Pleasure for the People: Trauma and Revolution

Feel more pleasure with Emancipating Sexuality

It’s good to talk about the nuances of a pleasure revolution, in particular for those of us with sexual trauma.

It seems like pleasure should be the most effortless of human experiences, yes? After all, it’s the state or sensation we are taught to pursue relentlessly. The abatement of pain, and the enjoyment of pleasure is the promise of all marketing, no matter what the product being sold.

And yet pleasure can be complicated. Or maybe it always is.

What is pleasure? How do you know it when you feel it? What’s your capacity for staying with it? Can you bear it for hours? Do you let pleasure absorb deeply inside you, defining your embodied existence? Does pleasure validate your worthiness? Or, like most of us, do you gulp down the delicious meal, rush towards orgasm, or in other ways try to escape from feeling sustained pleasure?

I work with many folks with sexual trauma. I struggle to not let their heartbreaking stories become my normal; to allow myself to feel the impact of each and every violation of each client, without becoming swamped in despair.

The suck-ass truth is that for those of us with sexual trauma, we bear the burden of working through it. It’s not fair. It’s so not fair. And yet, without our own personal work navigating towards sexual freedom, we remain stuck in a sexuality that is not our full expression. And this is of course an okay choice, but it is not the one I nor my clients are making. We want pleasure.

For folks with sexual trauma history, pleasure isn’t always easy to feel. There may be numbness, lack of sensation, pain. Not only that, pleasure can be triggering to feel.
Pleasure can feel not good; it can be uncomfortable, unbearable, or the bodily sensations of pleasure may cause folks to disassociate away from their bodies. Sometimes it’s easily felt, but remorse, shame and guilt are lying in wait in the wings, as soon as pleasure is done. Sometimes pleasure brings up unwanted thoughts, memories or associations.
I sit with my clients through the weeks and months and sometimes years as they fight for their right to feel pleasure, and as they build their capacity to stay with it
Recently I went to hear the band Alabama Shakes at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. Brittany Howard belted out song after soul-wrenching song, no holds barred. This woman is so full-on, you just know she is born to sing, is here on Earth to bring this particular musical brilliance through her body and into the world. Holy fuck. Listen to this before you read the rest of this post, to have an embodied understanding of what I’m talking about.

While listening, it raised a question I’ve been feeling into ever since.  What is it to live in the world, completely dedicated to expressing the thing you are here to express? To give yourself completely to that thing? That even trembling with fear, flooded with overwhelm and suffering pain you just throw yourself into yourself, and pour yourself out again? To allow inspiration to have its way with you, and to focus focus focus your expression in the way that only you could ever do?

I am committed to developing my full erotic expression in this lifetime. There are moments when I am able to allow pleasure to completely ride me,  moments when my body exists inside of me!

But more often are the complicated pleasure moments. The times I’m using my strategies to stay present, to explore what’s possible in this body in this moment. The days where my libido caught a train to Detroit, or I’m distracted by the books I need to read for my lit review. Or I’d rather just get off quick and nap, than do the work of feeling deep pleasure.

My erotic practice is about practice. My erotic practice is about Practice. Like learning to shape a voice made for rock and roll, or hone muscles that can powerlift heavy weight, or learning the art of feeling the trauma of my clients and letting it move through me instead of getting stuck, I am devoted to my art of subtle, nuanced erotic feeling.

This is my pleasure revolution; to develop sensitivity to sensation, to develop the capacity for feeling, in the face of trauma that says ‘No, don’t feel. You don’t deserve it!’ or ‘It’s not safe to feel that!’

Through practice I’ve learned to fuck harder when shame strikes. To remain soft and open to receiving pleasurable touch when tears come. To speak hard-to-say truths in the middle of beautiful moments. To continue erotic energy when my partner is triggered. To receive erotic energy while I’m triggered. To pause, reset, and continue. To explore how to hold pleasure for a long, long time, through all the bullshit that comes up.

Almost all of my clients long for easy pleasure. Pleasure without tears at the end, or having to stop in the middle. Pleasure that doesn’t require explaining to one’s partner that the reason they can’t touch your left thigh has nothing to do with them, but could they please try and not? Pleasure that is just simple. However, that’s not the hand they are holding. Instead , erotic expression involves work and practice and willingness to experience the grief/rage/anger/sadness/numbness, again and again beyond boredom, ad nauseum. Trauma legacy.

And yet. I’m not totally convinced that complicated, hard-earned pleasure isn’t just a tiny bit more worthwhile. I’m not actually convinced that ‘easy pleasure’ and ‘deep pleasure’ ever coexist. It’s a revolution because it’s an overturning of the false dichotomy of the ‘haves’ who get pleasure and the ‘have-nots’ who don’t. Pleasure for the People!  Committing to full erotic expression after trauma is a seizing of personal power in the face of hegemony and shame.

That said, choosing full erotic expression as a trauma survivor takes the time it takes, and maybe that time is never. I’m not the pleasure police. It is a valid choice to focus self-expression in totally different arenas. There is no ‘should’ about feeling anything. Just choices about where we choose to place the limited resource of our attention. Living a life of hedonism and pleasure happens to be where I choose to rebel in the face of my trauma and upbringing.

Would I have committed my life to this personal and professional exploration of reclaiming pleasure without sexual trauma? I’ll never know, but I doubt it. My pleasure is earned, hard-won. It’s my art. It’s my practice. It’s my connection with self and partner and the Divine.

And truly, not today, but some days, pleasure really is effortless

If this speaks to you, please leave a comment below.

These boots were made for walking: Fluevogs, Sex, Divorce and San Francisco.

I moved to California in 2004, from a homestead in the backwoods of the North Carolina mountains where I literally baked my own bread each week. I could never have imagined all the ways San Francisco would infiltrate my skin, my soul, and my sex.  It ended my marriage, and brought me into my true partnership.  It turned me queerer than I’d ever dared to express before.  It radicalized my life. San Francisco has been, and continues to be, my totally  hot transformative lover, like no other.

Today I’ve been pondering what it is that my child self wants.  Making room for the desires of that girl, and trying to give her space for play and trust.  This afternoon, she has called out for dress up. Boots, in particular.

And although it feels incredibly vulnerable to share, here’s a little post-holiday gift for you.  I wrote this poem in 2005 about the pair of Fluevogs I bought that eventually changed my life. When I wrote the poem, I didn’t know all that would happen, but you’ll notice that somewhere I had a strong inkling, or at least some forshadowing.

As it turns out, I’ve ridden those boots home to a sexuality that continuously expands and furthers my expression of my deep, animal nature.

Back in 2005, my then-partner told me I looked like a prostitute (he didn’t mean in a good way) the very first time I wore the boots.  I was heartbroken.  But something raw and powerful inside insisted I wear them anyway. Ultimately, that moment informed my decision to leave my marriage and reclaim myself.  I felt a distinctive “fuck you” to those threatened by my sexuality.  I continue to feel that way.

In the post-capitalist-frenzy of the holidays, may my humble offering remind you that we can always travel home again, and sometimes the ticket is even for sale.

Buying the Boots on Haight Street, 2005

These boots are San Francisco.

As the striding, heel-crushing totems work their black magic,

supple black leather, long lines, heels curving up like city streets,

I tell my companion I am not ready to ride these.

As the striding, heel-crushing totems work their black magic,

my fingers trace these routes.

I tell my companion I am not ready to ride these

She says I will not wear these boots until I wear these boots.

My fingers trace these routes

like streetcars of desire.

She says I will not wear these boots until I wear these boots,

and there is longing, coveting, desiring.

Like streetcars of desire

carrying a bad-ass passenger,

There is longing, coveting, desiring

to be the woman who owns these boots.

Carrying a bad-ass passenger

Up, up, up, up

Oh, to be the woman who owns these boots,

pouring my legs into the casings, making me taller, badder, readier.

Up, up, up, up,

supple black leather, long lines, heels curving up like city streets,

and pouring my legs into the casings, I am taller, badder, readier.

These boots are San Francisco.

The Day I bought my Fluevogs (looking a little apprehensive.)
The Day I bought my Fluevogs (looking a little apprehensive.)

Where’s my Sexy?

 My Sexy’s gone!  I want it Back!

When I talk to people about their sexuality, a  theme that often emerges is “I just don’t feel sexual.”  Being out of touch with one’s erotic energy is a common challenge.  Many of us have learned to live with this diminished feeling state, for numerous reasons.  Sometimes in a relationship one person’s libido is less than the others, and the lowest common denominator wins.  Sometimes people are unable to access their erotic energy, and so come to believe they don’t have any.  One woman told me that she was certain that inside lurked a voracious sexual beast that would consume everything if allowed out, and it needed to be tightly controlled.  Other people become dependent on external sources of sexuality: sexual partnership and porn are the two big ones.

None of these experiences is wrong or bad.  However, most people who tell me they “just don’t feel sexual” have a sense that either a) they SHOULD feel sexual, or b) they’d LIKE to feel sexual.  In this blog posting, I address both of these ideas.

“I should feel more sexual.”

Never been a big fan of the ‘should’ myself.  ‘Should’ has a number of unpleasant connotations, including:

  • obligation
  • duty
  •  adherence to social code
  •  following someone else’s dictates rather than one’s own heart
  • ignoring body wisdom
  • obedience

None of this sounds very sexy, right? In the process of reclaiming libido and erotic energy, it’s helpful to work with one’s body, instead of issuing dictates about how it better behave or else!   Telling your body that it should feel more sexual is akin to telling a two-year-old they should share their toys.  Resistance!

Erotic energy is a freedom-loving force.  It responds to coaxing, invitation, enticement, seduction.  It balks at on-demand performance, following rules of what is ‘appropriate,’ time restrictions, and demands.   If you’ve ever made the “should feel more sexual” statement or something close to it where anywhere your body can hear you, here’s my best (unsolicited) advice.   Start where you are, with what you are actually feeling. 


Allowing yourself permission to be just as you are creates an atmosphere of loving acceptance.  Recognizing that how you are in this moment is a culmination of all of the events, stories and influences in your life to date.  Feeling what you actually feel sets a baseline of self-acceptance, promoting an authentic self-experience.  Erotic energy loves authenticity!  You can’t fake it, control it, or banish it very effectively.  You can welcome it by setting a place at the table, and feeding it well when it shows up.

If you are reading this and thinking, “Sure, Pavini, I’ll just be a modicum of loving acceptance to myself,” followed by a sarcastic snort, try the fake-it-till-you-make it approach.  It goes like this: every time you notice yourself saying ‘should,’ stop and replace it with ‘could.’  For example, “I could feel more sexual, if that’s my desire.” Just try it a few times, k? You’ve lost nothing if I’m wrong.

“I’d like to feel more sexual.”

Ah, now we’re talking.  Do you hear the desire inherent in this sentence?  Becoming clear on desire is the first step in reclaiming libido.  So many people either don’t know what they want, or experience confusion around their desire.  Sometimes they think they want sex, when what they truly want is connection.  Sometimes they are totally at a loss if asked what their desire really is.  Try this.  Take a breath, one in which you breathe all the way down to your genitals.  Give a little squeeze of your pelvic muscles.  If you continue breathing and squeezing, what do you notice?  Feeling more sexual starts with paying attention to our own bodies.  Paying. Attention. To. Your. Body.

Think about it.  If you wanted to feel more at home in your house, you might pay attention to decorating, cleaning, painting, setting things up just so, getting just the right lamp for that corner.  Feeling more sexual is kinda like that.

It’s about beginning to notice the pull of desire, even in seemingly non-sexual situations.  Do you notice when you’re walking down the street and a flower pulls you in to smell it?  Do you pay attention when your nose tugs you towards a delicious smell wafting out of a restaurant? Does your mouth water? Or your fingers are called to wander across a particular texture or surface?  These are all examples of your body experiencing desire.  So pay attention!  Ever feel the urge to create something, write a poem, send that reconnection email, or plant a garden?  These are examples of sexual energy showing up, wanting to express.  Are you available?

Erotic Energy does not flow from a tap that can be turned on and off at will.  True, with time one can learn to regulate it, but that’s another post.  What I’m saying is this: if you want to feel more sexual, start with acceptance about where you are.  Celebrate the desire in your desire of wanting more.  Pay attention to all the ways you already do welcome in the erotic, before you embark on any grand plan to upgrade your sexuality.  Pay attention when erotic energy shows up.  Create an environment that welcomes it.  Allow it freedom, and notice the places it already is in your life.  Allow your senses to seduce you, and savor it when they do.  Sensuality, baby.  Feel it.

We’ll talk more about reclaiming libido soon, but for now, just notice.  And comment.