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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Color of Self-Love: Exposing Racism in Black Female Masturbation Research


The idea that research on ethnicity and sexuality has increased, while other social science research on ethnicity has potentially decreased, suggests that there may be something unique about the intersection of ethnicity and sexuality specifically which has sparked the interest of researchers. Patricia Hill Collins supports this concept with her assertion that “sexuality can be seen as a site of intersectionality, a specific constellation of social practices that demonstrate how oppressions converge” (11). Joane Nagel also entertains this notion through her employment of the term “ethnosexual intersections,” which she uses in order to discuss the ways in which ethnicity and sexuality inscribe themselves on each other (118). Based on this understanding that sexuality may occupy a unique site for studying intersectionality, the main focus of this paper is to explore the ways in which the design, implementation, and analysis of research on Black women and masturbation in the United States may reinforce historically racist and sexist ideologies. The four studies specifically included in this analysis are as follows: “Personality Correlates of Sexual Behavior in Black Women” (Fisher, 1980), “Kinsey Revisited, Part II: Comparisons of the Sexual Socialization and Sexual Behavior of Black Women Over 33 Years” (Wyatt, Peters, & Guthrie, 1988), “Masturbation and Sexual Health: An Exploratory Study of Low Income African American Women” (Robinson, Bockting, & Harrell, 2002), and “The Use of Self-Pleasure: Masturbation and Body Image among African American and European American Women” (Shulman & Horne, 2003). Scrutinizing this research through a feminist lens, I ultimately suggest that these studies reinforce white supremacy through the invocation of a Black/White paradigm, reinforce historically racist and sexist notions of Blackness and sexuality, as well as situate the studying of the sexual practice of female masturbation within a social problems framework in order to exploit the concept of sexual deviance and construct racism and sexism.

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