Rediscovering Self-Pleasure In A Pandemic
As the pandemic was shutting down so much around us in early 2020, disabled people were disseminating advice on what it would take for everyone to stay home and take care of themselves. We wrote Twitter threads on masking, cross-contamination, and sanitation. Much of what we’ve all experienced during the pandemic – mainly that the deadly virus would also be a mass disabling event - was predicted early on by the members of the disability community. We also predicted the social consequences of COVID-19 and isolation: People would yearn for connection with one another, for a touch of kindness, love and lust, and would go hungry.
Today, it seems that the rest of society has “moved on” from protecting themselves and each other from the effects of COVID, and now Monkeypox and even Polio. Judging by how many ancient graves people keep digging up, we are in for several more viral pandemics. Yet they’re accepting serial reinfection of disabling disorders as an inevitability worth the risk of “getting back to normal.” But there’s one demographic who is unable to do so: disabled people. This now includes the millions of people who have Long Covid.
With everyone “returning to life as usual,” abled people have told disabled people to keep isolated as the world continues without us. It’s our “choice,” they say. It is a painful reminder that those around us do not believe disabled people have lives, loves, goals or relationships to return to and if we want to venture outdoors, we have to put our lives on the line to do so. Our health and lives remain still while everyone else snatches the opportunities for connectivity we so desperately want.
Self-pleasure is so much more than pure sexual gratification. It’s meditation. It’s exercise. It’s grounding ourselves in our own bodies.
Touch and closeness with others are a dangerous gamble, regardless of what the pandemic minimizers have to say. So what do we do when our bodies crave touch? I’ve been here before.
When it comes to sex and touch, my own experience has consistently been informed by my disability. In high school, I believed that because I wasn’t dating anyone, I was behind the mark on milestones I should be passing. No one explicitly spoke to me about sexual autonomy, other than to say that if I were to have sex, I should use protection.
Amongst the people around me, there was doubt that I would ever “do it,” and in my youth, prior to me growing some gall, I would join in the speculation with my classmates about what my body would be capable of in the bedroom. The desperation to be held and wanted made me do some wild things, including, at 19, chatting with way older men online who said they wanted nothing more than to fly me to where they lived and take care of me.
Imani Barbarin out in pandemic style
Spending my teen years romantically isolated made me feel like I was undesirable and unwanted. It wasn’t just that I was disabled; I was also one of only four Black girls in my class of 400. I could already feel that others viewed me as an obligation, so dating me would be a nonstarter. I accepted that I would likely spend my life alone without ever experiencing the rush of being physically desired. As I was implicitly and explicitly taught, bodies like mine are to remain alone. Touching someone like me when not medically necessary was out of the question. Disabled, fat and Black does not a lover, a partner make. Maybe, I was told to believe, with some weight loss and physical therapy, I could get them to see past that.
It wasn’t until after college that I intentionally approached dating (and stayed away from the Facebook chats with random men). Dating apps were their own obstacle course as I had to navigate people wanting a little taste of chocolate and whether or not to disclose my disability. When not fielding messages asking if I had an “attitude” like “those other Black girls,” I was trying to get them to understand that I can, in fact, have sex (in theory with no indication otherwise) and I wouldn’t be broken by their bedroom prowess.
At this point, I had given up on the idea of ever having a relationship and focused more on hooking up. I could find someone who wanted to sleep with me, but I couldn’t make anyone love me, I believed.
I would engage in self-pleasure, but it always felt like a substitute for the romance that I had always wanted.
In a world in desperate need of safer sex practices, self-pleasure is self-care.
Finally, I found a partner that wasn’t put off by my disability and didn’t fetishize my Blackness. We hung out under the pretense of being on a “real date” and then made our way to my bedroom. I was clear about the parameters of this particular meet-cute. But in that moment something unexpected happened: being desired felt empowering. Knowing I was wanted made me like my body, my rolls, my skin more.
Afterwards, my self-pleasure sessions got even better, because I understood I was allowed to be and be seenas sexual and desirable. With each new encounter, I was gaining confidence and feeling more at one with my body -- even with someone else in the room.
Now, just as safe sex has become more complicated due to our government’s poor management of competing pandemics, self-pleasure is even more accessible. In the prescient words of N’SYNC, we are in the age of the Digital Get Down.
I like the idea of consenting entities engaging in intimate acts over video and Bluetooth connected devices simultaneously. Companies in recent years have made a point to cultivate accessible toys that accommodate those with dexterity and flexibility issues. Since my hands are on poles (crutches) all day, I prefer toys in the bedroom that allow my wrists and shoulders to rest. The magic bullet type of toys often can be paired with apps or bluetooth, but for those of us feeling the pressure of purse strings, toys with wires and a remote control can make you feel old school, but financially prudent. Long vibrating dildos are also worthwhile as long as the controls are on or near the top and can be accessed without straining too intensely. If getting into position is still difficult, wedge pillows for disabled people have the exact same shape as sex pillows. (Come to think of it, a Hoyer Lift looks identical to a sex swing. Coincidence? I don't think so!)
There are those who would say that these accommodations aren’t “real” or intimate enough. Not only does this discount the ways in which disabled people experience physical intimacy, it also diminishes the opportunities we all have for self-connection, for releasing any shame, guilt, ignorance or embarrassment we may hold about our own bodies.
In this sense, self-pleasure is so much more than pure sexual gratification. It’s meditation. It’s exercise. It’s grounding ourselves in our own bodies. And in a world in desperate need of safer sex practices, self-pleasure is self-care.
This isn’t to say that we don’t need other people or that self-pleasure is a last resort or a stand in for sex with others. It’s a valid-in-its-own-right practice that you can share with others or explore on your own as a way to know and love your body, with no judgment, as it is.
As disabled people, our lives are reliant on closeness, touch and letting others have a deep knowledge of our needs. We are aided, physically moved and treated by people who know us at our most vulnerable. Our ableist society doesn’t see us as we are: lustful, desirable, and wanted. Whether we’re living single, partnered, or isolating from potential partners to protect our own lives and each other, self-pleasure is a wonderful way to remind ourselves and the world that our bodies and our pleasure matter.
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This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
We waved farewell to summer last week, along with all its highlights. Now we warmly embrace music that encourages us to feel, calm down, and think back on the last enjoyable months and their aftermath. Some of the aftereffects of our summertime delights, like "Lil Boo Thang" and "Guarantee," will make us feel content and that our time was well spent. Other repercussions, like "I Just Wanna Feel Your Love Again" and "No SZNs," are more severe and will leave us contemplating some ill-placed steps while we spiral into deep despair.
Whichever side you find yourself on during this change of seasons, or if you're between, consider adding some of these new singles to your playlist to help mourn what's left of this summertime weather. While also welcoming the possibilities that only autumn's beautiful breeze can create.
1.Doechii - "Pacer"
Oh, Doechii, how we have waited for you at every door and corner for what seems like an eternity; yet we are so grateful that you have finally arrived. Doechii has released another single to further demonstrate her versatility after releasing one of the summer's most popular songs. With "Pacer," Doechii, who stunned us with her vocal range on "What It Is," goes back to her rapping roots. The TDE phenomenon starts the song out completely unhinged. With a blood-curdling scream, similar to fellow TDE artist Jay Rock, Doechii gathers her clique to prepare for battle, as though she had just returned from a fierce altercation.
However, instead of amassing casualties upon those who doubted her, Doechii plans to render them inept under the weight of her accomplishments and accolades. She acknowledges that she has arrived at her success later than she had hoped, but says she is on "God's time," and that while reaching her level of achievement later than others, she has done it regardless and with enough assurance to intend to remain for a while.
2."No Statements" - ScarLip
No matter what rap music you play these days, there is always a critic waiting to proclaim that rap and hip-hop are dying. Although part of what they say is true, they haven't yet detected the faint pulse that keeps the business alive. If the naysayers would quiet down long enough to hear that fading pulse, it would be the sound of female rappers smashing through locked doors in an attempt to reclaim its strong and steady beat. One of those rappers, besides Doechii, is ScarLip.
ScarLip, who is 22 years old, fresh off the success of her 2022 "Glizzy Gobbler," has dropped her newest single "No Statements." The rapper says in "No Statements" that she is not in the business of snitching, making statements, or leaving a paper trail of her wrongdoings, but rather needs to be fully aware of the circumstances so she may proceed with her decisions. It would be difficult to not hear people humming this song for weeks to come, because of the catchy chorus and straightforward lyricism. Maybe after this, critics can follow her lead and refrain from making detrimental statements.
3."How Were We To Know" - Emeli Sandé
How were we to know? We ponder this question after a relationship has ended and everything has been put out on the floor to be either picked up and rebuilt or swept away and abandoned. How were we to tell if the connection would burn to the ground or vanish into thin air? How could we have known that the person we intended to spend forever with would be gone the next day? How were we to recognize all the signs when they were arranged randomly and incomprehensibly? In this query, we pardon ourselves for not being omniscient. We accept responsibility for failing to recognize the apparent facts that were put in front of us.
Emelie Sandé asks the same questions in her most recent song, "How Were We To Know." She ponders how she might have known that the relationship was doomed. But as the song goes on, it becomes obvious that she, just like the rest of us, could have easily figured it out if we had communicated better, assigned blame less frequently, and set aside our egos.
4."Angel" - Halle (Acoustic Performance)
At the beginning of August, Halle Bailey released "Angel," her debut single as a solo performer. In less than a few hours, the piano-driven ballad that explored what it is like to be a Black woman growing up in this tiresome, neglectful environment captured millions of listeners and became an anthem for all sun-kissed girls. With beautiful lyricism that acknowledges the weight unfairly burdened upon Black women, Halle reminds audiences that they are in fact angelic, despite the demons that appear out of the woodwork to tell us otherwise.
When one falls, they fall "onto clouds" and find a way to make their way through the limitless struggles bestowed by simply existing. After all, as I said before, black women are the only things to ever grow without nourishment. As if the song couldn't be lovelier than the original rendition, Halle debuted an acoustic version of the smash a couple of weeks ago to demonstrate just how genuinely heavenly she is.
5."No SZNS" - Jean Dawson and SZA
Every day is like the day before. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and everything beautiful and dismal that can happen occurs in between. The seasons bring a certain ambiance that allows for differentiation between the past and the present, but only if you're in a place where it matters, and the changing of seasons can be felt. If not, then every day is every day. In "NO SZNS," by Jean Dawson and SZA, this simple fact is mentioned repeatedly in the chorus; but the reality of every day being the same creates an unshakeable melancholy that can only be felt through their lilting vocals and sometimes abrupt instrumentals.
They appear to be pleading for some other truth, because they find it difficult to accept that each day will be the same as the last, and that, despite the passing of time and the changing of the seasons, we are doomed to repeat the at times idyllic, terrifying cycle.
6."Black Dress" - 070 Shake
It's unfortunate that not as many people tune in to 070 Shake as frequently as they ought to. Despite becoming popular with her song "SCAR" on Beyoncé's The Lion King: The Gift, many people are still unaware of how good she is as an artist. The unclassifiable New Jersey musician, whose music is tough to define, has released "Black Dress," in preparation for her second album, You Can't Kill Me. The brand-new 070 Shake track "Black Dress" is a sensation with a haunting feel.
The song has strong, churning guitars, hazy synthesizers, and trap 808s that help to create an eerie and encapsulating, daunting melody. Shake plays the sole survivor of an aircraft accident in the popular song's music video, which was shot by Noah Lee. She is originally stranded in a tree with her parachute before descending to the burning wreckage below. When she finally touches the ground, she performs a song deserving of the fame she will one day enjoy.
7."You" - Lola Brooke ft. Bryson Tiller
What's that I hear around the way? Oh, another female rapper here to save the day? With the help of Bryson Tiller, Lola Brooke's newest song, "You," aims to kick off this cuffing season in the 90s. The rapper, who is relatively new to the hip-hop scene and who recently released the single "Don't Play With It," samples Foxxy Brown's popular song "Get Me Home" on this nearly three-minute tune.
In time for the fall, Brooke and Tiller's powerful voices and sensuous vocals have created the ideal song to dance to while searching for love. In her lyrics, the 29-year-old displays both her Brooklyn heritage and the characteristics ideal in a potential suitor. By the end of the song, it is clear that Brooke plans to move through this cuffing season with intention and refuses to settle for anything less than what she deserves.
8."Guarantee" - Black Eyed Peas
No matter how far into the future we are, you can always depend on the Black Eyed Peas to come from a more vibrant, lively, and distant time period than our own. The trio speaks about having what other people need in their newest song, "Guarantee," off of their 2022 album ELEVATION. In this single, they assert that they can elevate all that is freely provided to them, leading to greater love, knowledge, and total pleasure.
Promising endless satisfaction, they show what is guaranteed if only given the opportunity. With a fun summer mix and poppy, futuristic beat, "Guarantee" is one of the dance songs the endless heat has to give.
9."Lil Boo Thang" - Paul Russell
It is almost ridiculous how often this song has been played throughout the summer, to not have made it in time to be a summer hit. But with only the first 30 seconds available to audiences via TikTok, it had no other choice but to be a glimmer of what it could have been. Nevertheless, now that Paul Russell's "Lil Boo Thang" has been made available, it includes a much lengthier version of the endearing summer song about liking someone enough to be open and honest about one's intentions.
In this short song, he sings of all the potential and affection he can bring to the relationship if only given the chance. Concluding with a nice homage to The Emotions' "Best of My Love," "Lil Boo Thang" might be able to reclaim the love it was unable to receive in the summer this fall.
10."I Just Wanna Feel Your Love Again." - Montell Fish
If Kevin Abstract, Leon Bridges, and Moses Sumney had a baby, I'd imagine it'd be this Montell Fish single. In "I Just Wanna Feel Your Love Again." Fish laments the end of his relationship and the unrestricted love that came with its demise in this song. Without her affection, the need and want to be with her consumes his weekends and moments, but he is always left pleading and alone.
To make matters worse, he is compelled to navigate the world knowing how wonderful it is to experience everlasting love and realizing that he is unlikely to come close to doing so again. As he sings over a guitar and echoing backing vocals, the song has a loneliness that cannot be placed into words. Ultimately, his longing to once again experience his love's devotion feels almost unearthly and forever out of reach.
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