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What is Pleasure Activism? The Politics of Pleasure

by | May 27, 2024 | RELATIONSHIPS, SEXUALITY, SOCIAL ISSUES, Uncategorized

Pleasure Activism

Pleasure is more than just a luxury, it’s a fundamental right. In a society that often overlooks the importance of pleasure, pleasure activism provides us with a framework to challenge that and create equitable pleasure.


Pleasure is Political


To understand pleasure activism, we must first understand what politics and pleasure have to do with one another. As with most things in our lives, pleasure is shaped by cultural and social constructs that dictate what is and isn’t acceptable. Consider a mother feeling guilty for taking time to herself because society has placed standards on what a mother’s role should look like.


Or, a person living in poverty and the financial stress of life overshadowing pleasure as they fight to meet their basic needs. While we generally think of pleasure as something we can achieve by simply adding more pleasurable experiences in our life, the ability to access and enjoy pleasure are directly correlated to power dynamics, gender dynamics, societal norms, economic disparities, and systemic inequalities, making pleasure a social justice issue.


For example, economic disparities restrict access to leisure activities, quality healthcare, healthy food, enjoyable living conditions, and time allotted to self-care or how gender dynamics present an unequal distribution of labor, gendered beauty standards, and unrealistic expectations of how each gender should present themselves. Systems such as these that restrict pleasure are inherently problematic as pleasure is integral to emotional well-being and vital for a fulfilling life.


Research has highlighted the importance of pleasure and found that pleasurable stimulation is a cognitive experience that is important to the body and beneficial to one’s health. Understanding the political nature of pleasure is essential for challenging the status quo and creating a society in which everyone has equitable access to pleasure. One way to achieve this is through a movement called pleasure activism.


What is Pleasure Activism?


In Pleasure Activism: The politics of feeling good Adrienne Marie Brown defines pleasure activism as, “The work we do to reclaim our whole, happy, and satisfiable selves from the impacts, delusions, and limitations of oppression and/or supremacy.”  Pleasure is not a frivolous component of life and should be treated as necessary and worthwhile. To do that, we have to take an approach to pleasure that transforms the social and political restraints of pleasure and advocates for liberation.


Pleasure activism looks like promoting self-care and wellness, self-advocating for autonomy, pleasure, and consent, political advocacy to challenge laws and policies that restrict pleasure, community building to create spaces of pleasure, and supporting aspects of culture that challenge the current narratives around pleasure. Pleasure Activism strives to create a world where pleasure is not just accessible, but also celebrated.


Intersections of Sexual Pleasure and Activism


Pleasure is often synonymous with sex and while pleasure encompasses a broad array of experience, sexual pleasure has been declared as a critically important component of sexual health and sexual rights. With that being said, everyone has a right to pleasure and the intersections of sexuality, sexual health, and sexual rights have real implications on people’s lives including limits to protections from sexual violence, information, and health services people can receive, and also from the perspective of how people can relate to their own bodies, establish relationships, and live safely in the world.


 Activism around sexual pleasure comes from personal agency of taking responsibility for and prioritizing your own pleasure and advocating within communities for approaches to sexual health that prioritize pleasure.


How to Integrate Pleasure Activism in Your Life


Integrating pleasure activism in your life is not only empowering, but also allows you to reclaim agency over your body and what feels good for you physically and mentally. If you are looking to integrate pleasure activism into your life, below are some ways to get started.


Education and Reflection


Start by familiarizing yourself with pleasure activism and what it means. A great resource to get started is the book Pleasure Activism by Adrienne Marie Brown. Follow this with some reflection about your own beliefs around pleasure and any internalized shame or guilt.


Shame can contribute to hiding one’s desires and just like it is learned, it can be unlearned. Begin to question the narratives that have been harmful or limiting to your pleasure and work on reframing those narratives. Consider the power dynamics, politics, and societal inequalities that have impacted how you and the people in your community experience pleasure.


Normalize Pleasure


Challenge the societal taboos around pleasure and normalize pleasure as an inherent part of your well-being that should be nurtured like any other aspect of your identity. Nurturing starts with care, compassion, and attention. So pay attention to what your body needs, what feels good, and show yourself compassion and care by engaging in your pleasure without guilt.


Make a Plan of Action!


To be intentional about how you will integrate pleasure activism, it can be helpful to come up with a plan of action for yourself and consider some of the following in your plan:

  • What barriers/negative messages are hindering your focus on pleasure and how can you address them?
  • What things, activities, contexts, or people, make you feel good?
  • Where can you create the space in your lifestyle to make time for things that feel good?
  • What can you do in your community to support the bigger picture and decrease the inequities to experiencing pleasure?


Consent and Boundaries


In pleasure activism, everyone has the right to make their own choices about their bodies and desires, and prioritizing consent and boundaries supports this principle. Whether in sexual or non-sexual contexts, it’s important to respect your own boundaries and communicate them clearly to others. By empowering individuals to set boundaries, pleasure activism fosters empowerment and respects individuals’ autonomy.


Engage in Activism


Get involved with community organizations and initiatives dedicated to dismantling systemic barriers to pleasure and well-being. Alternatively, join communities and/or organizations that prioritize pleasure and joy for all.


Practice Gratitude


Cultivate mindful gratitude for the pleasures in your life, big and small, and acknowledge the privilege inherent in being able to experience them!


The idea of pleasure activism may seem overwhelming, so start small and do what works for you. At the end of the day, pleasure activism is an ongoing process and the small changes matter!

Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.


Author Bio

Imani Reynolds, LMFT is a Clinical Associate at Modern Intimacy, accepting clients in CA. She is passionate about helping people heal and develop thriving relationships in their lives, as well as helping them improve their sex lives.



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