What is pleasure?
According to the Oxford dictionary, the origin of the word pleasure is Old French plaisir, ‘to please’. Some definitions include ‘A feeling of happy satisfaction or enjoyment’, ‘An event or activity from which one derives enjoyment’ and ‘Sensual gratification’. Sounds good, right? And yet, many of us can feel anxiety around feeling arousal in the body. Many people struggle to feel a healthy amount, finding themselves at one of the poles of either over-indulgence or avoidance. Western cultures have a long heritage of the Christian tradition, which often shames the body. Therefore, feeling pleasure, as derived from and through the body can be frowned upon, even to this day.
Pleasure is something we feel in our bodies through using one, or more, of the five senses. We also pick up on the sensations inside the body, which can be pleasant or unpleasant. One of the most common ways to feel pleasure is through the sense of touch. And yet, many people struggle to enjoy touch, and pleasure in general. This includes both feeling it and expressing it. Some even experience anxiety around feeling pleasure.
Pleasure and joy are powerful tools for helping us to heal, to feel whole, and to overcome the symptoms of trauma. Currently, pleasure is rarely taken seriously by mainstream medicine. At the same time, it is an important aspect of healing disease and dealing with illness and pain.
The sexual arena is an area where so many people experience some form of pleasure limitation, that it is a modern epidemic. It can manifest in many ways, such as numbness in the body, over-sensitivity, compulsion or complete avoidance. One of the most common symptoms is the inability to stay conscious and present during lovemaking. Instead, many people ‘go off’ into thoughts or fantasies. Women often experience pain and numbness in their yonis instead of pleasure, and may struggle to have orgasms. Men may suffer from premature ejaculation or pornography addiction, amongst other things. There is often a correlation between limiting our sexual pleasure with limiting the amount of pleasure in general that we feel in our life.
People often limit their own pleasure because they have learnt not to ask for what they want. Often, this is for fear of being rejected or ridiculed. Many of us feel that others’ needs are more important than ours. Therefore, if we focus on ourselves then we are being selfish. Others feel that they are not deserving or worthy enough to receive good things happening to them. In addition, most of us are simply not well-educated enough about the body’s capacity for pleasure, or how to cultivate and expand it.
Anxiety and difficulty with arousal
People who feel anxious about feeling pleasure have often has their nervous systems wired up in a way that couples the feelings of pleasure and arousal with feelings of shame or anxiety. They therefore associate it with a lack of safety. This happens through having repeated experiences which set up this feedback loop. For example, when a woman repeatedly experiences pain during intercourse (this is known as dyspareunia). Another example is when a man experiences shame or ridicule from an inability to get, or maintain, an erection. The more it happens, the more difficult it can be for a woman to enjoy sex, or for a man to get an erection. When anxiety gets linked with arousal in this way, arousal and orgasm can become more difficult to experience. In the long-term, they may even become unable to feel aroused at all.
Our brains and bodies respond to situations based on a whole load of stored data from past experiences. Therefore, an over-sensitised nervous system can start responding to arousal as if it is a threat. The good news is that it is possible to unlearn this response.
Healing through tantric bodywork
Bodywork is a holistic body therapy. Sessions can gradually help the client to have new experiences of being able to feel pleasure in their body again. This is done through incorporating gentle, conscious breath, sound and movement in a safe space in the presence of a loving therapist, coupled with deep tissue massage. Read more about the power of breath in tantric therapy. Clients are also taught how to become connected with their bodies, using breath to start to be able to ‘feel’ more, and cultivating the ability to ‘stay with’ feeling pleasure. In this way clients are able to work through any feelings of shame, guilt, or anything else that may emerge in the process. This also helps clients to start to be able to cultivate pleasure from within themselves, rather than rely on other people or external sources for arousal. Read more about how this is done using de-armouring techniques.
I offer sessions in Teesside/ North Yorkshire, (within easy driving distance of Leeds, Newcastle, York, Durham) & London in England. Read more about tantric treatments.