“I don’t even really know what brings me pleasure anymore.”
“Focusing on my own pleasure is hedonistic and nasty.”
“I’m too sexual.”
“I don’t have time for pleasurable things.”
“Prioritizing my pleasure is selfish when there are so many people suffering in the world.”
“If my life is pleasurable, then that means I’m not working hard enough.”
“If I allow my life to feel really good, then I’m going to be fat, poor and unwanted.”
“I only deserve pleasure once I’ve proven myself.”
Over the years, these thoughts have arisen in my own mind, and have been echoed in dozens of conversations with the women whom I coach or who have attended our women’s retreats.
Through my work, I have made the sad discovery that women collectively have come to believe that prioritizing our own pleasure is not only unnecessary, but also counterproductive and moralistically wrong.
I am here to flip that notion on it’s head and implore you to re-claim the right to your own pleasure.
I am here to ask you to consider that most days of your life can (dare I say should) be guiltlessly pleasure-filled, and that the more pleasure you allow in your body and your life, the more power, influence, well-being, connectedness, peace and inspiration you will have.
We have been taught that our pleasure is for others. We have been taught that our pleasure is a commodity, meant to be created and then consumed by the male gaze (the male gaze is the act of depicting the world and women in the visual arts and literature from a masculine and heterosexual point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure).
We have been taught that male pleasure is the highest end and that our pleasure is a mere means to that end, not an end in and of itself.
I once heard a man say that women should not know how to pleasure herself because that’s a man’s job. Apparently, just like we’re not supposed to spoil our appetite before dinner, we’re not supposed to spoil our pleasure before men.
The nuances of this belief system are subtly influencing us day in and day out.
Like when we are marketed “guilt-free” foods, insinuating that if these foods were not fat free, then we should feel ashamed that we might be stealing from the pleasure of the male gaze by adding fat cells to our bodies.
Or like when we are constantly and inescapably inundated by rail-thin, big-breasted, done-up, sexualized women on TV, billboards, store fronts and magazine covers whom are not actually experiencing pleasure (because they work in an industry that demands that they deprive and objectify themselves) but depicted as such for the benefit of… you guessed it, the male gaze.
As Naomi Wolf explains in her brilliant book, The Beauty Myth, “a woman who is self-conscious can't relax to let her sensuality come into play. If she is hungry she will be tense. If she is "done up" she will be on the alert for her reflection in his eyes. If she is ashamed of her body, its movement will be stilled. If she does not feel entitled to claim attention, she will not demand that airspace to shine in. If his field of vision has been boxed in by "beauty"--a box continually shrinking--he simply will not see her.”
We have been conditioned to forget our own innate, built-in ability to source and relish in our pleasure because our capitalist economy and patriarchal society demands that we rely upon our purchasing power and male approval for our pleasure.
These two—patriarchy and capitalism—work in tandem to convince us that if we are not experiencing pleasure, then we have not satisfied the male gaze and therefore we must go purchase more things.
If you’re not feeling pleasure in your life (the myth goes), that must mean that you’re not thin enough or beautiful enough and therefore, to fix your problem, you must go buy diet pills, botox, makeup, push up bras, implants, highlights, ad infinitum.
And by the way (the fable continues), if you start experiencing pleasure before you’ve fixed your “not good enough” problem, then that dangerous, addictive and undeserved pleasure will surely make you fat, crazy, lazy and unlovable.
Brilliant manipulation, eh?
We have been taught that our guilt must inhibit our pleasure.
But the time has come for us to allow our pleasure to heal our guilt, our shame, our insecurities and our dis-connectedness from ourselves, our bodies and each other.
So let’s talk about pleasure.
First of all, pleasure is not inherently sexual (although when we get right down to it, everything is sexual; the inherently sexual motivation to merge with and create life is the most primal human instinct, and all others stem from it).
Sex is just one of the many ways to access pleasure.
But because we have conflated pleasure with sex, we have permeated our experience of pleasure with sexual guilt.
For example, someone who got in trouble for touching herself as a little girl will likely experience subconscious traces of that guilt even when she is doing something pleasurable that is completely un-sexual, like leaving her kids with a friend so that she can take a bubble bath and relax.
Blogger, midwife, doula and holistic nutritionist Jennifer Summerfeldt explains that when we feel, “wrong or bad for actually being ecstatic with life and in the presence of others… we turn our sexual nature into our shadow self and it sneaks out the back door.”
Sexuality is the life force that pulses through all that we do, and we are always either allowing or resisting it. When we allow it, life becomes more ease-full, creative, loving, fun and playful. We open ourselves up to deeper connection and presence. When we resist it (as we often do, due to our pleasure-shame), life becomes more stressful, disjointed and laborious and we feel more resistant to its unfolding.
Summerfeldt confesses, “I am a sexual human who has been terrified to fully claim this power. However, I know that by choosing to keep my sexual energy at bay, locked away because of shame and lack of trust, that I am missing out on the pulse of the lifeforce – the ecstasy that is constantly available and flowing and uniting, at all times…A stimulating conversation, a tantalizing diner with friends, a powerful yoga session, a good f&*%, a bubble bath, the trance of dance, listening to music, being touched and touching, breast feeding, giving birth, writing, you name it, it is sexual. Ahhh, what a crazy notion that when you are present in the moment of life, when you are merging with all that is, when you are love and loving, and when you are in connection – you are experiencing your sexual life force, you are One.”
We renew our relationship to pleasure when we free our sexual shame.
What we must remember is that the essence of sex is creativity. It is the pleasurable dance of one thing with another thing. There is nothing wrong or bad about it.
The pleasure energy in your body is yours to direct, to harness, to create with. It has always been. The energy has never truly come alive for anyone else. The energy is completely impersonal. I picture it as pure white light. Other people simply give you permission to allow it up within yourself. Everyone else has always been a mirror for the pleasure that you allow within yourself.
No one else is actually necessary—you can grant yourself that permission. You can access your pleasure at any time, in any place. It’s not wrong or weird. It’s just you consciously focusing on allowing what feels good.
When I’m in deep meditation, pleasure energetically looks to me like very thin, dancing light beams, moving fine, highway-like energy currents in waves around the body. It can be directed and used to open the body’s energy centers.
It is creative life force that sits coiled at the base of your spine, awaiting your permission to infuse itself into your work, your relationships, your words, your ideas and your feelings.
They say “love what you do” because when you feel pleasure while going about life, you are a more powerful sorceress creator of your reality.
When you are in your pleasure, you are allowing your life to be sourced from it’s power. You are in an ecstatic dance with the energy of the universe. Pleasure is simply the delighted response of the universe tasting itself. Sighing at itself.
Pure, guilt-less pleasure, is one form of what Hinduism calls Satchitananda, truth-bliss-consciousness, subjective experience of the ultimate, unchanging reality.
You have a conscious connection to every cell in your body and every cell in your body is connected to everything. Connecting more and more to your pleasure connects you more and more to the dance of the universe.
Feeling pleasure in your body is evidence that you are attuned to the energy of the universe that is within yourself. You are simultaneously the creator and the experiencer of your pleasure—just like you are simultaneously the creator and the experiencer of your reality. Tuning into your pleasure allows you to tap into that power.
This is why it is so beautiful to give pleasure to someone who truly sees themselves and is aware that being with you is just allowing this beautiful bright light to experience itself, in the presence of another experiencing itself.
When someone is not aware of their power to source pleasure for themselves, they become attached to others. Others are objectified into a means to meet their own pleasure.
When we are willing to really see each other for our true, naked, raw beauty, our true radiance, and recognize it as that which is within ourselves, then we are free to give each other pleasure purely out of love. Not manipulation.
Then we will be free to give ourselves pleasure because we truly love ourselves. Then we can learn to harness that power and transmute it into the highest good and healing.
When you truly see into someone, you see yourself. Your true self. You understand who you are—the heart of everything—and you want to give pleasure to another and to yourself as an offering to the heart of everything. Pleasure is the experience of seeing into the universal “I.” Seeing the I within yourself and/or seeing the I within another. And wanting to give pleasure to the I, which is everything.
The pleasure you allow yourself to experience in your life is a function of how deeply you are willing to see yourself. How much you are willing to let go of your attachments to that which is not truly you—your notions of right and wrong, your thoughts, beliefs and opinions about yourself, your past. It is a function of how naked are you willing to be to yourself. How far are you willing to disappear into the seeing of yourself. How deeply you are willing to surrender to the energy within you. How far you are willing to take down the divide between seer and seen. Between you and me. Between right and wrong. Between pleasure and pain. How much you are willing to lose your identity into the ecstatic surrender of oneness.
Learn how to source your pleasure so that your pleasure can source you. It is your source and you source it.