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What Your Mama Never Told You
edited by Tara Roberts

Like big sisters sharing secrets, these black women bravely open their arms and bare their souls . . .

"Black girls and women are suffering around their sexuality. The cloak of silence and suppression is damaging the expression of a beautiful and important part of ourselves. I wanted to break the silence and start a real dialogue on the subject. Have real women share real experiences so that black girls, specifically, know they are not alone and there is a way out of the confusion and shame and pain." — Tara Roberts

About the Book

Few topics in our society are as difficult, and important, to discuss as that of teenage sexuality. Yet startling statistics reveal more and more that teen sexuality is a topic that will not be ignored, and this difficult issue seems to be most powerfully affecting African American girls:

• African American youth are more likely than white youth to engage in sex and to start having sex at an early age.

• Youth of color are more likely than white youth to report multiple sex partners.

• African American and Latino girls are more likely to report having an older partner than their white counterparts. Young girls with a sexual partner three or more years older are more likely to have a younger age at first sex, less likely to use condoms, more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections, and more likely to become pregnant as compared to their peers with same-age partners.

• STDs and HIV/AIDS are more prevalent among young people of color than white youth. African American, Hispanic, and American Indian youth have rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia that are between two and seven times higher than rates for white youth.

• Among adolescents ages thirteen to nineteen, 78 percent of AIDS cases among females and 62 percent of AIDS cases among males are to African American and Latino young people. (From the National Survey of Children's Health Statistics)

In an effort to educate and uplift, Graphia Books and editor Tara Roberts present What Your Mama Never Told You: True Stories About Sex and Love, a thoughtful and intimate collection of essays meant to inform and comfort young girls who may be struggling with their blossoming sexuality.

What Your Mama Never Told You is a frank and compelling collection of essays written by women dealing with such issues as masturbation, religion and sexuality, virginity, body image, homosexuality, and, of course, love and relationships. These contributors wish to pass on their wisdom to an audience of "little sisters." Their intimate and insightful memoirs about coming-of-age experiences reveal that the most personal moments are often, surprisingly, the most universal. Written by African American women, these essays will have resonance with young women of all races and orientations as they experience their own sexual awakening.

About the Author

Tara Roberts breathes passion and vision into her work as a writer and editor and publisher. Her directive and personal mission is to use the power and influence of the media to empower and uplift women and girls, give shape and substance to original ideas, and encourage bold action and achievement.

Starting her career at Essence magazine as an editorial assistant in the Arts and Entertainment department in 1993, Tara immediately began writing youth-oriented social and cultural commentary on issues relevant to young women. One such article, "Am I the Last Virgin?" was so controversial and drew so many responses from readers across the country that Simon & Schuster contracted Tara to write a book on the topic. The result, Am I the Last Virgin? Ten African American Reflections on Sex & Love, offers heart-wrenching first-person essays by young black women exploring their own sexual coming-of-age experiences. The American Library Association nominated Am I the Last Virgin? for its Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers Award, and the New York Public Library chose it as one of the best books in 1998 for teenagers. Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and the School Library Journal hailed it as fresh, soulful, and earnest work.

While working on the book, Tara quickly rose to the ranks of lifestyle editor. After three years, she became the editorial director of Essence Online. Soon after, Heart & Soul magazine approached Tara and hired her as their lifestyle editor.

In 1999, Tara began teaching journalism at the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Information at Syracuse University. The National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Clubs, Inc., honored her for being the first African American woman to be hired there on a full-time basis.

Tara published Fierce magazine, a bold, pro-female, socially conscious magazine that encourages women ages twenty-one to forty-plus to throw aside convention and excavate for their authentic, wild, and powerful selves. Fierce was nominated by Utne magazine as one of the best new magazines in 2003.

Tara has conducted workshops for young women at Spelman College, Mount Holyoke College, Howard University, North Carolina A&T State University, the Adolescent Connection Outreach Center for At-Risk Adolescents in Greensboro, North Carolina, and "Young Ladies on the Move," a self-esteem workshop in New Rochelle, New York.

Her lectures and speaking engagements include the City University of New York (CUNY), Crossroads Theater Company in New Jersey, the Third Wave feminist organization, the Asian American Journalist Association, Borders Bookstore, the Connecticut Governor's Mansion, Nkiru Books (Brooklyn), Shrine of the Black Madonna (Atlanta), Hillside Chapel & Truth Center, National Association of Black Journalists, and the Media and Democracy Congress I and II (San Francisco).

Tara's appearances on numerous radio and television shows and mentions in print media have ranged from Good Day New York and Good Day Atlanta to the Women's Wire, the New York Times, and Source and Emerge magazines.

Tara graduated cum laude from Mount Holyoke College and holds a master's degree in publishing studies from New York University's Gallatin Division.

A Conversation with Tara Roberts

What inspired you to compile these essays and edit this project?

I wrote an article for Essence magazine titled "Am I the Last Virgin?" — a story about my own sexual journey. I was astonished by the number of responses the story received from readers all over the country. They didn't just write back letters saying they liked the story or that they were virgins too, either. These women shared deeply (front and back pages) about their own varied sexual stories. Their letters convinced me that black women needed more spaces to share openly and honestly about the topic. I contacted a friend at a book publishing company to ask if she also thought a book was appropriate on the topic. After some conversation, we decided to publish Am I the Last Virgin? Ten African American Reflections on Sex & Love (Simon & Schuster). We realized that girls would benefit most from hearing these coming-of-age sexual stories of adult women, so we decided to create the collection for girls.

What Your Mama Never Told You is a continuation of the collection. This time, we touched on even more of the specific sexual concerns that girls are struggling with today, including masturbation, oral sex, and bisexuality.

What was the most surprising thing you learned while working on this project?

I am always surprised and pleased at the numbers of women who are not afraid to share their sexual stories. I love that women from all over the country are willing to open up and dig in the painful spaces and give something beautiful back to readers.

What do you hope young readers will learn from this book?

I hope girls will see they are not alone in whatever they are struggling with, and I hope that girls will have the courage to love and respect their bodies after reading these stories.

Why is sex an important topic to discuss with young girls?

We live in a society that does not encourage positive attitudes about the sexuality of women and girls. Lots of girls grow up hating their bodies and confused about their sexuality. They often make choices that do not honor their true selves. But I think if women from around the world reach out to girls — creating a sisterhood of females (or ask-able aunts) willing to uphold and support each other — we will learn to make sexuality a positive and wonderful aspect of girlhood and womanhood.

You have had an exciting career as an editor at some of the top African American women's magazines. What advice would you give to young girls who have similar goals or dreams?

Go for it! There is a need for strong, brilliant, brave voices that are willing to speak out on revolutionary topics like women's sexuality!

Do you have a favorite essay from the book?

I love all the essays. I think each one is brave and smart and perfect! I always shed a tear, though, whenever I read Karima Grant's "Real Love." Her story of dealing with promiscuity on NYC's fast streets and her father's AIDS-related death never ceases to move me.

What message would you like to send to young girls struggling to come to terms with their sexuality?

Learn to love your body just as it is. Touch yourself. Explore yourself. You don't have to be with a sexual partner for all the wrong reasons to know you're worthy of love.

When you were growing up, where did you go with your own questions and fears about sex?

I honestly don't remember. I think I went to my friends, who surely did not know much! It's exciting that there are so many resources today for teens to get their questions answered.

How do you think today's sex-saturated media affects young girls? What would you change if you could?

I think Black girls may feel more pressure to look and act sexy at a younger age than I did growing up. Black folks have finally made it to Hollywood and to the little screen. Unfortunately, many of the images of Black women and girls show only one-dimensional, often sexual, characters. As a result, Black girls may have learned to associate sexual attention with affection, love, and self-power.

Frankly, I just want Black girls — really, all girls — to be represented across every media platform in all their brilliant complexity. I want them to celebrate their magnificence, bigness, and to revel in their depths. Girls are, after all, full participants in this drama called humanity, too.

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