Keep Them Coming: Let’s talk pleasure!

Open The Doors Coaching

Kristen Thomas. // Photo by Nicole Bissey

There are people who think this plane of existence is supposed to be about pain and suffering. I am clearly not one of those people. Pleasure is a cornerstone in my life these days, and I do what I can to help others embrace it. 

I have tried to find pleasure through food, travel, art, and—as an adult—sexual experiences. But lemme tell you, there are some cheeses in this world that have brought me more pleasure than 90% of the orgasms I’ve had (the cheese is that good).

In my early 30s, while the lingering pleasurable memories remained, something still wasn’t clicking. I felt guilty, lustful, or dirty at times—perhaps because there was no one in my life to say, “Yeah, it’s totally cool, you can do whatever you want as long as it’s safe, sane, and consensual.” 

As I began to advocate for other people’s pleasure via my coaching business, I found it easier to discover my own. How could I tell others to do what feels good without giving myself that same permission? Opening the door for others helped me open my own door.

I want to highlight and honor pleasure because September is Sexual Health Month. But what would a fun time be without some sort of theme or genre? The World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) named the 2022 World Sexual Health Day event “Let’s Talk Pleasure.” WAS believes, “Pleasure is a critical part of sexual health—and rights—which makes it central to overall health and well-being.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) says, “Sexual health, when viewed affirmatively, requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.” 

Pleasure as a gateway drug?

When I say I advocate for pleasure, what comes to mind? Images of bacchanalia-esque drunken orgies, food porn, overindulgence, or being disconnected from reality? I mean, yeah, and no, but yeah… if that’s what you’re into.

adrienne maree brown (yes, all lowercase) is an activist, doula, and author of the 2019 book Pleasure Activism who was quoted by Colorlines as saying that pleasure is “about pure aliveness and actually being present for the world around you.” When you are present, you are open to allowing sensations to be experienced in the moment. Pleasure is the ultimate antidote to any physical, mental, or emotional ailment. 

Some people fear that tapping into pleasure will unleash their uncontrollable hormone monster within. If you’ve deprived yourself totally of pleasure your whole life, the floodgates might be opened. But for most, pleasure is not a gateway drug.

We cannot overdose on pleasure. Our bodies and minds know no limits for pleasure. You will not die from too much pleasure. You also won’t become desensitized to pleasure over time. In fact, you will become more whole, and more content when you allow yourself to experience it. 

How can we promote pleasure through our activism? 

Pleasure can be about little moments like your first sip of coffee, smelling a rose, or a touch from your lover in just the right spot. What are those lingering moments if you can’t make the choice? 

The WAS Sexual Pleasure Declaration states, “Self-determination, consent, safety, privacy, confidence, and the ability to communicate and negotiate sexual relations are key enabling factors for pleasure to contribute to sexual health and well-being. Sexual pleasure should be exercised within the context of sexual rights, particularly the rights to equality and non-discrimination, autonomy, and bodily integrity, the right to the highest attainable standard of health and freedom of expression.”

There is no sexual liberation without racial, social, and economic justice. There are people in the community who don’t have a choice, safety, communication skills, or the opportunity to say “no.” 

The WAS sexual Pleasure Declaration goes on to state, “The experiences of human sexual pleasure are diverse, and sexual rights ensure that pleasure is a positive experience for all concerned and not obtained by violating other people’s human rights and well-being.” 

Including pleasure in your organizing efforts is necessary. Seeking pleasure is an act of resilience because it’s saying, “Yes, this world is fucked up, but right now I choose to enjoy this.” Sometimes it’s even an act of resistance.

Educate yourself via the works of Audre Lorde, Octavia Butler, and Zahra Ali—all authors and educators of the human sexual experience. Find local organizers that are doing the work around sexual health, from collecting barrier protection to housing transgender unhoused teens. Volunteer your time, and do the work. 

Being able to experience pleasure is a measure of freedom, according to brown in Pleasure Activism. More frequently, we are seeing state legislatures decide who gets the freedom to live their lives as current bills and filibusters see fit. It’s as if legislators think freedom means leading a life similar to their own, through the same grayscale lenses.

Standing up for the rights and freedoms of others, especially women and the LGBTQ+ community right now only means more freedom for you too. 

Stress disconnects us from being present, so as we connect to the moment via pleasure, we decrease our stress, which has this cyclical effect. My motto is, “Exercise, meditate, masturbate.” Movement and meditation connect you to your mind and body. Masturbation connects you to your pleasure. All three remove the hormone cortisol from your body. 

Sometimes people need tools (beyond sex toys) to help them connect to pleasure. Websites like The Pleasure Project, omgYES.com, and Scarleteen.com are helpful resources packed with information. Books like The Power of Now and The Four Agreements can help you with everyday presence, which will allow space for pleasure to be abundant in your life. 

Start talking about pleasure more with others. Advocate for pleasure freedom in your work. Help provide space for others to experience pleasure. Look for new ways to broaden what it all looks like for you.  

You can find Kristen @OpenTheDoorsKC on Twitter or via her website. Check out her podcast Keep Them Coming. 

Categories: Culture