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.

Bringing It until I Fucking Die

Emancipating Sexuality brings it.
Janis Joplin

Someone I deeply respect, and who has had an enormous impact on the art and craft of my teaching unsubscribed from my blog this week.  It was after a particularly graphic post that I wrote, about practicing to be fucked in an alley.

While I understand on an intellectual level that the edge I walk in my work as a teacher of sexual liberation is not for everyone, inside my heart, I felt pain, and another surprising feeling: shame.

The voices of self-doubt rose strongly: am I doing anything that has meaning?   Am I not going to be liked, respected, accepted, loved because I insist on pushing the boundaries of sexual freedom in such a public way?  Should I tone it down, practice and explore privately? Am I too going too far, beyond that radical edge, to where my work loses relevancy?  The level of doubt was staggering.

Maybe, I thought, I should step away from this work, and go back to working with kids with dyslexia.  No one ever unsubscribed from that blog.  (Okay, I didn’t really have a dyslexia blog, but in my oh-so-fun shame story, they wouldn’t have if I did have one!)

I am not sure if self-doubt and feeling unworthy are the same exactly, but they are pretty darned close. Who am I to do this? Why would anyone want to work with me? These are the unworthy voices.

There is something so scary in doubting what I’m doing.  What if I’m lying to myself? What if I am delusional? I don’t want to be dependant on external validation by others, but in these moments, I find I am.

I know it’s not sexy. I know successful people often hide these kinds of thoughts behind a veneer of confidence.  Which is exactly why I want to speak them.  I get so tired when I try to hide insecurity, judgement, doubt.  Actually, hiding them seems to empower them, make them stronger.  I have found that if I just name these shadow feelings aloud, radical and scary as it is, they seem to dissipate. 

So, dear readers, today’s post isn’t for your benefit, per se.  It is for my own… to publicly own all of those unlovable parts. To claim transformational process as a state of being, replete with doubt and shame.  To be honest about how it actually is today, inside this skin sack I’m wearing.

And I do want the kind of world where we can all be honest about the shadow places, the fear places, the small places, and find love and acceptance out there. I spoke with my partner, who is often wise in the ways of transformative process.  What he said is that self-doubt is just part of the process.  It’s to be expected, planned for even.

And so, wallowing within the void of self-doubt, I prayed.  I asked Spirit for a sign.  “Please, please show me and let me know that you want me to keep doing this., that I am meant to do this.”  

I mean, I’ve trusted this process thus far.  I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, trusting deeply that I am being led in good ways through my life.  I’ve made so many scary, risk-taking-you-could-really-regret-this-later kinds of decisions, and they have always worked out. I have trusted that a higher intelligence guides my work, and that there is a benevolence that is holding me as I move through my days. I have said, and continue to say, “Yes” to what is.

Well, I did get my sign, my coincidence, my synchronicity.  Yesterday, I came across and read a beautiful blog post, one which made me cry.  After reading, I was checking out more of the blog, an lo and behold, the author (someone I have never met) had written to me a couple of weeks ago, telling me how deeply they appreciate my work, how they are coming to San Francisco soon, how they would like to meet me.  In that moment of connectedness, I felt my heart open.  While I continue to feel  fear and sadness and the loss of the kind of passability that comes with being an educational therapist and not with being a sex coach, I know I am going to keep bringing it. In spite of self-doubt, I continue on, as evidenced by the writing of this blog post.

Because I think that  this TRULY what successful people do.  They keep bringing it, and bringing it, in spite of objection, persecution, obstacles, self-doubt, and loss.  They keep bringing it because they have to, because it gives their life deep fucking meaning, and they really believe in their work that much.  They truly cannot do anything else. They keep fucking bringing it, until they fucking die. I am of that ilk.  So, though I know the cost of admission is painful, and that the road will be fraught with self-doubt, I am going to fucking bring it, until I fucking die. I can’t really do anything else.

Thriving Resilience, Radiant Sexuality and Recovery from Childhood Sexual Abuse

Breaking Silence

From an email I wrote to one of my parents today: “I have made a commitment to myself to acknowledge and come to acceptance of the story of my body and my sexuality.”

I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. 

For many years, I had experiences in sexual and intimate connections that baffled me.  My body would react in ways I did not understand.  Weird triggers suddenly made me pull away, deep inside.  I had many bodily sensations that seemed out of context to the situation.  Nightmares about hidden, dirty places haunted me my entire life.  Disassociation became an art form.  Projecting ‘perpetrator’ stories onto lovers was a strategy to avoid intimacy.  I shut down my sexuality, in attempts to deny the truth of my body.  I attempted to avoid healing, since it was so terrifying.  My demons were familiar, and if not beloved, at least steadfast and reliable.  Trust confounded me in relationship after relationship.

I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

And here’s the thing: healing is my great work.  It’s my personal work, and it’s what I’m able to give to this world.  Holding the idea that I was the most fucked up person in the world was comforting.  And surrendering to knowing that’s not true has been really fucking scary.  As long as my Shadow was enormous and unlovable, I didn’t have to engage with being worthy of receiving love.  I didn’t actually have to trust anyone enough to let myself be loved, imperfectly.

You’ve been reading my thoughts about boundaries and intimacy.  I believe we all live in a sexually traumatic culture, and probably most of us struggle with these.  And personally as a survivor, boundaries and intimacy are particularly hard-won.  In these posts, you’ve seen my will in action, as I go back and reclaim boundaries and  intimacy as my birthrights.  Action arises from will, and will from Desire.  Desire comes, of course, from our bodies.

This personal reclamation of sexuality and Desire as a survivor is a political act of deep courage and resistance.  I WILL be joyously and outrageously a sexual being, enjoying the full potential of my sensual and sexual nature.  I WILL take back my body, and learn all the stories, secrets and teachings it holds.  I WILL live radiantly, gloriously and pleasurably in this perfect body.

What I didn’t write in my email this morning was that not only am I coming to acceptance, I am coming to fucking gratitude for all that my body has endured.  I am so grateful for all the healing I can allow myself to do, not just for me, but for you too.  In spite of silencing shame and loneliness, the loss of loved ones who can’t show up for my process, and soul-numbing childhood abuse, I thrive.  I FUCKING THRIVE! Resilience, simply said, but with a radical twist.  Here it is: I’m so grateful I get to come home to my body.  It’s all the sweeter for having been gone.   

It’d be totally awesome if you’d take a second, and give me a high-five below in the comments or by liking.  It’s pretty vulnerable to write this.  I’d also love to hear if you THRIVE too.

Sex and Shadows: Thoughts at the Autumnal Equinox

Folsom Street Fair San Francisco, CA
Folsom Street Fair San Francisco, CA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The equinox happens twice yearly, once in March and once in September, when the day holds equal parts light and darkness, depending on where you live.  At Equinox,  I think about the different tensions I attempt to hold in balance in my life.  It’s a day for looking at shadow, and having enough light to not get lost in it.

Oh yes, it’s true, sex is full of shadow.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say “shadow,” it’s a term from Jungian psychology that means all of the aspects of our selves of which we are unconscious.  It often carries a negative connotation, and we can often see our own shadow by examining our criticisms, judgments and condemnations of others.

So much of sexuality is hidden in shadows.  Words like “perverse” and “deviant” when applied to human sexuality bespeak a moralistic damnation that reveal just how puritanical our culture is regarding sexuality.  Puritanical, yet paradoxically hyper-sexual and sexualizing everything and everyone. I mean come on!  We sell thongs for pre-pubescent girls with “Juicy” written across the tush.  (Saw them the other day in Ross, just in case you think I’m making this sh*t up.)

Yesterday I volunteered at the booth of the Center for Sex and Culture at the Folsom Street Fair.  All day, I was surrounded by over 40,000 people flaunting versions of their own sexuality.  Sexuality that is usually left in the shadows, behind closed doors, suddenly flooded the sunlit streets of San Francisco.   For many who come from all across the country to attend, it’s a chance to normalize and celebrate their sexual proclivities that may be unwelcome in their own communities.  For those from San Francisco, it’s an annual reminder why we live here, since we feel a sense of belonging we never felt back in Oklahoma.  It’s certainly a visual circus.

The initial thrill at the parade of the human pulled-pony costume wearing-riding crop bearing trainers in their carts.  The ‘heavy-petting zoo. ’ The slick and slippery lube wrestlers with accompanying 50-gallon-drums of lube. The daring antics of the ariel rope suspensionists,artfully binding and then suspending other humans in the air and then doing things to them.   Leather Daddies at Folsom Street FairTen thousand leather daddies that look like they just left audition for the Village people… and what I thought every man would look like before I moved to SF.   However, after  about fifteen minutes, my eyes acclimate and adjust, and the ‘depravity’ around me just seems normal.  Not exactly wallpaper, but certainly not the orgiastic debauchery the rest of the world thinks it is.  It’s just a street fair, with a bunch of naked people, leather, costumes, corn-dogs and greasy fries.  And stuff for sale.  But still.

Warning: Sudden Change of Thought Ahead

I know the whole known universe is freaking out over “50 Shades of Grey” and if I were a good blogger, I’d write a piece on it.  Somehow it just makes me sigh.  I remember how betrayed I felt when I saw “Occupy” books starting to appear in the big box bookstores.  I’m talking about when something I’ve dearly loved in the counterculture suddenly gets picked up by the mainstream culture.  Examples: Paul Simon playing in Starbucks, hoodies for sale with anarchist patches already installed sewn on, Grateful Dead listening fraternity boys, Converse sneakers for sale at Target, and so on.  It’s kinda like that with the whole shades of grey phenomenon.  Yeah, it’s great that kink is becoming more accepted and more people are exploring playful sexuality.  Yay!  And hey, folks, there’s so much more available than “Hello Kitty spankers.”

It’s not that important to me to have my sexuality validated by demonstrating it in public, but I felt a tremendous gratitude that this venue exists for those who need it.  And I don’t want our freak status taken away, or too normalized.  I like it here at the margins.  It feels free, safe, and like corporate America isn’t gonna start infringing in the marketingly annoying way they commodify effin everything.

We now return to the Equinox and the Shadow

I do find it meaningful to seek my shadow, and seek to understand the dark depths of my sexuality.  It makes them not so scary.  And I hafta say, I think our collective shadow around sex is really intensely scary.  It’s much bigger than an annual street fair can counteract.  It’s the denial and repression of our very life-force, even as we hungrily devour the next porn magazine depicting non-consensual sex acts on teenage sleeping girls.  Porn-addiction is a smokescreen, folks.  It’s the shadow that’s too easily seen to truly be shadow.  Real BDSM and Kink?  (Not talking the spankety-spanky stuff, but more like The Secretary) Often, these are a really healthy attempt to bring from the shadow into the light our sexual desires that are in opposition to the ones we think we “should” have, if we are good girls and boys, or the desires our culture affirms as ‘okay.’

What does traditional mainstream culture tell us is okay?

  • Missionary position: one penis, one vagina, close your eyes turn out the lights and….go.
  • Blow-jobs for men (but probably not from their wives.)

What does our culture of mainstream porn tell us is okay?

  • It’s okay to have sex with anybody, anytime, any position.  Oh yeah I love it, squirt gush cum done.
  • It’s okay that there are no feelings, no intimacy, no connection.  You don’t have to feel.  You don’t have to connect.
  • Sexuality is not about anything but bodies.  Just parts with other parts.

No, the real shadow here is how we commodify the very thing that brings us into existence on this planet.  How we regulate it, or try to.  How we fear it so intensely that art becomes suspect.  How we use it to sell absolutely everything.  How we make it all about a visual, and not at all about the intense intimacy, energy, and connection.   This really pisses me off.

Says Jack Morin, the author of The Erotic Mind,

“Eroticism is the process through which sex becomes meaningful.” The erotic is “energized by the entire human drama, including the unruly impulses and painful lesson that no one – except those who retreat from life – can possibly avoid. No wonder the erotic mind conjures up images of debauchery as well as delight… eroticism is the interplay of sexual arousal with the challenges of living and loving.” 

You get it right?  Sex is about being alive.  The shadow of sex is commodification, moralism, judgment, repression, condemnation.  It’s not even about death… it’s about just not being alive even as we live and breathe.  All I can say is: Resist.  Resist with your body, with your desire.  Resist the corruption that everything is sexual and nothing is sexual.  Resist with your kink, your fetish, your refusal to desire what you ‘should’ desire.  RESIST with your whole heart, your fiery passion, and your aroused genitals. Let us retain awareness of our sexual shadow, and not identification with it.  Happy Equinox.