So someone I know is doing practice exercises with partners and friends in order to prepare for eventually getting her first case as a surrogate partner therapist. As such, she did a “sexual history interview” with me a little while back.
And, let me tell you, that kind of a thing makes you say stuff in plain speech that you may have been avoiding when you try to be your own therapist.
So, hey! Guess what came up?
So a question she asked me, in the context of being with my partners, was “Can you imagine what it would be like to just enjoy the sensations you’re experiencing when your partners touch you?” and the answer, pretty starkly, was:

I have difficulty imagining a [sexual] situation where allowing myself to just be in the experience would not involve my letting someone down, or my failing a partner in some way.

This is the short version, right?
The long version is that, when I’m with a partner, I can end up in a head space where I’m telling myself that – unless the partner in question is telling me in words that she is doing Whatever (kissing me, snuggling me, enjoying the feel of my skin, whatever it happens to be) specifically because she thinks I’m sexy or is feeling turned on or some other specific statement that tips me off that “For me [the partner in question], this is a Sex Thing right now” – it’s up to me to intuit whether or not “this is a sex thing” because Just Asking (like a normal person) would involve putting pressure on said partner to turn this cuddly or affectionate interaction into a “sex thing” when maybe that’s not what she wanted.
This goes back a long way, and it’s not remotely helpful.
It’s just One More Thing where my late-arrival to How One Does Boundaries, and my deep suspicion that I don’t “deserve” good feelings/sensations/experiences, is showing up again.
A while back, I got to take a free “Find Your Sexual Voice” webinar, during-which I asked a question about the above, and – to my surprise, since I was far from the only person putting questions in the chat box – the facilitator jumped on it with “Okay, LISTEN” and proceeded to tell me about how this was all tied up with assumptions around “I’m not allowed to change my mind” and “I have to (telepathically) make decisions for other people” (See? Boundaries! Or lack there-of) and – this is the bit that hit me really hard – “I’m a burden” (See? “deserving” stuff, again).
I have a bad habit (deeply rooted unhealthy coping mechanism) (trauma thing) of both believing, and consistently reinforcing my belief, that the act of wanting/needing something (anything) makes me intrinsically unworthy of accessing that thing.
Doesn’t really matter what it is.
It can be sexual touch with a partner. It can be gentle affection. It can be washing my actual body so that my skin and scalp don’t feel gross. It can be movement. It can be rest. It can be something as basic as eating a food because I’m hungry.
I consistently get ANGRY at myself for wanting/needing… you know… to have my basic, normal, human survival needs …met? At all?
And the more I deny this stuff to myself, the angrier at myself I get for still persisting in needing them. Like… If it isn’t coming, shouldn’t I just be able to learn to get along without them?
Because, obviously, that’s how any of this works.

A dark hallway lit by a pink neon question mark, superimposed with the words "why am I like this?"

A dark hallway lit by a pink neon question mark, superimposed with the words “why am I like this?”

See. She also led me through a body-check-in meditation – one that lines up really directly with the whole “notice pleasure” theme of this particular little prompt series. And I found it very hard to accept deliberately pleasurable touch, even from just myself. I spent a large part of the meditation trying to calm myself down. Rather than trying to find the ways that I could touch my arms, my back, my sternum, my face, my feet, that felt good, I was actually trying to work through shame and overwhelm and flaring anxiety, telling myself I was “safe, good, here” and struggling to stay present.
And there’s absolutely stuff in there about “worthiness”.
The thing is, only a day or two later, I climbed into the shower with one of my partners, and we did lovely mutual maintenance for each other, washing each other’s hair and soaping each other’s backs. She went over my legs and feet with body scrub.
It felt really good, in and of itself.
But what I found, after the fact, was that it was noticeably easier for me to like being in my skin, and to be kind to my own body. I could notice the feel of my cotton t-shirt on my skin and enjoy it, rather than see it only as a way to, for example, avoid getting cold.
This is a reminder.
This is a reminder that it’s easier for me to give myself kindness when I’m already receiving it. That – much like sex – it’s easier for me to notice, seek out, ask for, and allow myself to receive/accept pleasant sensual/sensory experiences, to believe it’s okay for me to both want and to enjoy those experiences, if I believe I already have permission to do so.
Much earlier in this series – a little over a year ago – I wrote myself a permission slip. I want to write myself another one:

I hereby grant myself permission to receive and enjoy sexual, sensual, caring, and nurturing touch. From myself. From my partners. From my friends. I give myself permission to have the experience I’m having and to say something out loud if I want that experience to change. I have permission to change my mind. I have permission to take the time I need to figure out what kind of touch I want from a given person (including myself) at a given time, and I have permission (and a duty) to say out loud what I want.
Granted this day, April 19th, 2020, by my own holy, worthy self.

Notice Pleasure: Soft cotton on my skin. Foot massages. Warm sunlight on my tummy. Cozy snuggles in bed. Hot baths taking the weight of my body. Her gasping breath. Passing energy back and forth between us. Her smile. Her hands in my hair.