On HBO’s hit comedy Insecure, it’s clear that Issa Rae's namesake character is ready to embark on her “hoe phase.” Can anyone really blame her?
Mama’s grown and has needs that were definitely not met after her surprise (and brief) encounter with Lawrence in this season’s first episode. And since the two aren’t getting back together anytime soon and her Tinder and loins are on fire, now is the perfect time to get it poppin’.
“F**k love” is right. Get yours.
And that’s exactly what Issa’s horny and lonely self did — with her random cute neighbor. But as her afterglow began to wear off, the rest of us couldn’t help but to ask: “Did they use a condom?”
Now be clear: None of us can say with a straight face that we use condoms 100 percent of the time and there shouldn’t be an expectation for Issa to do what we can’t. And quiet as it’s kept, this is precisely why we are drawn to Insecure. We see ourselves in the characters’ flaws, messiness and questionable decisions.
But I would be remiss to not mention the elephant in the room. Between Issa and Lawrence, Lawrence and Tasha, Issa and Daniel and Molly and her past flings, we have yet to see a rubber, a wrapper or even a conversation about using protection. [Spoiler alert: Next week is no different]
And for a show that spends a great deal of time focusing on the sex lives of Black millennials, this type of omission is jarring.
While African-Americans make up a mere 12 percent of the U.S population, we account for almost half of all new HIV infections each year. Not to mention, we have disproportionately higher rates of genital herpes, chlamydia and gonorrhea. Yes, there are plenty of reasons why we bear the brunt of these epidemics, but the lack of condom use is definitely a factor.
It seemed insane to go through the painstaking task to emphasize the awkwardness and "realness" of sex between strangers and actually just omit the protection discussion entirely. Does this play into the characters’ imperfections? Will there be any consequences to it? Or should we just assume that everyone is using condoms, even if we don’t see it?
And I get it: Having Lawrence stop to grab a condom can break up the flow and allure of a scene. Plus, plenty of people still believe that condoms on the screen (and in real life) aren’t all that sexy or pleasurable. But there are still tiny ways to throw one in there without it seeming like an “Afterschool Special.”
Just some solutions I have thought of personally: perhaps zoom in on an empty wrapper on the nightstand, make mention of having to get up and throw a used one away or make a joke about the XL size of the condom and living up to its expectation. Just give us something, please. We adore these characters too much to have them raw dogging it like this.
But this lack of safer sex isn’t just about our collective public health, it also serves as a missed opportunity to realistically tackle a topic that we rarely see in pop culture: How single Black women and men negotiate condom use as they flow in and out of new and old relationships. For folks like Issa and Lawrence who have been in a long-term relationship, losing that feeling of “safety” and entering this unknown hook-up world can be difficult and further put us at risk. How do you empower yourself to talk to strangers about STDs, their past testing history and using condoms? What does that look like? What happens when you want to use a condom and your potential sexual partner doesn’t?
From personal experience, it ain’t easy or pretty. But if we know anything about the show’s writers, we know they are witty, hilarious and observant as hell. If they can successfully tackle issues such as the gender pay gap and mental health with humor, they are fully capable of incorporating safer sex the same way. Just think how dope it would be if Kelly schooled Issa on the need to always be ready for sex by pulling out of her purse a huge baggie of lube packets, condoms and a butt plug.
Never leave home without it.
Now in fairness, it’s not like Insecure is the only show getting a failing grade on this issue. Most television shows, especially those about young people, don’t do the best job of incorporating safer sex or even birth control into their storylines. Most importantly, it’s not Insecure’s responsibility to address every topic that impacts Black folks or to educate the masses on a topic we should already be well-versed in by now.
That, and it’s just a TV show. It’s not real.
But we can’t be naïve about the fact that television can spark much-needed conversations, affirm who we are and shape our beliefs and actions. Since Insecure’s debut, Black Twitter and Black media have been consumed with talking about the state of Black love and self-worth under the guise of #TeamIssa versus #TeamLawrence. Hell, folks are so passionate about these characters storylines that they’ve been sending hate mail to actress Dominique Perry, who plays Tasha, for being Lawrence’s rebound chick. Even Chase bank had to step in (see above). So my point is, this show is very real to a lot of people.
As silly and obsessed as it sounds, this is how invested we all are into the lives of these fictional characters. With all of this in mind, I can’t stop thinking about how differently and honestly we could be talking about safer sex, personal responsibility and casual sex right now if the show would take a stance instead of turning a blind eye.
But who knows? I’ve got the rest of season two to be proven wrong about the show’s intentions. But, Issa Rae, if I am right, this is a critique that comes from a place of love and is just something to think about for season three.
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