“Pleasure is a Choice” – this was my latest light-bulb moment after months of struggle in a dark-desert of emotion. It is a point of clarity and self-truth that I have distilled out and now wish to embed-explore with words. I write for myself, but perhaps others may find use here.
Pleasure is a Choice is the simple transcendant of two poles – Pleasure is a Sin vs Pleasure is a Birth-right. I realise after some years of intense exploration that I don’t like either of these positions – both are a trap when seen alone.
Pleasure is a Sin!
Any good Catholic girl knows this one. I don’t recall anyone specifically telling me that this was the case, it somehow exuded out of the church incense and directly into my blood. Life was for suffering, life was for earning the chance to not be punished forever, and somehow we should be singing God’s praises as we go. My parent’s embarrassed attitude to anything to do with sexuality didn’t help. So many of us have this story or similar – for it is woven through western cultural fabric, whether we go to church or not.
I was in my twenties when I was introduced to the concepts of tantra, including pleasure as permitted, encouraged, if not a sacred-mystical gateway. I dove in and was shocked by what I discovered inside me – the levels of guilt, shame, and near-panic around feeling pleasure fully or at all. This is when I became one of the first self-proclaimed Dakinis of the UK – and in a fiercely determined fashion set about righting this great wrong by providing pleasure over and over again. I claimed and reclaimed my own pleasure – I sought it out, gorged on it from every direction that was offered, built a whole lifestyle around it. Pleasure was NOT a Sin – I saw myself on the front line, opening up people’s minds, bodies and sex to whole new dimensions of possibility. I was recreating the pleasure temples and doing sacred work. (At least from my view – this is another story).
Pleasure is not a SIN! I became a nodding and rather self-righteous activist for the other viewpoint : Pleasure is Birthright. I looked down on people not flowing in this blissful liberated realm. I wanted my Birthright back and I wanted them to have it too.
Pleasure is a Birthright!
I see this written all over the place, especially in books and courses that make slighting demanding promises that you reclaim it. I have had a growing unease around this which only now is coming clear to me. The crux is — believing that Pleasure is a Birthright ultimately led me to feel as limited, deprived, and unhappy as the opposite view of it being a Sin.
How did this happen?
Perhaps because having any sort of “Right” cements a sense of deep entitlement. Eventually, this leads to misery.
In my early thirties, I made a series of choices that took me from having a stream of multiple new partners (not to mention clients) giving me pleasure on a daily basis, to being with one man only. This was possible because he can see and share all of my body and soul, because our sex is so incredible the first time we did it I burst into tears. Because with him I could be complete, fuller, not diminished in anyway… good right?
Well – despite this I can’t tell you how many dark-night angry anxiety-attacks poured out of me. I became a demanding unreasonable emotional mess. What was the problem? There are a few components : my struggle to come to terms the limitations of one man – who is human, who has certain energy limits and more to think about that just my pleasure. Combined with me having to finally face how I have used other people as my sex-toys in lieu of really becoming a master of self-love. But the big angry demon in all this was my sense of entitlement to MORE. Because Pleasure is My Birthright. And I had SO MUCH of it before, from so many easy channels. I had a string of people I could call if I was bored, lonely, horny. And I had new clients every week dripping with desire to touch and pleasure me. How can one person ever provide all of this? Rationally, I got it. But I’d get angry with my man for depriving me. I felt that he OWED me at LEAST as much pleasure as I had before. Otherwise I was loosing out, right? I had built my whole reality, if not identity, around reclaiming my birthright of pleasure – and without that who was I?
The worlds of tantra, fetish, polyamory, free-love didn’t have much to support me now I was outside their modus-operandi. Because, they would say – of COURSE one person isn’t enough – that’s why you need multiple partners! With multiple kinks! And being a sacred-whore, a channel of the divine pleasure-arts is a noble calling – you obviously don’t get it!
Had I forgotten everything? I felt like a lost angry witch moaning jealously in the shadows. I knew deep down that I didn’t want to throw away the deep and true connection I had found to go back to swimming about in short term encounters, no matter how pleasurable. But I also didn’t know how to handle the sense of frustration, unmet desires, depression and my own whining. Had this always been waiting under the magnificant mantle of the Dakini-girl, fierce and free? How could I more forwards into the Queen I wanted to be?
Pleasure is a Choice – my path to freedom
Am I really just splitting words here? What’s the difference between saying pleasure is a choice, rather than birthright?
Maybe it’s just me. But if you tell me something is my right, I can only feel angry and deprived if I don’t have it. For the catholic girl wanting to escape her sinful-bonds, being told “Pleasure is your birthright!” was an encouraging call for liberation. But that same girl was both self-absorbed and oblivious the very real suffering of life. What I wanted, I deserved and I got, one way or another – always. As a maturing woman, I can’t stand behind that phrase with the same fierceness. What about the times that life is really hard? When things just don’t work out fair or nice? What about the people who are focused on surviving day to day? What about chronic pain and loneliness? What about the jagged grief and terrifying fear of loss that cuts into our hearts, even as we open to love?
Believing “pleasure is your birthright” is a little bit too much like the American Dream for my liking – of somehow being entitled to more wealth than 90% of humanity will ever hope to see. It led me to a limiting self-orientated if not downright selfish-childish way of behaving. It gets more subtle — if something is my right it implies something that is GIVEN to me. That if I wait long enough, the pleasure will come. If I open wide enough, the pleasure is available – always. If I want it, it is mine. And if I don’t have it, that must mean –someone, or something, has taken it away from me. This could be anything from my tired husband, to my own broken body, to the patriarchal religious dogma in our culture.
Misery. Anger. Rage. Frustration. Loss. Something is broken. Something needs fixing. Or maybe I just don’t deserve it anymore – maybe I just made the wrong decisions and now I’m to suffer. This is what I was going through. It felt like being back as the catholic girl who worried about sin. I was stuck between worlds.
My way out came on a March full moon. After a year at least of struggle around this whole issue I cracked so much that the light came back in. I remembered something very simple : Pleasure is not a sin OR a right – it is a CHOICE. And it doesn’t need to have judgement on it either way. It is up to me to choose whether I want pleasure to be part of my activities or not, and in what manner. It is up to me to choose how much time I devote to pursuits of pleasure or create the opportunity for them. Instead of waiting for someone to give me pleasure, perhaps I need to acknowledge my desires and find new ways to nourish myself.
I am allowed to choose a life with pleasure in it. It doesn’t mean it is my right. It doesn’t mean I’m guaranteed to get it. It just means I can permit myself to have it, savour it, enjoy it, cherish it and long for it. It means I can actively create it, explore it, deepen to it – but in a relaxed, happy and curious way. It means knowing that there is always the possibility for more later, so I don’t need to gorge on it all right now, just because it’s available.
Pleasure is a Choice means I can decide it is something of value for me. It doesn’t mean people are inferior somehow if they don’t seem to care about pleasure or are even antagonistic towards it. It does mean I’m allowed to change my mind about it on a daily basis. Perhaps sometimes I choose stress and pain. Perhaps sometimes I chose grief, and to embrace the agony of living with an open heart.
Pleasure is a choice, not just in whether we have it or not, but in the kalidoscopic myriad ways that pleasure might look, feel or be. We can choose and create and welcome all the forms and nuances we want, or none of them. Really, this is just the start of my adventure into the territory of pleasure again — this time free from sin or righteousness. I wonder what I will find!
Getting what I feel I deserve gives me a sense of smug satisfaction. This permeated a lot of my entitled-to-pleasure phase of life. But now I have recalled that pleasure is a choice, and sometimes a choice that requires patience and awareness – I am finding new realms and flavours of enjoyment. The quiet appreciation of taking in my friends laughing and sparkling with life. The sweetness of accomplishment after effort and challenge. The tender-terrifying moments when you gently hold the face of a lover you know will die one day. The awareness that despite the pain, unfair and senseless world of hurt we live in, you just experienced a moment of warmth, compassion, nourishment from another who truly cares.
In the transcendant view it really doesn’t matter if pleasure is a sin or a birthright anymore. Phew! What matters is the manner in which we personally engage with our pleasure, our desires, and with those around us. From this standpoint, my selfish demands dissolve, andany moment of pleasure I see in myself or in others is equal cause for gratitude and celebration.