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.

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Sex Sells, Feeling More and Erotic Leaps of Faith

Feel more pleasure with Emancipating SexualityLast week I wrote that what we accept as our capacity for pleasure is actually far smaller than what we are capable of experiencing as humans.   

Perhaps you thought, “OK, so then I’m going to increase my capacity for feeling pleasure and expand my sexuality.”

Indeed, how does one expand into feeling more pleasure, if one has already accepted that the limits of our pleasure capacity are inflexibly where they are?

Or worse yet, what if we have don’t realize that the limits to our capacity for feeling pleasure are ones that we ourselves have created?

Before we consider the question of how to increase our capacity for pleasure, let us first acknowledge our diminished capability to enjoy the fullness of our human sexuality.   Let us ground into the historical contexts of how we have ended up here.

Throughout my blog, I have often written of my own experiments as I attempt to expand my erotic self and broaden my capacity for pleasure.  I write of my own experiences for a number of reasons, mainly because I trust personally people who walk their talk.  Therefore, my integrity compels me to be transparent about my process.  Blogging keeps me accountable to my chosen course towards erotic wholeness. Importantly, transparently blogging about my sexuality helps hold my shame at bay. 

Ironically, the shame of not being or having the sexual self we know or imagine is possible can actually  be enough to block us from seeking that self.  Therefore, it is crucial to the sexual wellbeing of the planet that we begin to break silence about our shame.  That people with marginalized identities also claim sexuality.  Through sharing our erotic journeys, we not only give ourselves permission, but also model and give each other permission to seek authentic sexual expression.

When I started exploring my erotic nature, I was optimistic, but guardedly so.  Perhaps there was more to my sexuality than I was experiencing.  I had a vague sense of missing out on something, but assumed (incorrectly) that the experience I was having was the extent of the experience I could have.  I thought the sex that I had, though limited and at times non-existent, was good enough.  Plainly put, I settled for the experience I had  and tried to wrap my sexuality around it. I did not try to expand the experience to meet the edges of my sexuality. 

After all, I had read enough about women’s sexuality to know a few things (or so I thought.)  I knew that that many women didn’t masturbate.  Many women didn’t orgasm during penis-vagina intercourse.  Many women didn’t have more than one orgasm. Many women didn’t even orgasm at all.  Since I was capable of coming a couple times when I had penis-vagina intercourse, and I masturbated, I was doing better than many women.

I set my own sexual bar super low.

What were some things I was missing from my sexuality?

  • Play and Exploration and edge-pushing
  • Desire and Fantasy
  • Transcendent sexuality and sex magick
  • Embodiment, sensate focus and being present during sex
  • Freedom for fantasy during sex and Freedom for all kinds of fantasies
  • Exploring different turn-ons
  • Toys, different positions and mixing up the patterns of sexual encounters
  • Gender play and different sexual partners
  • Anal explorations
  • Knowledge of my anatomy
  • Squirting  and Kegels
  • Breath, movement and sound
  • Ecstatic sexual encounters  and meeting the Divine during sex
  • Awareness of erotic energy, and ability to work with it
  • Kink, BDSM and power exchange
  • Communal erotic encounters
  • Allowing sex to crack open my heart
  • Full Body orgasms, G-spot orgasms and orgasmic spaces beyond the clittoral
  • Acceptance for my kinks and turn-ons
  • Curiosity

Shit, that’s a whole lot of missing!

The most interesting thing is that I really believed  I was doing good!  I ACCEPTED that the limits of my sexuality were real.

Barnaby Barratt, a psychotherapist, sex therapist, sex educator and tantric facilitator, implores that, “Our sexuality encompasses everything about our embodiment.  It is our sensual and erotic connectedness with all that is around us.  It is the medium of our alignment or misalignment with the universe, the grounding of our being-in-the-world.”

Why do we accept for our sexuality something that is less than perfect alignment with the universe? How did it come to be that I accepted those limits?

While most of us probably feel some degree of shame about where we are in our sexual expression, it turns out there are actually a number of really excellent reasons why we are where we are.

Here’s the crux of it: Our sexuality is informed by a complete paradox.  Ubiquitous in the United States are both blatant sexualization and  blanket sexual repression.  We all encounter examples of both of these hundreds of times each day.

Sexually Explicit or Implicit Advertising

Oh Hi, Sex-Sells Advertising!  The earliest known use of sex in advertising was in 1871, by the Pearl Tobacco brand.  The advertising featured a naked girl on the package.  Since then, sex has been a powerful advertising tool used to sell almost everything.  And it works, too, since we are hard- wired to respond to sexual connotations.

Brooke Shields was only 15 when this came out in 1980. Text read "Want to know what comes between me and my Calvin Klein's? Nothing."
Brooke Shields was only 15 when this came out in 1980. Text read “Want to know what comes between me and my Calvin Klein’s? Nothing.”

We actually even respond to messages that only imply sex, meaning advertisers merely have to access the part of our brain that recognizes sexual messaging.  According to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, average American adults are exposed to approximately 650 advertising messages each day.

Implicit Sexual Suggestion
Implicit Sexual Suggestion

We live in a society that is completely sex obsessed, 

and simultaneously completely sex-phobic.

Pervasive Sex Negativity

In juxtaposition to the images above, consider the following:

Receiving these contradictory messages can be disastrous in our search for authentic erotic expression.  On top of that, layer the traumas, stories, shame, abuse and bad sex many of us have had, and it’s a recipe for sexual shut-down.  Seen through this lens, the fact that we can feel any pleasure at all is quite remarkable!

“Many of us tell ourselves that “sex is not all that important to me,” and then we immerse ourselves in substitutive activities. We plunge into all manner of heartless addictions, or we become preoccupied with policing the sex lives of others. We even lose our awareness of how disconnected we have become from our sensuality. We no longer recognizer our own inhibition, nor do we see its roots in our unconscious shame and guilt.” ~Barnaby B. Barratt

Those who do attempt to cultivate an authentic erotic experience often find themselves facing strong societal prohibitions.  However, when we turn our attention to that quiet, internal voice that compels us towards wholeness, we know we must question the limits we currently accept as immutable.

Sometimes we are required to accept things on faith.  Take leaps of thinking and believing that are unsubstantiated in our lived experience.  Sometimes, we just have to believe there is more, and set off it search of it, hoping we will find it.  I had to leap into the void of giving up my sexual limits, (without having any proof I would get something better,) before I was able to start consciously evolving my own erotic experience

I started this post with the thought “Okay, then I’m going to increase my capacity for feeling pleasure and expanding my sexuality.”  That is indeed the topic.  Stay tuned for further thoughts.  And until next week, I invite you to do one thing: consider that perhaps the current limitations of your sexuality will be different in the future.  Perhaps something deep inside hears the truth of this next statement:

Without a doubt, there is more for you to feel.

Am I feeling all I can? Honoring sex and life

candle-circleTuesday was my 43rd birthday.  

I spent the day at Orr hot springs, moving between the water, the woods and the bed.  All day was magickal,  from the tarot ritual in the afternoon to the devotional fire ritual in the early evening.  I dwelt in Spirit all day, finding the territories of the body and heart that welcome in the numinous.  I made love with Kali Maa, my Ishta Devi (which is like your deity BFF), and listened for the voices of the land, the water, the creatures.

I reflected on my year, on the 43 years of my life, and worked on honoring the life the resides in this body.  We often focus our honoring of life on ‘life out there’ forgetting that we too harbor the spark. What is it to honor the life force within?  

For a birthday gift, my lover gave me an NJOY, which is a really beautiful stainless steel dildo.  It looks like a work of art, and it feels incredible.  Best sex toy ever, and this is not a review.  This post is a celebration of the unrealized pleasure and feeling potential of our bodies.

Scientific American debunks the myth that as humans, we are using a mere 10% of our potential brain power, but until this morning when I was fact checking, I believed it.  What is true that is we are not using all of our brain at all times.  What if the same is true of our sexuality?  When I learn something new, my brain somehow codifies and stores that information that was not there before.  I have more information now than I had before.  I have learned.

I believe we all accept far less pleasure than we are capable of experiencing.  It is possible for us to learn new things in our sexuality.  It is possible for us to feel more.  These are my lived experience.

While every sex toy promises the ultimate pleasure, the pleasure does not arise from the toy itself, but from how our bodies respond to a different kind of stimulation.  When we are able to place our attention on subtle difference in sensation, we become able to feel more.  We can attune our attention to be ever more nuanced.

One of my favorite questions to ask myself when I notice that my mind is wandering during sex is “Am I feeling all the pleasure I could be feeling at this moment?”  In effect, asking that question both refocuses my attention on the pleasure I am feeling, and opens the door for my body to be able to feel more pleasure.

This same question can be extrapolated to our sexuality as a whole.  Am I feeling as much/experiencing as much/exploring as much as possible?  Or am I settling for 10% of my potential? 

The intention of such a question is NOT to create shame, or “I should be doing more,” but rather to invite space for more to be present within our sexual experiences and our sexuality.

On my birthday, I felt sensations I have not felt before.  My body responded in ways in has not responded before.

While we were soaking in the delicious hot water, my partner asked me if I thought that we would ever reach the end of the road with our explorations and our learnings about sexuality.  He then answered his own question, saying “Actually, I’ve been enjoying sex since I first figured out masturbation when I was nine.  It’s been getting better and better since then.  I don’t think it will ever run out.”

It can be easy to settle.  We get lulled to sleep, lured into complacency.  We think it’s too much effort to change, that our sex is good enough.  We can believe our demons are too scary, too difficult to face.  We can stop exploring, and our sex can become routine, limited, rote.  We can convince ourselves that sexuality isn’t that big a part of our human experience, that it’s a bunch of hype.  I know this too because of lived experience.

When I honor and listen to the voice of the life force residing in my body, I hear a different message.  I hear the word “Hope.”  Heeding the call of this voice, quiet as it initially was, has saved my life again and again.  So many times I have tried to settle. Tried to resist change, resist the hard work of intimacy, resist the call of my true animal nature.

This week, as many of my kind are setting resolutions for this next trip around the sun, I am instead honoring the life force that insists I pay attention to my sexuality, my creativity.  I am honoring the fire within that quietly but firmly resists falling to sleep and missing my life.   I am honoring the continued learning and evolution of my sexuality and my pleasure.  I am honoring my commitment to showing up for the exquisite theatre of the body.  And I am honoring the insistent voice of Hope, telling me that there is more to feel.  

 

Frustrating Orgasm Tincture and Erotic Training

Frustrating Orgasm
If only this worked!

Among my clients, I hear a continual theme of frustration around orgasm.  As a culture, orgasm has become the only permissible destination the sex train can stop at.  I don’t buy it.

Superficially, it would seem that culturally we are hedonistic, desireful, and ever-seeking more and more pleasure.  I don’t agree.  What seems truer, just beneath that skin layer of consumerism, is our absolute terror about staying with our pleasure.

We’ve learned to stay with our pain, our suffering.  We sit with it in therapy, and feel the spiritual elevation of allowing our suffering to crack open our hearts.  There’s something we deem morally good about feeling our pain.

And I say that there is another road: one in which pleasure can also bring us into the presence of the Divine.

The problem here is often thus: when we begin to feel extreme pleasure, we disallow it.  Our story of ourselves at our core is often one of un-deservingness, unworthiness.  Who are we to receive such pleasure? To be open to such unrestricted arousal? Who are we to allow ourselves to feel liberation and exaltation through our senses?

No, pleasure has to be gotten on the quick.  Furtively, hurriedly, we clench down to encourage our elusive orgasm to happen.  Without genital tension, we might take too long, and our partners might give up, leaving us frustrated.  Or, we find that extreme pleasure in the body is too intense, and we can’t bear it as it borders on overstimulation and even pain.

Just get the pleasure over as soon as possible, get the orgasm out of the way, and be done with the whole corporeal mess.  Change the sheets even.

Viewed through this lens, frustration about not being able to come, and coming prematurely before you want to stem from the same source: get’er done.  They are both not the true thing.

The Hitachi Magic Wand vibrator, beloved and useful as it is, has a stake in this orgasm predicament.  Putting out such extreme vibrations, people become dependent on a certain level of stimulation that is inhuman, and hard to recreate for a sustained period of time.  Reaching for the vibrator when the frustration starts to creep in is perhaps a quick fix, but ultimately perpetuates the same disallowal-of-pleasure cycle.

My teacher, Joseph Kramer, says that we must train to maintain high states of erotic energy in the same way we would train for a marathon, or any sport.  I believe that maintaining high erotic energy in the body actually changes the body, and what it is capable of.  It changes how much pleasure we can receive.  And ultimately, receiving pleasure challenges our story of unworthiness and forces us to reclaim our agency as worthy, sensual and powerful beings.

Here are some suggestions on Erotic Training.

  1. Hide the Hitachi away, for at least two weeks, somewhere far from the bedroom.
  2. If you have a partner, block out a chunk of time, say two hours.  For that two hours, take turns in 15 minute blocks pleasuring each other.  Orgasm is not the goal.  If someone gets close to orgasm, turn the stimulation down a notch and continue.
  3. If someone gets overstimulated, try this reset technique.  Stop all stimulation, and remove the hands from the genitals for about 15-30 seconds.  Slowly reengage, with a gentle touch.  The neurons should have had time to reset.
  4. If you find yourself feeling really turned on, and the story kicks in and says something like “I can’t take this” or “I’m never gonna come” or “I just want to use the vibrator and get this over with” try acting like a sex coach to yourself.  Try saying “See if you can stay with the pleasure just a little longer” or “What happens if you just keep with it?”
  5. Touch your genitals each and every day, or have a partner spend time touching them, with no goal except exploration.  Let curiosity guide the touch. Orgasmic Meditation from One Taste suggests stroking the upper left quadrant of the clitoris for 15 minutes daily, with no goal other than pleasure. I assume this could be translated to the glans on a penis.

This year I’m committing to Erotic Training, and to exploring the pleasure potential my body holds.  I’m letting go of orgasm being the only acceptable outcome, and I’m challenging myself to receive more and more pleasure.  As I move through 2013, I’ll be posting my findings and offering up the jewels of my research for your erotic benefit.  May my pleasure serve yours. 

If you like what you’ve read, take this next 60 seconds to write publicly your erotic commitment to yourself this year, and post it in the comments to be witnessed!