Reclaiming my pleasure
It was dark and I could hardly see the people around me. I was at a concert, there was loud music and it was very crowded. Although seeing people was difficult, there was one guy who immediately caught my attention and I was interested in getting to know him better. We started to talk and before I left to go home we kissed and quickly exchanged phone numbers.
I was about nineteen years old and far away from my home town when I met him. After calling and texting for several weeks, we decided to meet again. That year I moved away from my parents’ house, closer to where he lived. It was springtime and nature had burst back into life. It was the perfect season to start something new and explore each other more intimately.
We began developing strong feelings for each other and every time we met, my heartbeat would rise and the butterflies in my stomach would go wild. But there was also something peculiar going on that I couldn’t quite identify. When he touched me I couldn’t tell if it was pleasurable to me. I wasn’t able to articulate my feelings back then, but later I came to understand that not being able to identify pleasure from his touch made me feel insecure. Unconsciously, I decided to move my attention away from myself and towards him because it was easier to figure out what he enjoyed – then at least one of us would experience pleasure from our activities and, if he was sexually satisfied, I would have some guarantee that he would stay with me.
I placed his satisfaction over mine. In bed, I would move my body in ways I thought he’d like to see and I made the sounds I thought would fulfill him. I was lacking sexual education and I didn’t know what to do, in what way or what was considered normal. My self-doubt increased. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t more at ease with touch, intimacy and sex. There was a huge part of me that wanted to get to know itself in a safe way, enjoy itself and express itself. Why didn’t these actions come more naturally to me? And why was it so hard to experience pleasure from them? I didn’t understand what was wrong with me.
Out of ignorance and despair, I forced myself into situations where I went along, telling myself that all I needed was to just do it and everything would fall into place one day, and me and my body would just get it. But that reality failed to occur. Instead, I alienated me from myself.
Forcing myself into situations I wasn’t enthusiastic about harmed me, and after being intimate with him I would always feel drained. I wanted to stay inside and sleep. All my joy, my lust for life and my happiness decreased. I felt powerless and my resistance to seeing him, grew. Feelings of estrangement overwhelmed me until I didn’t want him to touch me any longer.
I couldn’t handle one more touch. Even thinking about him caused my whole body to tense. I remember sitting outside in the sunshine at our breakup, finding myself involuntarily clenching my teeth and my fists. I didn’t know what was going on or how to stop it. I had lost control over my body and I didn’t know what to do about it. My body was deciding for my mind.
For the next 15 years this struggle repeated itself in every relationship and intimate interaction I was in.
My experience of touch and intimacy had affected my health, my body, and my emotional wellbeing. Worse, I felt disgusted and ashamed and I didn’t know why. The hint of permission I had first felt in being sexual, diminished over time until I felt totally blocked.
How could something I initially found pleasurable leave me drained of energy and completely tensed? I wanted to find an answer to this question and I searched and searched. When I was in my 20s I found some big keys in Taoism. I regained a large part of my vitality, reconnected with my body – from which I had felt hugely disconnected – and I began to feel its subtle sensations again. Still, it felt like a part of me was missing, like I wasn’t whole somehow.
Finally, in my 30s and after leaving a longer relationship, I slowly became aware of the pattern that had entrapped me. That year I was introduced to the Wheel of Consent. The diagram showed me what happens when two or more people make an agreement about touch. But it also described dynamics that occur between people who have not agreed. Some big pieces of the puzzle suddenly snapped into place. The Wheel made the pattern clear to me I was caught up in: I was giving to get in order to be loved, and as a result, I lost myself. The clarity the Wheel offered brought an end to a long, confusing and recurring process.
The Wheel made so much sense to me. I came to understand that when I was the one doing the touching, the pleasure could still be for me. That turned my whole view on pleasure and receiving upside down. And when I understood the distinction between willing and wanting, I decided I’d never do anything in my life again that would harm me. I put more effort into noticing my no’s and taking them seriously. I also put effort into noticing the cues of my body and I vowed never to override them again.
I practiced a lot with the Wheel, with different people and in different contexts, and gradually I noticed something shift in me. I was unlocking the pathways in my system that kept it from being receptive to the inflow of pleasure. Dissecting the concepts of giving and receiving and consciously applying touch from there, helped me a lot to open up again. Understanding the motivation of where the touch was coming from; who was doing and who it was for, changed everything. I enjoyed the sensory input and I became receptive to pleasurable sensations again.
That same year I was at an outdoor festival. It was summertime and I was walking barefoot. I could feel the grass beneath me and it was as if I could feel every single blade of grass stroking my feet. Feeling those sensations was an amazing experience and one I will never forget. When I arrived that night at the campsite, I was looking for my tent when my neighbor asked me to come and join him for some tea. We made a fire and were sitting next to each other, enjoying our drinks. Our arms touched and I noticed how pleasant it was for me to feel his skin. Touching him and experiencing pleasure from that touch was a big revelation. We ended up cuddling that night and I was aware that I gave myself full permission to experience pleasure from the touch we exchanged.
From the moment he touched me I felt empowered, which was new for me. I felt a feeling of security and true confidence within me. My nervousness was gone and if there was a touch I specifically wanted to receive, I simply asked for it. I felt able to take care of myself, my boundaries and my limits because I was able to identify my no’s and my yes’es.
After the festival we saw each other regularly. We played the ‘3 Minute Game’ and we practiced touching at a slow pace. This slow pace helped me to unlock the pathways to pleasure even further. By slowing down the movements I also became aware of any limits I was reaching and I noticed the variety of options I had: I could go on, I could stop, I could pause, I could intensify, or change the pressure, I could even change the placement of his or my own hands. Feeling that there were multiple possibilities was liberating to me and slowing down the movements caused me to pay attention to what I was feeling – without overriding my boundaries.
The Wheel encouraged me to find my pleasure again by exploring my desires, my true yes’es and my big no’s. The Wheel also made clear I had to take responsibility for my actions – not only in bed, but also in daily life. I couldn’t afford myself to be dependent on the intuition of another person, expecting them to know what was pleasurable to me. I turned my awareness much more towards myself, rather than lodging it with the person I was with. I took responsibility for my own pleasure.
Paying attention to myself and to what I enjoyed was new for me. I loved exploring and accessing all of myself, and I loved exploring him. I wasn’t paying attention to how things should or shouldn’t be, I was paying attention to what felt pleasurable to me. I couldn’t care less about what was normal and all pleasure was good as long as we stayed within our agreements.
I felt relief to understand there was nothing wrong with me, and that I didn’t have to cover up my insecurities either. The tension stored in my body was still there and I needed to work on that separately, but interactions with my partner were more attuned now, felt safer and therefore became more playful. Also, because I had learned to express my desires and to ask for what I wanted, I was congruent and that meant I became reliable to him. My partner could trust me because I was truthful and explicit about what I wanted, and that was reassuring to him too.
I began to feel confident and alive. I felt joy during and after love making because I wasn’t solely depending on the other person for my pleasure. As a result, I owned the pleasure I experienced from touch and sex. I started to see and experience sex as a fulfilling experience and interaction rather than a puddle of frustration.
Today, this is the new normal for me. I feel liberated to be able to express my wants and I am aware that doing so is and will continue to be a daily occurrence. After reaping all the benefits of the practice, I have decided to help other people to find their own voice and desires, and to own their own sensations of pleasure. Therefore I incorporate the Wheel in my workshops, programs and one-on-one sessions to support people on this path of reconnection to pleasure.
The Wheel is an embodiment practice that leads to more consciousness and enjoyment and I think this is important, because touch, sex and being intimate with someone should always be a pleasurable and fulfilling experience for everyone involved.
- Diane Elise, Wheel of Consent Facilitator