14 Oct Pleasure – why aren’t we seeking more of it in our lives?
Most conferences these days feature ‘swag’ bags. When you go to a sexuality conference you can always count on a wide array of enticing goodies. The Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit, this past August, was no different. In the bag was a button that read, Can I Kiss You? The focus was on consent as part of a safe sex message.
I never got around to putting mine on, failing to wear it to the Saturday night celebration (where all the action was happening). I was with some friends, talking to another sex educator, a charming guy with a ready smile and quick wit, when my friend suggested that though I had forgotten my pin I might want a kiss. I smiled and was asking cute sex geek for a kiss when I realized he was saying Yes. That was all he said. Yes. Simple, to the point and affirmative. We kissed–a soft yummy longish kiss (for near strangers), then we parted ways. There was no subtext, no sexual charge, just a delightful kiss. (He is a very good kisser) The night before I had also received a goodnight kiss after a long conversation with a man I had just met.
The party was all about cutting loose and celebrating the conference, the honorees, and the freedom of sexual expression. At sexuality conferences, people understand and practice consent. They value the simple pleasures of intimacy, understanding that the act of connecting doesn’t have to be fraught with hidden meanings.
I’ve been thinking about the conference and my experiences. I had the opportunity to hang with a group of sex-positive individuals who possess a deeper understanding about pleasure and sex. The pursuit of pleasure is embraced and welcomed as a healthy expression of the individual, whether we’re talking kisses, hugs or something more intimate.
In mainstream culture, the idea of pursuing sexual connections just for pleasure is considered dirty, torrid –something to be condemned. There is a subtle context to all interactions that ‘look’ sexual. A kiss must mean that person wants to get into your panties. A warm hug, a caress, a kiss–it’s viewed as a prelude to intercourse. But what if it’s simply people exploring the things they want, with the people they find appealing? In a room full of adults, who understand consent and privilege and the power of conversation, there is little risk or danger.
I didn’t engage in sexual activities that weekend, but I’m pretty sure that some of my fellow conference-goers did. And they probably felt comfortable and pleased with their experiences. Because they have figured out, for the most part, how to tap into pleasure without all the layers of guilt and shame that are pushed on us in daily life.
There are few places in my daily life where I would feel comfortable saying, “I find you appealing, may I kiss you?” The question might be read to imply more or I might get shamed. In practicing consent it is important to ask, understanding that the No is as acceptable as the Yes. We respect either answer and understand that it’s not a reflection on us but rather a statement of that person’s feelings in the moment.
There’s always a transition period after attending a conference and the sexuality ones tend to present me with numerous opportunities for growth. Part of that is figuring out how to incorporate new insights into my existing life and relationships. That awareness has to include my wants and desires as well as the comfort level of those who might not understand where I’m coming from. What was safe in that ballroom in Alexandria might not be safe in a bar in the big city.
I can, however, create opportunities to educate others. To share my thoughts and experiences and talk about how we, together, can bring about change. A change in sexual attitudes, a change in how we express our desires, and how we relate to others. I like to talk about sexuality as a way of helping others expand their capacity for pleasure and satisfaction–sexual, emotional and otherwise. After all, if we just sat on our hands, mouths shut, and denied ourselves the opportunity to experience pleasure, in all its manifestations, the world would be a duller place.