Permission for Pleasure
Permission for Pleasure by Cassie Krajewski
What’s your relationship with pleasure? Notice what thoughts, feelings, and sensations come up for you when you sit with the word.
What’s it like for you when your body signals wanting and desire to you? Do you embrace your internal signaling? Do you start to slow down and question it: “Should I want that? Should I give in to that wanting?”
Who taught you to feel good, to experience satisfaction? Or where did you learn that feeling good wasn’t accessible to you? Maybe you used to feel good but now that’s been taken from you.
Many of us have a conflicted relationship with pleasure. We are distrustful of our desires and feel like our pleasure might lead us down a dangerous path or be “too much.” We might notice we have “guilty pleasures.” For some, they have shut off their desire and wanting out of protection and necessity, so now we don’t know what is pleasurable or satisfying to us.
Guilt and shame can shut down our access to pleasure. I love how Hilary McBride talks about this in her book Wisdom of the Body, she writes, “Guilt is the somatic alarm bell that goes off to help us keep our behavior in check so we don’t stray too far from the lines of what matters to us and those around us.” This can be self-protective, another exquisite way our nervous system hustles hard for our well-being.
However, the pathology of desire in our culture is worth considering how that impacts your life, specifically the role of guilt and shame that might be hardwired in. It’s not uncommon for us to see compulsive behavior as an outcome of shame cycles when human desire is pathologized, not a sign of something deeply wrong with an individual person. Think about communities where there are oppressive rules and standards of living – we tend to see more examples of compulsivity around the very behaviors that the community forbids.
If you’re living in a marginalized body, you likely have felt the wider culture makes you question if you deserve to feel good. Our culture is especially suspect of pleasure in people who’ve lived in marginalized bodies: women, poor people, black people, trans people, Native folks, disabled people. While others in our culture are entitled to their own desire and pleasure–often people with power and privilege: men, wealthy people, white people, able bodied, thin people.
I invite you to broaden your associations with the word pleasure and desire–and see it as a tool of healing and liberation. In a world marred by oppression and injustice, embracing pleasure becomes an act of defiance, an assertion that our existence is worth celebrating. Adrienne Maree Brown reminds us that pleasure is an essential part of our humanity, and by prioritizing pleasure, we challenge the systems that seek to diminish our joy and suppress our authentic selves (see Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good by adrienne maree brown)
While certainly there is a sexual realm of experiencing pleasure and desire, there are so many other aspects of pleasure we have: watching a beautiful sunrise, smelling and eating freshly baked cookies, floating in the water, receiving that new book you ordered on your doorstep, a deep conversation with someone you really trust, resting under a shady tree in your hammock.
What I’ve found as I’ve unpacked my relationship to pleasure, desire, and feeling good has been transformational: I am more resilient against shame, I’ve allowed myself to experience joy in a new way, and I’ve become more deeply connected with my body and its innate wisdom. For me giving myself permission for pleasure has become a radical act of reclaiming my time, body, and desires, asserting our autonomy in a world that seeks to suppress it.
Are you interested in doing the same? If you were to give yourself permission for pleasure and satisfaction, how would you spend your time differently? How might that help you more deeply connect to your body’s inner wisdom? How could pleasure be a catalyst for your own healing journey?