Who is pleasure for? And what forms can it take? The answers to both of those questions have become more elastic. Pleasure is no longer defined by coupled sex between white, cis-gendered, abled bodies. It can look like solitude. It can sound like stillness. It can even feel like birth.
When I video chat Brandi Sellers-Jackson, I’m not entirely sure what to expect. I soon realize maybe that’s the point. Sellers-Jackson doesn’t easily fit into a box. The Los Angeles–based doula is the founder of the popular women’s wellness blog Not So Private Parts, a mother of three, a wife and an artist. Her life delicately navigates the fraught intersections of motherhood, race and health. And today we’re here to chat about how pleasure operates across all three.
Could you share your motivation for Not So Private Parts and how the project changed you?
Not So Private Parts was birthed out of grief. Grief was the starter, curiosity was the starter. I had a miscarriage in 2014, and after miscarrying I remember googling all these things. I couldn't find any resources.
Eventually I decided I needed to be the thing that I needed. I began writing and sharing what it felt like. My first blog post was about my miscarriage, and it opened the floodgates for other conversations and things we don't really talk about. It’s no longer just about parenthood or motherhood or loss, but also the joys of being a human and being a person who identifies as a woman.
What did you learn about yourself in 2020?
This year started off as a Dumpster fire. There were personal things happening in my partnership, there were things happening around us with Covid-19. Then there was the racial aspect of living in this body, where it was clear that our lives don't matter and that, as a Black woman, our lives *really* don't matter.
For the first time in the history of ever, I decided to try therapy. People probably assume that because of the work I do, of course I do therapy and of course I do self-care. In a broad sense, yes, I was self-caring, but I had never taken an intentional moment to unload on someone else.
I immediately realized therapy is amazing. Therapy is where I've been able to address trauma and how it shows up in my day-to-day life, whether it's in mothering, partnering, sex, all of it. Also, Black folks just deserve therapy. If we're going to talk about reparations, therapy needs to be in that package somewhere—free therapy forever.
How have your experiences with pregnancy, miscarriage and motherhood changed the way you view your body?
It allowed me to take the pressure off. With birth, with miscarriage, even with mothering, I don't control shit. I don't control anything. For those of us who have had a traumatic childhood, we need control—we look for it, we search for it—because it makes us feel safe. Having a miscarriage, giving birth and parenting these three boys has allowed me to relinquish in a lot of areas. It has allowed me to be freer and know I’m still safe.
In what way is your work as a doula most misunderstood?
People see it as a thing of luxury or even as a white thing. That's not true. If you look at African cultures, it’s something we've done forever. We just didn’t call it a doula.
Doulas are there to help support and guide people. I really try to encourage my clients to be in touch with their bodies and to redefine what pain is. I don't necessarily look at *pain* as a bad word in this regard. Pain is bringing you closer to your baby. Pain doesn't always mean something is wrong; it just means something is happening.
In the midst of all that, though, there is the pleasure that comes with connection.
Mothers are desexualized in society and put into a bucket where they aren't expected to experience pleasure or joy, but are expected to provide pleasure and joy to others. How do you combat that in your own life?
You're constantly desexualized by motherhood. You have to constantly reclaim your body, especially after you give birth, because you're connected to someone else and they are always pulling on you. They are literally attached to you.
Postpartum, you can feel really outside of your body. You don't feel like your body is your own; your organs are all over the place, your digestion is off, all of it is a hot mess. I've had to be intentional in reclaiming that. That could mean taking a bath, just lounging in my robe, whatever the hell I want to do. Or it's a date night, so me and my husband are going to put the kids to bed and do whatever we do. That may look like us watching a movie because we're both tired or it may look like a fun adult session. Just because you're somebody's momma, it doesn't mean you don't deserve pleasure any longer.
How do CBD and cannabis integrate with your pleasure practice?
CBD has been saving my life during this period of quarantining and parenting and humaning. It’s become part of my ritual. I'll make my tea, I'll take all of my vitamins and then I'll get my CBD on. I love products that incorporate CBD into intimacy because it's two-fold: You're getting the self-care and the relaxation of the CBD, but also the pleasure aspect.
How do you define pleasure?
It's learning your body, touching yourself and being able to communicate what feels good as opposed to being reliant on a partner to dictate that. When I think of pleasure, it looks like freedom—the freedom to explore, the freedom to be curious.