Pleasure is Not a 4-Letter Word

Kimberly Atwood
Published in
4 min readMay 6, 2022


Our culture is currently living in a pleasure drought. Let’s break free.

Image courtesy of iStock

By now, we all know we live in a sex-negative society. However, do we realize that we also live in a pleasure-negative world? Pleasure has become overly connected with sex, making it somehow just as taboo a topic. This connection is a false one. Of course, we want pleasure from our sexual encounters, but there are many other ways to experience pleasure.

It goes without saying, I hope, that sexual pleasure is a healthy and wonderful thing. In my opinion, sex and pleasure — both together and separately — should be discussed more openly and engaged in without shame.

Denying Pleasure

As a society, we either ignore pleasure in our lives or at least it’s way down on the list for most people. If we mention pleasure we received from an everyday life experience, we often get teased or even shamed for being “selfish.” Or, we find false refuges that we consider pleasure when they are indeed usually false, such as alcohol, overeating, materialism, etc.

And, have you ever asked a friend or stranger what gives them pleasure? Yikes, that can be a minefield. I often experience blank stares and/or ridicule for daring pose the question.

As a sex therapist, I notice when asking clients to share what gives them pleasure, they get embarrassed and initially only think of sexual pleasure. They don’t want to even explore pleasure in their lives most of the time. It takes a lot of understanding and patience to help get to a place where pleasure becomes comfortable enough to discuss, and eventually explore.

Why is this the case? What’s so shameful about pleasure?

Anodea Judith refers to this in her book “Eastern Body, Western Mind”

Our culture equates maturity with the ability to deny pleasure. We are often told to put our pleasures away as we grow older — to sit still, work hard, deny or control our feelings. Pleasures we once knew become regulated by guilt.

Judith goes on to remind us that…

When primary, healthy pleasures are denied, secondary pleasures take over, such as the pleasure of drinking, drugs, avoiding responsibility, sexually acting out, or overeating. Since secondary pleasures cannot really satisfy our longing for primary pleasures, our lack of satisfaction makes us crave more.

What is Pleasure?

Give some thought to how you unwind after a hard day at work? Pleasure is about paying attention to all our senses. It usually involves a sense of relaxation and a lowering of stress. When do you enjoy using your senses most? How are you able to be fully present and alive with our senses? When are you able to relax? What are the forms of relaxation you enjoy? How do you lower your stress levels? Whatever you are considering that fulfill some of these criteria are all forms of pleasure.

Harness the power of pleasure

Pleasure is not always about sex, but it does include sex and intimacy, of course. It’s important to cultivate a healthy sex life — solo, partnered or poly — to help us build up our pleasure repertoire as well.

In her book, “Why good sex matters,” Dr. Nan Wise says…

Pleasure is not a luxury. It is a necessity for a well-balanced emotional brain and overall well-being. Cultivate a pleasure mindset to reap the benefits!

Designate time and space for feel-good fun. Pleasures of all kinds, not just sexual pleasure, are good for the brain. Anything that feels good and is good for you can help you access that pleasure mindset next time you are in the bedroom.

How to cultivate more pleasure

It is clearly helpful to our brain and body to experience more pleasure in life in general. We are currently living through a pleasure drought, but we don’t have to.

Start by pondering… what is pleasurable to you now, already? What are the things that involve all your senses, give you a sense of relaxation? You may even give thought to how pleasure was regarded in your family? Could your family of origin’s regard for pleasure have contributed to why pleasure may be difficult for you now?

Next steps could be:

Turn off your phone notifications and set your phone aside for a few hours each week while you explore pleasure.

Seek out a new hobby.

Create and cultivate a formal meditation practice.

Try a form of breath work and/or yoga.

Introduce or re-ignite your creativity through art, music, cooking/baking, photography, etc.

Create a playlist of relaxing music and take the time to listen to it regularly.

Find ways to be more playful in your life.

Experience pleasure in your body. You may wish to start with exercise.

Then, you may explore more forms of pleasure in your body through masturbation, orgasms, learning your personal erogenous areas.

Make time for sex.

Expand your definition of sex, nurture it, and explore it.

Read erotic fiction or watch pornography.

Fantasize — your brain is your biggest erogenous zone, so set it free to explore.

Kimberly Atwood is a licensed psychotherapist and certified sex therapist in private practice in Princeton, NJ. She is offering a 5-week online Women’s Sexual Empowerment group with new group offerings each month. This group is a supportive and educational group for women who want to take charge of their sexual energy, build confidence, and explore pleasure.



Kimberly Atwood

Sex Therapist & Counselor | Sexual Health, Intimacy & Healing | Mental Health & Personal Growth |