Sexual Wellness and Pleasure
What is Sexual Wellness?
By Kassandra Mourikis, Pleasure Centred Sexology
Sexual wellness and wellbeing is an umbrella term encompassing everything from having a strong mind-body connection, pleasure, feeling worthy as a sexual person and your sexual and pleasure human rights.
While sexual wellness is something everyone can define for themselves, it’s imperative we remember it is not just the absence of sexual infection, disease, illness, or pain. Sexual wellness is possible for people that are disabled, have an STI, have chronic illness or experience pain.
Sexual wellness at the individual level includes:
- body image
- supportive relationships
- exploring and expressing desires
- mental health
- ethical consent practices
Sexual wellness at the systemic level includes policies and systems that support your rights and access to sexual wellness for all people, including:
- the right to pleasure
- safety from sexual violence and coercion
- accurate sexual education for all people
- ethical/pleasure centred consent education and encouragement to practice consent everywhere and all the time
- access to pleasure positive spaces
- reproductive rights to contraception and abortion
- shame free health care
- having systems in our workplaces, schools and our homes to prevent sexual violence
- being believed and supported if you have experienced sexual violence/feeling unsafe/uncomfortable
- eradicating shame and discrimination based on sex, gender or ability
- dismantling oppressive systems like transphobia, ableism, sexism, racism, anti-blackness & anti-fatness
In recent years the sexual wellness movement has been hijacked by companies marketing libido pills or sexual beauty products like vulva scrubs and masks. These products lead people to feel sexual and body shame and pressure to conform to beauty or sexual stands. Instead, what we need is to make pleasure accessible for all people by offering them support and tools to explore and connect with their pleasure, including access to sex toys and lube.
The Barriers to Pleasure
Pleasure is something that happens in both the mind and body, requiring a strong connection and two other critical parts:
- You need to be present and embodied – where you’re placing your attention and focus will influence how much pleasure you can experience. If you’re distracted, stuck in your head or find it difficult to be in your body, that can prevent your brain from perceiving pleasure.
- You need to feel safe – when your body recognises that its not safe (whether that’s real or perceived, including feeling coerced, afraid, anxious, ashamed or in pain, it will go into a stress response. This is what your body does to protect itself. It’s priority is survival and pleasure is deprioritised.
The Politics of Pleasure
How much pleasure someone experiences and who is allowed to access pleasure is not decided by us as individuals. Not all people feel like they have a right to have pleasure or feel like they can access pleasure in their bodies. This is not a moral individual failing, but a collective one.
Social systems and structures that we live in (this includes the political party we voted in and larger structures like capitalism, white supremacy and the patriarchy) teach us all that those that have certain identities (namely white, cis gender and heterosexual people, the binary of men and women, thin people, non-disabled people) are given more access to pleasure. For anyone who does not fit the norm, we implicitly believe their pleasure is not important. For example, many people believe they must change their bodies before they feel desirable and worthy of pleasure. This may be reinforced when people enter the dating world and find potential partners have “preferences” for thin, white and non-disabled people. It’s also evident in the high rates of domestic and family violence, sexual violence, discrimination, denial of reproductive rights to contraception, abortion or safe sexual health services for disabled people, Black and Brown people, trans people, fat people and women.
The Benefits of Pleasure
Reflect on just a few of the undeniable benefits of pleasure; pleasure can be pain relief, it can be used promote quality of sleep, it can improve your mood and significantly improve mental health, to build social and interpersonal connections, a way to self-express or connect with your body and increases overall life satisfaction. Without pleasure, what are we really living for?
Pleasure is powerful. Choosing to have pleasure is a form activism that directly challenges the systems that tell people in so many ways that their pleasure does not matter. When people choose to prioritise pleasure, they’re actively rebelling against those messages.
Despite the barriers, choosing to prioritise pleasure each day is an act of courage. Here’s what you can try to make your journey into pleasure more accessible.
1. Create safety
What do you need to feel safe, comfortable and relaxed? What do you need to start to shift any anxiety or fears? Think about it and if you’re looking to play with a partner – what do you need from them to feel safe?
This might include being kind and not judging yourself, reminding yourself you’re allowed to stop whenever you need, being able to choose what comes next, having a partner ask first and respond with kindness however you answer, avoiding touch in a certain area of your body, clear and explicit consent practices, very regular check ins
2. Set the mood
Setting the mood is about creating the context for pleasure. Context is a combination of your external environment and internal mental state/how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking so creating a good physical and mental space matters!
- Find a private spot where you’re not going to be worried about being overheard or walked in on
- Remove distractions – like your phone/tv/to do lists/clean up a bit if needed
- Set up your environment/space so it feels relaxing – think about what is enjoyable for your senses: lighting/music/soft blankets/pillows/smells etc
- Build responsive desire – start with smaller sensual touch or mental pleasure that feels good and build slowly.
3. Become embodied
Be in your body and bring your attention to the present by using your sensory awareness
- Practice mindfulness – it’s so difficult to be present because most of our time is spent in our heads and thoughts. Having a regular mindful practice and focusing on your sensations, environment or surroundings.
- Using movement, touch, breath, sounds and your awareness, to get embodied or be in your body. For example, deep breathing, making sounds like moaning or humming, inviting gentle and pleasurable touch, shifting your awareness to on the physical sensations in your body, noticing what feels good and paying attention to how your body responds to what you’re doing without pushing it to do things it does not want to do.
4. Make pleasure accessible with pleasure products
Sex toys and lube are tools that can enhance sensations. Sex toys are not something you can become desensitised to nor are they a replacement for a partner. They’re devices that make pleasure more accessible.
Sex toys like vibrators automate a manual process of stimulating not only your genitals but other erogenous zones. They are great for people who want consistent stimulation, who may find their hands get tired/sore or where without a toy pleasure may be inaccessible because they may not be able to reach or stimulate in other ways.
Vibrators used for external stimulation of the clitoris (such as the Lelo Sonic Wave Clit Massager, Satisfyer Pro 2 & the Lovesense Quake Dual Vibrator) can be a very reliable way to experience heightened pleasure and orgasm for people with vulvas and masturbators or sleeves for people with penises (the Lelo Masturbator).
Butt plugs and anal toys (such as the Dare Silicon Anal kit or the Satisfyer Plug-ilicious) can be a great way to reach and stimulate their external nerves of the anus or internally to reach and stimulate prostate.
Lube (try Wild Secrets Water-based Lube) enhances sexual pleasure and creates more sensation, it protects your body from friction or possible micro tears, it increases sensation and guide. You should always use lube.
Cleaning your toys with a toy cleaner (like the Wild Secrets Foaming Toy Cleaner), washing your hands with warm soap and water, and having a Recent shower increases both pleasure and sexual wellness from a hygiene perspective continues to make pleasure accessible.
What’s Your Pleasure?
Knowing what you want can similarly be a challenge. Remember that it’s okay if you don’t know. It takes time and intentional exploration to know what feels good and what you want.
Start with what you don’t want, consider all your maybes or the things you might be open to or curious about. Start by imagining how that might feel for you? What might feel good?
Go beyond your genitals. Your whole body is one big sexual organ and has tremendous potential for pleasure so explore beyond your genitals and find the highly sensitive places across your body that enjoy being touched.
Recognise pleasure is important and make time for it. Make an agreement with yourself to prioritise something, at least once a day, that is for you and brings you joy or feels good.
Allow what you like and feels enjoyable in your body guide you to what you want. This means that when you’re trying to decide what kind of pleasure you want, pay attention to what feels good in your body. Notice whether your body is open/relaxed/ or tense/closed.
Decide to keep learning and exploring. Prioritising and discovering what feels good is life-long journey. Resist the urgency and pressure to have it all figured out.
Remember communication is key. Communicate the things you want and what you don’t want, call out and challenge oppression and discrimination, encourage your sexual partners to discover their own pleasures, practice ethical consent and always remember to keep checking in and staying curious.