Pleasure is a funny thing to talk about. By definition, pleasure is desirable. Pleasure is sensation that is wanted; pleasure feels good. But if you say “sexual pleasure”, it doesn’t conjure up wanted, good feelings for every person because sexual pleasure is complicated. It’s a world of stories and meanings and associations in a very private realm. At least for most people.
Here are a few stories that complicate things for me. Some of them blow my mind. All of them make sexual pleasure more interesting to think and feel about.
1. Rafe Biggs orgasms through his thumbs
Rafe Biggs is an American who, after falling off a roof in 2004 and becoming quadriplegic, began having orgasms through his thumbs. It started with some fooling around post-accident and since then he has kept refining and crafting his experience. Reportedly, he has different orgasms in different thumbs.
And Rafe, he is a sex educator, speaker, and coach. He also founded Sexability.org, an organization in the US dedicated to empowering people with disabilities to expand and experience their sexuality.
What I love about Rafe’s experience – and why I relate this story – isn’t that it’s a spectacle or a miracle. Despite being portrayed as strange and weird news, this news isn’t weird at all. “Transfer orgasms” are not a new evolutionary artefact. They are evidence of how our brains have always worked: Altering and responding to stimuli, experience, and physiological change. “Empathic orgasms” are also a thing. People who are empathetic have enhanced orgasms – something in the brain adds and gives meaning to the physical experience. In other words, my softball coach (who doubled as the health teacher) was right: the biggest sex organ in the body really is the brain.
What does that mean for you? I’m not sure. Maybe that weird thing you enjoy isn’t so weird? Maybe it’s something you could teach to your envious friends, instead of hiding it from them? Maybe there’s a kind of pleasure that’s been complicated for you, and you could circumvent it instead of feeling blocked? Maybe your body can do and feel things you can’t even imagine? Maybe if you don’t seem to love sex as much as the next duck, it’s ok and it’s still worthwhile? Maybe it’s not just a saccharine cliché that trauma and struggle are opportunity? Maybe it’s not broken, it just has to be used differently?
So often, when it comes to sex, the brain is assigned only the role of the culprit – of thinking too much, of second-guessing instincts, of shame and disgust, of “honey, I have a headache”. It’s the classic (and untrue) story about the mind-body split, the one that puts sex into the animalistic body realm and the brain in sober opposition. What I gratefully learn from Rafe Biggs is that our brains are and can be on our team.
The trouble is, the brain is a player we may not yet know how to best utilize. As per the rules of creativity, an obstacle can sometimes trigger innovation (like when your star player is injured). My question is, how do we activate that creativity voluntarily?
Ok. I have to end it here for now. Next installment: #2. Sexual assault is often accompanied by sexual arousal. The topic is a little heavier, but there is a lot to learn about pleasure there. We’ll tread carefully.