To Thine Own Pleasure Be True

How many of you have spent time at some point in your life seeking new and different ways to please your partner in bed? Be it articles, books, media etc. Don’t be ashamed, it’s OK to want to sharpen those sexy time skills. Good sex, after all, takes practice. I have a little secret to share though, a bubble to bust, be a bit of a party pooper: giving pleasure to another is a myth. Wait, what? This may sound confusing because a lot of people are making good money telling us we are responsible for everyone else’s pleasure. Do a quick Google search on how to please a man or woman, and one will find a plethora of titles promising to make your partner explode with pleasure and ecstasy. Some of the techniques may have even worked for you. If this is such big business, then what gives? The reality is that pleasure is personal, an experience that is impacted by both internal and external circumstances. If those circumstances aren’t quite right, it will be very difficult for a person to experience pleasure. You’ve heard the phrase, you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. It’s kinda like that.

What is Pleasure?

Many people equate pleasure with orgasm. They may believe that pleasure hasn’t been experienced if orgasm doesn’t happen. This mindset can be very detrimental to a person’s overall experience of sex. Believing that one is fully responsible to give pleasure and orgasm to another is a LOT of pressure. Not being able to fulfill the orgasm giving responsibilities can lead to feeling like a sexual failure, potentially even leading to not enjoying or wanting sex at all. In turn, when the receiver believes their partner(s) are responsible for their pleasure and orgasm, it can lead to feelings of resentment when pleasure, in the form of orgasm, doesn’t come. (pun intended) Instead of sex being an enjoyable experience all around, it becomes a burden, a chore, where no one is experiencing any pleasure at all.

Let’s look at pleasure a little differently. Pleasure is the whole package, it is all the juicy things, the touches, the kisses, the sucking, the licking, the caressing, the tugging, the stroking, you get the picture. When we release the idea that pleasure is tied to a single sexual event, and instead define it as everything one does with another, the pleasure palette expands significantly. When the spotlight is taken off orgasm as the star of the show, all the other players get a chance to shine. It suddenly becomes an entire production, rather than a solo show. There is so much more room for pleasure to be experienced, and it takes the pressure off orgasm to be the one and only main event. Orgasm is just one of many dishes to be sampled, and, with so many delicious dishes on the table, it is OK if one doesn’t get to that one.

The Sexual Health: Volume 2, Physical Foundations By: Mitchell S. Tepper, ed., Annette Fuglsang Owens, ed. defines pleasure as: “a state of consciousness experienced through the senses and perceived through cognitive processes that are influenced by our attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, and lived experiences.” They go on to define sexual pleasure as: “a psychophysiological phenomenon unique to each person as his or her history of sensory experiences, past learning, attitudes, and beliefs.” In short, pleasure is a feeling that we experience from within, one that is either intensified, or hindered, by a lot of internal and external factors.

Here’s another way to look at it. Have you ever done something with a new partner that used to send a previous partner to the moon, but seems to send the new partner to snoozeville? There is a reason for this, everyone’s pleasure palette looks different. Just like arguments about whether pineapple on pizza is good (no thanks), what lands one person on the moon could be like riding It’s a Small World at Disney for another. Emily Nagoski, sex educator, researcher and author of Come as You Are, tells us in her book that everyone has the same parts, just organized in a different way. I will take that a step further to say that, not only are our parts organized in a different way, so is our entire life experience. I can be at a concert with 1,000 other people, and each of us will have our own unique and individual experience, despite seeing the same exact show. Our internal and external lived circumstances lead us to have vastly different pleasure palettes. No two of us exactly alike. Which means all those people that promise the way to pleasure land, don’t really have the roadmap to your unique self. It also means you aren’t broken if you can’t “give” pleasure to your partner(s). Nor are you broken if you don’t experience pleasure from these “methods.”

Opening Up the Pleasure Palette

Now that we know that pleasure is an inside job, here are some ways to increase your chances of experiencing pleasure, that don’t include some generalized sex techniques. Know thyself and know thy body. Self-pleasure is the gateway to experiencing pleasure with another. Through self-pleasure we learn what feels good, what doesn’t feel good, where our erotic zones are, how fast/slow to go, how much/little pressure to use, and so on. Learning about our bodies and what makes it feel good is the first turn on the road to pleasure land. Communication, communication, communication. The next turn can be a tricky one, but once you learn to navigate it, it becomes second nature. In whatever way feels comfortable for you, communicate with a partner about what you learned about your body. This can be through words, writing it down, guiding their hand, etc. There are many ways to communicate, find one that works for you. Partners, this is the time to listen and not take offense, because knowing you are doing something that helps your partner experience pleasure can be very arousing! The pleasure train goes both ways. Pro tip though, wait to communicate anything negative until after. However, if something hurts or is uncomfortable, there is no shame in gently asking for something different.

Get out of your head! We spend most of our time living in our heads, completely disembodied, and cut off from our bodily sensations. There are lots of ways to reconnect with your body, for example, meditation, deep breathing, mindfulness, eliminating distractions, or setting the mood. Take time to figure out what works best for you, and use it to get into the moment. The more present you are, the easier it will be to pay attention to how your body is feeling. Safety is key. Consent is important. Sex involves a lot of vulnerability and feeling safe with a partner helps us relax. Having conversations about what will/will not happen before hand is a good way to create safety. Remember though, consent goes both ways, so there may be situations where one partner wants something the other does not. That’s OK, don’t yuck the yum because shame isn’t sexy. You can always table that particular thing to discuss another day. If you would like more info on consent, check out my blog post, The Art of Saying Yes: Why Consent is Sexy.

Know thy partner(s). Knowing yourself and communicating what you like is important, but listening to your partner and getting to know what they desire is equally important. It allows for mutuality within the relationship, leading to more pleasure all around. The road to pleasure land is not a one-way street, so work on those communication and listening skills. Have these conversations often, because sometimes the pleasure palette changes. Heck, mine changes from day to day sometimes.

Pleasurable sex does not have to be elusive. It takes a little practice, a little vulnerability, a lot of communication, and it means understanding that the only person responsible for our experience of pleasure is ourselves. Here’s to peace, love, and pleasure for you all!

Note: I recognize that palette and palate are two different things, but for all intents and purposes, in this context they are somewhat interchangeable. I chose to use the former spelling, rather than both.

Carli Guzowski is a Certified Sex Coach, Clinical Sexologist, Sexual Health, and Wellness Educator, and Pleasure/Kink Activist. She is owner of Unwinding Pleasure, where her main mission is to spread messages of peace, love, pleasure, and acceptance for all. She supports her clients in recognizing the role pleasure plays in leading a more fulfilling, empowered, healthy, and joyful life. She offers Sex/Intimacy Coaching, and Sexual Health/Wellness Education and Workshops. In her free time, Carli enjoys gardening, fast cars, adventures with her family, and sparkly boots.