Pleasure, What’s That?
by Evelyn Resh
Modern women are amazing.
We have high-powered careers, smart kids, terrific partners, lots of exciting friends, beautiful homes, and financial savvy. We seem to know how to manage big money, big responsibilities, and big orgasms with the partners of our choice, and all on our own terms. The exterior is a high-gloss, showy, and impressive pattern with markers of success that women appear to handle effortlessly and with the utmost finesse.
But there’s so much more to the story. The women who come into my office dispel the myth of the she-has-it-all woman on a daily basis. Beneath this shining exterior, many women are feeling far from successful and are living in asensual, sexless relationships, wishing desperately that they actually had the lives we all assume they’re leading.
As a sexuality counselor and midwife, this is the side of the story that I see most often. It is in the privacy of my office that the true state of matrimonial unions and the modern American woman’s psyche are fully disclosed. I commonly encounter exhausted, furious, overextended wives and mothers who, for all intents and purposes, are tortured by a metastasized lack of pleasure in anything, especially sex. Many face nearly constant battles with their mates because they have disparate appetites for sex, are bored by sex, never liked it in the first place, or can’t identify with the idea of its general importance and its relationship to healthy living.
What these women – and possibly you – are missing is not just sex, but pleasure in general. They live lives focused on “getting the job done”—whatever the job is – and rarely, if ever, take time to enjoy the moment they’re in or the pleasures at hand. They also aren’t feeling as emotionally healthy and empowered in life as they seem to be to the casual observer, nor do they always speak the truth to some of their closest confidantes.
Women in these binds have often unknowingly misappropriated their commitments to themselves and their intimate partners, giving priority instead to their professional worlds and their children. They have lost track of the pleasure they once had, including the pleasure they had with their sexual mates. They become sexually sedate and don’t even notice what’s missing. Then, sex ends up being just one more thing on their to-do lists. After years of subterranean sexuality, they acclimate to a pleasure-less and sex-less life, and when anyone brings this to their attention, the tension becomes untenable or all hell breaks loose.
A less than satisfying sex life, or the lack of one altogether, is one of the most painful manifestations of a loss of pleasure, and it’s also one of the touchiest subjects to address. When our partners ask for more sex – or any sex, for that matter, perhaps by noting that it’s been two weeks, two months, or even two years since you made love, kissed passionately, or slept skin-to-skin – within milliseconds we turn into she-devils right before our beloveds’ eyes, spewing forth the barbed commentary, “Is that all you want from me? Sex?! How can you ask for such a thing, after all I do for you, for this family, and in my job?” What I know with certainty from listening to so many women’s stories is that when women are pissed off, tired, and estranged from life’s pleasures in all forms, we won’t put out sexually. It’s simply not in our biological makeup to do so, nor does it jibe with our complicated psyches.
When these scenarios show up in my office, I always wait to see just how disturbed the expression on a woman’s face becomes when I make note of the fact that what she does for her family, career, and friends falls into a different category from what she does in the name of a healthy sexual relationship or a healthy relationship with herself. Much to her dismay, and sometimes at the risk of enraging her, I become the first and only person to point out that all three relationships are not equal or synonymous. Are they related? Yes, but we’re talking apples and oranges and pears.
A woman’s self-appointed mandates, tasks, jobs, or obligations have more to do with choice than she often realizes—and for the most part they have almost nothing to do with the maintenance of genuine emotional wellness. They’re also frequently a by-product of an anemic relationship with life’s pleasures. As a sexuality counselor and a woman who believes that flirting with hedonism is one of the best and most important parts of life, what I look for is just how unhealthy, unpleasant, and therefore unsexy the life of that woman is. There is nothing sexy about being busy every single moment of your day and telling people you like it this way. There’s also no way to find any form of pleasure if you have low self-esteem or are experiencing a spiritual crisis, hating your body, feeling like you just can’t come back into who you are, or losing all of your creative juices. And let’s not even start on the drain your lifestyle has on your compassion and empathy over the long haul. Living this sort of life completely squelches one of the greatest sources of pleasure – and one of the strongest aphrodisiacs of all – being present in the moment and giving your undivided attention to yourself or your mate.
Women of all ages often mistake pleasure for happiness. While experiencing happiness may be related, it’s not the same thing as experiencing pleasure. Pleasure-seeking practices contribute to and fortify happiness, but they are also distinctly different from happiness itself. Pleasure is an inbody state. Happiness isn’t predicated on sensory input and sensate response. They do have an intimate, sometimes dovetailed relationship, but they are not identical or even synonymous. Pleasure by definition includes sensuality, while happiness does not. This is a critical distinction.
There is currently an entire industry based on helping people feel happy, but rarely, if ever, have I seen a discussion on the value of pleasure, sensuality, and sexuality as part of the matrix of factors that contributes to women’s happiness and joy. Strange isn’t it? Yet countless times I have seen that when pleasure is nowhere to be found, neither is happiness. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that pleasure begets pleasure – sexual pleasure included – and that when it comes to keeping your pleasure quotient high and your sexuality accessible, you are the master of your own destiny.
Excerpted from Women, Sex, Power, and Pleasure: Getting the Life (and Sex) You Want by Evelyn Resh, published by Hay House, available in bookstores or at www.hayhouse.com.