Last weekend I had the honor of speaking about mental health and sexual wellness at the SHERO conference in West Oakland. It was a very intimate setting, where black women were able to talk about sex openly. SHERO founder Nichole Little saw an ad in Oakland magazine about my show Mental Health and Wellness Radio and asked me to speak.
There's no secret I love writing about sex and erotica. And I've always been fascinated with the mind and emotions. I even wanted to be a psychologist when I was younger. But there's another reason why mental health is important to me.
For the last 16+ years, I've been living with depression. I say LIVING because even during periods of the blues, I still have a quality life. I work, write, create, read, win awards, go to good schools, love, laugh, travel, party, socialize, give, help others etc. I do all of this while LIVING with depression. For a long time I carried shame about my diagnosis. But it wasn’t until my recent job that I learned to not be ashamed. Depression is not my fault. It wasn't a choice. Just like cancer, diabetes, lupus and any other health problem is not anyone's choice.
SHERO founder Nichole Little and
Cocoa Fly at the 2012 Art & Soul Festival
I was ashamed because I thought people would judge me or think less of me if they knew. I was ashamed because I bought into that, "Strong Black Woman" doctrine that's killing a lot of sistas because we're not making our health and happiness a priority. I was ashamed because I heard depression was for white women, and so I questioned my own blackness. I was ashamed because in church I heard, "Don't go to no psychologist for your problems, just give it to Jesus!" So when I asked Jesus to take away the sadness, and it was still there, I began to lose faith. But I never heard the pastor tell the parishioners diagnosed with diabetes, "Don't go to no doctor. Put down that insulin and take your illness to Jesus!"
I shared this with the women at the SHERO conference. I could hardly get my story out because they were firing off questions. I figure their reaction is because people don't talk about mental health. One in four Americans has a mental health challenge, yet we don't talk about mental health.
Sex plays a role in mental wellness. A low libido for me is a sign that I may be getting the blues. But a little bump and grind boosts the mood. In the must-read Men's Health article, "Understand What Sex Does to Your Brain," neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Amen wrote that orgasms are like antidepressants:
"Orgasms cause intense activity in the deep emotional parts of the brain, which then settle down when the sex is over. Antidepressants calm the same part of the brain. This calming effect may be why people who regularly have sex experience less depression."
And sex releases those feel-good brain hormones like oxytocin and endorphins. I read in another article that even small intimate actions like holding a lover's hand or hugging your partner can improve your mood.
|Photo by sWrightOsment|
Foot massages are good too. Rubbing the right spot, can hit just that right spot in the brain.
According to Dr. Amen of Men's Health, "The foot-sensation area of the brain is next door to the clitoral (and penile) region, which may be a big reason that women are so focused on shoes—yours and hers."
Sex is always better when you feel good about yourself. If you're depressed and not feeling sexy, you won't be in the mood to do it. Or you won't enjoy it. So it's important to be in good mental shape for pleasure. Remember, the largest sex organ in your body is the brain.
I concluded that talk with an activity where the women wrote down and stated their own personal rights and sexual rights to a happy life. That was really fun.
I share my story because a lot of people, especially minorities, are suffering with a mental health challenge alone and don't get help. I think therapy is more accepted in the white community. But not so much in the African American community and other communities of color. I'm not a therapist or a counselor. But I hope if you're reading this and you think you have a mental health challenge, get some help. You're not a freak or weirdo. You're not weak. And you can still have a good life with a mental health issue. I see it at work everyday. I see it in myself everyday.
To end on a sexy note, I saw this Nightline story about women and orgasms. There are 80 regions of the brain. When a woman has an orgasm, all 80 regions of the brain all hit their maximum activity.
"Orgasm is one of the most all-encompassing phenomena in the brain. The only other thing that is known to produce such widespread [brain] activity is epilepsy," said sex scientist Barry Komisaruk.
All the more reason to work on releasing that Oxytocin.