Tag Archive: Notice Pleasure

I’ve got a bunch of books on my shelf that have the “ecstasy” or “ecstatic” in their titles. Ecstasy Is Necessary. Ecstatic Witchcraft. Radical Ecstasy.
Ecstasy is – maybe, by one definition of ecstatic ritual (Adrian Harris and M. Macha NightMare[1]) – a means of reconnecting with the other-than-human world as well as with “the wisdom of the body”. A way of allowing oneself the vulnerability of deep connection with something else.
Which… When I pull on Esther Perel again, actually puts itself in opposition (dynamic tension?) with her idea of erotic as “The ability to stay connected to oneself in the presence of another”.
I’m… interested in a few things here. I’m interested in cultivating ecstatic states – even if I find the notion of all those blurred boundaries to be liiiittle scary – but I’m also interested in… how to build those kinds of deep connections without losing my sense of self.
I’ve experienced senses of timelessness – SM scenes that felt like 30-40 minutes and turned out to be 3-4 hours long. Dancing in a crowd for hours when, usually, I’m tired after a song or two – but I don’t know that I’ve experienced that kind of… self-dissolving connectivity that I think might be related to ecstatic states.
I’m signed up to the Explore More Summit (again) and, on Day One, I got to listen to the Nagoski Sisters talk about connection as a cure for burnout. And they described something that they called “the magic trick” – getting 300 very intense university students to sing “Let It Go” together in a lecture hall – and which I recognized as an ecstatic experience. I really appreciated how they sort of… gave an ingredients list for “ecstatic experience” (without ever once calling it that, because though they are both PhDs, neither of them is a religious scholar) and then talked about what happens during those experiences, neurologically. One of them (Emily) said that ecstatic experiences are such a literal experience of connectivity with The Other (<– I’m paraphrasing very hard right there) that there’s a neurological bridge that happens between you (The Other could be other humans participating in the same rock concert, it could also be a deity, or more than one. There are options) such that your minds are not entirely inside your own bodies during those experiences.
Which is HELLA COOL!
(Just be being a big nerd there for a second).
I keep thinking about how, like, Brené Brown talks about the way shame and connection are the two ends of the vulnerability spectrum. How easy it is for me to flip into shame and how hard it is for me to stay with connection.
And I wonder if there’s something in here, in “practicing ecstasy[2]”, that can… help?
Look. Ages ago, Andrea Zanin wrote a blog post about the energetic exchange that happens – intentionally or not – when our skin is broken by someone else. (It popped up on my timeline the other day, which is what’s got me thinking of it now).
As a blood-play top, I “puncture [other people’s] tank” through cuttings and piercings (and I would include brandings here, too, tbh) with a fair amount of intentionality. The content of that intention varies wildly. From “I’m actively keeping specific types of my own energy out of the mix here” (because I’m running a “tasting table” for people who’ve never been pierced before, and want to see what it’s like, but didn’t necessarily sign up for a side-order of my personal dominance and sadism) all the way to “every cut I make in this stylized lotus chakra image over your sternum is actually me energetically opening up your heart and putting Ms Syen’s Special Blend of Self directly into you” (because we both want that level of connection and intimacy and this will strengthen the bonds that are already there).
While I’m not one to pierce myself – let alone let someone else do it, at least not outside of a blood-test situation – there are definitely other ways of piercing my own tank.
I can’t help thinking that this is one of the reasons why being on the receiving side of penetrative sex is such a difficult thing for me (at least some of the time). How it can be restorative and wonderful, but can also leave me feeling worse than before, if I’m experiencing it while feeling shaky or “leaky” or disconnected already.
I know I’ve done solo sex using a toy to get inside myself, and felt just awful after the fact – probably due to the headspace I was in when I started.
But I’m wondering if I can… if I can use this whole “pierce your own tank” thing, by using toys on myself, to release some of the shame-stuff I’m holding onto – just let it leak out – and intentionally fill the resulting space back up with something more positive, more connective.
It may or may not help me be more receptive, or more open to ecstatic experiences, but I figure, if nothing else, it’s worth a shot.
Notice Pleasure: Skin brushing skin. Rubbing noses. Chocolate truffle ice cream. Hot sunshine through a winter window. Making out. The way glass will hold the heat of my body, the reminder that I’ve got all that warmth inside me. The arch of someone’s back. Being able to move and rise, even when I’m stiff and sore, with something approaching grace.
Ms Syren.
[1] The above is a paraphrasing of a quotation I found here which, I think is lifted from their essay “New and Alternative Religions in the United States: Ritual and Neopaganism” in Gallagher’ and Ashcraft’s Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America).
[2] How? Singing? Dancing? Harvesting wild fruit? Star-gazing, falling into the northern lights? How much of this is ecstasy and how much of this is wonderment and how much overlap is there between the two? And, maybe more to the point, how much is it possible to do this on one’s own?

In a TED talk I watched recently, Esther Perel talks about the poetics of sex, the ingredients of desire. Meaning: novelty, curiosity, playfulness, imagination, and mystery. In the video, she talks about looking at a particular population of trauma survivors and she said that this group could be divided into “the people who didn’t die, and the people who came back to life”.
What she said was that “the people who didn’t die”, specifically because of the hyper-vigilance and the anxiety (the PTSD, by the sounds of it) that they couldn’t process or mitigate, these folks weren’t able to access the ecstasy (my word, here) of the erotic. They couldn’t fly.
Whereas “the people who came back to life”, she said they understood the erotic “as an antidote to death” and were able to reconnect to their own vitality, vibrancy, renewal and so-on.
And, I mean, I think she’s using “erotic” in a broader sense than specifically and only being about sexuality – maybe more like Audre Lorde does when she talks about “the erotic as power”:

“The erotic is a measure between our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. […] For the erotic is not a question only of what we do; it is a question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing. Once we know the extent to which we are capable of feeling that sense of satisfaction and completion, we can then observe which of our various life endeavors bring us closest to that fullness.”
Audre Lorde – “Uses of The Erotic: The Erotic as Power”

But either way. It’s this idea that this thing, this experience, of connection and flow, playfulness and vitality, is a thing you can consciously turn towards?
I mean… when I try to do this in an active way, the results are pretty unreliable. But in theory, once we’ve experienced the level of satisfaction that comes with so fully engaging our whole selves, we can find the way through to experiencing it again.
I think.
…I think.
Anyway. Esther Perel – who is defining “erotic” as “The ability to stay connected to oneself in the presence of another” – took the above observation about “the people who came back to life” and started asking her sex-therapy clients some questions.
Which I’m going to try to answer, for myself, right here and right now. And I’m going to try not to be so self-defeating about it all.
I shut myself off when: I feel dread. I’m afraid I’m taking (or will take) too long to respond in ways that are satisfying for my partner. I’m afraid of rejection. I think my desires or my sexual responsiveness is insufficient. My body hurts. Things get too intense (or too intense, too fast) and I don’t know what to do with the excess energy.
I turn off my desires when: I think my desires will be threatening to my partner. I think my advances would be unwanted. I think my partner’s invitations are insincere/performative/duty-bound/”just-being-nice”. I think my desires are inappropriate, outsized, or too much. I’m embarrassed by my… wantonness(?) or I’m ashamed that my desires/arousal is outpacing that of the person/people I’m with.
So that was the sort of easy bit? Like those are what I came up with without really having to think too hard about it.
This next bit is… a little bit harder.
I turn on my desires when: I’m by myself. A chosen partner expresses desire in/for me through their actions. I believably (uh…?) have permission from a given partner to express my desire for them. I feel wanted and wantable. I think my desires are socially acceptable? (Yeah, there’s a question mark on that one, because it’s not always the case). I’m not afraid. I know there’s a limit to what will be expected of me (I’m not sure this is the best way to put this? But I’m going with it for now) sexually.
I “wake up” in my body when: I dance. I feel good in my body/skin. There’s no pressure (I get that this is generally internally-generated pressure) on me to rush into something involving my own genitals, but I’m engaging with someone sexually/erotically (making out is an amazing example of this). I eat really tasty food and give myself time to actually enjoy what I’m eating. I’m being touched firmly but gently in ways that cover a lot of surface area (this could be sitting in a hot tub or it could be receiving a body-slide, there are options). When I feel strong and aware of what my body is doing (uh… I’m thinking of certain figure modeling poses here, tbh. Like… ones that look really graceful, but involve a small degree of core-strength engagement and awareness, but that don’t need to be held for more than about 15 minutes, so there’s low-to-no risk of nerve compression). When I do kundalini yoga. When I have a really good vocal warm-up.
Which… Like, there’s a lot more stuff on that second list than I was expecting there to be.
That’s a nice thing.
Maybe I need to get the stripper pole out of the corner and try some of those (very, very basic) tricks I learned 10 years ago… Ha… But it could be a fun thing to do.
Notice Pleasure: long kisses, long hugs, the quiet humid dark of a sanctuary bath, being noticed by people whose attention I want, soft warm bedsheets, hours of snuggling, slow-build sex with a reactive partner, flirting.

So, I read an old article over at The Dirty Normal. It’s an article (by Emily Nagoski, the PhD who wrote Come As You Are so, yes, I’m poking through her older stuff, as well) about spontaneous vs responsive desire, meta-emotions, and not beating yourself up for how you feel or how you experience or cultivate sexual “eagerness” (in-so-far as your lizard-brain can “cultivate” anything).
Basically, meta-emotions are “how you feel about how you feel”. Sometimes, on here, I talk about “meta-narratives” – by-which I mean the stories we tell ourselves, over and over, in a bunch of different contexts, to make sense of the world and our place in it. Cosmology on a very personal scale, you might say. Meta-emotions aren’t that. But I think they’re probably related on some level.
If the story I tell, over and over, is “People only like me if I give them stuff” or “If I don’t make myself immediately and completely available to whoever wants my support/attention/time/energy, then they will abandon me and I will die, frozen and alone, in the snow”, then I’m probably going to have some Feeeeelings around things like setting boundaries with people I care about, or about what parts (literal or figurative) of myself I can and can’t reliably “make available”.
So maybe I’m literally feeling sore, anxious, and tired. But I’m… meta-feeling disappointed, frustrated, and embarrassed and, on top of that, ashamed and disconnected (which –> I am going to die, frozen and alone, in the snow.Obviously).
I get down on myself when I’m not behaving the way I think I should be, or wish I could be.
I get down on myself when I can’t supply two people worth of desire, or when I want multiple, kind-of-conflicting things.
I get down on myself when my body’s capacity gets in the way of what my brain wants me to be getting up to.
As if it was at all reasonable to get mad at myself for being a body, for needing sleep, or needing a warm-up, or needing lube, or whatever. For not already knowing the answer to “what would feel good right now?”
And then I get frustrated and angry at myself for feeling like that, because those feelings are getting in the way of me being able to “perform” with/for my partners. (You can take “perform” a couple of ways. In the sense of “putting on a show” for someone else’s benefit, yes, definitely. But also in the sense of just “doing an action”. Like… I would like to be doing the action! Seriously!)
Anyway. Hypothetically, the way to… ugh. I want to say “fix this”. And in an admittedly kind of grudging effort to be less of a jerk to myself, I’m going to say something else:
Hypothetically, the way I can make it easier for myself to both stop getting in my own way (by tangling myself up in meta-feeeeelings) and, incidentally, have non-solo sex that feels more like fun and less like a pit-trap of my own making, is to “approach sexual stuff with confidence and curiosity”. And also joy. If you were wondering.
That’s what that post about background ambience a few days ago was about. Reducing some of the stressful stuff going on in the context in-which I’m trying to engage sexually with somebody else[1].
Another part of that equation – along with reducing stressors and putting together a “high trust, high affection” situation – is… “confidence and joy”. Confidence and Joy wherein “confidence” (this is Emily Nagoski yet again) means “knowing what’s true” and “joy” means “loving what’s true”.
So… Knowing what’s true:
A – I’m a person with anxiety.
B – I am an anxious-preoccupied insecure attacher, which tends to mean that I get attached to people really, really HARD and (ugh…) am more likely to recognize and/or reinforce that attachment when I feel like my bond is unstable or in some way threatened[2].
C – My main love language is touch, which means that I am most likely to feel loved and cared for by, and connected to, a given partner when said partner is reliably and consistently physically affectionate[3].
D – I tend to prefer “doing the doing” in sexual situations but can enjoy being on the receiving end of sexual attention as well.
E – I’m almost 40 and have plenty of aches and pains that fluctuate in intensity but are pretty much constant. Back pain. Joint pain. Nerve- and tendon- related pain. All sorts of stuff.
F – I have mostly-responsive desire (I am waaaaaaaaaaay more likely to get turned on by an actual something or someone than I am to just randomly experience arousal)
G – I have heavy breaks. Like, they’re sensitive, and they’ve got a concrete block sitting on top of them most of the time. It can take a long time for me to… to give myself permission to enjoy sensations. For example. Or to let myself get turned on by those enjoyable sensations. Orgasms are difficult and unlikely[4].
K – I’m a kinky freak with multiple partners. (This bit is actually pretty easy to love).
Loving what’s true…
This bit is much harder. Some of the above truths are frustrating. Some of them are embarrassing. Some of them are fine and dandy. And some of them just aren’t. Or at least I’m not fine-and-dandy with them.
Remember what I said further up, about how a context that is really conducive to sex is one that is low-stress, high-affection, and high-trust?
Right now, it’s like I’m in this head space where “I experienced XYZ” (there are a BUNCH of different things under that heading, none of them great) “And now I’m broken and I can’t fix myself”.
Which is probably the wrong way to think about that whole situation.
The “Compassion” part of the title of this post… Can I cultivate shame-resilience in explicitly sexual contexts? Can I be nicer to myself in those situations I listed, early on in this post, where I “get down on myself” about stuff? Can I figure out very small steps to take, one after another, in order to give myself permission to “want, take, and receive pleasure”?
Notice Pleasure: Soft, warm blankets. Cocoa butter sliding on my skin. Date nights feeding duck prosciutto, dried cranberries, brie, and heaps of other (mostly) savoury goodies to each other (recommended!). Slow dancing with my wife in the living room. The smell of lit candles.
Ms Syren.
[1] Which… I am a liiiiiiiiiiitle bit suspicious about this? I have to admit? Because, yes, hopefully the end-result will be that I feel happier and more relaxed in my home – which, since I don’t get to have sex in other people’s homes that often, and can’t just spring for a cute, romantic B&B experience on the regular, is my best shot at easing up on the breaks in my most frequent hypothetical hot-spot. BUT… I’m also kind of going “Yeah, but… is this not also just an excuse for me to beat myself up about poor house-keeping?”
And, I mean, hopefully not. Hopefully I can use these tiny, cumulative victories over entropy as a way to, like, feel accomplished (and maybe even trust myself that much more, due to following through on things I said I’d do) and also feel relaxed and pleasant at home.
But it’s a concern.
[2] I cannot tell you how irritating and frustrating this second bit is. Like, for me, but also for (I suspect) my partners. Because it means I get emotionally invested VERY QUICKLY in people who are emotionally and (see point C) physically unavailable, but am suspicious of, or numb(?) to, my own feelings when it comes to people who will actually be good for me.
[3] Which includes, but is emphatically not limited to, sexual affection. Sitting on a couch next to my wife, while we engage in the grown-up version of “parallel play” – where I’m reading a novel, and she’s reading a science article on the internet, for example – feels a hell of a lot more connected and even… romantic(??) when she’s got her feet in my lap (or vice versa) than it does if we’re not physically touching each other in an active, we-chose-to-do-this, kind of way.
[4] Which they weren’t, always, and I have a LOT of feelings around that loss (which is hopefully not permanent).

So, as-you-may-be-aware-Bob, I recently (last October) began a new relationship. What I may not have brought up (yet) (here) is that my girlfriend and I share an age-play dynamic. Which is to say that we have a D/s relationship wherein the power exchange shows up in the form of her being a Little and me being a Care-Giver. This gives her the opportunity to Need Things (including care and reassurance) and it gives me the opportunity to be both (a) bossy[1] and kind of a condescending know-it-all (and, okay, sadistic af), and (b) nurturing & affectionate… with a built-in pause button should I need that stuff to come back in my direction[2].
I wanted to try age play – this ongoing dynamic started out as a single scene at a party – because of a lot of things. Stuff that had shown up in an uncomfortable and unplanned, but still very clearly “resonant” way, in an earlier relationship. Stuff about my own ambivalence around the role of explicit care-giving “outsourced executive functioning” on the D side of D/s. Stuff around Glamour Magic, as it happens, and the Union of Opposites.
Stick with me.
So. If you’ve been following along over at Urban Meliad, you’ll know that, in fits and starts, I’ve been doing the “radical magical transformation” project (again), as well as doing some stuff around glamour as a magical practice. Largely because a friend of mine wrote a book on the subject.
One of the things my friend talks about in her book is how Glamour requires the reconciliation of your easy-to-like parts with your not-so-easy-to-like parts. She has a whole post about it here, to get you started.
So, quite some time ago now, I did some thinking about what my “easy to like” and “not so easy to like” parts actually are. And, while I shorthand that stuff as being my “Cancer Moon” and my “Scorpio Sun”, what I’m actually getting at is:
The scary parts of me – the parts that, in a nonconsensual setting, could look like anything from the annoying starting point of “I have kind of bad boundaries and give out a lot of unsolicited advice” all the way out to the extreme end of “I am a violent, controlling stalker” – are, in a consensual context, basically what I do in my D/s relationships and in SM scenes with my friends and romantic partners.
And the easy-to-like parts of me – the ones that my culture tells me are supposed to be the only parts of me, and that are culturally coded as both worthless/valueless and a requirement for me to be Gendering Properly – are the care-giver things I do like cooking, and emotional support, and generally mending people’s pockets. … Which is great, right up until you start noticing how imbalanced the care in most of your intimate relationships has been.
So I was taking a poke at age play, at the idea of “Mommy”, and wondering how you can play with that role, without ending up being “Wendy” for your partners at the expense of yourself.
I was prodding at this idea of the Black Swan, this union of my “scary” and “easy” sides, and thinking that maybe – just maybe – having a go at being a “sadistic, devouring, but very nurturing” Mommy might be a way to embody both sides of myself at the same time.
It’s certainly feels like a good fit, and a very enjoyable one, so far.
Notice Pleasure: Sensual massages. Eye-gazing. Solo dancing to pop music. Turning the heat up. Getting supportive, comforting snuggles. Sharing body heat. Scented candles. My partners’ respective cute smiles. Coffee with cream and sugar and dark chocolate to dip in it.
[1] “Because I’m the Mommy. That’s why.”
[2] My Little Girl – whose little-ness is wonderfully fluid in terms of moving between being my “kiddo” and being my peer – is actually very quick to offer me emotional support when she sees that I need it (a thing I’m not nearly as good at hiding as I might have once thought) without me necessarily having to say “I need to talk to grown-up you now”. Which is also really nice. But, none the less, the “pause button” language is helpful for me, so I’m hanging onto it for now.

So, I’m re-reading Come as You Are by Dr. Emily Nagoski. It’s a fun, chatty read with lots of easy-to-digest brain science in there about your amygdala and attachment theory and so-on. My kind of thing. But also I’m re-reading it because I’m… kind of tired of getting in my own way?
The first time I read this – three and a bit years ago, shortly after it came out, iirc – I was mostly paying attention to the survivor story.
(This is one of those books where there are “case studies” – herein, presented as “When chatting with one of my Nerd Friends” type anecdotes, probably because the book is basically written as though the reader is, likewise, one of said (Nerd?) Friends – illustrating the various ways that the “dual control model” of human sexuality can show up in a given person).
This time around, while that “how to manage your triggers” stuff is still relevant, I’m reading it again with an eye towards a different case study, where the “breaks” are being applied to the character’s sexual appetites in a different way. Not trauma, but day-to-day living stress and performance anxieties.
Not exactly an unusual situation, I know.
So. One of the things the author suggests is to look at the stuff that stresses you out, and figure out which bits you actually have some control over.
Like, if you have a crap boss, you can’t control how they treat you or what kind of last-minute tasks they pile on your desk. So that’s not a stressor you have much/any control over. But maybe you can decide that you will 100% NOT be available by email after business hours are over. Maybe. I don’t know your situation.
In my case, one of the things that stresses me out is – unexpectedly(?) not-so-unexpectedly(?) – my messy house.
And I do have some control over that, as long as I don’t get my knickers in a twist about whether or not “I’m doing ALL the cleaning around here”.
One of the exercises in the book is to write down some specifics about a bunch of great sexual experiences and then a bunch of specifics about pretty-crappy sexual experiences, and then see if there are any patterns. A lot of my Great Sexual Experiences have taken place outside of my house. In hotel rooms or while otherwise staying somewhere where The Mess is both (a) Not My Problem, and (b) not actually there, to begin with. Visits to distant sweethearts who have used my impending arrival to motivate them to Clean All The Things, or to put up their art work, or to finally finish unpacking. Hotel-stays where my wife and I were able to get away from work stress, and get adequate sleep, but were incidentally also sleeping in a bed with fresh sheets, in a room that got vacuumed regularly and didn’t have enough Life Stuff in it for it to ever get cluttered, because it was so temporary.
So, for the moment, one of the things I’m doing is trying to improve the sort of background “ambience” of the house.
I mean, we’ll see how long it lasts since, at the moment, I have two weeks of almost entirely from-home work and, thus, an extra 2 hours per day, since I don’t have to walk or bus anywhere to make us some money. BUT I figure, if I can make things a tiny bit nicer every day, the baseline will slowly (sloooooooooowly) improve until some part of me isn’t constantly thinking “Ick. Everything is disgusting, and I feel gross just being here”.
So I swept the main floor yesterday, and I swept upstairs today. Tomorrow I’ll clean the bathroom, or I’ll do a fast mop-up of the kitchen floor or I’ll vacuum the rugs. It feels like Horrible Entropy is 100% threatening, but as long as I keep on top of One Small Thing (like, seriously, 20 minutes of Thing will usually about do it), I think it might (might) be achievable.
Notice Pleasure: Early morning kisses. Catching up on the couch. Exchanging selfies. Impromptu dates. Unexpected shivers. Needle scenes. Lingering eye-contact. Knowing that both of my sweethearts miss me back.