Penda N’diaye Explores The Politics of Pleasure

Penda N’diaye, founder of ProHoe, is answering life with an ‘Orgasmic Yes.’ She discusses the politics of feeling good & the ways women, particularly women of color, can use sex & taboo as postive forces for social equity.
Penda N’diaye Explores The Politics of Pleasure

“In her book Pleasure Activism, Adrienne Maree Brown asks, ‘What would happen if we made all of our life choices from the place of an ‘Orgasmic Yes’?’ I think we would all be a lot happier if we started making decisions that feel euphorically good. We all deserve pleasure. We are all entitled to pleasure – not just sexually – but also in our lives and in our work. So, that’s what I’ve been focusing on this year: the ‘Orgasmic Yes.’” 


Penda N’diaye is a former professional dancer turned writer. After a lifetime of telling stories with her body, Penda now writes stories about our bodies – particularly how to enjoy them and how to transform personal pleasure into transformational social change. Penda founded the brand ProHoe to host these candid conversations and encourage sexual liberation in communities of color. Like any good storyteller, she’s sharing her lessons as she learns them. 

“For me, an ‘Orgasmic Yes’ comes from experiencing something I’ve never done before and having a great time doing it. In December, I was traveling when I met some pro surfers at a bar who offered to teach me how to surf the next day. I had never been surfing and could have worried that these people were strangers, but I went with confidence and an open mind instead. It ended up being so magical to be in the ocean with new friends, experiencing something entirely new.” 

“Starting my podcast is another example of a recent ‘Orgasmic Yes.” I had a lot of reservations and was timid about launching the show by myself. I had to give myself a pep talk: ‘You can do this. You want to do this. Conversation is the root of the important work you are doing.’ I had to summon an ‘Orgasmic Yes’ and tell myself it was going to be amazing. And it has been.”  

“A lot of my ‘Orgasmic No’s come into play with my relationships – both romantic and familial. I’ve always felt a responsibility to my family: to always say ‘yes’ and to always be available. As you get older, you realize that your parents are human and have flaws, too. You can love them and care for them, but they don’t have to rule all your decisions. I’m the person who has always said, ‘I can swing it,’ because I want to be kind – but I’m learning that you can be kind while also setting boundaries.” 


Most of us don’t give enough weight to the ways that our families, and the environments we grew up in, influence our moral relationship with pleasure. For Penda, the birds and the bees didn’t get much airtime during childhood, but that made a belated conversation with her mom all the more pivotal. 

“I grew up in a very interesting household in terms of values. My father was African and Muslim, and my mother is a Christian. Our household wasn’t necessarily conservative – because it takes some kind of progressiveness for a Muslim man and Christian woman to be together – but we never talked about sex. I learned about sex through porn and my friends. I did not understand the magnitude of the experience.” 

“Three years ago, my mom gave me my first vibrator for Christmas and told me she wished that she had talked to her kids about sex at a younger age. And that’s how ProHoe was born. My mom’s gift was a catalyst in a sense; her blessing for me to step up, grow into myself and become sexually empowered. ” 

“So, I started blogging and writing in hopes that my openness about sexual desire and pleasure would resonate with other people, especially other women of color. We’ve been told – culturally, socially, religiously – that pleasure is not ours to enjoy. But it is. And you should enjoy it – if you want and however you choose.” 


Today, Penda is confidently (and continuously) exploring her sensuality, but growing up in the all-white world of her Denver childhood complicated her connection to her body and challenged her early presentation of physical form. 

“I’ve been dancing since I was three years old. To be a dancer, you have to be so incredibly in tune with your body. As a dancer, you know that your body is an instrument – one you can shape and mold in order to convey a message or thought. In this space of dance, I have always been really open – but as soon as I got on the street, I would shrink myself.” 

“I wasn’t connecting the confidence from auditions with my real life. A lot of that comes back to being very tall and having really dark skin. I would hear those things all the time during my childhood and it really affected my psyche. I grew up in Denver, Colorado which is very white and I’m obviously not that. Dance became a safe place to find sensuality, create connection with other people, touch your body and drop your modesty. As I got older, I realized I needed to break down those walls and be confident in my body outside of dance.” 

“Today, I describe sensuality as all the things that happen in between the start and finish of sex: touch, connection, vulnerability, courage. If sexuality is the outline, then sensuality is the shading or color of being inside that experience. And I find that, a lot of times, that sensuality carries over to the rest of your life. Sensuality is when you go to a party, love the way you look, feel confident and make eye contact with people as you work a room. For me, sensuality is always about that kind of connection.” 


A central truth to ProHoe is that sensuality soars beyond this physical connection. Pleasure is a tool and a force. Sex is both our right and our responsibility. And the discovery of our desires is urgent, constantly evolving work. 

“We are all sexual beings with the right to experience pleasure. How we practice it should always be our choice. But sex is also a responsibility. It’s our responsibility to evolve the pleasure narrative and address the politics of sex. There are so many laws that govern our bodies: birth control, abortions, who you can marry, who you can have sex with. We often forget, especially as cis straight people, that all these laws exist right on top of our bodies. We don’t always think about the rules, because those rules don’t always apply to us.” 

“I think it’s our responsibility to question and defy those rules. As I discovered and tapped into my own pleasure, I began to realize that a lot of my desires defy black women stereotypes. Traditionally, black women have been seen as aggressive, not soft and whimsical, and are told we shouldn’t be that way. Yet I’m exploring more dominant, taboo topics like BDSM and kink and giving other black women permission to do the same.” 

“Just by being myself, I’m going against what other people want me to be. By going against the grain, my taboos become political tools. So, my responsibility lies in asking: how can I be my most authentic self?  By tapping into what’s important to us, what feels good, and what is pleasurable, we are radically changing social, religious and cultural constructs that are outdated and need to go.” 

“There is an urgency to this work, specifically with black women whose bodies have been hyper-sexualized for so long. There are so many tropes of ownership over our bodies and we’ve been put in certain boxes for centuries. We urgently need to defy these contracts and create new ones. We need to undo the barriers that have been held up by history, sometimes even by our own families, and evolve our own narrative.” 

“My biggest advice to women is: be curious. Curiosity is the root of growth. Being curious in your relationships and sexual life – or any partnership for that matter – will keep you evolving and changing, which is natural and important. Continue to learn about yourself and always do things that feel really good. It’s that ‘Orgasmic Yes.’ It all comes back to the ‘Orgasmic Yes.’”


Interview and Article by Molly Virostek. Photographed by Stephanie Lavaggi. Styled by Emily Newnam


Tags: bodytalk , sensuality

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