There's something about deal-breakers that I think a lot of people miss. A deal-breaker is not exactly a standard that you have. Take dating. If you don't want to be with a man who is broke or you'd prefer not to date someone who's been married before, technically, that's not a deal-breaker. For you, that's a standard or personal principle.
By definition, a deal-breaker is more like something that is up for negotiation, but if both parties can't come to an agreement, the "deal" is off of the table. And boy, when it comes to deal-breakers as it specifically relates to sex in relationships, in order for everyone involved to be happy and fulfilled (oh, and safe; don't forget about safe), there definitely needs to be some pre-sex negotiating that goes on.
To me, there are about 10 things that should be discussed between two people who plan on "engaging" one another in the bedroom. For some of y'all, these are standards and I totally get that. But for everyone, there should at least be a conversation—or two or 12—about all of these issues, preferably beforehand. Otherwise, there's a huge chance that not only will coitus not go as planned, but the relationship itself could find itself in some serious jeopardy too.
1. Bad Hygiene
You'd think it would be a given that most people are turned off by bad hygiene. Oh, but not so fast. Studies reveal that many of us ladies are completely into a sweaty man and, let's not act like all sweat smells great. Personally, some of the best sex I ever had came from a guy who dripped sweat the entire time. The problem was, I actually can barely stand my own, so it was getting to a point where I had to ask myself if I wanted to keep sleeping with him. Either we needed to move to Antarctica or I was gonna have to bow out gracefully (we ended up breaking up before it got to that point).
Along these same lines, there are people I know who don't mind having sex after a long day at work (sans a bath, I mean). Then there are others who think it's a given that their partner should wash up first. See what I mean? Some things are not necessarily right or wrong; some things are about personal preference, so there needs to be some upfront negotiating first.
As far as pubic hair grooming goes, I've had partners who definitely prefer a lot of hair and others that feel like having sex with a woman who has little-to-none of it is like having sex with a child (someone literally said that to me); it creeps them out, so a bush is a must. But then, I have a friend who's been married for years whose husband has been begging her to stop "Nair-ing" her vulva; she ain't having it. Sometimes, she grows it out, just to make him smile. Again, there goes an example of sexual negotiating.
Taking all of what I just said into account, when it comes to your partner's hygiene and landscape, what would be your deal-breakers? Do you have any at all? Does he?
2. Condoms. Or Not.
Did you know that reportedly, only one-third of us use condoms? Wow. Even with all of the information out in these streets about STDs being on the rise, folks still ain't wrappin' it up. Although I'm abstinent now, you can read some about my sexually active journey to see that I clearly wasn't the posterchild for safe sex (not even close—SMDH); therefore, I get that using rubbers isn't anything any of us really want to do. But condoms do save lives (and prevent unwanted pregnancies), so whether or not you and your partner are going to use them is a must-have conversation.
If you do decide to partake (which you absolutely should unless you're in a long-term commitment and you both get tested on a regular basis), you need to make sure that he puts it on, every time, unless you consent to otherwise. I needed to say that because, unfortunately, stealthing (the practice of men taking off condoms without their partner's consent) happens more than a lil' bit. This is why condom etiquette is something that should never be assumed.
Oh, and just for the sake of subconscious reinforcement—if a man does happen to stealth you, he doesn't care about you nearly as he should. So yes, there should be no question that what he did qualifies as an automatic deal-breaker.
3. Fetish Expectations
Even as much as I write about sex, even though I used to work alongside a ministry that got people out of porn, I still have moments when I'll read about something and my immediate response is, "I cannot." Literally. Take sexual fetishes, for example. As I was reading a Thought Catalog article on some of the different kinds that are out there— hybristophilia (the reenactment of rape, murder, etc.), hematolagnia (drinking blood during sex), and cuckoldry (enjoying watching yourself getting cheated on by your partner)—while the topic of fetishes really does garner a "to each their own" response, before someone decides to walk into a room with a diaper on or urinate on you, make sure you let them know whether you're down for exploring fetishes. And, if so, which ones.
Back when I was in college (the early to mid-90s), there were some women I knew who, unbeknownst to them, were taped having sex by some guys on the yard. Those "men" would capture footage of those ladies doing all sorts of stuff and then blackmail them throughout the rest of the school year. That is called revenge porn and most states have laws concerning it.
With articles out here like "Should You Make A Sex Tape? How Amateur Adult Films Can Build Intimacy And Lead To Better Sex", it's clear that some people like to film themselves doing-the-do. But with other articles out in cyberspace like "Filming Yourself Having Sex Can Feel Great – but Only If You're Both in Control", make sure that your partner treats you at all times like one of my favorite Usher songs "Superstar"; that just like a concert, if you prefer that all technology be put away, he adheres to your request. No, not request…requirement.
5. An Undesirable Location
I once read a study that said 1 in 3 teen boys are pressured to have sex while 23 percent of girls are. Pressure, by definition, is a type of force or demand. Yeah, it's an op-ed for another time about how many of our men are not as sexually healthy as they should be and it's all because they were introduced to sex via some sort of "pressure". For now, what I'll say is adults can "peer pressure" each other about as much as adolescents tend to do.
That said, I'm all for spontaneity and thinking outside of the box. When I checked out an article on 200 different places to have sex, I must admit that I filed some away in my mental sexual bucket list. But as I thought about some places (in the car, on the side of a building, public bathrooms) and some of the women in my life who've shared with me times when making out turned to their clothes being taken off in places where they didn't want that to happen, even though they wanted the sex itself—that is why I thought it was important to mention this point as well.
He can think that you're frigid, prudish or any other adjective, but you have every right to have sex, not only when but where you want to. Full stop. No apologies.
6. No STD Test/Results
Every once in a while, I'll get asked what my ultimate "sexual low" was. For me, it was having unprotected sex, with three different guys (on three separate days, not all at once), in one week. Back when I was sexually active, my pattern was always to have sex with friends, so it was pretty much a week of "recycle sex". It doesn't matter, though. Because they were my friends, I knew them well enough to know that I wasn't the only person they were "repurposing" with. For this reason alone, I should've required an STD test from them and they should've required one of me.
I've had chlamydia before. Thankfully, that is curable. But hepatitis B, herpes simplex virus (HSV or herpes), HIV and the human papillomavirus (HPV), at least for now, are not. Plus, there are STDs like super gonorrhea that do not currently react to antibiotics (yikes).
I don't care how fine he is, how well you know him, or what he tells you, it's always smart to expect an STD test and to view the results for yourself before sex (especially with a new partner). And since there are now tests that can be taken from the convenience and privacy of your own home (click here for a woman's test, here for a man's), there's really no excuse. Now is there?
OK, this is another one of those points that is relevant unless you are in a long-term relationship. I'm pretty sure that all of us who've had sex, have done it while we were drunk, at least, once over the course of our lifetime. The reason why this made the list is because, if the person you're thinking about "engaging" is a new potential partner and you get inebriated, it can get a little murky when it comes to whether or not what you did (or all of what you did) was consensual.
There's no question that, for many, alcohol can intensify sexual arousal and remove anxiety and jitters. But don't wait until after you're tipsy AF to try and decide if you should get it on or not. Again, this is a discussion that should absolutely be had beforehand. If the guy respects you and is looking out for your best interest (and his, come to think about it), he will totally agree.
I'll tell you what always has been and forever will be a deal-breaker for me. Don't be over here thinking that you'll get the benefits of my full lips and overbite when "going downtown" (shout out to SWV) ain't even on your radar. Nope. Nada. No sir.
Listen, I'm pretty sure that it comes as absolutely no surprise that in a fairly large (and popular) survey, a whopping 85 percent of men vs. a mere 64 percent of women claimed to have an orgasm during the last sexual encounter that they had. Hmph. The only thing that I can figure is the cause of that is selfishness; men who don't make their partner's pleasure as much of a priority as their own (good lovers do, by the way).
The act of sex between two people can't happen without the participation of both (not if it's consensual, anyway). If your partner doesn't believe that it shouldn't go down unless both of you are also fully satisfied, then there's no question that his selfishness should also be a surefire deal-breaker.
9. Sharing Your Partner
As far as multiple sex partners go, two reads that provide some interesting info is "Promiscuous America: Smart, Secular, and Somewhat Less Happy" and "7 Things People with Multiple Partners Want You to Know About What It's Really Like". Something that particularly stood out to me in the second article was polyamory requires a lot of communication, isn't always easy, and some people "fall into the lifestyle" without even really noticing (getting drunk and having a threesome was the example given).
Yeah, about that last one. Whether it's in the form of a full-on relationship or you simply being cool with you and/or your partner having sex with others, that's one thing. But if you're someone who is under the assumption that you and your partner are exclusive, 1) don't assume that; ask, and 2) if he's not interested in that arrangement and/or he initially agrees, only for you to eventually discover that he lied, hopefully it's a given that this is definitely a deal-breaker as well.
10. The Act Itself
This one is short 'n sweet. From positions to the amount of time to what happens afterwards—sex has hundreds of different combinations. What you consider to be a good time may or may not be what he does. If he mentions or tries anything that makes you uncomfortable, stop. If he pushes you or pressures you beyond your boundary, he is violating you. Yes sis, out of all of these, that is the biggest sexual deal-breaker that there is. Period.
Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:
What GROWN Women Consider Great Sex To Be
Sexual Compatibility Is As Important As Spiritual Compatibility
Make-Up Sex Might Be Doing Your Relationship More Harm Than Good
If You Have To Wonder If It Was Rape, It Was
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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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Janelle Monáe's Reveals The Real Reason Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Tuxedos
Singer and actress Janelle Monáe exemplifies how change can be a powerful catalyst for growth and transformation.
Monáe, who rose to fame in 2010 following the release of her debut album, The ArchAndroid, captivated fans' hearts with her powerful vocals, catchy tunes, and style. Around that time period, when various female artists were known to wear provocative ensembles on stage, the "Tightrope" songstress set herself apart by wearing her signature black and white suits and continued to do so for almost a decade.
In the later years of her career, after the release of her studio albums The Electric Lady in 2013 and 2018's Dirty Computer, many began to notice the shift in Monáe's artistry and fashion, which some widely praised.
Although the now 37-year-old rarely addressed the reason behind the transformation over the years, that would all change when Monáe sat down with radio personality Angie Martinez on her IRL podcast earlier this month.
During the interview, Monáe --who was promoting her latest album, "The Age of Pleasure"-- opened up about her mental health struggles, how she would cope, and why she chose to live in freedom.
Janelle On Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Suits All the Time
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In the May discussion, the "I Like That" vocalist revealed she suffers from anxiety, which she claimed would occur around "winter to spring."
Monáe added that when she has her bouts with anxiety, she tends to turn to food as a coping mechanism. Further in the interview, the "Lipstick Lover" singer disclosed that her emotional eating habits caused a weight fluctuation and that she could no longer fit into the suits she once wore earlier in her career.
Monáe explained that even though she tried to diet and exercise to return to her smaller figure, she ultimately stopped and made peace with herself with the help of therapy because she acknowledged that she isn't the same person she was nearly a decade ago and shouldn't try to be even if it was a highly "celebrated" version.
"I'm petite, but it can get thick... When I couldn't fit them suits anymore, and I was like, 'Oh my God, what is going on?' I would be dieting, running, or exercising, trying to fit into [it]. I'm just like, 'No. No, we're here. This is where we are.' We [are] not about to be utilizing life trying to be an old version of ourselves. No matter how celebrated that version of me was. I'm here. I'm here," she said.
Janelle On Freedom
As the topic shifted to freedom and what that meant to Monáe, the "Primetime" vocalist shared that in this new era of her life, she enjoys it because she can boldly express herself however she wants and honor who she is as a person right now.
Monáe also revealed that she had found ways to become a better artist and the best version of herself because of her freedom.
"What is the new version of freedom? What does that feel like? That's usually when I feel the most free is when artistically, I can honor exactly who I am right now," she stated. "I feel most free as a human when I can honor exactly who I am right now."
Monáe's fourth studio album, The Age of Pleasure, is set to be released on June 9.
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