Finding pleasure and aliveness in a pandemicIMAGE: JANKO-FERLIC | UNSPLASHHave you had a healthy relationship with your pleasure lately? How can we use sensual pleasure to become more resilient?by Bonnie BlissIn early March, when social distancing began in Australia, I felt unsafe, confused and scared. As an immunocompromised person, I settled into lockdown life a little earlier than most people. My initial impulse was to binge, hard. My sole purpose became avoiding the overwhelming knot of emotions in my belly. I numbed out with Netflix, ice cream, chocolate, and whatever salty, crunchy goodness I could get my obsessively well sanitised hands on.I briefly enjoyed the freedom to do whatever I felt like.It was a global pandemic after all. Nothing mattered any more, did it? Another tub of dairy-free double chocolate ice cream. Just one more packet of organic corn chips. Oh and some hummus. Vegan chocolate for breakfast?

mind if I do!

I told myself that this was a healthy way to cope, considering the circumstances. I was binge eating healthy junk food, after all. You know the kind I mean. Organic.

Biodegradable packaging. Coconut sugar instead of real sugar. Ethically handmade by angels in Byron Bay who were paid a fair wage. Totally legit, right?

The more I ate, the emptier I felt. Flat. Numb. Unsatisfied. Stuck. Ironically, I was seeking pleasure through eating decadent food, but I wasn’t actually enjoying any of it. In fact, I’d be totally checked out of my body as I shovelled yet another handful into my mouth, eyes glued to the screen. After a week or so of wallowing, I needed a shift.

I needed to let go of the false sense of pleasure and reconnect with my real pleasure. It was time to practise what I preach.

As a pleasure educator, I’m obsessed with the power of pleasure for healing, awakening and connection. I try to prioritise practices that make me feel deliciously alive. Pleasure can sometimes be sexual, but it can also be sensual – any kind of pleasant sensation in the body. We’re often taught to see pleasure as selfish or frivolous, but what if it’s more important than ever right now?
IMAGE: JORGE FAKHOURI FILHO | PEXELSHere’s what I want you to know about pleasure:Pleasure supports nervous system regulation Body-based trauma therapists will often ask their clients to focus on something they find pleasurable. According to the teachings of Dr Peter Levine, founder of Somatic Experiencing® Trauma Institute, orienting our attention towards pleasant sensations in the body supports nervous system regulation.

What does nervous system regulation give us? Quite a lot, as it turns out! Less stress, better digestion, more restful sleep, healthier relationships, less brain fog, better boundaries, more self awareness, more peacefulness and more productivity.

On a particularly relevant note, a regulated nervous system also gives us resilience to navigate challenging times. It gives us more capacity to be with difficult emotions and the ability to take action from a place of clarity, instead of being frazzled and reactive. Pleasure = resilience.
IMAGE: JONATHAN BORBA | UNSPLASHPleasure isn’t selfishHave you ever felt that pleasure was selfish, pointless or hedonistic? Have you thought you’d do something nice for yourself after all the chores were done? Or has feeling good just not been a priority for you because there’s a global pandemic and all?

I know that when I prioritise feeling good, I have more energy to share with my loved ones. I’m a more present lover. I treat my body with more care. I feel more creatively inspired with my work. I’m less stressed, tense and anxious, which makes me way more fun to hang out with – even if my social life is mostly online right now!

It’s wonderful to support people we care about, especially now when we’re all going through so much. However, your support might not be seen as a gift to those around you if you’re depleted, overwhelmed and stuck in a pattern of pleasing or supporting others out of obligation. When we’re connected to our pleasure, we can give from a place of naturally overflowing generosity, rather than exhaustion.
Pleasure is a skill we can learnPleasure is our birthright. Our bodies are made to experience pleasure – we are literally born from it. Stress and tension block our connection with pleasure, though. We can get stuck in patterns of linking our self worth to how much we do, rather than feeling inherently worthy as we are. This can all contribute to a disconnection from the incredible wisdom of the body.IMAGE: RAFAEL SERAFIM | PEXELSWhen we don’t use our bodies to access the pulsating, delicious aliveness they’re capable of, we become numb, shut down and desensitised. That doesn’t mean that we’re stuck with that forever.

Pleasure is a skill that can be learned. Our pleasure potential isn’t static, it can be expanded over time.

In my early 20s, my idea of something pleasurable was a wham-bam two-minute session with my vibrator. I didn’t feel much at all during intimacy with others. Now, 10 years later, I have access to exquisite sensitivity and pleasure in my body whenever I choose to focus on it. I’m not special. I just made my pleasure a priority and sensitised my body over time, through simple pleasure practices.

When we connect with sensual pleasure in our daily lives, we’ll also have easier access to more sexual pleasure in the bedroom, whether we’re alone or with a partner.

As we navigate this continually unfolding uncertainty, sensual pleasure can be an anchor to support us to stay connected to our bodies and to cultivate resilience and self compassion.
IMAGE: ELIA PELLEGRINI |UNSPLASHWays to use sensual pleasure as an anchor in your lifeSeek out moments of pleasure in your day.
We meet the world through our senses. Every day we’re exposed to so much sensory input that can feel pleasurable, if we choose to focus on it. What pleasure can you find today? Maybe the soft fabric brushing on your skin. The candle burning on your desk. That new song you love. The taste of your favourite chai. The smell of dinner cooking. All this delicious aliveness is right there, waiting to be savoured. How much can you let yourself really enjoy it?

Move your body to feel good – not just to exercise.
We often move in linear ways – we run, lift weights, do dance routines or yoga asana. Within all this structured movement, sometimes we miss out on the joy of moving in more non-linear ways. Have you ever tried moving your body with the sole intention of focusing on what feels good? I’m not talking about dance or moving to the beat of the music, but just letting your body move, wiggle, roll around in any way that brings pleasurable sensations, whatever that looks like.

Awaken pleasure through intuitive self-touch.
Humans are social creatures. We’re wired to give and receive sensual touch. We even have nerve endings on our skin that respond only to slow, sensual touch. This time in lockdown has meant that many of us have missed being touched. Whether or not you’ve been getting your intimate needs met lately, there’s something powerful about offering yourself the gift of touch. What kind of touch would feel nurturing? Or grounding? How can you touch your whole body with curiosity? Are there parts of your body you’ve never fully explored before?

Enjoy the aliveness of nature.
Living in Melbourne throughout lockdown was frustrating, when many of my favourite things to do were no longer an option. When the only lawful reason to be outside was exercise, I started going on long, winding walks through my local neighbourhood with fresh eyes. Even in suburbia, there’s so much gorgeousness to drink in. Admiring neighbours’ gardens, listening to the birds singing, watching the light change as the sun sinks lower in the sky, crunching through the autumn leaves in your boots. How much can you allow yourself to receive the beauty of the natural world?
IMAGE: HIAGO ITALO | PEXELSAs we continue navigating these wild times, I invite you to join me in using pleasure to bring more connection, resilience, spaciousness and delight into your world.Pleasure is always there. It’s just a matter of focusing on it.Bonnie Bliss is a pleasure educator, somatic sexologist and women’s pelvic wellness specialist currently based in Melbourne. She finds chocolate very pleasurable when she remembers to enjoy it.
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