Sex IRL: 9 People on How Being in an Interracial Couple Affects Their Relationship

Not everyone’s comfortable talking about their sex life, but knowing what goes on in other people’s bedrooms can help us all feel more inspired, curious, and validated in our own experiences. In HG’s monthly column Sex IRL, we’ll talk to real people about their sexual adventures and get as frank as possible.

You don’t need me to tell you that being in a relationship can be difficult. Between societal pressure, familial pressure, and the pressure you put on yourself, it can sometimes feel like you and your partner are navigating a hedge maze of emotions. You also don’t need me to tell you that these difficulties can be compounded if you’re in an interracial relationship.

According to the most recent census, about 17% of all new marriages in the U.S. had spouses of two different races or ethnicities. This accounts for a fivefold increase since 1967, the year that Loving v. Virginia ruled that interracial marriage was legal throughout the country. But that’s just newlyweds. The same census saw also that one in ten married people in 2015—not just those who had recently walked down the aisle—were in interracial marriages. (Believe it or not, Honolulu has the highest percent of interracial marriage.)

Even though we see more interracial marriages now than when our parents were young, attitudes toward these relationships are still stuck in the past. A recent study showed that nine percent of people said there was an issue with interracial relationships when asked—and that both white and Black people showed significant implicit and explicit biases against interracial couples. 

But regardless of those biases, the number of interracial relationships will continue to grow. And while there can be plenty of difficulties navigating a relationship with someone of a different race—especially as racial injustices continue to be played out in this country—there is also joy in them. 

So I decided to talk to a handful of couples in interracial relationships about what it’s like and how it affects their sex lives. Here’s what they had to say.

“I can sit on a white man’s face and still be unapologetically Black.” 

“I saw a lot of interracial relationships growing up. That said, my extended family is a lot more conservative about things. My grandmother was alive through the last few decades of colonization in our country and doesn’t see white people as anything but bad news. 

“My current boyfriend and I have been together for over two years. The best part is getting to know the other person better through their culture. We love to play the music we grew up listening to for each other. It makes me feel like we’re letting each other in on some precious formative experiences. It’s really bonding. But the hardest part is the times we get harassed in public. Neither of us really knows how to respond at the moment, and it leaves things rocky for a while afterward. As old-school as it sounds, I want him to step up and protect us when things like that happen. If he’s going to have Black kids one day, he’s going to have to know what to do. We eventually sit down and talk about it, but it’s a pretty painful reminder of the fact that our relationship is not like other ones, and not always in a positive way. 

“Things can go either way when it comes to racial tension. In our everyday lives, we take opportunities to unpack how differently we experience the world—me as a Black woman and him as a white man. When shit really hits the fan, as it has now, it’s hard for me not to feel totally alone. As thoughtful and empathetic as he might be, we’re just having fundamentally different life experiences, which really makes me doubt the longevity of our relationship. I wonder if I can spend ‘the rest of my life’ with someone who will never fully understand my lived experience.

“As for intimacy, it’s hard to feel sexy when you’re anxious about the state of the world and your place in it. Even worse is when it feels like you’re literally sleeping with the enemy. It’s disturbing to say it in that way, but that’s exactly what it feels like—like my ancestors are watching me in disgust. But at the same time, I try to remember that being close to someone is exactly what I’m craving the most right now and that I deserve to have those moments of joy in these dark times. I can sit on a white man’s face and still be unapologetically Black.” 

— anonymous, 30, together with her boyfriend for two and a half years

“I think we’ve benefited from this new wave of awareness.”

“My mother is from Mexico, and my father is from California and is of European descent. So not only was I the product of an interracial relationship, but by definition, pretty much any woman I’m dating is technically in an interracial relationship, since I am biracial. 

“My girlfriend is from northern India, but she looks Hispanic. I sometimes forget I’m in an interracial relationship because we look alike—even some of my Hispanic family members will talk to her in Spanish because they forget she isn’t Hispanic, too. My girlfriend’s family is more progressive, too, and they’re okay with her dating a foreigner now. They were a bit wary of me as a long-term prospect since Hollywood and the media tend to portray Westerners as promiscuous and unfaithful. 

“I think we’ve benefitted from this new wave of awareness that seems to be spreading now, but as any minority or person of color can tell you, racism in the U.S. isn’t anything new. Xenophobia has long tendrils in this current administration. We’re more worried about visa issues and her having to go back home more than anything else under the Trump administration. The COVID-19 pandemic is throwing a wrench into the economy—and, as a result, some people’s visas—which is causing some stress. Fortunately, my girlfriend likes to use sex to destress, so if anything, our sex life has seen a bit of an uptick.”

— Steve, 32, with his girlfriend for nine months

“I also think we need to address the issue of fetishizing certain races.”

“The best part about being in an interracial relationship is the richness it brings to my life. My husband’s parents are immigrants from Vietnam, so I feel like I am being exposed to a broader world view. A difficult part is that they speak virtually no English, and I don’t speak Vietnamese, so I am left out of conversations. This usually doesn’t bother me, except when the conversations concerned our wedding or my daughter. 

“As an Asian immigrant to Canada, my husband does not feel the same pressures as other minorities, such as being targeted by police or discriminated against in employment. Personally, I have concerns about my young daughter. I am acutely aware that my daughter will grow up biracial, Asian and white, and I will not be able to relate to her on that level. I have absolutely no frame of reference for that experience, and I understand it can be difficult for people on a personal level. I hope that when the time comes, I can figure out what she needs from me.

“My husband always says he feels more Canadian than Vietnamese, so I think people need to understand that each individual has a unique tie to their own cultural background. I also think we need to address the issue of fetishizing certain races. I worry about this for my daughter, but I know that it happens with other minorities as well.”

— anonymous, 32, together with her husband for seven years, married for three

“It’s not that love sees no color. I see his color and it is beautiful to me.”

“I remember being young in Brooklyn, asking my Italian father if he would mind me dating a Black man. He responded by saying as long as I was happy and being treated right, he didn’t care. He is currently proving that to be true.

“The hardest part was the beginning of our relationship and the assumptions. I was concerned about whether his family would like me or care if I was white. Luckily, all is fine, and everyone is loving and welcoming. There have been other interracial relationships in their families. But the best part is learning about different cultures, expressions, and languages. It will always amaze me how calm holidays and events are with his family compared to the big, long, loud Italian family holidays!

“That said, my brain plays out the worse-case scenarios whenever I wait for his text saying he made it home safe. Recently, a 9 p.m. curfew was put in place when the protests began. None of us got the alert until 10 p.m. I knew he was with his mother and granny, and I was scared for him to make the 10-minute drive home. There were times that we were both so stressed that it did affect how we were intimate with one another. But the truth is that it’s not that love sees no color. I see his color and it is beautiful to me.”

— anonymous, 41, with her boyfriend for three years

Interracial couple, Interracial relationship

“I wish people would know that interracial relationships are very common and they shouldn’t be treated as a novelty or a fetishization!”

“I’ve exclusively been in interracial relationships but never really thought of them because my parents—an Asian man and a white woman—are in one. Early on, when vacationing in certain states or being in certain situations, people would express their distaste towards their marriage or toward me, but [my parents] always explained to me that it wasn’t so much about their marriage but rather racist people that weren’t comfortable with them. 

“I’ve always loved sharing my culture and traditions with my partners. While there are cultural boundaries that I’ve experienced, like wanting my grandparents to be accepting of my partner, it’s mostly fun getting to show someone I love the traditions I grew up with or celebrating Chinese holidays with them. 

“Being in an interracial relationship does sometimes affect how we interact. I’ve oftentimes had to explain how I’m affected by racial unrest because he doesn’t necessarily understand it nor has he been a victim of it before. He’s also less inclined to notice when people are clearly uncomfortable by our relationship, whereas I have a much sharper eye for people who say things directed at me or us as a couple. But I wish people would know that interracial relationships are very common, and they shouldn’t be treated as a novelty or a fetishization!”

— Melissa, 22, with her boyfriend for a year and a half

Our relationship grew stronger day by day as we learned about what shaped our lives to who we are today.

“Growing up in a South Asian household and attending school in a predominantly white suburb in Houston, Texas, made me feel like I was living a double life at times. At school, I was your typical teenager crushing on the hot white guy, but at home, I was this submissive, ‘good’ Indian girl that didn’t talk back to my parents, studied hard, and was actively involved in the South Asian community. The thought of even getting into an interracial relationship (or let alone any relationship) was forbidden when I was in high school. My parents would have freaked! 

“When my fiancé and I started dating, it became clear our upbringing was, surprisingly, very similar. I used to think, growing up, [that] this commonality would have only been found with another South Asian guy, but everything about his life changed my point of view. We both grew up in immigrant households dominated by strong women. We both weren’t allowed to hang out with kids from school and only with our cousins or close family friends. We were both also lucky to have moms that raised us on home-cooked meals, with recipes they learned growing up in Mexico and India. With all these commonalities, our relationship grew stronger day by day as we learned about what shaped our lives to who we are today. 

“Growing up in immigrant households and as first-generation kids of immigrants, we have a strong sense of cultural awareness. My parents came to this country in 1974 during a time when skilled South Asians were favored by white people to succeed, and not necessarily because they’re smarter or better. Other minority groups in this country were just as smart and capable, but systemic racism denied them of basic, fundamental rights in this country, essentially making it difficult for them to earn a decent living and become successful. We both fully acknowledge how grateful we are and continue to protest, make donations, voice our opinions, and actively stay on top of this movement.”

— anonymous, 33, with her fiance for about three and a half years 

I think we both have a very strong sense of culture and understanding because we’re both first-generation children of immigrants.” 

“I always thought that I would have to marry someone who shared my language and culture, so growing up I would try and date other Hispanic women so that I would feel less self-conscious about bringing them home and having to translate. Or worse, the idea of bringing them home and having them judge me. But then I met my fiancé.

“For me, learning about how our cultures and upbringing are actually SO similar was great. What I’ve learned is that people have stories and histories that aren’t always the first thing you might learn about them. A lot of times, especially in ethnic cultures like Hispanic or Indian cultures, a lot of the norms and standards are the same. I can’t say that people have looked at us in a different way or treated us differently due to her or my race. 

“I think we both have a very strong sense of culture and understanding because we’re both first-generation children of immigrants. So when we look at unrest and protests, we consider ourselves to be a part of the movement and support in every way, because we know that our people and people who look like us are being discriminated against every day. We recognize the privilege we have and try to figure out how to use it to help everyone else.”

— anonymous, 32, together with his fiancé for about three and a half years

Interracial couple, Interracial relationship

“It’s hard to watch your partner feel bad for you while you feel even worse because had they not been involved with you, they wouldn’t receive that treatment.” 

“I come from an interracial marriage. My mom is white and my dad is Black. All of my relationships have been interracial, and every girl I’ve dated has been white. The best part about being in an interracial relationship is the strength that can be displayed when the world shows its ugly side. There’s an openness and love that can be expressed that are, in my opinion, unmatched. But it’s hard to watch your partner feel bad for you while you feel even worse because had they not been involved with you, they wouldn’t receive that treatment. 

“My fiancé and I communicate very well. I’m lucky to have found that in a partner. We not only have personal conversations but with others to inform, educate, and help people become aware of the everyday life we live. It doesn’t affect our intimacy. 

“We get looked at lots of places we go, and we know why. I wish people knew how bad it hurts when your partner’s family isn’t welcoming to the idea and the strength of the partner who stays by the person they love. It’s hard being a biracial human. It’s hard to be in an interracial relationship. But it’s beautiful, it’s real, and it will make you stronger mentally, physically, and emotionally. It’s everything I could ask for.”

— Michael, 30, with his fiancé for six years

“I’ll never be able to fully feel how he feels.” 

“My experience with interracial relationships was nonexistent. I grew up in a very sheltered place, so exposure to people of color and their cultures was limited. But I’m glad that we can spark conversation. The flavor, the swag, and the sex are great, too. It’s hard to know that he has to deal with the things that come with the relationship—the looks in public or the name-calling. I feel guilty about that. I’m not able to walk in his shoes. I’ll never be able to fully feel what he feels. 

“When there are moments of unrest like we’re seeing now, I try to listen, ask questions, and ask more questions. I ride with him no matter what. If we want to change, we need to have those tough conversations with our friends and family. It all starts at home. It doesn’t affect the way my fiancé and I interact with one another, though. If anything, he admires my continued support, and that has a positive effect on the overall health of our relationship. But it doesn’t affect our intimacy.

“This shit isn’t easy. But our love and strength are unmatchable. Also, stop staring! Try smiling.”

— Alexis, 30, with her fiancé for six years 

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