The Pursuit of Pleasure as Personal Power

Healing and Amplifying the Integration of the Erotic Self in the Waning Patriarchy

Abstract mixed media collage in the shape of a vulva.

In American culture, we often hear about the pursuit of happiness. It is a worthy pursuit, a pursuit in which we wouldn’t get very far without pleasure. I offer the pursuit of pleasure holds the promise for peace, fulfillment, and personal power. However, did you ever ask yourself why our pleasure is always served with a side of guilt? It is time to change all of that. And that is my job.

As a consciousness coach who is also a sexologist, I have committed myself to being a passion instigator and a pleasure advocate for those seeking guidance, healing, and reintegration of erotic life force into their existence. I encounter so many whose light within is dim and they can’t identify why. When we dive in and they share their stories, often a theme emerges: They are disconnected from their pleasure.

Being disconnected from your pleasure often means you are also disconnected from your erotic energy. When you disconnect from your life force of course your light will dim. But they often have resistance to that type of energy, which makes perfect sense if you were raised in this sex-negative, real pleasure-averse culture.

When I am with clients an impactful facet of our work together is sharing their story. Getting vulnerable about the places in our lives where we feel shame or guilt is the first step to owning our fully integrated power, sexuality included. It is often in the erotic realm where we choose to disintegrate ourselves into disparate pieces rather than support our wholeness. Everyone’s story is different and yet so many share the same burden of guilt, shame, and judgment they seek to release.

It is often in the erotic realm where we choose to disintegrate ourselves into disparate pieces rather than support our wholeness. Everyone’s story is different and yet so many share the same burden of guilt, shame, and judgment they seek to release.

My clients are all genders, many ethnicities, races, religions, and represent the adult life span. There is power in sharing one’s erotic biography. In my work, I hold sacred the sharing of stories and hold spaciousness and sensitivity for all, including those with past trauma and those whose experience of oppression in our culture has made them feel lesser, othered, and just plain tired of keeping on. Just as their stories shaped those humans and their lives, so has mine.

The Personal is Political

Born in the Midwest in March 1974, a little over a year after the Supreme Court asserted that it is unconstitutional to unduly restrict a woman’s access to abortion, I never lived in a time where a coat hanger looked like a solution. For that and all the activism before my time to move the needle on women’s reproductive and sexual rights, I am grateful.

I was raised Catholic as the eldest daughter of two by my mother and my father and their families. Church on Sundays, and sometimes Wednesdays, went hand-in-hand with catechism I walked to together with friends from elementary school on Monday afternoons. My Mimi, my maternal great grandmother, encouraged a round of the Rosary before I could watch cartoons. And yet it was that matriarchal lineage that led me to the exploration of Mary, Eve, and then Lilith, and even Emerentia, an initiation into claiming the pre-patriarchal divine feminine into my life.

Simultaneous with so many Hail Marys, I ran for election in fifth grade and was named the impotent figurehead president of my elementary school with a female running mate. Take that Reagan/Bush 1984. While reveling in my election, I discovered with an exploration of my own body I could explode the spacetime continuum. I would just descend into a fit of giggles and do it again whenever I felt like it. No shame. No Catholic God looking down on me from the heavens. It just felt energizing and powerful. If we were allowed to speak openly about our developing sexuality, we might all share in that perspective of the power of pleasure.

Then came the time we were invited (read: brought by our mothers, aunts, or grandmothers) to the gym at the fire station, of all places, to watch a film sponsored by Tampax with an accompanying set of book-like pamphlets. Sometime soon we could expect the red tide, Aunt Flow, being on the rag, Bloody Mary, riding the cotton pony, Carrie, the red badge of courage, that time of the month, menstruation, our PERIOD, and Tampax wanted us to know they could make it more tolerable. Most of the women in the pamphlets were either riding a horse (which you could still do safely during Mother Nature’s gift) or gazing wistfully off in the middle distance (which apparently you’ll do a lot of during your moon time).

It was the first time I felt like something girlish, something female, something connected to my vulva, vagina, uterus, and ovaries, that was going to fuck with my mojo. I was fine being a girl until I realized that the pillow adventures were “masturbation” and now God was watching and I was going to Hell for breaking open the spacetime continuum with whatever magical energy that came from loving on that button just above the slit. There it was labeled in my pamphlet: CLITORIS, which when touched appropriately by some man I choose to marry can create ORGASMS. I was doing just fine by myself thanks and why did God have to watch anyway?

So there it began: the shame. Often as women, our ability to orgasm can be blotted out, partially or completely, by the shadow of shame. Many methods for ignoring the shame also disassociate us from our essence, from our divine feminine power. Some of us choose a more subversive or rebellious path, only to create even more maladaptive habit patterns to have our cake and eat it too. Frankly, if someone hands you pleasure in the form of cake or a clitoris, it makes no logical sense to abstain. It is the coercion of cultural constructs created to harness and co-opt the female creative power for the patriarchy that cause the, sometimes irreparable, harm.

Many methods for ignoring the shame also disassociate us from our essence, from our divine feminine power. Some of us choose a more subversive or rebellious path, only to create even more maladaptive habit patterns to have our cake and eat it too. Frankly, if someone hands you pleasure in the form of cake or a clitoris, it makes no logical sense to abstain.

I was fine masturbating before I knew it was “masturbating,” as many are. When we are simply seeking generic pleasure it is tolerated, when we are seeking sexual pleasure, not so much. I had already carved that neural pathway quite efficiently before God started watching and I refused to give it up. But those patriarchal cultural constructs certainly coerced me to censor my outward behavior. Still when I needed an energy boost, I’d orgasm. Or when I wanted to fall asleep, I’d orgasm. I perfected the thigh squeezing technique to orgasm, hands-free, baby. Along the way, I kept all those life experiences hidden away. And, by the end of high school, accumulating shame and guilt the entire way, I could orgasm from simply thinking about it. I always wondered if God thought those counted.

The Destructive Nature of Guilt and Shame

Those who encounter the shame or guilt of masturbation, shame about their sexual selves, early on carry that with them until they develop what I call their proactive sexual ethic. Whether it is religion, a chance discovery by a sex-negative person, the deafening silence about the importance of pleasure, or the lack of a healthy rite of passage, most of us masturbate under the weight of sexual repression. When we are dissuaded from exploring our own bodies, we cannot learn ourselves.

For so many ciswomen, that repression not only leads to a lack of knowledge about our bodies and our access to pleasure, but also we are taught that when we find the right man to marry, he will know just what to do. Never mind if you never plan on marrying or having sex with a man. Our pleasure is for him, in honor of him. We are taught to abdicate our own agency regarding our bodies and our pleasure which leads to a deeply internalized understanding that our bodies and our pleasure are not for us. We become passive fuckdolls.

Ultimately, our ability to bring ourselves to orgasm is wholly unnecessary in the patriarchal system unless we are required to perform for the male gaze or generate money for the patriarchy. The Madonna-Whore Complex enter together stage left.

“Who are you orgasming for anyway? Unless it’s your husband, that’s a sin! God the Father tells us so.” the sacred Madonna asks.

“For men whenever they want, bitch.” the Whore answers as she is readied by the Madonna to burn at the stake.

Both serve the patriarchy, one from Heaven, one from Hell: Female Control Theory incarnate. Until each own their power beyond the patriarchy, we will continue to be audience to the same drama.

To own our power, we must explore who has claimed our power in the first place. Many of the stories I have witnessed are impacted by religion. The religious God seems to be the ultimate erotic buzz kill. Or maybe it’s those human messengers like Grandma or Mom or Aunt Lydia who tell you it’s not ladylike to not cross your legs because you look easy.

Or maybe as you claim your pleasure as you come of age, it is the women around you telling you you’re showing too much leg or cleavage, to not be so ::gasp:: SLUTTY. According to Female Control Theory, it is women who impose the rules of the patriarchy on each other. The dudes for the most part are fine with the cleavage. It is the women seeking to minimize their competition for a husband within the patriarchal structure, because, of course, who are we in the patriarchy without a man. The pearl clutching continues.

So when we reach a point seeking sexual empowerment in our lives whether at 16 or at 60, we need to create our own proactive sexual ethic. We need to decide what messages we have absorbed and internalized that do not serve our fulfillment and our pleasure. We need to walk Grandma or Mom or the priest or God out of the bedroom, invite them and their messages out of our erotic and sexual life and develop our own understanding of what it means to throw off the burden of sexual repression and finally claim our shameless pleasure.

Our pleasure is our birthright, the energetic flow of our life force. And no one, not even God, and certainly not the fucking patriarchy, has the right to rob us of our pleasure and erotic self-expression.

Our pleasure is our birthright, the energetic flow of our life force. And no one, not even God, and certainly not the fucking patriarchy, has the right to rob us of our pleasure and erotic self-expression.

When we begin to develop our proactive sexual ethic from the deficit of a shameful mindset in masturbation under the burden of sexual repression, we must give ourselves permission to explore. Guilt and shame have no place in our true sexual expression. Our pleasure is unique to us. How we touch our bodies, how we like to be touched, the humans with whom we sexually play, the images that flash into our minds on the precipice of orgasm are ours and ours alone.

Owning one’s power is incomplete until we own the totality of our fantasies and sexual experiences born out of our healthy and authentic erotic and sexual expression. Orgasm is a surrender, the deepest surrender to ourselves, and we deserve to deconstruct each barrier brick by brick to surrender into our wholeness.

Owning one’s power is incomplete until we own the totality of our fantasies and sexual experiences born out of our healthy and authentic erotic and sexual expression. Orgasm is a surrender, the deepest surrender to ourselves, and we deserve to deconstruct each barrier brick by brick to surrender into our wholeness.

The Revolutionary Act of Healing Sexual Shame

Healing the societal and human damage caused by the culture of sexual repression happens one person at a time. I’ve witnessed the deliberate, painstaking, courageous process of healing from sexual repression in my own journey and as I have accompanied clients on their healing path. As a sexologist, I am invited into the most intimate pathways of people’s minds and hearts. These figurative pathways are often obstructed beyond passage by memories upon memories of debilitating sexual shame. Personal lives, professional lives, romantic relationships, familial relationships, friendships, and casual passing relationships are all impacted by that shame. Often even our bodies manifest the effects of sexual repression through dyspareunia, vulvodynia, erectile dysfunction, and other non-genitally focused disorders.

In my work, the most basic process of permission-granting is in fact the most healing process; the permission to fully experience and express one’s truest sexual essence without shame. Together we countenance the traumatic shame experiences, sometimes one by one, and disentangle the damaging memories and messages from the inalienable truth that we are the sole owners of our sexuality.

Our sexuality is an inextricable facet of our embodied human existence. Just as no longer no one can rightfully seize our hands, our legs, our physical self, no one has a right to appropriate our sexual self. Yet this sexual appropriation, particularly of female and feminine sexualities, happens constantly as a matter of course to sustain the patriarchy.

Our sexuality is an inextricable facet of our embodied human existence. Just as no longer no one can rightfully seize our hands, our legs, our physical self, no one has a right to appropriate our sexual self. Yet this sexual appropriation, particularly of female and feminine sexualities, happens constantly as a matter of course to sustain the patriarchy.

My vision is nothing short of dismantling the patriarchy. For some this may translate as hyperbole. Yet I believe in the accumulation of individual and systemic efforts to reinstate the presence of the divine feminine creative energy in balance with the divine masculine in place of the unsustainable and ravaging patriarchal system. Every time we say no to catcalls, sexualization in schools or in the media, unwanted sexual attention, every time we defeat laws restricting abortion, every time we teach boys and men to respect girls and women, every time we prosecute a rape, we are taking action to dismantle the patriarchy.

Some may perceive this as optimistic drivel and some may feel the task too great, but I witness the transformation of human after human in my office and in my colleagues’ offices with intentional hope. Sexual repression cannot be allowed to continue to rob humans of their peace, their pleasure, or their lives.

Sexual repression cannot be allowed to continue to rob humans of their peace, their pleasure, or their lives.

The beauty is healing begets healing. When once one was seeking to be healed, the healed then become healers. These once wounded healers, these newly empowered humans, share their knowledge, experience, and freedom with those still seeking. We have yet to create a critical mass, but I am grateful for signs that we are everyday. Reproductive freedom, marriage equality, consent culture, transgender and nonbinary rights are all bellwethers of progress. While we have not arrived at full safe, secure, and shameless sexual expression, we are making progress toward lasting and paradigm-shifting change.

Rejecting shame is a revolutionary act and we will dismantle the patriarchal control one personal revolution at a time. When Carol Hanische said, “The personal is political,” informing the Women’s Liberation Movement in feminism’s Second Wave, the impact was to recognize the collective movement against sexual repression reflecting a wave of awakening and action that will not be denied. Consciousness raising work becomes a force of nature. When a woman sits in a circle with women and witnesses and affirms her sisters, she witnesses and affirms herself. As humans, we are all mirrors and messengers for one another. Once she witnesses and affirms, she owns her sexual power. She will never again be denied the birthright of her life force.

Rejecting shame is a revolutionary act and we will dismantle the patriarchal control one personal revolution at a time.

When a woman owns her sexual pleasure, when she claims her orgasm for her own, she simultaneously fortifies her power and diminishes that of the agents of the patriarchy around her. The shameless and exquisitely earned new power becomes both personal and political inspiration. As we step forward into sexual empowerment, by nature of being holistic beings that power pervades all that we are: personal, professional, familial, societal beings. We move about the world with a healed, enhanced, and empowered sense of self. The personal revolution becomes complete, so onto the political revolution.

Amplifying the Power of the Orgasmic Feminine

There has never been a time so ripe to amplify the power of the orgasmic feminine, the orgasmic feminine in all of us. We see the unfettered effects of the patriarchal system on women, on all humans, on families, on the earth. As women and all those oppressed by the patriarchy step into their power, we recognize this way, this patriarchal system, is unsustainable. The feminine creative capacity is the strength of woman. Every human has journeyed through a woman’s creative vessel being born of woman, a concept I call the Universal Giver. There is no other force more formidable, generous, sacred, or uniting.

My vision is to harness that creative force for revolution. Seeing clients in my office, gathering women in consciousness raising circles of all kinds including Bodysex, using my voice and writing, amplifying other voices for revolution, standing strong and visible in my power, and employing each of these vectors of action for the greatest effect are how I choose to use my creative force for change.

I’m humbled to uphold the legacy of Bodysex and of Carlin Ross and Betty Dodson, forces of nature I’m grateful to call mentors. I remember the day, THE day, I started the plan for my practice, as well as the day I saw my first client. And each of those days started with me reflecting on a quotation I encountered somewhere from reading, watching, and listening to everything Betty I could find. That quotation was, as I recall it from my journal, “You need a thick skin and a healthy ego to withstand the usual blowback from being positive about sex.”

I had the privilege of sharing that with Betty herself in her apartment a short time before I sat naked with my legs spread in a circle of women, my left leg over Betty’s right, looking wondrously and powerfully into a mirror at my illuminated vulva. I thought of all the women who had been invited and guided through this rite of passage before and how many more are seeking the opportunity to amplify their power through this singular portal to self-actualization.

It is in the light of that inspiration that I seek to create an activist and intersectional environment for the exploration of feminine power, sexual pleasure, and orgasm for those who wish to partake. Every woman who seeks access to Bodysex deserves the revolutionary rebirth that accompanies owning one’s power without shame. And indeed there is room for healing for all genders in the legacy of Bodysex.

I see a future not only in the young women coming of age already empowered, but also in the opportunity to invite any women of any age seeking liberation from shame in their lives. It is in the sisterhood that we vanquish, yes vanquish, the patriarchy for the benefit of all. As the mother of sons, I remember the feeling of holding them in my arms noting the calling to raise them without shame as well. Recognizing that all humans are subject to the sexual repression of our culture is to recognize that sexual and erotic freedom is more than denial of expression or experience. Sexual repression is denial of our life force.

When human beings are denied of our life force, we are coerced into viewing the world from a scarcity mindset. I believe that overarching scarcity mindset of our culture is rooted in sexual repression, patriarchy, and fear of the female creative power of birth. When we grant every human the right to their life force through sexual expression, experience, power, and reproductive control, we breathe life into the revolution for human freedom in all its forms. I am committed to liberating as many humans as possible from this oppressive system and to guide and inspire to the abundance and life force that is their birthright. I intend to continue one women, one human, one therapy session, and one Bodysex circle at a time.

consciousness guide • sexologist • passion catalyst • pleasure mystic • author: Unlearn Moderation, Body 2.0, and Ischemia • kristahaapala.com

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