“We didn’t talk about sex in our household,” Penda N’diaye, the founder of Pro Hoe, shares over coffee in the garden of a Brooklyn coffee shop. As a kid, born and raised in Denver, Colorado, N’diaye learned storytelling and how to express herself through dance. Being onstage made her feel the most at home, the most connected to her body; it made her feel powerful enough to show others who she wanted to be in that moment. After attending New York University Tisch School of the Arts, she toured the world dancing with choreographers like Bill T. Jones and Kyle Abraham and working with musicians like Robert Glasper. She was living the life she’d trained all her life for, then her true calling came to her a few years ago, when she was home for Christmas and her mother told her to go on Amazon and buy a vibrator. Her mother knew she was single and not having regular sex. (We’ll get back to this in a sec.)
From her mother’s slightly shady Christmas gift, N’diaye began to reflect on her lack of early education when it came to sex, which led to the creation of Pro Hoe in 2018. The intention behind Pro Hoe is “to eradicate stigmas surrounding sexual freedom and identity in Black communities,” says N’diaye. What started as a column for The Press Magazine (no longer in circulation) led to a podcast and community events sponsored by Planned Parenthood, sex therapists, and social workers to create a safe place to discuss sexual experiences and trauma.
I also never got The Sex Talk from my parents. My sex education came from high-school friends, Cosmopolitan magazine, late-night HBO porn, and eventually by just doing it. So when I came across Pro Hoe on Instagram and listened to N’Diaye’s podcast, Pro Hoe, it brought me literal joy to see a space was being created for conversations around sexual wellness and decolonizing pleasure within the Black community.
N’diaye sat down with the Cut to talk about what sexual liberation really means, the sex-toy industry, and reinventing sexual education.
Tell me more about where the idea for Pro Hoe came from.
When my mom told me to get the vibrator, she said she wished she would have spoken to us about sex at a much younger age. That made me reflect on how I learned about sex, which was through porn and the media and never through direct conversations with my parents or my educators. From there, I started thinking about the shame and stigmas that are specific to the Black community when it comes to sex, sexual expression, and pleasure. Sometimes it’s not even about sexual pleasure; it’s also about platonic pleasure in our relationships. So I started blogging. I felt like the more I shared and used the storytelling of my own sexual experiences, the more other people would feel comfortable talking about their own sexual experiences. Empathy is the best way to eradicate shame.
Define the Pro Hoe lifestyle.
For you to feel so free and daring and live your life to the fullest extent of pleasure. Audre Lorde says that self-pleasure is the means of self-preservation, and I truly believe that once you know the capacity of your pleasure, it really dictates the way that you live the rest of your life. If we know that we can experience pleasure to an infinite degree, we would allow a lot less bullshit in our lives.
How do you define sexual liberation?
Sexual liberation is about finding the confidence for yourself to express what you want. No one ever arrives at sexual liberation; we are always evolving. It’s growing and changing with you because what I like now is not what I liked three months ago. Another part of sexual liberation is not judging yourself for things that turn you on that maybe you didn’t expect or are unconventional.
How is Pro Hoe opening up the conversation around sex in the Black community?
It started with writing, podcasting, hosting community events where we talk about all things sex in a safe space, but now I’m kind of shifting. The workshops and the social-media content are definitely powerful, but I realized that it has a short runway; it has a burnout. What I am actually working on right now is starting my own sex-toy line — I feel like I can most give back in that capacity. The toy to me is just an extension of the work that I’ve been doing.
What needs to change about sex education?
Last year, I said I wanted to reinvent sex education. I want to craft an education around the vulnerability, shame, and intimacy of sex. That is the way sex education needs to go, as opposed to being like, “Don’t do it — you can get pregnant, STIs.” It needs to go hand in hand with the emotional experience.