have this year? If what immediately comes to your mind is, “What do you mean? I want to have good sex” (duh), then I think you should read this all the way through. Because in order to have good, better or (again hopefully) off-the-charts sex, there are a few different points that should be explored — first.
What Grade Would You Give Your Sex Life Last Year?
Something that I say (and wholeheartedly believe) often is, “The problem with a lot of us is, we’re so used to experiencing an ‘F’ that we think a ‘C’ is an ‘A.’” While I typically apply this to relationships, sex can fit right in with it too. While when we first start having sex with someone new, the focus may be on how good or not-so-good it is, it’s pretty common that once you get into something serious, you don’t put as much thought into how great or not-so-great it might be or what could be done to make things better. You kind of just accept that this is who you’re with and this is the way sex is gonna be.
Listen, if you’re in a long-term dynamic, I’m assuming that you’re trying to be in it for the long haul, right? And if both of you signed up for exclusivity, that means you’re only going to be sleeping with each other. Therefore, you’d better care about if the sex is amazing — or not. That’s why I think it’s crucial that you both put your ego aside and put a grade on your sex life. Based on whatever the “score” is, both of you should explain it. Better to have a couple of minutes of uncomfortableness in hearing what’s up than to sign up for another year of C or below experiences (overall). Right?
Is Sex a Real Priority for You Both?
A wise person once said something that is oh so very true, across the board — “No one is busy. It just depends what number you are on their priority list.” This is why, when married couples talk to me about how they can’t recall the last time they had sex because of how “busy” they’ve been, while I try to keep from letting them see it, I do end up rolling my eyes. Sex is about intimacy. Sex is a profound form of communication. Orgasms have a ton of holistic benefits (check out “10 Irrefutable Reasons To Have An Orgasm A Day” and “10 Hacks To Help You Climax More Consistently”). So, why is it that you can find time to do any and everything else but participate in some consistent copulation? Again, it’s all about priorities.
And what’s the indication that you prioritize sex? Word on the street is, if you have sex about once a week, you’ve got a pretty “normal” sex life. My take is, if you get that sex is a staple in any romantic relationship and you keep pushing lower on your to-do list, that is revealing more about your connection — or disconnection — with your partner than you might think. Going into the new year, prioritizing sex must be a topic of conversation. Don’t put it off. Do it as soon as you possibly can.
Are You and Your Partner Great “Sex Communicators”?
Speaking of conversations, good sex is all about great communication and communication is about imparting something and interchanging something. You know, there’s a husband I know who brags about how good of a communicator he is. His wife and I find that to be past hilarious because he honestly doesn’t seem to know the difference between a monologue (hearing himself talk) and a dialogue (exchanging ideas with others) and he absolutely sucks at listening. Interestingly enough, this very husband was the inspiration behind the article, “BDE: Please Let The ‘It Needs To Be Huge’ Myth Go” that I wrote last year because, another fascinating about him is, he seems to think that because he’s “packin,’” he’s automatically good in bed. Chile, LOUD and WRONG again.
It really should come as no surprise that a lot of people who are poor communicators outside of the bedroom are also pretty bad at doing it inside of the bedroom too. And just what are some indications of being a poor communicator? Making assumptions. Thinking that your voice is what’s more important. Refusing to compromise. Acting like your opinions should be treated like facts. Being patronizing or condescending. Not respecting what the other person is saying. See how that can make someone be bad in bed?
A man can be entirely in you (yes literally), with your permission, and you can still feel like the two of you are miles apart. Since I believe that sex is an ultimate form of communication and the closer that two people feel on a mental and emotional level, the better their relationship can/should become, definitely discuss how good the two of you are about communicating on a sexual level as far as speaking and being heard about what your wants and needs are. If you need a little help in this department, check out “9 Sex-Related Questions You & Your Partner Should Ask Each Other. Tonight.”. At the very least, it can help to put the two of you on the right track.
Do You Want More Passion or Intimacy?
Here’s the thing about passion — a lot of those crazy women on Lifetime television and that show For My Man are “passionate.” I’ve got a male friend right now who has a possessive AF girlfriend who constantly fights with him and then they have make-up sex that is passionate (check out “Make-Up Sex Might Be Doing Your Relationship More Harm Than Good”). So, please don’t assume that if you’re climbing the walls during sex while thinking that you are about to lose your mind the rest of the time, that you’re in something that is good, healthy, or wise. One way or another, passion alone has destroyed many lives.
With those disclaimers out of the way, do I think that there is a good side to passion? Definitely. When powerful and strong emotions are tied into love (or at least deeply caring for someone) and that is expressed sexually, it can be a pretty beautiful thing. So, let’s start there. When’s the last time that you and your partner talked about how you feel about each other? Listen, just because you’re together, that doesn’t always or automatically mean that you feel the same way you did last year or that some things haven’t shifted so…discuss it. If you feel like some passion — that “I can’t wait to tear your clothes off because I’ve just gotta have you right here and now” sex — is missing, 7 times outta 10, that tends to be more about what’s going on in your head than the rest of your body parts.
And what about intimacy? One definition of that word is “a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history, etc.”; another is “a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group.” A part of the reason why new couples need to date is to get to know each other. A part of the reason why long-term couples should is to get to know each other more and better. Only arrogant individuals presume that they know all that there is to know about everything and everyone.
That said, if intimacy during sex is what you desire to have more of in the upcoming year, you need to get more “detailed knowledge,” a “deeper understanding” and to become “(even) more affectionate” with your partner. Quality time is a huge part of what can make that happen, so definitely put more dates on your to-do list for the upcoming months (check out “10 Romantic Dates You Can Go On (In Your Own Home),” “15 Date Ideas Based On Your Love Language” and “When's The Last Time You And Your Man Had A 'Sex Date'?”).
How “Risky” Are Things?
I will forever die on the hill that one of the most underrated reasons for why two people decide to call it quits is boredom. And when it comes to sexual boredom, it’s important that couples take more risks. Keeping this in mind, when’s the last time you and your partner checked something off of each other’s sex-themed bucket list, taped a sexual encounter, or went on a sexcation? When’s the last time you had sex outside of your bedroom or bathroom, tried a position that you’ve never done, or attempted a sexual goal that you’ve yet to reach (like maybe how many orgasms you can both have in one night)? A wise person once said that there can’t be rewards without risk. Your sex life can apply to this statement — ten-fold.
How Much Is Sex the “Glue” in the Relationship?
Glue is what holds things together and even the Good Book says that sex makes two people one (which is why people need to be very careful about who they “one themselves to” — Genesis 2:24-25, I Corinthians 6:16-20 — Message). Not only that but oxytocin is a natural hormone that literally makes two people feel closer to one another during physical acts of intimacy and affection. With that said, while I do think that it’s unhealthy to solely rely on sex to keep your relationship afloat, at the same time, I do think that it should be respected as a vital part of what keeps you and yours in a good space.
So, tell me something — how much is sex the “glue” in your relationship? How much do you look forward to it with your partner? How safe and secure within your bond does it make you feel? When it comes to the things that you enjoy the most about your connection, where does sex go on the list? You know, glue is a type of adhesive, one definition of adhesive is tenacious and to be tenacious is to “hold fast,” be “highly retentive” and “not easily pulled asunder.”
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that has gotten way too flippant and casual about sex. Still, if you look at it past the surface, it can help you and your partner remain unbreakably close. It can be a type of glue that makes your bond unmatched. If you let it.
What Is Your Sex Mission Statement?
A philanthropist by the name of Andrew Carnegie once said, “If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.” That said, from both a personal and professional perspective, I am all about mission statements because they’re a great way to set goals, remove distractions (and excuses) and stay focused. So…where’s y’all’s sex mission statement at? Straight up. If you want to have a better and more fulfilling sex life in the upcoming year, it’s important that you and your partner get together to jot down a couple of paragraphs about what kind of goals you want to set surrounding your sex life and the mutual commitment that you both will make to achieve said-goals. Then put the statement somewhere where you both can see it on a regular basis.
Research says that you have a 42 percent greater chance of reaching your goals when you write them down. That said, please determine in your mind to go into 2022 with an official sex mission statement. It’s a bona fide way to end this year with a bigger smile on your face than you started it with. I can almost guarantee it!
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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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.”
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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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