Misunderstanding Pleasure

Shan Boodram’s appearance on The View rapidly descended into questioning over her alien lifestyle choice – to live in an open relationship with her partner.

The part here that is of interest to me, is not the questioning of a lifestyle that seems unusual – this is perfectly natural, and it’s healthy and positive to communicate, and something we need to get better at to understand ourselves in relation to other people.

The part that was most poignant was the resistance to the message of ‘seeking a pleasure-based lifestyle’, as Shan points out, people really seem to have a problem with the idea of seeking pleasure.

Pleasure is an essential biological urge, we all have an innate desire to seek out things that make us feel good, (mostly to procreate!) and avoid things that make us feel bad, but then society gets in the way.

Society and religion teaches us to withhold urges – Some of which have been perfectly necessary such as controlling the urge to attack someone because they stole your last Oreo. Bitches.

But it is in this idea of withholding pleasure – and enduring pain – when it comes to the idea of relationships that is of interest to researchers.

So, where do our messages about pleasure and pain come from?

  • When we are born we reach out – and scream out – for things we want, our parents discipline us, teaching us the first messages about relationships, that those we love sometimes stop us getting what we want, stop us getting pleasure, and sometimes the people we love hurt us. (This is normal, the extreme end of abusive or poor early attachment is not included here.)
  • We are then brought into the education system where we are taught that hard work, and studying things we do not enjoy, in a manner that might not quite ‘fit’ for us is a worthy cause – we should suffer to get good grades, ultimately leading to a good job.
  • We are then taught to work – Monday-Friday, 9-5 (if we’re lucky) and early on we are told ‘a job’s a job’ and we should work hard now, and suffer for the money to enjoy life at a later date. Good ol’ retirement.

The reality is, part of operating in society requires that we suppress desires to seek out pleasure often, and have to endure pain and suffering sometimes in order to get a trade-off elsewhere. And research shows, this is healthy – a good balance is necessary, as ‘pure pleasure seekers’ tend to be highly impulsive individuals who get into legal, financial and emotional problems throughout life.

However, the romanticisation of pain and the ‘holiness’ of sacrifice is tied up in an incredible history of political and military power structures, designed to further their own goals.

Suppressing our desires for pleasure have not always been in the name of psychological balance, and have often been hijacked to further the goals of people whose objectives aren’t entirely in our best interests.

This is where the point about understanding your individual boundaries and being able to communicate effectively becomes a great equaliser.

That way we can work our desires for pleasure around our partners – and our own social and personal goals, beliefs, and responsibilities. (Man’s Search for Meaning)

The point isn’t doing whatever you want, whenever you want, or not being able to defer pleasure or manage impulses, but in finding – and allowing yourself – pleasure in a way that works for you.

When the very word pleasure, and the ideas of different ways of realising it are broken down into rigid categories of acceptable and unacceptable, it is perfectly logical to question who exactly it is you’re answering to. Whose objectives are you trying to achieve when it comes to your own body?

Remember, for some people, the pleasure based lifestyle is no sex at all, and for others it’s an orgy every weekend. (Fabulous!) Isn’t human sexuality fascinatingly complex and diverse?

Author The Sex Researcher

Researcher looking at our bodies, relationships, and sex lives in the digital age.

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