The dictionary defines pleasure as “a feeling of happy satisfaction or enjoyment.” Most often when we talk about pleasure, we mean physical pleasure—something tastes or smells good, looks appealing, or feels good to our bodies. It’s sex, food, drink, relaxation.
Humans are innately wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. We like things to feel good, and we’ve evolved so we find things that keep the species going pleasurable. Any primitive human who did not like sex, eating, or water did not pass on genes because they died without reproducing.
However, for about as long as we’ve had societies, most of them have tried to curb and control women’s pleasure. Society teaches women that their pleasure is dangerous, morally problematic, and out of control—that women should control their pleasure to be acceptable.
Women are taught that too much pleasure is a bad thing, and it will bring social disgrace. So you have to measure it, portion it out, control it. You can enjoy sex, but only the right kind of sex with the right kind of people. You can enjoy food, but only a little of it at the right time, and only if you keep your figure.
Society teaches women to think we have to earn pleasure in a way that men generally do not. Men are not socialized to question or control pleasure. In fact, men are generally taught their pleasure, especially sexual pleasure, is the most important thing in the world!
Do you feel guilty about pleasure? Do you feel bad about eating a piece of cake? Do you feel uncomfortable or awkward telling a lover how to give you an orgasm? Do you feel guilty prioritizing fun and pleasure over work and family obligations and responsibilities? If so, you’ve absorbed this ideology.
Here’s what I want you to consider: You do not have to earn pleasure. You are entitled to pleasure just because it is one of the best things about being in a human body. Your capacity to experience physical, mental, and emotional pleasure has been given to you to enjoy. It is a gift and a birthright, and there’s no moral worth in denying it to yourself.
Now, when you start to explore allowing pleasure in your life, you’re going to notice that society tells you a lot about what counts as pleasure—eating certain foods, watching TV, shopping, beauty treatments. They’re generally going to be things that induce a huge hit of dopamine and require you to spend money to experience.
So I want you to think carefully about false pleasure vs. real pleasure. When you’re consuming false pleasure, you’re checking out, not tuning in. You feel exhausted afterwards, not replenished. A false pleasure is one you use to numb yourself, reward yourself, or escape.
A true pleasure is one you immerse yourself in because you want to be fully present and alive in your body. A piece of cake you eat with your full attention is absolutely a true pleasure. Four pieces of cake you eat standing up watching TV to distract yourself from the cake you’re eating to distract yourself from your life is a false pleasure.
Sex that feels good, where you’re present and engaged, is a true pleasure. Sex with a stranger while you’re drunk because you want someone to validate you (and where you zone out halfway through because it doesn’t feel that great) is a false pleasure.
If you are engaging in these false pleasures, that does not mean that you’re wrong or bad. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you! It just means you don’t know how to manage your mind.
You’re creating a lot of anxiety, guilt, and shame for yourself with your thoughts, so of course you’re trying to comfort yourself and numb yourself out. The solution to all that is to manage your mind, so that you can be present in your life—for the pain, for the pleasure, and for your whole human experience.