On a recent Tuesday, the stage at Beyù Caffè contained a few props: a mattress, some blankets and pillows. A chair sat in front of the stage.
Four speakers – hip-hop artist Professor Toon, Omisade Burney-Scott, writer Jade Brieanne and Carmen Williams – talked to an audience about physical and emotional intimacy in the age of online dating during the first of a planned monthly series of Bed Talks.
Speakers could sit on the mattress or speak from the chair. Burney-Scott, 50, shared her experience being divorced with a son. She and her women friends “want to go on real damn dates, where you get dressed and I dressed up,” and the date picks you up at your house, she said. “I have not had much success with online dating,” Burney-Scott said. “I’m hard wired with face-to-face [contact], ritual,” she said.
“I am interested in authentic companionship and intimacy, and with that in mind, I’m choosing to take my time and stay open.”
Online dating sites such as Match.com no longer carry the stigma they once did, according to the Pew Research Center. The share of 18- to 24-year-olds who use online dating almost tripled from 10 percent in 2013 to 27 percent in a 2016 survey, the Pew Center reported. For 55- to 64-year-olds, the percentage went from 6 percent to 12 percent.
Bringing the discussion into a public place
King Kenney, a Durham business and marketing specialist, presented this first Bed Talk. He plans future events, which he hopes will promote frank discussion about sex and intimacy from people of different experiences and backgrounds.
“This is a backroom discussion that typically takes place between friends,” Kenney told the audience during his introduction. “I wanted to bring this [discussion] to this space.”
The stories at the first talk were frank, open, and sometimes explicit. The stories were sometimes sad, often funny.
Williams spoke about her experiences finding long-term love. “My journey was a long and complicated one,” Williams said. “I am a lesbian by nature. It’s not learned. It’s not correctable,” but “it’s about love,” she said. She told about a series of relationships where she was not seeking permanence. When she finally wanted some permanence, her partner was no longer serious.
“For me, in that moment, I started my spiritual walk,” Williams said. She fasted for seven days and prayed. Eventually, “I learned to love ... holistically,” Williams said.
She tried using social media early on but turned away from it. “I’m going to post 1,900 times to see if I can get 30 likes? No,” she said. “My epiphany for everyone else is to be who your are” and to “value yourself.”
Toon told about a friendship with “Tanya” that later became romantic. After seeing a nude photo of Tanya on her phone, Toon found out he was part of a love triangle. “I have let that [experience] affect every relationship since then. That’s how I became salty about life,” he said.
Brieanne drew the most laughs with her story of “Myspace and My First One-Night Stand.”
Brieanne had a long-term relationship in college with a man who promised to marry her, but did not follow through. Myspace was a site for musicians, but it also was a site for finding a date, Brieanne said. A friend advised her to go for a one-night stand with the help of Myspace.
She approached the moment with great anticipation, but “the sex was 29 seconds,” she said. “I was mad. He ruined it.”
Seeking more stories
Kenney led an audience question-and-answer session with the storytellers. The audience was largely African-American women, and Kenney asked why more men did not attend. Women are more forthcoming about discussing intimacy in public places, Burney-Scott said. “Being open and vulnerable in a space like this” is difficult for men, Toon said.
Kenney has presented Bed Talks in New York, Washington, D.C. and other cities and has never had so few men show up, he told the audience. He plans to present another talk in January or February, and reach out to different age groups and people from different backgrounds.