The Female Body in PleasurePosted: February 28, 2014 Filed under: Body, Creativity, Female Power, Feminism, Movement, Pleasure, Sexuality, Uncategorized, Woman | Tags: Body, Creativity, Feminism, Food, Human rights, Memoir, Pleasure, Power, Woman, Women's Bodies 37 Comments
I’m someone who grew up worrying that if I overindulged in pleasure, I could end up in a lot trouble. Since then, it’s been liberating to discover that letting myself feel deep pleasure in the body doesn’t mean I’m going to lose total control of my senses and A) get knocked up by accident, B) gorge myself so that I gain 50 pounds without noticing, or C) forfeit all responsibility and accountability to end up 1) flat broke 2) picking the worst possible husband or 3) choose any other dire situation that you can dream up.
It wasn’t until I started taking a subtle body movement class for women called The Tantric Dance of Feminine Power™ over 10 years ago that I began to think about pleasure differently. During that first class, the teacher instructed us to move our bodies in what she called the Breath-Stretch, a form of body-based meditation that prepares our bodies for the dance. The directions she gave was to allow a physical sensation of pleasure in any part of our bodies—an arm, a leg, a shoulder, or the rib cage— to create movement. We were to then wait for another sensation of pleasure to generate the next movement and then the next one and the next.
That first day, I spent an hour on my yoga mat trying to find this “pleasure sensation” that she was talking about with little success. If anything the exercise caused me tension, stress, and annoyance, and I seriously thought about asking for my money back. Who wanted to spend that much time searching inward for “pleasure” when I had a To-Do List for work waiting for me at home? Besides, what kind of pleasure was this, anyway? Give me a vibrator or a scoop of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream and be done with it already!
Still, I found myself continuing to come back for each class. I eventually learned how to recognize and experience these pleasure sensations that the teacher was talking about, and I started to let them move my body: the deliciousness that could be felt in my spine when I stretched my back like a cat, the relaxation and release from the tightness unwinding in my shoulders, the relief as the stiffness in my muscles dissolved, and and on and on.
Turns out that before, I’d just been skimming the surface of what pleasure can be and feel like. The female body’s capacity to open and let pleasure permeate is so much deeper than I could have imagined.
Learning how to open to pleasure in these different ways made me want to explore other kinds of pleasure in my life that I might have barely noticed before or had felt somewhat but never fully taken in: the way my boyfriend’s touch when he rubs my arm can feel as gentle as a feather; my own laughter ricocheting around my rib cage, inhaling the smell of my mother’s Chicken Adobo boiling in a pot; the internal rush I get when performing in front of an audience; and the way an orgasm can reverberate, emitting waves of energy up and down my body.
Contrary to what some religions and cultures still want us to believe, a woman who chooses to let go into pleasure is not some out of control creature at risk of ruining her life (or civilization). If anything, becoming attuned and receptive to feeling pleasure has made me more connected to my body, aroused my senses, and turned my mind lucid because I’m not up in my head all the time anymore. I’m more awake to the present moment, my instincts are sharper, and my judgment is clearer.
Clearly all the cautionary tales about what might occur if a woman lets go into pleasure do not exist to protect her or anyone else. They are there to reign her in. For a woman that thrums with pleasure is a woman unleashed in her body. Who knows what she might be capable of then.
This is so important. I grew up in a sex-negative religion and it turns out that when you are taught to deny yourself pleasure, the ability to experience it can be turned off. And that isn’t good for you personally, or relationships. I’m hoping that we can move out of being a culture that tells us that pleasure is bad, whether sexual or food or whatever. The message creates a lot of dysfunction.
Yes- who knew how important pleasure and being able to feel it in the body really is. And I agree that demonizing pleasure causes the excessive dysfunction and not pleasure itself. I also think being taught to fear pleasure- can cause people (especially women and speaking from past personal experience) to stay stuck in struggle and survival rather than opening to thrival and all the pleasure that can come with that. I’m hoping the same too- what a wonderful world it could be! 🙂
Another great article. There is so much crazy taboo nonsense out there. Very well said. Living and experiencing life is a blessing. I would venture to say that this is one of the factors in both genders that has an adverse affect on relationships.
Thank you, Dr. Shapero! Are you referring to the charge around pleasure that can cause people to pull away from it/ create dysfunction and disconnection within the self and toward others? If so, I agree.
Yes, exactly what I was referring to.
I wish more people would speak about how this too affect the male experience. It would help clear up a lot.
I’ll take that as a nudge, I agree completely.
While O’ Huang Po may not have been referring to physical sensations—we all know how Buddhist monks are, or at least perceived—his wisdom nonetheless is aptly appropriate here when he said, or they say he said, “Men [and women] are afraid to forget their minds, fearing to fall through the Void with nothing to stay their fall. They do not know that the Void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma [pleasure].” Yeah, I think that appropriate here.
Excellent as always, Diahann.
Thank you, Peter! I’m really loving you quoting a Buddhist monk here and how falling into Dharma is the equivalent of when a woman/man surrenders to pleasure in the body. So perfect and profound. When the mind/spirit drops into the body and goes into inner union- that to me is the embodiment of heaven on earth– what else could that be but pleasure.
*Picking the worst possible husband* LOL
Again, you bring up something huge, D. Living fully, happily, consciously. Why is it we rush through all the things we can enjoy? Another post, right there.
It is so interesting how something that on the surface seems simple really is much bigger, isn’t it, Diana? I really love that pleasure is a nonnegotiable when it comes to living fully, consciously, and happily. And to think so many are taught that suffering and struggle are the way to get to heaven. And ya- slow motion, a definite possible post for future. I’d actually be curious to hear what the Holistic Wayferer would have to say to her peeps on the matter.
On heaven, many Christians have it wrong. An awesome preacher John Piper goes against the grain by talking Christian hedonism: “At Thy right hand are pleasures forever more.” Ps 116. GOD is our greatest pleasure. He’s the one who dreamed it up. Sex was His idea, too. I would differ with you on some grounds, in that I believe in the wisdom of boundaries. If we ran with the pleasure license, we’d end up in a train wreck. Just an ex. Holistically, excess sexual activity weakens the kidneys. There you go. Our own body seeking balance. So much more to say.
Actually- we agree on that- boundaries are what allow us to experience pleasure fully and in a way that is satisfying rather than distorted and compulsive/destructive. So they are not mutually exclusive.
Hit it dead on. Beautiful.
What a fantastic post, Diahann. So many of us, men and women alike, have a profound disconnect between mind and body, and I believe that’s where a lot of the out-of-control behavior (compulsive eating, sex, spending, etc.) originates. I think the class you took was so beneficial because it emphasized being truly in the present. Thanks for sharing this.
Thank you, Miranda. Yes, that class was a real blessing that woke me up in my body.
I agree- so many are taught that surrendering to the flesh can be a danger when really, it’s in the body where we can ground our mind and be present and awake in this world. Who knew that pleasure could be the connector to that “profound disconnect,” as you so beautifully articulated!
Excellent post as usual! Love the humor mingled with serious thoughts–it reels me in.
Thank you, Lisa!! It was fun to write this one- and it turned out not at all like I had planned.
“Besides, what kind of pleasure was this, anyway? Give me a vibrator or a scoop of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream and be done with it already!”
BEST LINES EVER!
Okay, here are some thoughts that were triggered for me while reading this incredible post (your writing NEVER fails to trigger…so I think I need to just term you my “Roy Roger’s Horse?” Nah.) I would like to hear your take on this or see if anyone else has similar connotations with pleasure.
Two times in my early, impressionable years when I was experiencing pleasure (1. at my very first formal school dance with a boy – – while my father was having a heart attack. 2. Eating and enjoying a fresh out of the oven cookie I had baked during babysitting – – while missing the signs that my innocent four-year-old little charge was nearly choking to death on a different cookie!) As you can see it appears to be cause & effect. I think I internalized the “fact” (theory) that anytime I surrender to enjoyment something awful will happen. I find myself constantly needing to stay vigilant, watching over my shoulder for the next something awful to happen, anytime I am remotely relaxed or joyful. And If I forget to stay “on guard,” I will sometimes feel wracked with guilt as if, there by the grace of God, something horrific didn’t happen. But next time I won’t be so lucky.
Oy, what a mess this cycle of pleasure/pain association has become for me. So which dance of feminine power do you think might help me??
ps. When I first saw the words Chocolate Truffle, I thought for sure it was going to be a recipe for one! But your poem(s) were far better and way less “sinful.”
Thank you 🙂
I’m so glad that you brought all of this up, Stephanie. I feel like you’ve hit it exactly- and you sharing what you did affirms to me that this is probably much more universal than it is alked about.
I can totally relate to everything you said- w/ my own specifics, of course. And ya, I totally get that- your nervous system associates one w/ the other, which can cause vigilance… at least that is what I think you are saying.
I’ve also been wondering if, on a subconscious level, I’d set up life in the past to work out in a way that I have to be in that state of “on guard” – because if the pleasure factor was too present then who knows what could go wrong because of it– thinking that somehow I was “protecting.” Is that something that resonates for you, too?
That dance class really taught you a wonderful lesson. A really interesting post – it made me think! Celeste 🙂
Thank you, Celeste. Yes, it really was amazing how much I learned from that class- in the most unexpected ways.
I have one more quick thought – – when experiencing any food related pleasure, it is very hard for me to stay in the moment of the first bite (and slowly savor), without inhaling while thinking “but where is the next one?” Will there be more? What if there’s not enough? Because it’s never enough. Geneen Roth’s books address this facet of “mindfulness” and so far are very helpful for me. But I thought I would throw that into the mix since you had to go and bring up truffles. 😉
So interesting that you bring this up- I was just talking to my boyfriend about this topic – and wondering about how “going fast and looking for the next bite” actually keeps the pleasure at bay… as you said, who knows what might happen otherwise. What do you think?
I love the list of fears you include–the things we fear might happen if we open to pleasure. I had never thought about it that way before, and yet they all sound so familiar. I’ll have to think more about the fear you list that we’ll inadvertently gain fifty pounds; that one is especially potent for me.
Thank you, Jenn! Yes- the 50 pounds one is still something I haven’t completely wrapped my comprehension around, too. I just know I’ve had it and that for me, there’s something else to it.
We encounter so many quiet pleasures everyday, but we often miss them when we’re wrapped up in our thoughts and our worries. Thank-you so much for the reminder Diahann. This is just the post I needed to read this week. 🙂
I’m glad to hear it resonated, Cat!
“I’m more awake to the present moment, my instincts are sharper, and my judgment is clearer.” Loved this post because you go beyond ‘stopping to smell the roses’ and reflect on the power behind that moment you connect pleasure with body and brain. How it crystallizes your focus before, during and after. This makes makes me wonder, is being self-aware our most powerful tool?
Thank you 🙂 Great point. I definitely think self-awareness is an incredibly powerful tool–especially if it grounds the mind in the body.
I loved this. I was just talking about this theme with one of my classes last week when we were discussing David Foster Wallace’s short story “Mr. Squishy.” Our conversation revolved around how pleasure is aligned with sin and messiness. The men, all lonely, are testing a snack-cake called “Felony” in cold, sanitized rooms and their lives are just as isolating. One of the main characters can’t even have a proper fantasy. It’s a long short story (60 pages) and we spent three days on it, discussing how our lives can feel more complete, more satisfying, if we allow ourselves to submit to the things we’ve been taught, somehow, to avoid: full-calorie chocolate cakes, for instance. 🙂
I love how that is what is embedded for you and your class in this story. It’s amazing how this whole fear of pleasure permeates everything and it’s so not even detected most of the time.
So very true. Pleasure is a wonderful thing. 🙂
Yes, it is… and so much more 🙂 Thanks for commenting and reading, Becca!
Anytime. Lovely blog. 🙂
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