To build a pleasure-inclusive world, love yourself.
Show kindness to yourself and others. Collaborate with and promote other pleasure champions.
There are three dimensions to this Pleasure Principle we want to explore here; loving yourself, loving and being kind to others and loving our planet.
Firstly, loving yourself is asking yourself and then understanding what you want, how you want to express your sexuality. Understanding all the dimensions of what you like also means you know what you don’t want. It can mean understanding your preferences, preferred gender, and sexual identity and what gives you pleasure. Sexual pleasure is ‘the physical and/or psychological satisfaction and enjoyment derived from shared or solitary erotic experiences, including thoughts, fantasies, dreams, emotions, and feelings.’ [World Association of Sexual Health from GAB]. So, understanding what you enjoy and what gives you pleasure is understanding your own desires and needs, and those of your partners. It is about allowing yourself to learn what your body likes in the form of solo sex or masturbation, partnered sex and what thoughts give you pleasure.
People want to have sex and want to enjoy sex for many different reasons and in different ways. So how do we ensure that in a sexual relationship, we care for ourselves and for others? The Love Yourself Pleasure Principle brings together the issues of loving yourself and being kind to others with sexual pleasure.
When it comes to sex and how you like to have it, being kind and loving yourself can be complicated. This has a lot to do with a lot of things like our upbringing, our individual experiences, and how social norms have influenced how we view sex. For example, in many cultures for women to know what they like and dislike about sex and share it with their partner is wrongly considered inappropriate. Whereas for men, or masculine people sharing emotions and vulnerability or seeking love is wrongly judged as being a sign of weakness. We are taught to think that enjoying sex is different for men compared to women and different in hetero or homosexual relationships. But having open and great conversations about the type of pleasure we want can be a form of mental foreplay and negotiation of safer sex. Being compassionate with ourselves is accepting that we might not be interested or ready at the same time as our partners and peers. Instead let’s celebrate finding our pleasure voice, having pleasure conversations, caring for each other and creating safe spaces for pleasure. Sexual shame or the negative emotions we have about our sexual identity and desires can influence these ways of thinking. Sex shame is probably the most widely shared experience of shame among human beings, creating feelings of inadequacy and self-hatred and the thinking that we do not deserve to experience pleasure .Try and overcome that shame by reading resources about your body or tips on how to pleasure yourself. If you don’t know what turns you on it will be hard to tell someone else how they can turn you on.
Secondly, Loving and Showing kindness to others is recognising the lived experiences of your sexual partners and supporting them to also overcome shame and get the pleasure they want. This can mean working with them to be able to know themselves, talk and ask for what they want and not increase their sense of discomfort or shame. Healthy sexual development is not the same for everyone.
The good news is that we can work towards overcoming these feelings when we and our partners and friends and communities recognise them for what they are. We also need to recognise that women or LGBTQI people are shamed for wanting consensual pleasurable sex – [ See pleasure privilege in #Be Positive] and might internalise that. It’s a political act of self-care to allow yourself a personal act of pleasure. This is especially important for those of us who suffer discrimination, racism, sexism, trans and homophobia and micro-aggressions day after day. Sometimes merely holding our identity, moving about in our communities will take huge courage, energy, and strength. Love yourself for that and honour your pleasure – and recognise the strength in others and congratulate them for that. Sexual Pleasure is not a competition, and it is not a scarce resource, you can get it for free, you can talk about with friends, and it can improve well-being of the global population. So let’s keep flipping the narrative towards pleasure.
We need to be especially kind or compassionate when we or our partners have experience of sexual trauma, some estimates 1 in 3 women globally. There is emerging evidence that pleasure-based approaches are useful in these situations. The comprehensiveness of a pleasure inclusive conversation allows us to discuss what we want and don’t want, with more ease, rather than feel the (re) shame of traumatic experiences where we didn’t consent or didn’t want what happened to us. Pleasure–based approaches also show us that pleasure is possible and should be welcomed after trauma; after HIV/STI diagnosis, after sexual attack/rape, after FGM, and learning that you deserve pleasure and can choose it is a key step to that.
Kindness in sex can give a lot of pleasure and fun. It is about allowing yourself and others to feel and share sexual pleasure.
How can we include Love Yourself in our work?
How can we make the Love Yourself Pleasure Principle come alive in our lives and the lives of our partners?
- Being kind and sexual pleasure go well together. Being kind is a way to enjoy sex by yourself and with a partner(s).
- Being kind means empathy, creativity and (self) care. It is not only about pleasing others.
- Promoting sexual pleasure takes courage, creativity, and valuing all sexual experiences. When talking about sexual pleasure, know your own boundaries and accept the boundaries of others. Write them down for yourself. Speak them out in private.
- We must know our own boundaries before talking about sex and pleasure with others. Self-reflection can help us realise what we are comfortable sharing and where we draw the limits. And how that changes with different people and at different times of our life. When it comes to establishing our comfort level in the name of loving yourself, there are no right or wrong answers
- One practical tip we like at The Pleasure Project, is writing down on a piece of paper what we want from our sex and love lives, we can keep it COMPLETELY private if we want, or burn it afterwards, or we can share it with our partners and potential partners. Just the act of writing our pleasure wishes and desires down can open up our personal aspirations for our own pleasure lives. And help us think about #pleasuregoals. You might have some pleasure goals that are deep in your soul that you want to liberate onto the page. In Audre Lorde’s words “those physical, emotional, and psychic expressions of what is deepest and strongest and richest within each of us…the passions of love, in its deepest meanings…the self-connection shared…the measure of joy”. Also see work by Adrienne Maree Brown, Bell Hooks and Mona Elthway.
- You can show kindness in sexual relationships when you both recognize that sexual joy is found in giving pleasure and receiving it. Find out what you and the other person want. Ask for an enthusiastic “yes” to sexual acts but always be ready to graciously accept a “no”.
- Consider and respect the needs and emotions of others. Understand what the other person wants.
- Think of Self Pleasure or Self Care as an act of rebellion against social norms or stigma and necessary in the fight for sexual, racial, and social justice. Practice self-care, which can be as simple as sitting quietly for 5 minutes and breathing slowly, to avoid burnout.
- Sexual mean that you can try to forgive yourself and others. Many of us associate sexual experiences with shame or trauma. Forgiveness in this context means accepting what happened, giving it a place in your life, and trying to let love for yourself triumph as you do the hard work to survive the abuse and re-engage with the pleasure you want.
How can we include kindness, self-compassion, and sexual pleasure in our work as pleasure activist and practitioners?
In your work, you may encounter some misunderstandings and misconceptions about sexual pleasure. In this section, we propose some ways you can address them.
Shame is an emotion that imposes repressive social norms. It prevents us from expressing our individuality and safely discovering how we want to enjoy sex, regardless of our sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. By opening up aspirations for safe pleasure in a wider range of relationships, or for people not traditionally expected to experience pleasure – women and people with disabilities, for example – we can unearth a much wider range of political freedoms. Getting in touch with what we want from our sex lives and helping others to do so might unearth much broader visions of liberation, the kind that moves beyond the individual to recognise collective visions of change.
As sex educators we need to challenge misconceptions, such as ‘you should only have sex with someone you love or are in love with.’ That might be some people’s preference, but not everyone’s experience and it is not a fact. Sex is about eroticism, fantasies, physical desire, and excitement. We often want the partner we love to be our best friend as well as our lover. But those two wishes can collide.
But the reality is you may choose to have sex with someone you love or are ‘in love’ with or someone who meets a specific need for you. You may not be in love with every person you have sex with. Love is not a prerequisite to pleasurable sex, but understanding what you want and being kind to yourself about that and the others involved is. Just be kind to yourself, act when you feel safe and enjoy whether that’s a ‘one night stand’ or a longer relationship – but can be driven by physical pleasure and emotional pleasure.
As service providers, where people share details of lives, we are taught should be private, we must honour that trust and confidentiality and see it as a privilege in our role. We should be kind to listen to clients and accept without judgement their lived realities of pleasure. Sexual Health clinics should be safe spaces as well as places that people can discuss what sex toy or condoms they use – no judgement on what pleasure mean to people and how they chose to express it if it is within the realms of sexual rights and informed consent.
When we have the honour of being a sex educator, this brings the responsibility of not re-traumatising our learners and ensuring that they will live their best sex lives. Teach them to love themselves, appreciate that their capacity for pleasure is a key element of their sexual health and can bring them great joy. We also need to support people to not think that sexual is the same as “pleasing your partner”. Most people want to please their sexual partners, but when this desire to give pleasure turns into an obligation you may downplay your own needs and wants. Go and look for sex positive sex education resources to inspire you as a sex educator.
Advocating for sexual pleasure
To build a pleasure-inclusive world, we must advocate to love ourselves and each other on a personal but also relational level at work as colleagues and leaders in our field. Let’s honour that we are all overcoming pleasure stigma, which can be a hard but worthwhile journey – and a fun one. And pleasure activists and practitioners are the most fun people to work with.
The fight for sexual pleasure and sexual justice is an exciting one. But it is also about fighting against patriarchy, racism, wealth privilege, inequalities, and discrimination. It can be emotionally and physically draining. Have compassion for yourself and others. Join the pleasure based sexual health community to get support and share your good news and your challenges.
Advocacy doesn’t have to be dull or take the moral high ground. When we promote kindness in sex, we give each other permission for our advocacy work to be playful and creative. We give each other a safe space to start and enjoy new conversations. In this way, we all can become pleasure champions. When we create and nurture partnerships, we can learn from each other. We can make sexual pleasure advocacy work. We can all become pleasure champions in building a pleasure-inclusive world. In the words of Adrienne Maree Brown “Pleasure activism is the work we do to reclaim our whole, happy, and satisfiable selves from the impacts, delusions, and limitations of oppression and/or supremacy.”
Loving the Pleasure Community – how to expand our pleasure world
- Collaborate don’t compete, there is a long journey to pleasure based sexual health and we need to promote other pleasure champions and build a stronger network to fight stigma. Look up other pleasure champions on the Global Mapping of Pleasure and get in touch, celebrate their work and add your own.
- Join The Pleasure Hub on LinkedIn to share news with other pleasure activists
- Follow other pleasure enthusiasts on twitter and Instagram [ at @theplesureproj we are sharing others brilliant pleasure work]
- Look our for pleasure events hosted by the World Association of Sexual Health and promote the Sexual Pleasure Declaration in your work.
- Apply for the opportunity to be a Pleasure Fellow
- Publish your work about pleasure-based sexual health – look at #EmbraceLearning for more on this.
- Endorse the Pleasure Principles here.
Lastly, we must not forget to love our planet: this means caring and being kind to the planet for future generations, and ourselves,
As Annie Sprinkle, a thought leader on ecosexuality says we need to love our planet “like a lover, not a mother” because “The earth is the clitoris of the universe.” We can “make love to the earth” by thinking about the impact of what we do, how we travel and how we ensure we can all enjoy the earth together for as long as possible. We need to recognise that her resources are not just for the taking, but we need to act with kindness, have boundaries for sustainability and not be greedy for immediate gratification. Sexual health, sexual rights, sexual pleasure and climate justice are closely linked. When we love the wonder of our planet, we also love ourselves.
Gender justice and sexual justice are linked to climate justice, see our blog about this here. Collaborating for global well-being and pleasure, not purely economic growth, can open up dialogues that allow us to aim for well-being for populations and the planet together and flip the narratives of what we need/want from our lives. For example, we can challenge norms of advertising that try to make us feel that we need products for our sex lives or to buy something to feel pleasure or joy. Masturbation is free and can bring us great pleasure, we might just need to feel good about ourselves to do it but it certainly won’t damage the environment.
Enjoy the journey to loving yourself, others, and the planet by reading the resources below.
Further Resources you might find useful
Loving yourself and others
Arnocky, S., Piché, T., Albert, G., Ouellette, D., Barclay, P. (2016), Altruism predicts mating success in humans, Journal of Psychology
Brown, A. M. (2019), Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good (Emergent Strategy) Paperback, AK Press.
Einhorn, S., “The Art of Being Kind”
El Feki, S. (2013). Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World. Pantheon Books.
Eltahway, M. (2015), Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Easton, D. & Hardy, J. (1997) The Ethical Slut ‘A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities, Greenery Press,
Everaerd, W., Laan, E., Both, S., & Spiering, M. (2001). Sexual motivation and desire. In W. Everaerd, E. Laan, & S. Both (Eds.), Sexual appetite, desire and motivation: Energetics of the sexual system (pp. 95–110). Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen.
Fava, N. & Fortenberry, JD, (2021) Trauma-Informed Sex Positive Approaches to Sexual Pleasure, International Journal of Sexual Health https://doi.org/10.1080/19317611.2021.1961965
GAB training toolkit sexual pleasure : https://www.gab-shw.org/resources/training-toolkit/
Hirst, J (2012). ‘It’s got to be about enjoying yourself: young people, sexual pleasure, and sex and relationships education.’ 13(4) Sex Education: sexuality, society and learning 423-436.
Jolly, S., Cornwall, A., and Hawkins, K. (2013) Women, Sexuality and the Political Power of Pleasure, Zed books
Jolly, S; Newman (2006) A; Introduction into sexual matters, IDS bulletin
Logie, C.H.,(2021) Sexual rights and sexual pleasure: Sustainable Development Goals and the omitted dimensions of the leave no one behind sexual health agenda, Global Public Health, DOI: 1080/17441692.2021.1953559
Perel, E. (2007) Mating in captivity Mating in Captivity: How to keep desire and passion alive in long-term relationships. Hodder
Philpott, A. Let’s bring sexy back to stop HIV – Open Democracy
Scott-Sheldon, Lori and Johnson, Blair T. (2006) ‘Eroticizing Creates Safer Sex: A research synthesis’, Journal of Primary Prevention6: 619-40
Sex School Hub – great tips on how to map your pleasure, start conversations and get the sex you and your partners enjoy
Singh, A.; Philpott, A., (2019) Pleasure as a measure of agency and empowerment. Medicus Mundi Schweiz, Bulletin # 151, 2019
Toates, F. (2014). How sexual desire works: The enigmatic urge. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Van Lunsen, R., Laan, E., (2017) Seks! Prometheus 2017
Loving the Planet
Stephens, B., Sprinkle, Klein. J. (2021) Assuming the Ecosexual Position – The Earth as Lover,
Stephen and Sprinkle Collaboration ‘ EcoSex Manifesto’ https://sprinklestephens.ucsc.edu/research-writing/ecosex-manifesto/
Stephanie Hessle [ Editor] (2021) ‘Sex Ecologies’ MIT Press Ltd. ISBN 9780262543590
Plan International, Climate Change and Gender Justice go hand-in-hand
The Pleasure Project, Sex, Pleasure and the climate COP 26 blog