Pop Culture

Erotica by Black Women Writers: Memoirs and Urban Fiction

Urban erotica displays sex and spirituality as intertwined, offering a view of women as lustful and sexually proactive. This type of fiction even goes further to regulate men to the female gaze.

Confessions of a Video Vixen

Hip Hop’s rise to mainstream introduced the public to “video vixens.” Video vixens shifted the way we view women as sexual beings. In particular, members of the Black middle class act as gatekeepers of virtue and marginalized women who express a seductive power and sexual dynamism.

Soon the video vixens started to speak in their own words rather than remain props in a male rapper’s music video. For instance, Carmen Bryan wrote about her relationship with Jay Z, Nas and Allen Iverson in her memoir It’s No Secret:

Carmen’s vivid descriptions of the physical anatomy and sexual habits of powerful famous men expose how memoirs embolden women with the rare opportunity to objectify men and control their sexual representation in pop culture.1

Karine Steffens released a book titled Confessions of a Video Vixen that caused a stir in the media. The book eschewed the politics of respectability by sensationalizing Karine’s experiences. Her words challenged the idea that women should not get to explore sexual scripts in the way that men do. Aisha Tyler wrote in her memoir Swerve that women are taught antagonism toward sexuality, which leads them to reinforce the player versus slut paradigm rampant within rap music:

Labeling a woman a slut is away of using sexual reputation as strategy of power to de-legitimize and stabilize female sexual agency.2

Rather than imitate sexual saintliness to protect her reputation, these memoirs challenged fear of reprisal or censure to confront our society’s social mythology about sexuality. These collection of ideas about sexuality tends to replace reality with strong emotions about sex.

Zane’s Urban Erotica

Shayne Lee points out that few scholars have assessed the effect of urban erotica on Black sexual politics. Lee argues Black women’s erotic fiction serves as a safe space for sexual lust and experimentation.

Writers like Zane use fiction to place Black women in sexualized environments, thus offering them an erotic playground inaccessible in the real world. Through her books Sex Chronicles and Skyscraper, Zane shows how public spaces like the workplace, gym, and even the church can quickly turn into a space for lust.

Urban erotica displays sex and spirituality as intertwined, offering a view of women as lustful and sexually proactive. This type of fiction even goes further to regulate men to the female gaze. Still, the politics of respectability can emerge in urban erotica too. They distinguish between love and sex, sanctioning female sexual aggression and exploration as authentically attached to Black bourgeois values.

Nevertheless, urban erotica shows sex as an art and craft wherein Black women adopt a sexual toolkit that that shatters myths about sexuality and offers women options. The idea of sex as a craft characterizes the act as a form of teamwork that requires timing, skill, and communication.

Within the pages of urban erotica, Black women can vent their frustrations with unsatisfying sex. Further, urban erotica helps reveal how the past affects the present through sexual repression, addiction, and even humiliation. Ultimately, urban erotica enables a discussion of the sexually exotic including sexual fetishism as gendered battlefields.


  1. Lee 2010 
  2. Lee 2010: 32 

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