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Harlem Word: Dr. Hilda Hutcherson -- Sex is taboo: The Black Church and sex in the African-American community

We sat down with Dr. Hutcherson to talk about why the topics of sex and sexuality are not openly discussed in the Black community.

Dr. Hutcherson is a gynecologist and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center.

Q: Sometimes it can be taboo to talk about sex or sexuality. There are so many hang-ups about sex and in recognizing people as sexual beings. Why are we so afraid of sexuality?

A: That's a very good question, and actually there isn't a clear answer, there isn't one answer. I think this is something that has been going on in our culture for as long as we've been in this country at least, we've had a lot of hangups about sex and sexuality. One of the main reasons why I think this happens is that when you look at the way we view sexuality in the church-- at least I can give you an example from my own upbringing. I was taught that sex was something that was dirty and sinful and something to be reserved for the person that you love and marry and spend the rest of your life with. The problem was that once I entered into that marriage situation, I still thought about those negative messages that I had been given about sex being sinful. So sex was something that should have been very beautiful and important part of marriage wasn't for me. And I found in my practice that it's that same way for many, many other women. There's a lot of guilt and shame surrounding sex and sexuality. And when you look at the fact that most African-American women are not in fact married, it's easy to understand why they might feel some guilt and shame about sex and their own sexuality.

Q: So you talked a lot about the church being involved in our reluctance to express sexuality. How can people reconcile their religious beliefs with having an active sex life?

A: I think that the African-American church should spearhead this whole problem that we have with men and with women in regard to sex and sexuality. It's such an important part of the human experience that I think it's important for church leaders to take this on as something that is important for them to get involved in. When you look at the high rate of HIV in the African-American community, it becomes very clear that it is extremely important that we start to talk about sex and sexuality in a very realistic way.

Q: Another important hang-up about sexuality involves the issue of homophobia in America and specifically in the African-American and Hispanic communities. Why this such a touchy subject?

A: Oh I wish I knew the answer to that question! But of course it is a very touchy subject. And it is something that because it's a touchy subject, because it is taboo, that many people who are homosexual find it very difficult to come out and express themselves in a very natural way. I think that contributes again to the high rates of HIV in our community because people are not able to express themselves in the way that they feel most comfortable with, the way they identify with. So I think again it is up to the African-American church to spearhead this conversation within the African American community about homosexuality and making it easier for people who are homosexual to live a lifestyle in which they feel most comfortable.

More on our interview with Dr. Hutcherson...

Harlem Word is a series of interviews with Northern Manhattan health experts, written by HHPC and reviewed by our Health Advisory Board.

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