We recently held a informative conversation surrounding Black men’s sexual health and why we need to make it a priority. One of our speakers, Uzochi Nwaosu a Sexual Health Adviser & Researcher, kicked off the event, where he spoke about understanding the sexual health experiences and motivators of Black heterosexual men in London and segments his research into two factors – motivations and behaviours.
What did Nwaosu want to find out during his research?
- How does the experience and understanding of being a Black man living in London inform sexual attitudes, relationships and behaviours?
- What do Black heterosexual men in London describe as their motivators for condom use and how does this inform their STI and pregnancy prevention efforts?
- What is the experience of racism among Black heterosexual men in London and how does this experience inform engagement with sexual health services and interventions?
Why did he want to find this out?
- Disproportionate STI burden
- Concurrent partnerships
- Condomless sex
- Lack of understanding on needs
- Lack of priority e.g. commissioners, services.
For this research to be done we first have to understand men – Black men in particular. Living in London has had a massive impact on their sexual activities, including number of sexual partners, age of sexual debut, and demographics of sexual partners. Many participants suggested that their sexual experiences would be very different had they not grown up or lived in London.
But how can we get them to speak openly about their experiences?
A universal safe space for men, is a Barbour shop. Interviewing 10 heterosexual males, Nwaosu, to explore their behavioural experiences and motivators. This is what they had to say.
“Growing up, everyone was striving to be the top dog. All the guys, it was all about the latest creps you were wearing, how many girls you have been with, it was all about how soon you lost your virginity, who is the strongest. All of that typical male bravado”.
“The girls I would have met, they’re more like, not responsible, I don’t know the word for it. They’re more slow, they don’t want to rush. I think there would have been just different influences that would have probably influenced me in having it [sexual debut] at a later stage”.
“As well as growing up now, I understand, especially women now, they’re definitely more sexually liberated. I mean again, I’ve had women approach me for sex. And this is London, the only place. I’ve been around in a lot of countries, they’re more subtle with it.”
“Yhh, 100%. Girls out of London are, I don’t know how to explain it. I think because London is a vibrant place so they’re [girls in London] just more outgoing I would say”.
How has music influenced sex culture?
The influence that music and films that are popular within Black communities has on young Black men’s perceptions and ideas of sex and relationships, and how to behave within these was discussed by several participants. The images portrayed by hip-hop and dancehall artists in their music videos, and by actors in their films create a false narrative of what a successful Black man looks like and how they behave.
“The songs we were growing up with, we started to listen to rap songs and stuff like that. So when you used to hear rap lyrics and stuff and talking about women with booties and stuff like that, that’s when we started to realise other components on women. Sexual kind of stuff”.
“So yeah, I feel like because we take our ideologies from rap, our perception of what we should do, what’s acceptable, how we treat people, sometimes isn’t correct in my opinion. If you don’t have a strong mind, you can easily fall into that way of thinking”.
“There was loads of Black films back in the day, like Baby Boy, or How to Be a Player. All of those kinds of films that came out in the early 2000s kind of portrayed this stigma [having multiple partners] as being the right thing to do. It’s like, ah yeah, this is how Black men should be, this is the epitome of what we’re supposed to be”.
“Remember, in dancehall culture, they tell you straight. So I believe that we’ve adapted the Caribbean mentality. So I wouldn’t say it’s a road thing, it’s just promoted amongst Black people through our music”.
But… this is not to demonise dance hall or hip-hop music, the genre has also had many positive out comes, acting as a stress relief for people in poverty, to feel free. It is also a door into communities and has provided global exposure to artists and Jamaica.
More than one becomes the norm
Throughout the study it was found that the men grew up within a culture where having multiple partners was the norm and was openly promoted. Being seen with many girls was mattered, suggesting that public perception about the number of partners one had was more valuable towards recognition and status than actual sexual encounters with partners. It is important to note, this is not unique to young Black men only.
“I dunno what your life was like growing up, but people saw it as being cool. If you had girls around you, you were cool. If you could get a girl to do this, you were cool. So a lot of people strived to be like that”.
“When we were younger, we generally didn’t care. It was just more of a competition who could get the most girls. A player and that, I think as you get older, you don’t really care, it’s not really like a big issue”.
“But it’s not as a bragging thing; it’s not something that we can brag now at our age. Especially at my age now, it’s not really a bragging thing. It’s just more of an okay. Something that should be kept personal. There’s no qualification in sleeping around. There’s nothing boastful about it. Yeah you do it, but there’s nothing boastful about it. You can’t go out on the top of the mountain and shout, “I slept with 100 people!”.
“Yeah, but the funny thing is, if you had girls coming to link you, people will see who’s coming to see who, and as long as you had one or two female friends coming to see you, yeah you felt kinda good. Like you have to be seen with more than one girl so to speak. Not that you’re you’re sleeping with them, but people make assumptions”.