8 Steps to Begin Your Pleasure Practice (& Why It Matters)
As a divine feminine self-love coach, my work and intention is to help folks heal from internalized shame culture & shift external shame culture through the badass medicine of the Divine Feminine. I define these gifts as the shameless pursuit of rest, pleasure, & community. These really are the ultimate middle fingers to a shame culture, aren’t they? Patriarchy hands women and enbys shame, & we say, “F that! I’m going to receive pleasure in my beautiful body!” White supremacy hands black and indigenous people of color shame, & they say, “F that! I’m going to engage in nap activism & stop giving away my emotional labor for free.” Capitalism hands us shame, & we say, “F that! I’m going to reject the lies that I have to do it all perfectly & alone, and instead claim my birthright to belonging.”
What is pleasure?
Pleasure is perhaps the most radical of these 3 Divine Feminine gifts. It puts us back in our bodies, this time shame-free, invites us to take up space, faces our inherent worthiness, & rewards our courage for staying present with good feelings. It can be the long road home to accepting your erotic nature, the sexual healing you didn’t know you needed that uncoils decades of tightly-wound inner shame. Pleasure is the portal through the body by which we meet our spirit. It negates the lie that being in your body has to always be painful, difficult, courageous, or “work”, instead giving us a framework for actually enjoying our lives, regardless of our privilege, access, or ability. Literally, it is the good vibrations, positive feelings, sense of fulfillment, satisfaction, a full body YES! To me, pleasure is necessarily sensual, meaning it is perceived through one or more of our five senses. We must stop pushing it away, fearing it, making stories up about it, and resisting it. We must instead get curious, explore, experiment, request, demand, & claim it for ourselves.
Eros/erotica is specifically sexual pleasure. To me, erotica is a subset of pleasure, but it’s not the full story. A HUGE part of the healing we as a culture need to do is to come home to our wholeness through sexual healing. And I think it’s interesting how quickly our minds dart to deep, dark, shameful, sexual places when we hear the word “pleasure”. It’s almost as though we’ve been conditioned to lump all good things in with sex, and then label it all as immoral and wrong…
Perhaps for you, the gateway is to start with sex. In my experience as a an ex-evangelical Christian, raised in the purity movement, brought up on the myth of virginity, I had to start elsewhere and work my way in. A gateway for you may be audio/visual pleasures or the pleasures of food/scent before exploring touch/the body. Or, if you already have a yoga, dance, meditation, or other somatic practice, using this as a bridge can be a helpful way to sink into your unique body wisdom and pleasure.
In her article, “Uses of the Erotic”, Audre Lorde writes: “The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feelings and recognizing its power, in honor of self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.” So eros can therefore be wielded in honor of our own self-respect, or self-worth. I just love that.
What is a pleasure practice?
A pleasure practice is a regular commitment to exploring pleasure each day. It can be as long or short of an activity as you wish; maybe you want to mindfully masturbate every day for a week and see what happens. Maybe you want to eat a slow meal with no distractions, gaze at the moon, choreograph your own musical — whatever! No one needs to know what you do, this is just for you! The idea is to approach each practice in a way that is both MINDFUL & EMBODIED. For pleasure is the container by which we are inviting in more presence, meaning, & beauty into our lives.
Why should we incorporate a pleasure practice?
Pleasure boosts the immune system, reduces pain, and increases libido. Pleasure connects us to our abundance, proving our own worth to ourselves, reducing shame, & healing from a society of scarcity. Pleasure connects us to spirit, the Divine, & to all beings everywhere. Pleasure reduces anxiety, relieves stress, & helps us lead calmer, more fulfilled lives. And if that weren’t enough, pleasure sticks it to shame culture — Patriarchy, White Supremacy, & capitalism — which would rather see us entranced under the lie that we are shameful and undeserving of pleasure. Pleasure is a vital sign of life, & reminds us that we are safe, we are present, we are here. As far as we know, we can only experience pleasure in and through our physical bodies, so we might as well get to (self) pleasing while we inhabit them!
Accepting and radically loving our bodies is the last thing the beauty and diet industrial complexes would have us do. As Sonya Renee Taylor says in The Body is Not an Apology: “There is a reason we hate our bodies, and it isn’t because of Curtis, our mamas, or even our low self-esteem. We are saddled with body shame because it is an age-old system whose roots and pockets are deep. Body shame flourishes in our world because profit and power depend on it.” To slap some stats on that quote, the average American woman spends $15K on beauty products over the course of her lifetime. In 2018, the US diet industry hit a record-breaking $72 billion in value! Think of all the good we could do with those resources, think of all the power behind these numbers and the lengths those who hold it would go to in order to keep the stream of shame coming.
Pleasure is an act of social justice. In the same book, Taylor unpacks how, we all have bodies, the great equalizer, and we’re all taught to get out of them as soon as we can through escaping, shaming, and numbing ourselves. To practice radical body love includes embracing ALL bodies — all genders, races, abilities, sexualities, etc. This isn’t one-way liberation. She writes: “Without compassion for ourselves, we will never stay on the road of radical self-love. Without compassion for others we can only replicate the world we have always known. Radical self-love is not about ‘getting it right.’ ‘Getting it right’ is a body-shame paradigm. Radical self-love is honoring how we are all products of a rigged system designed to keep us stuck in stigma and shame. The only way to beat that system is by giving ourselves something the system never will: compassion.”
Preparing for your pleasure practice
1. First, get crystal clear on your intention. Why do YOU want to start a pleasure practice? Do one or none of the reasons above resonate with you? What do you want to see shift in your life, relationship to self, relationship to others? How do you want to feel in your pleasure? What do you need to unlearn about pleasure? What needs healing through pleasure?
2. Maybe you like to fly by the seat of your pants each day, & feel into what would be most pleasurable for you that day. Or maybe you like having a structure where you focus on one of the five senses each weekday. Perhaps you’d like to start compiling your own bank of pleasure prompts — an excel spreadsheet, a paper list, a bunch of torn-up pieces of paper you draw from a hat, whatever! You could group practices by sense, by energy level, time commitment, or season of your cycle when you might be most into it. Whatever container you can create for yourself that would make you feel most held, do that.
3. If it helps, schedule in 10–20 minutes each day for your pleasure practice or set alarms to remind you. For me, saving it till just before my wind-down ritual usually works best. Like a little treat at the end of the day. Perhaps you are more receptive in the morning or afternoon. Above all, remain flexible: Allow each practice the time it requires, & allow your body the time it may need to fully drop into each experience.
4. Create your pleasure toolkit or altar, a basket or pile of objects that inspire pleasure from around your house. Grouping together some flowers you bought yourself, chocolates you can’t wait to consume, a bottle of wine, throw pillows & blankets — anything that encourages rest, pleasure, & relaxation — in an altar space can help remind you of your intention this month AND function to support spontaneous practice! Creating a pleasure mantra can also be helpful, & hanging it where you can see it each day. For example, “Pleasure is safe. I am worthy of feeling good. I trust my desires. I belong to what I long for.”
How to start your own pleasure practice
5. Begin by getting consent from your body. If you have some idea of what you’d like to do for your practice on any given day, perhaps hold an object you will be interacting with and feel your body’s response. Do you subconsciously rock forward? Does your heart skip a beat? Do you feel a full-body yes? Or do you rock backward, protecting your heart? Get to know what both a yes and a no feel like in your body. Creating a culture of consent begins with incorporating a sense of safety and trust in our own bodies during these solo practices. How else will we know what we consent to with others?
6. Make it mindful — Whatever you choose, devote your whole attention & awareness to it. Put boundaries around it. Set a timer if it helps, lock the door if it makes you feel more safe. Become curious not only about the objects you may be interacting with or activities you may be doing, but about your body’s resistance or receiving of them.
7. Make it embodied — Likewise, get the whole body involved in your pleasure practice each day. Make it a full-body experience by doing a body scan from the soles of your feet to the crown of your head before, during, & after. Incorporate touch & full body awareness whenever possible, remembering to let the body lead the entire experience.
8. Make meaning — Take time to reflect on the experience afterward, getting super curious about any shifts that have occurred. Questions such as — What was your resistance before? When were you finally able to let go? How did you feel differently afterward? Would you do it again, what would you change? Unpack the memories, shadows, & stories that arose throughout the experience.
Got pleasure prompt ideas? Other ways to make a pleasure practice the most powerful & sustainable? Hit us up in the comments below!
Good luck on your pleasure journey, Dear One. You are worthy!