Pleasure Principles: 5 Lessons About Sex From Beyoncé


I was a little late to the game when Beyoncé’s self-titled album first dropped.  I am not an Apple user so I had to wait a week before I had access to the visual album “seen” around the world.   Except for Flawless, which has since become somewhat of a personal feminist “girl, get your life, you got this” anthem and the two songs released on YouTube in the interim (Drunk in Love and XO, and the controversies surrounding them), I was limited to the album summation of friends which varied from, “Girllllllllll….” to “I prefer the ‘Get Me Bodied’ Beyoncé and this album is more grown woman.  You will probably like it, though.”


It wasn’t until after Christmas that I finally copped the album to serve as a soundtrack on my drive back to Alabama from North Carolina, but even then it took another few weeks before I sat down to watch the “visual” version.  It was a stunning visual experience—artful, decadent, thoughtful.  My fascination with it all, though, was definitely linked to the grown-woman aspect of the album.  This is a far cry from her “Bootylicious” days.  While Beyoncé talking about sex is nothing new, this album stands out because of how she talks about it.  This is not a sing-along (or love song).  This is serious business.


When I was in my twenties some of my older homegirls would say that sex is better post-30, because you are more confident, you know what you want/like/need, you are less self-conscious, less concerned about being called a freak, and comfortable in your body/skin.  Beyoncé’s album spoke to me like those homegirls, offering a commentary on grown woman sex(uality).  She went there!  From the provocative adlibs on Blow and Rocket to the unrepentant Yoncé interlude, this album, not unlike others in her repertoire, is an exercise in cockiness.   However, this album ain’t about love or romance.   It’s about pleasure and how/why you should get yours.


It’s no wonder that she got some flak for that, right?  Black women who are undeniably and unapologetically sexual beings get punished, right?  I mean she’s what, a grown-ass 32 y.o. self-made millionaire (who happens to have a husband and a baby) and exudes sex.  She couldn’t possibly have a commentary on pleasure politics… FOH. 


Speaking of pleasure principles, this album, for me, is reminiscent of Janet Jackson’s Damita Jo album that dropped 10 years ago.  Damita Jo (Jackson’s middle name and seeming alter ego that represented her sexually uninhibited self, not unlike Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce who is intentionally absent and no longer necessary for grownwoman Beyoncé to talk sex and mean it) is an album full of raunchy sexcapades and orgasmic declarations.  It was an album in which Jackson owned her sexuality and named it.  It was empowering and shocking.  In the song “Moist” she says, “I’m insatiable and its all your fault, so much lust involved to get me off, my water falls, your sexuality breeds a storm inside me, a touch is all I need to make me scream obscenities”… sound familiar?  And in “Warmth,” an ode to oral sex, she brags “nothing compares to the warmth of my mouth,” reminding her lover at the close of the song that he is expected to return the favor.  I see parallels between Yoncé’s self-titled album and Jackson’s earlier efforts (particularly BK-C’s “Partition” & JJ’s “Warmth,” and “Rocket” and “Moist”), though I can appreciate Beyoncé’s album in a way I didn’t appreciate Jackson’s (at the time).  I wasn’t ready 10 years ago.  I wasn’t old enough yet.  I hadn’t lived enough yet.  Cheers to grownasswomanhood. (And copping that Damita Jo).


And what of the respectability politic/s?  Does a (black) woman have to be married to talk openly about her sexual needs and desires?  In our backward and patriarchal culture it would seem so.  Ms. Jackson wasn’t married when she dropped Damita Jo (though she was involved in an intense and long-term relationship with Jermaine Dupri at the time), and her album, while decent, didn’t do well and got lukewarm reviews.  Mrs. Carter’s grownwoman sex album, however, broke records.  As one friend pointed out, she prefaces some of the sex talk with a call and response of her married name instructing the audience at a concert to say, “Hay Mrs. Carter” as if in an effort to remind folk that “she married now” and can have (and talk about) all the good sex she pleases.  But a UK newspaper didn’t give a damn about her marital status when they called her a whore after she performed Drunk in Love at the Grammys–with her husband.  I guess only men are allowed to talk about sex in their lyrics and in public without being called out their name.  I wonder what would happen if Ms. Jackson (if you nasty), who is now married, did an update of Damita Jo.  A decade later are the people ready to hear women talk about sex and desire? Is she old enough to say those things now?  Has she been married long enough?  Or is it never okay for black women to talk about sex?


Anyway, one way of pushing back against the attempt to silence (black) women’s sexuality is to embrace it out loud!  I pulled five pleasure principles from the Beyoncé album that I think are useful for feminist sex practices.  And while I’m not making an argument one way or another about Beyonce’s potential feminism, because a fellow CF has done that already, I am advocating for the sex positive theme throughout her album.  I’m here for Beyoncé’s sex class all day.


5 Things I Learned About Sex From Beyoncé


1)      Sex doesn’t have to be romantic to be mind-blowing.  In Blow, Yoncé  prefaces an anthem with, “This is for all my grown women out there” and goes on to talk about getting that cherry turned out.   I ain’t mad.


2)      Be spontaneous. In Partition she talks about getting dressed up to go out but having a quickie on the way to the spot, “Took 45 minutes to get all dressed up, but we ain’t even gon’ make it to this club.”  Get dolled up and flossed to f**k? Why not?


3)      Be confident.  Being sexy = being confident.  In ***Flawless she talks about letting folk know, “I woke up like this…” (flaws and all).  Confidence is embracing all that we are and serving it up.  When you know you got it, can’t nobody tell you nothing.  (Surfboardt). That’s right.


4)      Talk that ish.  While she has discussed verbal/sexual wordplay in previous songs (i.e., Ego) it comes through strong on this album.  From the back and forth banter on Drunk in Love to the cocky confidence of ***Flawless and Partition, she urges women to speak their mind and make it known that we recognize our beauty, brilliance and sexual talents.  “My ish so good it ain’t even right.  I know I’m right.  Hell yeah, you the ish, that’s why you’re my equivalent.” Damn right.


5)      Give instructions.  Rocket is my favorite.  A follow up to D’Angelo’s mid 90’s baby-maker How Does It Feel she offers a credo that blends desire and possibility, merging imagery and metaphor.  From strip tease to delicate descriptions she uses her words and the details of the encounter to paint a picture of love and lust. “Rocket (rock it) ’til water falls,” indeed. 


17 thoughts on “Pleasure Principles: 5 Lessons About Sex From Beyoncé

  1. Its about time that someone spoke up for my girl bey and the beauty of what she did with this album. Also I love the way both article and album comment on the sexual politics of women and what we can do with our bodies! Love the article and as far as the album? To me it’s her best one yet, listening to it as I write this! Flawless!!!!!

  2. Hhhmmm…I think the album was a bit much. While she is married & grown, I’m not understanding why someone who is SO private about her personal life is now all of the sudden flaunting everything & discussing her sex life in ALL of her songs. WTH? I’m not buying the “new & improved” Beyoncé.

    And for the record, I have not & will not be purchasing this album.

    1. Thank you, I am happy to see the real feminist ‘real think ‘ contribution to this so called black woman role models,?!! what the heck is going on Crunk sisters??!!, Ms.B” thing as a real black woman role model .I Don’t think so..!!!.. give me ,Ms.Eryka B/ or oldschool; Millie Jackson, if that’s the case!!, don’t Believe the hype!!I see one more flake beyonce as feminist story, I am out…give me Jill Scott from Philly!!!
      Halima in Philly

    2. How is she discussing sex in ALL of her songs? Pretty Hurts, No Angel, Jealous, Mine, Xo, Heaven, Blue, Ghost, Superpower — they aren’t about sex at all. Perhaps you should listen to the album and comprehend the words behind them before making erroneous statements.

  3. I’m trying to stretch, to not be bound by problematic notions of respectability and sexual appropriateness, but grown sexuality to me is not only unapologetic and open, but deeply personal and private (whether between people who are in love or between those only seeking an orgasmic connection). I have a hard time reading Beyonce as sex positive. I’m open to the possibility that my perception of her self-objectification is off-base. I haven’t heard any of the songs in their entirety beyond “Drunk in Love”, but I just get stuck when it comes to her because I have a hard time deciphering the brand from the human being creating and recreating her public image.

  4. i hear ya. however, not sure how i feel about watching children who listen to the music of their parents walking around shouting surfboard and watermelon. its absurd and a little gross. unfortunately a lot of young women who i know who listen to yonce are not grown at all and also have children themselves who are not grown in any way, and there is too much sex surrounding them, telling them to drink watermelon. gross.

  5. I love seeing a woman come into her own. I think this is the most interesting Beyonce has ever been, honestly. Before, she was so sheltered that she seemed disingenuous. I am always happy to see someone get comfortable with themsevles and self expression. Being true to herself as a woman, and sexuality is very much a part of that, is more valuable than anything. The only thing I took issue with was the Ike Turner reference because I felt that was especially anti-woman. Other than that, this album was dope. More power to her!

  6. Love the parallels between this and Janet!! Though I’m not in my 30s, I too also noticed and appreciated the amount of grown-womaness happening on this album. In my opinion, the best synopsis of the album is the last video, Grown Woman.

    As a side note I gotta say: how is it that these haters who haven’t even listened to/seen the album in it’s entirety have a lot to say about it.

    1. Sigh . . . I don’t understand why anyone that does not jump squarely onto the Beyoncé train is labeled a hater and dismissed. For the record, I listened to the whole album. There were some songs that I liked and there were some that I didn’t. But I don’t think it is any type of extraordinary feat at all. I think discussions of this album need to be a little more nuanced because there are several approaches one can take. From an entertainment perspective, the album fell flat to me. But I have always thought Beyoncé’s lyrics were kinda pedestrian and not very well written. To me, that hasn’t changed. The beats are hot, though. From a theoretical perspective, Beyoncé can come into her womanhood and put it on display for all the world to see. That is her prerogative. But it is my prerogative to analyze what she puts out and ask myself the question, “Is she making some profound statement about . . . anything really?” And the answer to that question continues to be no. To me. And that doesn’t make me a hater. But if it does, so be it. I’ve been worse. Further, and maybe it’s just me, but there is very little that this album taught be about sensuality, sexuality and/or womanhood. However, I appreciate your and the author’s perspective.
      As a side note: I completely disagreed with everything that you commented and managed to do so without being disrespectful, dismissive or calling names. That seems to be a level of grown woman-ness that may be lacking in some of these discussions about Beyoncé’s album.

      1. yes!! I don’t get these arguments that Beyonce is teaching Black women about sensuality, sexuality, or womanhood. Black women generally tend to be confident folks and trust and believe the majority aren’t afraid of their sexuality. If anything, it’s the other extreme of too many (particularly younger black women) who are too focused on their sexuality. It’s because they have absorbed white supremacist messages that’s all they are good for. They can tell you about getting their “cherry turned out,” but can’t tell you nothing about Harriet Tubman.

  7. I really like many of the songs on this album! And many of the visuals had me in awe – but Beyoncé usually gets that sort of response from me.

    This was definitely a bold step forward – for Beyoncé. But I have to agree that an artist taking the turn for a more explicit type of sexuality is not new. At best you can say that what Beyoncé has done differently is delay what is almost an inevitable evolution among pop artists – most sex themselves up more transitioning to their second or third album.

    I do believe that the sexual songs are representing a more sexually mature performative Beyoncé, but it has made me look back at her in the beginning of her career with new eyes. I too was blown away by her image, her beuty and showmanship back then, but now I can see that she was a shy, sweet, eager to please, maybe even a little dorky girl. I have to wonder what could she have grown to be if she hadn’t immediately been able to fit into the mold. I mean she’s been cooing about “love” (i.e. sex) for over a decade and she’s just now saying that she feels really comfortable with the subject.

    We often think of only boys feeling pressured to act cool and eager for sex, but it may be worth the time to think about girls also feeling pressured to (lie) brag about how eager, bold and ready they are. I know it’s not cool to question Beyoncé and her connection to impressionable youth, (adults too frankly). So, I won’t. But I do think B. is part of a society that sells sex to the young (and only the young, I was really surprised to hear so many comments about how Beyoncé is “too old” for this topic LOL) 24 hours, seven days a week. Personally, I’m not offended by racy content, but I do question why it is pervasive.

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