the return of the pleasure activist

it’s been years since i said it, but recently i have been feeling it is time again to shout it out: i am a pleasure activist.

what leaps to your mind when i say that?

yeah – it’s probably all of that.

for me this journey started back in the harm reduction world. i first heard the term from keith cylar, an incredible harm reductionist in ny who passed shortly after i got my start in the field. i was young and doing sex education, and i learned from good teachers in the harm reduction network that safe sex is actually more pleasurable than high risk sex in the long run – it allows you to get to have more sex.

a decade ago i would speak to middle school and high school age girls about my history of sexual assault, the silence i kept around it for years and the reasons for that, and the importance of knowing one’s body in a variety of ways including masturbation – which i believe is actually a really really necessary step into safe sex with others.

i was not only sexually assaulted in high school, but also exposed repeatedly to images of how women should experience desire…i know i am not the only human who started their sexual life on the defensive.

knowing about sex, about what gives you pleasure, and that you deserve and can control the pleasure you receive – these are key elements to a long life of safe sex.

my pleasure activism then began to apply to other experiences – drugs, for one. i have always admired those who are willing to experience the world in many different ways, to let the total pleasure of a variety of highs take your body and spirit and mind and creative force to another level. some of the most incredible ideas and art of our species than be traced back to psilocybin and other substances. the use of substances in a spiritual context is normal in almost every indigenous culture/religion.

i know why – substances that alter your perception can open you up to how diaphanous your reality is. opening up to the pleasure of experiencing the world, of being deeply present to the life of it, alters your sense of what is possible.

this openness moved me right past the obvious pleasure regions of drugs and sex…i started to apply it to everything else in my life: work, love, friendship, travel…yes i said work.

in every single aspect of life, seeking the pleasure in it makes it so much more possible for me to be deeply present in the world and sense what is needed.

now, it has become a politic for me…living not just to the point of survival, but to the point of pleasure. i am certain that pleasure is the missing piece in our movement(s) for a new world.

it is right that we paint a vision of a new world where we have to take responsibility, because that’s just a truth we need to lean into. but we forget that our major drive as human beings is pleasure. the ecstasy of faith, of belonging, the ecstasy of love and sex, the ecstasy of victory – these are all variations of pleasure.

pleasure: that sense coursing through you that everything is connected, everything is one, everything has an order and a meaning, every effort is worthwhile. you can see it – feel it – be it. that is my definition, and i seek it in everything i do.

my pleasure principles:

1. you deserve to feel good – physically, mentally, spiritually.

2. moderation is key – the idea is not to be in a heady state of ecstasy at all times, but rather to learn how to sense when something is good for you.

3. when i am happy, it is good for the world*. folks who are rooted in sensing and seeking pleasure, and bring that energy into their work and relationships, are shining a light for others – there is another path that isn’t full of stress, self-doubt, pain, victimization and suffering. there is a path in which everything is learning, playing, practicing, doing things anew.

4. pleasure isn’t related to money, at least not in a positive way. having the resources to buy unlimited amounts of pleasure leads to excess, and excess totally destroys the spiritual experience of pleasure.

5. the deepest pleasure comes from riding the line between commitment and detachment – commitment to your process, to what you are doing, paired with detachment from outcomes. this is true in sex, it’s true in work, it’s just true.

and this last one isn’t quite a principle – but it’s something i have learned: when i feel pleasure, i know i am on the right track. when it was time to move to detroit, when it was truly time to leave my job, when it was time to pick up a meditation practice, time to swim, time to eat healthier, i knew because it gave me pleasure when i made the decision.

now i am letting that guide my choices for how i organize, and for what i am aiming towards with my work – pleasure in the processes of my existence and states of my being.

join me.

* number 3 i owe this one to my friend jodie

7 Responses to “the return of the pleasure activist”


  1. 1 ashleigh

    I love your entry. Have you ever read Audre Lourde’s “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power”? If not, I believe you would most definitely love it; the book affirms everything that you are discussing here. More people need to read and understand your entry and other sources of work that highlight the same principles.

  2. 2 yil22

    Thank you for this! I agree. our activism needs to be rooted in love and commitment to the people we work with not for task or outcome but for “conosimiento” of the other and the self.

  3. 3 Elicia

    I found this through Feministing… just want to say it is absolutely genius.

  4. 4 Cara

    Hey,

    Love your pleasure message and ideas. I think it’s really needed, but your lack of capitalization etc. is very distracting. Maybe it’s a style choice, but for me it takes away from what you’re saying. And what you’re saying is really important!

  5. 5 Roger Canaff

    Fascinating- thank you. My favorite of your principles, without a doubt, is #5. I couldn’t agree more. A commitment to the process and a detachment from any particular outcome allows one to enjoy almost anything. Very prescient.

    Roger

  6. 6 Ed Paton-Williams

    really enjoyed the article and the whole idea. i honestly didn’t notice the lack of capitalisation. i was wondering if you could expand on the fifth principle. does detachment from the outcomes mean forgetting the outcomes? if so, wouldn’t forgetting about the outcomes make it difficult to moderate pleasure?

  7. 7 feminist n00b.

    Thank you.

    I’ve been through the same types of things, like starting my sexual life on the defensive, but it never occurred to me to think of pleasure in this way. And now, I guess I’ve seen the light.

    Keep on keepin’ on.

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