I have been asked to write about pleasure many times. Maybe it is because I talk about it so much, or maybe it is because I question others about their relationship to pleasure. Anyways, I wrote, I thought, I remembered and felt past moments of delicate agony. Still it seems so thin, so volatile under the grasp of words…
Writing politically about pleasure is almost easier than trying to reach it with only feelings or an organic perception of it. In fact, through the act of writing emerges a spectrum of existence, an enlarged version of what it could mean to look for and enjoy different human pleasures.
If we think about it a bit more thoroughly, we find great possibilities for analysis. Through this medium, words, a movement of comprehension that is not visible during the sensitive experience of bliss is given birth to. Even with relative distance, reflecting on pleasure really is a underestimated hardship. This exercise requires peace, intelligence and self-esteem – a human asset seeming to lack in a lot of young (and less young) people these days (this is an obvious understatement).
That said, as writers of beauty and pleasure – we owe to be recognized and heard. The message that we are delivering is of great importance. Our work and discourses which are infused in it are either disguised in the mainstream media sphere or straightly silenced as almost heretic.
Time have changed, we hear. Times are changing, we say. Yes, they have. Yes, they are.
But how come honest conversations about the way humans feel with their bodies are not engaged publicly?
Allow me to me go back a little bit. We (in the sense of a human collective) talk about some specific kinds of pleasure such as food, leisure, nature (Hmmm see the problem here already?), entertainment, sports, social life and more. Why don’t we hear more in broader circles how pleasurable sex is? How fulfilling it can be as a whole experience?
I seem not to get my point really. I’m stating untrue facts. We do talk about sex, but we don’t always talk about it in an open and innovative way. Maybe I’m an idealist. I’m pretty sure I am.The following is an evolutive statement aimed at precising this view on my surrounding reality and see where it can lead us with a final goal of change :
We live in a patriarchal society where men and women are separate social groups.
We share spaces and urban landscapes where sexuality is displayed as a marketing tool.
We know and believe that sexuality is a major part of human lives.
We fuck, we make love, we shag, we love, we like, we what ?
We use several derogative words to express something that somehow still makes us uncomfortable.
We are afraid of sex
We are afraid of pleasure.
We are afraid of our own humanity.
This is my point. Why are we so afraid of it?
Academics, intellectuals and artists have been studying this question for a long time but feminists studies sure have approached a side of this question that deserves to be used here. The origins of the issue itself has to be dig up, inserted and extracted from the historical discourses regarding women.
Going a little backwards for a minute, I’d like to linger a bit on how Michel Foucault conceptualized pleasure in it anthological series History of sexuality. In volume two, he explore the use of pleasure, the object of pleasure and the diet of pleasure. This tryptic shows us the complex intricacies of pleasure in our life. We see that in the core of relationship with it, there are different ways to understand the role of pleasure. In its global thought, Foucault sees sexuality as a function, such as language or the political apparatus.
Foucault’s findings lead us towards a conception of pleasure that is anchored in the patriarchy, in a tradition of dominance by men on women :
“ Pleasure practices were conceptualized using the same categories as those in the field of social rivalries and hierarchies : an analogous agonistic structure, analogous oppositions and differentiations, analogous values attributed to the respective roles of the partners. And this suggests that in sexual behavior there was one role that was intrinsically honorable and valorized without question : the one that consisted in being active, in dominating, in penetrating, in asserting one’s superiority” (Michel Foucault, History of sexuality, Vol II :The use of pleasure, 1990, Random House, NY).
That said, asserting this automatically involves opening the way to explore the other side being : what about submission ? Is dominance an end in itself ?
Judith Butler, when writing about sexual politics, insists of the importance of the subject. Being a subject does not necessarily mean being subjective but being subjected in many ways often through the hegemonic lens of the heteropatriarchal system. In an article published in 2009 in la Revista de Antropología Iberoamericana , she asked herself :
“What do we call those who do not and cannot appear as “subjects” within hegemonic discourse? It seems to me that there are sexual and gender norms that in some ways condition what and who will be “legible” and what and who will not. And we have to be able to take into account this differential allocation of recognizability.”
We are now at a crossing point where power dynamics enter in the spectrum of how we position ourselves as sexual beings in this framework. Further in her text called PERFORMATIVITY, PRECARITY AND SEXUAL POLITICS, Butler highlights the lack of tools to explore discursively the unknown world of ‘out-of-norms’ sexual politics :
“Are there forms of sexuality for which there is no good vocabulary precisely because the powerful logics that determine how we think about desire, orientation, sexual acts and pleasures do not admit of certain modes of sexuality?”
I’m wondering now how come language and sexuality are so acutely mixed together. If we are afraid of pleasure, are we also afraid to talk about it ? And if so, is it because we fear enjoying pleasure makes us weak ?
Once again, I’m inclined to seek answers in the mouth of those who know how it feels to submit both to pleasure and to someone else. Submission as a practice has mostly been conceptualized by academic connoisseurs or members of the BDSM community. Moreover, there is a whole field of thinking built by pro-sex feminists who delve for satisfying answers on pleasure, submission and pain. In a piece published in Feral Feminisms, writer Toby Wiggins explores the complex parallel of pleasure/unpleasure in BDMS sexual politics. Referring to Freud and his well known psychosexual theories, Wiggins insists on the fact that when involved in a dominant\submissive relationship or sexual encounter, ‘’ Our primary drive, aptly named the pleasure/ unpleasure principle, encompasses both the unpleasure of an increase in excitation and the pleasure of its release.”
This element of a ‘biological’ instinct of wanting to experience pain as proximity to death gives us clues in our questioning. Because this kind of pleasure, of abandonment takes us back to a oh so human feeling, a fear that we all have in secret hidden ways, speaking out about it would be like giving away something extremely personal, a level of intimacy that few are willing to show. Pleasure, in this analysis, is intricately linked to power. There is no complete reflexion on sexuality and pleasure without a clear focus on how humans deal with natural power, outside and inside the binary.
A necessary look outside the traditional theories on sexual politics
In Hindu and Buddhist mythologies, from Taoism to Tantrism, the biological aspect of sexual is insisted on and at the same time erased. In fact, there is a component of biology that cannot be forgotten but that is not static. The upfront binary discourse regarding sexuality is, in my opinion, not satisfactory enough. It substracts the fluidity of gender identities and sexual preferences, it erases the desires that can emerge from us in specific contexts : post-traumas, healing, communication process with ourselves and partners… Bref, what I aim to say here is that we still haven’t reach a point in sexuality discourses where we are equal or correctly informed. I wish more dominatrix women were heard, people of color who work in the sex work sphere, people who know modern sexuality like no other and are willing to speak to us.
Clinical views of our contemporary sexual universes are not enough. Dichotomies between humans are restrictive in how we see ourselves as well as how others perceive us. I’d encourage anyone to enter the deconstructive path without fear but the knowledge that this path is not easy : it will question who you think you are, your past relationships and your most repressed desires. Don’t fear to expand your thoughts and ask difficult questions, there are resources and help all around.
Finally, and because I began this text talking about pleasure, I want to thank everyone who is living after-rape, in a self-built present of healing and evolving in a body that was attacked and dehumanized, I want to say congratulations to all of you for making it so far. Maybe your sexuality now has changed but pleasure can be found in unknown territories and in self-love as well, in art, in community, in food, nature, family and more. I wish for all of us survivor to create a new ecology of pleasure for the future of humanity.
Written between 2018 and 2020. Alizée Pichot