With Pleasure: Managing Trauma Triggers for More Vibrant Sex and Relationships officially releases on 9/14/21, and you can order it now!
This week on Girl Boner Radio, I’m thrilled to share a peek behind the curtain, by way of a conversation with co-author Jamila Dawson, LMFT, pleasure practices of six survivors featured in the book, and more.
Stream the episode on Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Spotify, iHeartRadio or below! Or read on for a lightly edited transcript.
“Powerful Pleasure Practices and a New Book!”
a lightly edited Girl Boner Radio transcript
“All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view.” I saw this quote from author William Ritter posted in a writer’s group recently, with a conversation about the role authors often play as observers of the world.
It resonated with me because of the new book I co-authored with incredible sex therapist, Jamila M. Dawson, LMFT: With Pleasure: Managing Trauma Triggers for More Vibrant Sex and Relationships. We had the privilege of going behind the curtain with over 20 survivors, to share their stories and important takeaways around pleasure, self-care, intimacy and more. The book also features writing prompts, grounding exercises and reflections for anyone going through a difficult time.
With Pleasure officially releases next week, and you can order it now from most any bookseller. It’s available in paperback, ebook and audiobook form.
In celebration of With Pleasure, I wanted to give you all a peek behind the writers’ curtain, with a conversation between Jamila and me about how the book came together, and a running theme throughout the book: cultivating pleasure practices—in sex and life as a whole.
We wrote the book through much of last year, amid the thick of the pandemic, connecting over Skype or Zoom each week to explore a topic — so it seemed only appropriate that we do so for you all here. You can think yourself as going back stage or listening in on the writers’ room. You’ll also hear from several folks featured in the book about their own pleasure practices and from Dr. Megan Fleming, with her Pleasure Picks for September.
Thank you so much for being here to celebrate this book and its messages with us. To me, for many reasons, this episode feels like a release party. So, welcome! I hope you enjoy it.
[encouraging, acoustic music]
So I was thinking back to the day that I met you in person, in the studio. I was excited to have you on. I knew a little bit about your work and really appreciated it. You came in and sat down, and I remember feeling very, first of all, at ease. You have this way about you that I think folks feel really comfortable speaking and sharing. I felt like we were really in a space together.
And as you were talking I was so struck by everything you were saying about pleasure and trauma, “managing trauma” versus, you know, versus “treating trauma.” The terminology that was so impactful for me and the metaphors you were using. And I was having these thoughts of [whispers] Oh, my gosh. I had had this book idea. And I really want this person to be in this book, this incredible expert.
I just got chills thinking about that moment because it was so visceral to me. And I know, because of conversations we’ve had since, when I brought the book up to you, you did not have that same like, Oh, yeah! feeling for very good reasons.
What do you recall about meeting and then learning about this project?
I think one of the ways that I’ve kind of had to navigate professional experiences, like being on a podcast, I just have this I’m gonna go into it, I’m going to do my best, I’m gonna try to have a conversation and hope that it’s a good experience. What I realize now is like I go into it pretty protected.
And so what I recall from the day was, you know, Okay, I’m here to do this. Pop in, do my thing, and go. [laughs] And the experience itself was a good conversation. Like, I felt, Oh, this was very professional. And then I was done.
Or so you thought! [laughs]
Or so I thought. [both laugh]
And so when I got this very pleasant email asking me to consider doing the foreword, I thought, Oh, well, it was a very pleasant experience. And this is a great idea. So, why not? And then when you asked me later, in another message, of would I consider actually being a co-author, I just remember shock. Oh, my goodness. Like this would be working with this person, who I don’t really know, after having my experience – I had an experience with a very well known sex educator, who I’d known for some time. Their work was one of the things that inspired me to become a sex educator. So I had a lot of very positive feelings about this person. And what I thought had been a friendship had developed.
And then in a professional context, this person made an extremely racist comment that they then doubled down on and never apologized for and then subsequently cut off our friendship. And it was just very shocking and very late. And when the humiliation embarrassment of when they made this racist comment in front of other white people it was—[emotional sigh]—it was awful.
And so then a week later [chuckles], I get this very pleasant email from this very nice, white woman sex educator. And it all just kind of slammed together.
When you described the shock of when you heard that comment, that made me really think about how the whole journey, when you said “this is working with a person.” The potential for this working, on this book, it’s a relationship. It’s gonna be time. And so I may seem really friendly upfront and for who knows how long, and to have to not know where it would go had to be really…really scary.
It was scary. It was scary. And our first phone conversation, where it was, I don’t want to say a testing conversation, it was more of a tasting conversation of if I share with this person kind of where I’m at and they respond in a not supportive or even curious way, then that tells me that this is not the project for me. And it’s okay to say no. It’s okay to say this is not for me. But if they show up in a way that feels inviting, then I can take the next step.
And so we have our conversation. And it was shocking in a good way of Oh, I shared where I was and August listened and supported in a way that was thoughtful and measured and didn’t feel insincere. It felt right enough to take the next step.
Mmm. It felt right enough. Right enough. That phrase seems very appropriate for where you were at, you know? There wasn’t going to be a certainty. There couldn’t have been.
I remember that conversation very well. And I remember something that I continually learn from you. All along the way I’ve learned this from you, about our boundaries, about speaking up for our needs.
In that conversation you were bringing up things like, I may need to have a third party who can be supportive and look over all of our materials. And that meant a lot to me. I mean, I also was feeling the, you know, tenderness of Oh, my goodness, I asked you something that also brought up pain. And so feeling the care around that and the vulnerability and the strength that that requires for you to even consider this but then just in awe. You’re exquisite with your boundaries and your needs.
I love that I can learn from you. I’ve learned so much from you about pleasure and trauma through writing this book and even through our first interview and the content you share. But then personally, I’m always learning from you.
Thank you for saying that.
Boundaries are challenging and any grace and fluency that you’ve seen with me around boundaries is wooh! Therapy and time and reading and tears. I would also say kind of the shedding of shame of “I get to have needs, I get to have boundaries” and there should be a reasonable expectation that they’ll be respected. So to be in relationship with you over this time of this is somebody who’s going to help me uphold my own boundaries and accept them as legitimate. That’s been another element of healing, this whole process.
There’ve definitely been times, as we both know, through this process of being profoundly uncomfortable, between the pandemic, between my own stuff that was coming up, trying to support clients, while stuff in my life is very complicated. And so to build this relationship with you and practice these things, the pleasure, the boundaries—it’s been very meta, the whole experience has been very meta. [laughs]
Very well put. Yes, incredibly meta. Even in the book we talk about that we are all students, we are all teachers, we are all learning. And we really did have to apply all the things that we were talking about, including what is at the forefront, which is pleasure.
This book went through a couple of titles. At first, it was called Triggered. Then someone we won’t name wrote a book with that title that’s basically the antithesis of ours. Then it was The Trigger Trap, a title we both had mixed feelings about. And then, Jamila came up with the current title, the one that stuck. One day it sort of appeared before her eyes.
Well, this idea of pleasure has been…this practice I’ve been trying to engage in in the last years. And so I try to put it in places in my life to keep reminding me. So I end a lot of emails with “With pleasure, Jamila.”
I think I was typing you something about something else related to the book and then I looked at my email signature, “With pleasure.” I thought, What if it’s… that? I mean, maybe it’s weird, because it’s just my email signature, but that’s what I believe! So let me just ask. I’ll ask August. So I typed, “What do you think about With Pleasure?” And your response was like yes.
Yessss. I freaking love it. I have loved it since the moment you brought it up. To me, With Pleasure means that we can be going through anything and pleasure is available to us.
This is the practice. In those two words is what we’ve been trying to do in our process, what the book was about.
[encouraging, acoustic music]
When you think about pleasure practices and the people whose stories we feature, is there one that stands out? One that especially struck a chord with you, maybe on a personal level?
I mean, first of all, every time I think about all the different interviewees, I just am honored that they’re all part of the book. And in some ways they’re kind of this literary family that we’ve created.
I’d have to say like Kirby’s story is the one that continues to haunt me.
Kirby Brown died tragically at what was marketed as a spiritual, self-help event, during a dangerous activity that she and other attendees were told would be scary and might feel like dying. I interviewed her mom and sister, Ginny and Jean, for the book.
And I think it’s because with the other folks in our book they’re, frankly, alive to keep figuring out their lives and to keep having their different pleasure practices.
And so there’s this process that they can engage in, and I am, as I said, just haunted that Kirby didn’t, does not have that opportunity. Sometimes, I just say hi to her spirit and that there’s art and things that she created so there is still, like, the world is different that she was here.
I, too, I feel like I have a very special connection to all of the stories. There are a couple that resonated with me and continue to on a really personal level, but that I also learned so much from in the ways that I do not relate. So one is René Brooks’ story and then Taylor Lianne Chandler.
I haven’t dealt with the systemic oppression and the trauma that comes from that for someone who’s Black, such as René, or for someone who is intersex, transgender, was a sex worker. Those are all Taylor’s experience. So I learned a lot. And then also I related on a really deep level because both of them were able to access pleasure more fully in their lives by gaining understanding of how their brains work in different ways.
So René was diagnosed with ADHD, which I have been as well. And Taylor was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. And both of them also had to find their way to the ideal ways to manage and function and thrive with the brains that they have. And in both cases, that’s very multifaceted. And they also both really benefit from medication that they need, and I do as well. It has been such a life changing experience for me to work with my brain chemistry.
And one thing that I’m very frustrated with, in the “self-help” world, which Kirby’s story brings so much light to, the dark parts of it, is that so often, I hear self-help kind of gurus and life coaches shaming medication. And that really gets to me. I know that there are issues with Big Pharma and I think we can talk about that and also not shame the things that people need.
Right. We have glasses and we have aspirin and we have other elements that humans have developed to help us be all that we can.
It’s enraging to me that people will go out of their way to shame somebody for trying to create an ecology, because that’s really what it is. This is not “I’m just relying on one thing or the other,” but I’m trying to create an ecology that helps me work with myself that helps me be, have access to all of me so I can do my life.
And, that’s something I really want to encourage people that if somebody’s telling you to cut things out, I would look askance at those folks. it’s going to be multiple pillars that supports somebody to do their life.
[encouraging, acoustic music]
Throughout With Pleasure, we talk about the importance of pleasure in our journeys and especially while managing trauma. Here’s a quote from Chapter Six, which is called “Healing is Taking Too Long.”
“The possibilities for pleasure are endless, when we expand our definition of what it can entail and commit to prioritizing pleasure as a practice.”
Following that is a text box that reads:
“Pleasure practices can become a rebellious ‘F-you’ to trauma-based triggers and bolster your healing journey at the same time.”
Over the past couple of weeks, I spoke with several of the folks whose personal stories and insights are featured in the book about their own pleasure practices. Before sharing more of my conversation with Jamila, I’m so pleased for you to hear about those practices, in their own words.
Pleasure Practices of Jean, Taylor, Jazz, Robert, Hannah, and Kimleigh
[hopeful acoustic music starts, then continues behind all of the following practices]
My name is Jean Brown and my pleasure practice is getting up before the rest of my family to do a quick workout. So typically, I will lay out my clothing for the workout the night before so that it’s literally right at the end of my bed. And it’s very easy to just get into it.
And I follow a program called MommaStrong, which is specifically geared to women who are pregnant or who have had children. And it’s like a 15 minute high intensity workout; they put out a different one every day. And I find that doing that is just – it sets the tone for the rest of the day that I’ve done something nice for myself.
In a lot of ways, sometimes we take pleasure for granted as something that we sort of receive very passively. And I think especially for people who are busy or—just kind of in our modern life—we have to be a bit more active about cultivating our pleasure.
So to me, it’s that I’ve taken the space to do something good for myself. It makes me feel good in terms of my energy levels and how I feel in my body and it impacts a whole range of other aspects of my own personal pleasure. When I feel that I’ve done these things for myself, I feel better about myself, I feel more confident, I feel sexier. All of these positive aspects are really good.
Hello, my name is Taylor Lianne Chandler, and my pleasure practice is escaping my thoughts and being in the moment so someone can take me out of my own head to breathe, release and become pleasure.
I think the biggest thing for me was realizing that triggers from trauma in the past aren’t what’s happening now. It’s my body remembering the trauma. For me, over the past six years of really working at maintaining intimacy, it’s been about realizing that I have that power now. You know, my body is not going to be allowed to betray me. But of course, initially, it took someone to take me out of my own head, my trauma, and make me feel all woman— pretty, seductive, sexy—and do things I wouldn’t normally do but be okay with it. And like it and want it again and know that was okay.
One quick disclosure, I do live with borderline personality disorder. So I feel things to extremes; that’s the best way to put it. And it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m feeling good or bad about what’s actually happening in the moment. It could be something in that moment that reminds me but then in the past, it would run as like a movie reel. So you go to the beginning to the end. Well, obviously, we all know, that’s pretty destructive.
So for me to take my head out of it in that moment and change those thoughts. It sounds simple, but it’s almost like I’m outside my body looking at myself. And I’m telling myself, What you’re feeling isn’t real. You have control now. And no one can tell you what is good or bad pleasure for you.
For me, it started with masturbation, learning my body, learning me because then it’s easier to teach or tell someone. And that was a big thing for me, talking about sex. I never did that. Now, it’s like you can’t shut me up. [laughs]
So it’s a combination of all those things that lead to that. But for the most part, it’s just knowing that I have the control. That’s not what’s happening right now. So it doesn’t discredit the fact that trauma happened, but it releases it from having control over you in that moment.
I’m married now two years, and my husband is a very sexual being. And coming from a past of sex being against my will, as a child raped, as a weapon, as a means to survival. It wasn’t the things that should be. And even if you grew up perfect, we still are ingrained that sex is taboo and naughty and dirty and secretive. You know, I don’t get that because you’re so much happier and healthier when you have it with yourself or with a partner or many partners or different partners.
But for my husband, I wanted to be those things for him at, what was I, 45? I didn’t want to fake an orgasm ever again in my entire life. So part of it was men, in my experience, have a hard time understanding that a woman could have sex and not orgasm in the sense they think of and be okay.
A real good orgasm for me is exhausting. And then I want another one. But then if I keep going, I’m tired! And that doesn’t go well with getting up, showering and getting ready for work. But then in those moments where we do have the time, it’s been amazing, because now I talk about what I want. I ask him what he wants.
I’m visual. Who would have thunk it? So I want to see what’s happening. It’s important. I think in all of these instances, when you realize you don’t have to ask for forgiveness to love what you love and like what you like when it comes to sex, love, pleasure, intimacy because they’re all different.
When you have healthy sex, again with or without a partner, you’re happier. You have those releases. For me, it’s just one of those things that it’s like crying, you release it. Great sex, whether it’s three minutes, an hour, it gives you this release. So when you go out into the day, you’re happier, you’re lighter, you’re uplifted, your spirit’s brighter. People will notice it in your face. You’ll smile more because you have that release, instead of leaving with the tension.
Take the power yourself. Learn your body yourself. Don’t be like me at 41 having to have a person take you out of your own head. Learn to do that yourself. It’s work, but it’s worth it. It’s very worth it.
My name is Jazz Goldman and my pleasure practice is scalp care. There are lots of ways to do it, depending on your hair type. But part of long term healing I’ve been doing from a very extended period of stress like lead to hair loss and other pretty disruptive physical symptoms over 2019 through, of course, pandemic times has been caring for my hair.
Because as my health deteriorated during that period, I was very disconnected from my body at times. And it basically was from the crown down, which is just not super functional. And as I was inside all the time through, you know – Now I’m in a new home and environment then when those sort of symptoms first came up.
But even though stuff has changed, I’m still holding onto that because I just notice how much I can be with my body. And that specific area is a reflection of how much I can be with myself in other ways. So the more that I can dig in and be, you know, not to be too plenty but like at the root of myself, or at one of them, the better I feel across the board. I actually just did it.
But the first part is scraping my scalp with my fingernails and nothing else just under the running water. And I’ll do that until I feel like any sort of residual gunk from hair product or like energetic, static-y-ness is done, and then my hair is like primed for product. I’ll do, you know, shampooing and conditioning and shampooing is pretty self-explanatory, although I, like, continue with the hair scritches during that.
And then when I move on to conditioning, it’s a lot more about feeling my hair untangle itself and just like sitting and checking and doing finger untangling, which is another technique for black hair care. Some people use combs, some people use brushes and that’s all fine but I found that, especially in the shower here, detangling with my fingers is really powerful. And again, it keeps me super connected.
Because I can feel every little snag, every little bit that is getting stuck and needs to be untwisted, so to speak. And then when I’m done in the shower, it’s probably like an hour of putting one type of oil that’s just for my scalp and then using a deep conditioner to deal with the scalp and the rest of the hair. And the order of operations depends. Some people swear that you have to do cream and then oil, in that order. I sometimes do the opposite because I find that by the time I’ve put conditioner in the hair, there’s no space on my head for the oil to kind of penetrate.
You know, there’s also a whole bunch of other body awareness pieces that are happening. Because you have to have your arms up over your head for a while with my hair. And it would be easy to like get a crick in my neck or like hold myself in, some kind of f’d up posture that is going to leave me in pain in a different area of my body at the whole end of the thing.
So I’ll sit in a folding chair with a firm seat. Sometimes I’ll have TV on; sometimes I’ll be singing. I just sit there making parts, twisting things out, feeling my scalp to see like, okay, is the product penetrating it? Did I miss a spot? Do I need more in this area, all that kind of stuff.
And today because I have a whole lot of anxiety, I made sure to do some singing in the shower. And it was like my own little rock concert in there. [laughs] It was really nice and I was shaking my hips while doing stuff with my hair. So it was very, like, top to bottom loosening things up and just trying to shake out the energy.
There’s always the overarching knowledge for me that this is part of my lineage for my Black ancestry. There were many times in my life when I didn’t know how to care for my own hair. And growing up, I was pretty disassociated from my own head. Because that’s just how it sort of played out with how I was brought up. And my mom’s kindness and concern around how my hair was seen in the world also resulted in me not having a lot of agency around it until I was a teenager.
And then I was going through a rebellious phase and not wanting to be ultra feminine or connected to things that I saw as typically feminine. And it was misogynistic of me at the time, internalized misogyny, but you know, I was 15 so I’m not gonna feel too bad about it. [laughs] It’s been a weird journey. So going from that to how I was in 2019 with my own struggles with health to today, it’s a big deal. But it’s fun, and I like it.
I’m Hannah. So our pleasure practice is to carve out time together to connect intellectually and emotionally before we connect physically.
And often that involves like we’ll play a word word game, like the New York Times spelling bee or NPR’s Weekend Puzzle and then talk about our week or our day.
I struggle a little bit with dissociating during intimacy. And so that really helps counteract that and so that I’m more present.
I’m one of those people who’s always raring to go, I think, and the taking time helps me to honor Hannah’s needs. And it’s something that we developed over three decades—how long have we been together?—33 years, I think. So honoring Rebecca’s process with that is another way that for me to feel present for our relationship. It would be really easy for me to [thoughtful pause] not not pay attention to that. And this is part of my commitment to her.
When we’ve identified a day that our commitment is already: this is our time together. So I already have that sort of practice in place in my mind. I’m going to wake up in the morning. I’m going to have a little time to just be by myself and center in my own body. And then when Robert comes back home, we’re going to have some time together to talk.
We’re going to talk about this and that. We’re going to talk about anything big that’s on our mind or just spend a little bit of time connecting and then we might get snugly in bed together and do some of our puzzle time.
So we’ll just get to have that nice, lighthearted kind of playing with each other, right? And then we might finish with that. And by then, I’ll be feeling relaxed and centered and open. And then we can begin with any kind of touching that we feel like. Sometimes we have sort of routines about that. And sometimes we might try something new.
Then we just kind of check in with… My need for having culmination with like penetrative sex is less than his, and so while I’m always glad to have a pleasurable experience and satisfy what his needs are, it’s not always that that’s what it’s gonna lead to so we kind of check in about what I’m in the mood for that day. And then we just kind of proceed.
When she said when I get home, I’m up usually at five in the morning but on Saturdays, I usually take a six to eight mile hike. Then I come home. I look for a text to see if she’s awake. If she isn’t, I’ll just make some tea and bring it upstairs and sit and watch her sleep.
A lot of my career I worked nights and I’m on a day, Monday through Friday day schedule now, which is really nice. I’m also a firefighter so I sometimes have an odd schedule with that. We know at least one day of the week we’ll be there for each other. And it’s changed over time.
We have two adult children. We were frisky 20-year-olds and now we’re looking toward an empty nest and that has changed. And when the kids were young we had a family bed and everyone was in the bedroom, so—
Quite an adventure! [laughs]
We found other places in the house to be together. [laughs] Well, it doesn’t get boring.
For me, one of my challenges has always been to stop old patterns around sexuality and really think about what I like and what I want. And that’s actually been a fairly challenging process for me. I don’t know if it is for other folks but that’s been a fairly challenging process for me. And I think at different points in my life, I have had different levels of awareness of that.
So I think just kind of being open to checking in with yourself and really thinking about, Am I present? Am I enjoying? Is this about me as well as about my partner? And if you find any places where you’re like, Hey! Wait a minute! Maybe not. And then those are great places to start, to take a look at what would make it more kind of in line.
A lot of what Hannah said applies to me, too, because of things that happened to me and to her in the past. Honoring each other is what’s been important for me. Part of the things I’ve tried to heal from was the self-centeredness of a wounded person. And so I try to be open to what her needs are and our needs as a couple.
My name is Kimleigh Smith and my pleasure practice is lotioning my body. My mother said to me years and years ago, “If you ever get caught in an ambulance or anything like that you don’t want to be ashy.” So to this day, I match my bra and underwear and I lotion my body from head to toe. It started out as a chore, and now it’s become a real sense of pleasure and joy because it keeps my body moist. It keeps my skin nice from head to toe.
I will say, I have very smooth skin. Sometimes you will catch me in a corner rubbing my own arm [laughs] because it feels so good. And there’s something about not having dry skin or dry hands… Anybody that knows me well has spent time watching me lotion my body—not even in an intimate setting: friends, family, everybody: ”Oh, there it goes Kimleigh, lotioning her body!”
Before, it becomes this whole thing. I pull out the lotion. I put it on my stand. So it has a beginning, middle and end… Sometimes it’s quick because I’m literally doing it every single day right after a shower. If I have an audition or whatever, I’m off to the races. So sometimes it’s fast. But still, feeling the moisture go into my skin—it’s almost satiating, because I can feel my body drink up the moisture.
Every experience of lotioning is a new experience, though it is an all-day, everyday experience. Like right now, I’ll go brush my teeth again and wash my face. I’m gonna take this makeup off and the first thing I’ll do is reapply the moisture on my hands and my face because I’ve had a busy morning. And then I feel revived.
But I love that. I love taking care of myself in that way. I love to put socks on to the moisture gets even deeper into my skin. It’s almost like my religion, in a way, because it’s such a part of me that it feels healing and alive and warm. And I know that I’m taking the care I need to take of my body.
For so many years I did not love my body, didn’t want to touch my body. I was a victim of gang rape and I hated my body. And to be in a place now, to just lather it with cream and oil is the best feeling I could ever have. Now, even though I’m a little bigger than I usually am and I’m a little this, a little that, and most people are like, “oh, she may not like her body,” I LOVE my body. And keeping it moist and beautiful and glistening and soft. Oof. That’s everything. That’s everything to me.
[music gradually fades]
How we frame and talk about our pleasure practices can make a difference, too. I literally learn from Jamila pretty much every time we speak. This recent conversation was no exception.
One thing that really struck me about these pleasure practices—nobody said, “I just sit there, open my mouth and someone pours chocolate in.” They all took effort. A lot of them took time. And that is something that you brought up in our process.
Because the way we wrote the book is we would have these pretty much weekly recording sessions together, Skype or Zoom, and talk through these common questions that people ask when they’re struggling. And I remember you saying that pleasure really takes that effort.
And it really, really struck me on a personal level, like looking back on my own journey and my difficult times. And I think sometimes we don’t have the capacity. If we don’t have the capacity to make an effort, to me that seems like a red flag of “I need support.”
But also, I find that it’s an easy thing to fall into where if you’re really exhausted, emotionally drained, it’s kind of easy sometimes to just kind of ignore pleasure. What can you share about that effort?
It’s [sighs]… I love words, I’m a literary person. And so words are, to me, every word is a little book.
I personally spend a lot of time being very careful about the words that I choose. I won’t usually think in terms of effort. I will think in terms of choice, power, agency, creativity. All of these are generative words, and there is a forward movement to them; kind of embedded in them is movement.
Trauma is kind of a stuckness of the body and of the nervous system.
She pointed out that with everything we’re living through right now, from living on a planet that is profoundly injured to the entrenched problems with the pandemic…
…so many of us feel stuck. And the only way that I have figured to even think about moving through is words of movement, of creativity, something generative. And we don’t have to do it alone; we actually should not do it alone. There are things that we can do within ourselves.
Jamila told me that she has trained herself to see difficult times as a signal, of:
I need to go paint. I need to just look at the hummingbird feeder. But I need to go be creative in some way and get life back.
[birds chirping in a meadow]
What I invite people to do is to practice recognizing those signals when you feel out of capacity. That’s the signal to do something creative. It can be little: it can be painting your nails, sometimes just organizing something very small. It can be going outside. It can be running some just cool water or lotioning your hands, but something that is generative for you. That’s the way through to the next moment.
[encouraging, acoustic music]
So in chapter eight, which is called “How Can I Get My Life Back?,” you wrote in your reflection section this line that really moved me: “Given the relentless intensity we are having to survive every day, it’s important to make sexual and sensual connection a ceremony or ritual or just slow down enough to taste every part of it.”
Why can slowing down be helpful?
Our brain and body, which is really the same thing, can’t focus on two things at exactly the same time. And so if we dive into an experience and expand that experience, that becomes the world for that moment. And those series of moments, that becomes the world: the coolness, the water, the ripples as it moves over one’s skin. That can become this place of replenishment and relief.
And even though the other stuff is still waiting outside of that moment, you can really create – to me I think of it like a sanctuary, like this lush garden that really is accessible at any time. And the more that we know, that our body learns, that that is accessible, that that sanctuary is there, anytime we choose to go into that moment, I think it gives us a lift. And again, it gives us that energy to deal with all the other things that are happening.
It seems to me that when we make pleasure a priority and practice it, have pleasure practices and rituals in our lives beyond sex, if we are people who enjoy sex, that it really impacts how we feel during sex. It impacts whether or not or how we desire sex. Could you share a little bit about that?
If we practice pleasure in all these different aspects, we’re priming ourselves to have more pleasure, more expansive pleasure, more nuanced pleasure in sex.
She said the same goes for having delicious, nuanced, exploratory sex. The pleasure trickles out to the rest of our lives.
It’s hard to be really, really upset when you’ve had great sex. Then you have to like go and there’s bad traffic but that traffic isn’t as bad because you had some great sex in your life. [laughter] You know?
At least you’re glowing!
Exactly! Like I’ll just glow a little bit longer on the 405.
So it is that element of what you practice is what becomes your life. And if you’re practicing in sex to be truly in relationship with yourself, feeling in relationship with your partner, truly playing, exploring and seeing what that process between you two is going to be, that primes us for more nuance, more ability to navigate relationship outside of sex and vice versa. The outside can then influence how we have sex.
That’s wonderful. One of my favorite things to talk about when someone says that they are feeling like they’ve lost sexual desire or they are having trouble receiving sexual pleasure is the conversation around how does pleasure play into the rest of your life?
I think it’s so common—and I’d love to hear if this is your experience when you’re working with clients—for people to kind of hyper-focus on this “sex problem.” Do you find that to be something that comes up for folks?
Yes, all the time. When they’re struggling with sex it becomes work. And you know, this is America. If you’re going to do something, you have to be excellent at it, like “I have to do good work.”
She said it takes people into a place where there’s no pleasure or sense of restoration. It’s just “I’m failing,” “they’re failing,” or “we’re failing.” And nothing erotic or sexy can happen in that space. That can shape how we conceptualizie our sex lives.
When that all comes up during a therapy session, Jamila asks:
“How does pleasure and how does that kind of similar mindset show up in other places?” Because it almost always does. The pressure and the intensity and the kind of uncompromising focus on “this must work,” “good/bad,” it shows up in other parts of their life.
So it has been kind of counterintuitive for folks when they start asking about pleasure and other aspects of their life: “Well, I came to you to talk about sex. Like, fix the sex thing.” And I’m like, “I am! Just not in the way that you think…. You’re not broken. So we’re not going to be fixing anything. We’re going to be expanding things.”
And so I’ll start asking them, as in some of these pleasure practices you and I have talked about: “What are the scents that you like? What are the colors that bring you joy? What textures? How can you bump up your relationship to your body in other ways that we can then transfer over into your sex life? What are the expectations you have about your body, your partner’s body? What sex is?”
Again, so many of us have that old programming about, you know, sex is orgasm and sex is penetration. That’s not always helpful. It can be so much more than that. How do we slow down, go deep, and expand moments that then become rich and one of your favorite words, luscious?
[acoustic, encouraging music]
What you just shared about our ideas about sex made me think of EL’s story in the book. Because he does not experience orgasm with a partner. And for a penis haver, for a cisgender man, that’s like not even in existence in our culture.
Mm hmm. .
People don’t have language for it. So I can only imagine, he’s definitely not the only one. But if you never hear it –
Right. Then, inevitably, one would think, I am alone and there’s something wrong with me. And then if you get those kinds of words told to you about that, then it just compounds of feeling alone, wrong, weird, strange, and all those very painful things that don’t help us feel good in our bodies and in our lives. And we’ll sometimes seek validation in other ways.
And so again understanding, similar to neurodivergence, there’s bodily divergence of how orgasm happens, what pleasure for one person feels like.
She shared a personal example:
I don’t like cold things on my body. People are like, “I like the ice cube down the body.” I’m like, “I will inadvertently smack you.” It’s a body reaction. It does not feel good to me. But for other people, it’s incredibly ah! It just sends them.
What I’m hoping is people will create their own palette of their pleasures and understanding that if it’s not on the palette, get a new tube of paint. See if you like it. But it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t orgasm from penetration or don’t orgasm from oral sex.
I would encourage people to slow down, because I think a lot of us are kind of zooming through sex because it feels good. And we usually want that which feels good to be harder, faster, stronger. And so the practice is kind of throttling down and slowing down.
But if you’ve slowed down and it’s still not the thing? Okay! There is absolutely something else.
I love that term, bodily divergence, because it turns it into this exciting what’s unique about me? What’s cool about me? Not what’s wrong with me?
Yes! There it is. There it is. Go find what’s absolutely rad about you.
Yes, yes.. So throughout this whole book process and the writing of it and all of these, we talked about some of the challenges that were coming up.
This book was a hard book to write and to create, right? [Jamila laughs in agreement] How did you practice pleasure? Did you find pleasure in the process?
One, I am so thankful that we wrote this together. I know if I had to write it alone, if I had come up with the idea and had to write it alone, I don’t think I would have been able to complete it, quite frankly. Between the depression that I manage and the pandemic and the uprisings. To try to do this alone, I know I would not have been able to do it.
So finding pleasure through our process – it was really the reminder of, you know, the title was staring at us and staring at me. And so I had the reminder of ‘“that is the practice” and if I do not use that as a support, as this anchor that – if I fall into that trap, that productivity trap of we have a book to write, you’ve got to do it and it’s got to be perfect, and you’ve got to get it done.
And there were definitely times where we had conversations and I was not okay. I had not done everything I wanted to do in between one meeting and the next meeting. But again, in having the book, I had to come face to face with I have to practice pleasure. If I’m going to do this book, I have to do these practices.
And so some of the things I would do… Us meeting once a week, that was incredibly supportive for me and it was a pleasure. It was great to catch up with you. And then I was not alone in trying to do the work. I would write and then I have this swing chair that I really loved. And so after I would write, I would go to the swing chair. And there’s something really beautiful about being supported and just swinging. As a kid, I loved being on swings.
So as I was writing, it was really this practice of, what will help me come back to my body,? What will be a nice, not reward, but present to myself when I’ve done the work of the day?
I love that framing, a present at the end of the day is really lovely, something to look forward to and anticipate and celebrate yourself and what you accomplished. And just really take care of yourself in that way is lovely.
You were helpful for that. Because of how I grew up, it was very much like, “Just be excellent. Do what you need to do. Execute.” And the idea of celebration is not something that’s familiar to me. That’s not a somatic experience that I have.
I want to celebrate everything. I’m like, “we finished a chapter! Let’s celebrate!” [Jamila laughs] And you’re like “what? Do you know how many other pages we have to write?”
“We have other things to write.” You’re like, “this is so great!” [continued laughter] I thought, Well, I guess it actually is, isn’t it? And so your practice of celebrating things was absolutely what became, for me, a pleasure.
Which shows another benefit of community, which I’ve learned so much about through this process and from you about the importance of having community. I needed community in this book. And I’m so fortunate that it’s been you and also our family of interviewees.
It’s interesting because one thing that was really hard for me through all of the—well, all of last year for sure—was I had so many appointments, and I need a lot of spaciousness in my days. And it’s just how I thrive. And time management is very difficult for me with clocks and schedules and so I would get stressed out about having all of these appointments.
But when I had ours, I was so happy to be there. It felt so affirming to me, which tells me how powerful that community piece is. Because it made those challenging pieces for me a non-issue, essentially, because we are in this together, and I have someone else also to support because I want this book for folks. I also want you to have as positive of an experience as possible.
I feel like we were always encouraging each other in these different ways because we bring different strengths to each other. That’s probably what community does. When you’re seeking pleasure, when you’re trying to find folks who have an experience similar to yours so that you have that sense of un-aloneness, that you are not really alone.
That’s what I would love for people to take away… The experience of community can be so subtle, we don’t always notice how critical it is, until we have a chronic lapse of it or chronic absence of it. But it’s like air. We literally need community or we are going to die. It is that stark.
What I hope people do as they’re reading the book is keep that in the back of their minds, as they’re reading every single person in this book—yes, they did things individually within themselves to practice pleasure, to get towards more healing and wellness. But every single person had some kind of relationship, some kind of community. Nobody here was a vacuum. Nobody here was an island.
And so what I’m really hoping people realize is having the right folks around you, the right team around you, this is what’s going to allow you to thrive. And that’s not bad. That’s exactly how we keep living.
[acoustic, encouraging music]
Here is another fun way to experience more pleasure during sex. Add a Promescent product to the mix. I’m personally loving their aloe-based lube. It has such a nice texture and, as a bonus, it’s good for your skin. Promescent is also known for the FDA-approved Climax Control Spray, which can help anyone with a penis last longer during penetration. To save 15% on your first Promescent order, head to delayspray.com and use the code [mentioned in the episode] or click here to save automatically.
When I spoke with Robert and Hannah about their pleasure practice, they shared some encouraging words that felt like a good way to wrap up today.
We participated in this to show people who might be struggling that there is a way out, and there is a way that you can find happiness. We’re, I think, living proof of that, you know?
Life is not all roses all the time. There’s still struggle, but we find a way to move past that.
Yeah, that’s what I was thinking, too, when I was thinking about is there anything else that I would want to add. It’s just that hope that, for people that are maybe at the beginning of this journey, and it’s still so raw and so painful and so all-consuming, and you don’t know if you’re ever going to get to a place in your life where this isn’t everything, you know?
Mmm. [emotional sigh] Mmm hmm.
All I can share is my own experience – that it does change, and it does get better and there is healing. And these kinds of experiences, no, you don’t walk away from them. There’s never a point in your life where you’re not a survivor of this anymore. But it changes and it can change to a place where you feel like you are living your life now. And your life now is good.
[acoustic, encouraging music]
Find direct links to With Pleasure: Managing Trauma Triggers for More Vibrant Sex and Relationships down in the show notes or head to girlboner.org/books to learn more.
Also in the show notes, you can find links to the work of Jazz, Taylor and Jean, as well books Hannah and Robert recommend for healing. Thanks so much for listening and have a beautiful, Girl Boner-embracing week.