I am a AASECT Certified Sex therapist and Sexuality Educator that has spent the last several years studying and educating others on how the continued impacts of colonization have a profound impact on modern day sexuality. Settler Sexuality are the sexual norms and customs that the settlers brought with them, to what we now call North America. Through settler colonialism sexualized laws, policies, standards, and norms were forced onto the Native American and African American people. These foundations are the basis of American sexuality. Today, many people are not making the connection between our very complicated American sex history and how it echoes through our present.
I'm going to tell you 3 significant places where we can see these lasting trends.
Many Native American and African tribes were matriarchal. The settlers came with an hierarchical binary gender system with men holding the most privilege on this hierarchy and women holding the least. When women were once in a position of power with the ability to share resources horizontally, settlers deemed that men represented leadership, strength, and power and women were seen as meek, fragile and incompetent. This leads to the individual nuclear household with the man head of household as the norm. To learn more about the history around patriarchy, I recommend reading, Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation by Imani Perry. Lingering throughout history, and in the present day, women are seen as inferior. What this means for modern day sex is that women are not always having sex that they are enthusiastically consenting to. They may feel a duty to show up for sex or to please their partner. Women are socialized to dismiss their own pleasure for the sake of sexual responsibility to others.
Many indigenous cultures around the world have one or many words in their language that describes someone outside of the gender binary. When settlers arrived, gender expansive people in America were forced to assimilate and experienced harm and violence for deviating from the gender they were assigned at birth. To learn more about gender I recommend Gender Trauma and How to Understand Your Gender. We have gendered so many things and created expectations and norms for each gender. Limiting all genders from something. Something as simple as colors, “Boys don’t wear pink” to the marketing around food such as the masculinization of steak and the feminization of salads. This gender binary is insidious throughout American culture and it continues to impact ALL genders. In modern sexuality, one thing sex therapists often see is shame associated with one's gender as it relates to their sexual self.Oftentimes many people are operating on gendered sexual scripts, that at times, can be rigidly adhered to due to these gendered sexual expectations. This limits all genders from unlocking their erotic potential.
Relationships & Sex
I invite you to consider how settler sexuality has impacted the way we form relationships. Our legacy of settler marriage impacts who we partner with, how many partners we can have, and what we do or don't do sexually with our partners. Many indigenous people throughout the world have practiced some form of polyamory. Through American laws and policy created by heterosexual, couple centric, and monogamous settlers, monogamy became the norm. And again, those that did not adhere were punished and those that did were rewarded. To learn more about that check out this Ted Talk by Reid Gustafson. As you know, our history shows that only certain monogamous relationships have been deemed acceptable. Race, religion, and sexual orientation have stood as barriers to many in intimate relationships. I feel it is important to mention is Elizabeth Brakes term, Amatonormativity. This is the assumption that we are all better off and that everyone's shared goal is to partner with one person and they must hold that relationship as a priority higher than all other relationships. If you're single, you may be seen as incomplete and get comments like, “I’m holding out hope for you. I know you will find that special someone one day” or “why is someone like you single”. This expectation coupled with the growing number of single people is adding to the collective loneliness of the culture. If you do partner, there are then a set of acceptable sexual behaviors that have been passed down intergenerationally. Even having fantasies about deviating from these “normal” sexual behaviors brings on enormous shame to many.
If you would like to unpack how settler colonialism has impacted your gender and sexuality, please check out the resources provided. I also encourage you to seek an anti-colonial or decolonizing AASECT Certified sex therapist, like myself, where you can process these themes and how they may be impacting you.