Without the pleasure principle, achieving goals is a hollow victory.
By ADINA LAKSER
Fall, and the start of a new school year, is often a time of goal-setting. We could set intentions around increasing professional stature, exercising more, making new friends, saving money or even having a cleaner home. Goals are an important part of setting timeframes and seeing improvement. However, in all this goal-setting, we just might be missing one key focus: pleasure.
I know it can seem counterintuitive to set pleasure goals. Often goals are about things we may not necessarily want to do, about pushing through to reap the benefits of the effort. Goals are often around activities that have set outputs and measurable gains. Pleasure is amorphous, difficult to pinpoint. How do we know if we are getting better at it? Besides, pleasure is often seen as something that just naturally happens.
We live in a world that has not taught us to identify what is pleasurable for ourselves, that treats pleasure as an indulgence or only a reward for hard work and often equates pleasure with laziness and hedonism. Because of this cultural discomfort, understandably, many of us don’t know naturally what is pleasurable and have a lot of difficulty making it a priority.
Although we don’t want to treat pleasure as yet another item on the to-do list, another thing we feel we aren’t working hard enough at or another thing not getting properly accomplished, we do have to work hard to fight these cultural assumptions and embrace enjoyment in our lives. Pleasure is key, not just an indulgence or a time-waster. It is an integral component to living a healthy and holistic life.
As Laura Rademacher and Lindsey Hoskins explain in their book The Pleasure Principle: Working with the Good Stuff as Sex Therapists and Educators, experiencing pleasure has many fringe benefits.
“Pleasure needs to be talked about. Learning about pleasure helps people we work with to improve their lives; increase physical, emotional, mental and relational health; increase happiness and connection; fight oppression and discrimination; better understand their bodies; heal from traumatic experiences; and deepen their understanding of what sexual consent looks like.”
So, if pleasure is so important and yet often dismissed, what can we do to increase feeling good in our lives? Although pleasure is often equated with sex, it can and should be applied to our whole lives. Pleasure is usually felt in our bodies as a sensual experience, but that reward can come from physical play or watching the leaves, drinking a beverage on a patio, reading a good book or laughing during a Netflix show. We can even find enjoyment in tedious chores, like cleaning the oven, driving the soccer carpool or weeding the garden. And it’s one arena where competition doesn’t work, since we all have our own desires, experiences and expressions.
Setting pleasure goals isn’t like setting other goals; we don’t want the focus to be on production. We don’t want to feel badly if we aren’t having more pleasure and we don’t want there even to be a not good enough. So, although I have used the word “goal,” a better description might be “approach.” To increase pleasure without push, it’s all about what we notice and how we react.
Here are some questions to get you started in this process:
In the past week, when did I feel pleasure? Where was I? What was I doing? Did I notice at the time that I was feeling pleasure? How did I react?
Did anything get in the way of the pleasure (time, focus, duties, interruption)? Could I include more pleasurable activities in my life? Are there ways to increase the pleasure in things I’m already doing by slowing down, noticing, giving permission?
What do I think about pleasure? What kind of role has it played in my life? What has shaped this philosophy?
I try to practice what I preach, so since I have started to take note of my approaches and reactions to pleasure, here are some of the results.
I get pleasure from cleaning (shock to me!). But trying to clean the whole house gets me into rushing mode and I just want to get it done. So, I try to give myself permission to just clean one room (or space) at a time, even if the rest of the house is in chaos.
I love being outdoors, but I don’t really enjoy gardening, and I really, really, really want to understand why!
Music changes everything. But, then again, so does silence.
Sometimes it feels better when I’m with others, sometimes more so when I’m alone. Maybe it’s an introvert thing?
Because sex is such a source of pleasure for me, it can be a challenge to remember that I can derive pleasure in other ways too, especially if I am going through an abstinent period.
Even though I’m a sex coach and a pleasure advocate, I too struggle with allowing myself to experience and focus on pleasure. When I first open my eyes in the morning, rarely is my first thought “What would be delicious today?” And although I can now identify the ways pleasure improves my life and outlook, I too get caught up on being productive. I know firsthand both the benefits and barriers to committing to pleasure. So, friends, we are all in this together!
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I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments, questions, or if you’d like to learn about how working with me can help you to have more pleasure.