Pleasure Activism

Aaron Mayer
4 min readOct 6, 2021

Pursuing pleasure as a political cause

[Originally posted on Substack — subscribe for more]

I just finished listening to Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, by Adrienne Maree Brown.

The central message of Pleasure Activism is to make pleasure an integral part of our political dialogue — we should be advancing the functions of society that increase our shared pleasure and removing the policies and structures that impede that pleasure. We should be free to pursue the heights of ecstasy that our bodies are capable of reaching, and our government shouldn’t stand in our way of doing so.

While the book has so many good points about the decriminalization of sex work, queerness, intentional abstinence, pornography, the intersections of race and sexuality, gender disparities in the workplace, slutty science fiction, and much more, I wanted to focus on two main takeaways that most impressed upon me while I was listening: one about drugs, and the other about physical touch.

Let’s go, Adrienne!

Let’s start with drugs.

The war on drugs and programs like DARE have successfully socialized my parents’ generation into believing that all drugs are harmful, and that marijuana is a gateway to harder substances, laziness, and addiction.

And yet, tens of millions of Americans use illicit substances recreationally (weed being the most favored), and they do so safely, in moderation, and to no one else’s detriment.

This is not new information, and as the wave of cannabis legalization spreads across the country, we should celebrate the end of the needlessly punitive criminal proceedings that are affecting hundreds of thousands of citizens. The real harm, as incarceration rates for petty drug crimes skyrocketed over the last 3 decades, has actually been the criminal ‘justice’ system itself, which disenfranchises the people most in need of societal support. Weed never killed anybody, but prison sure has.

Of course, we shouldn’t just stop at marijuana.

Psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, and Ketamine have all been shown to have profound medical and therapeutic benefits, especially for those who face depression, anxiety, PTSD, and a host of other psychosomatic conditions. I encourage any reader unfamiliar with these studies to check out the amazing research emerging from Johns Hopkins and MAPS.

These substances can be medicine for people who have historically hit walls with traditional forms of therapy or pharmacological interventions like antidepressants, and they can have a healing effect on people without underlying ailments too. Psychedelics and dissociatives can lead to spiritual experiences, increasing our sense of connectedness to each other and to our earth. MDMA can heighten our empathy and enable us to feel incredible pleasures, especially when combined with sensual touch. These substances are completely safe if used responsibly in moderation (certainly much safer than alcohol and nicotine), and there is no credible reason for their prohibition. As we overturn the policies that have criminalized marijuana, let’s set our sights towards the next candidates for decriminalization and embrace responsible, ethical drug use.

As for physical touch.

While Brown never uses this exact phrasing in her book, I got the feeling that she was grieving for the lost pleasure that so many of us fail to experience.

As we go about our daily lives, we leave so much pleasure on the table. When talking to a friend, we could be massaging their hands. When eating dinner, we could be closing our eyes and ‘mmmm’ing to amplify the sensations. When relaxing in the park, we could be naked and feel the sun’s rays on our bare skin. We could all be masturbating twice as often as we already do.

There is so much joy for us to experience, and we are capable of delighting ourselves and others far more often than we tend to do. The examples above are frowned upon in society (some more than others), but culture can change, and what is deemed inappropriate today isn’t set in stone.

Right now, we can imagine our lives on a continuum of pleasure, with point 0 being a life of no pleasure and point 10 being a life of total pleasure. If we’re honest with ourselves, where are we along that continuum? If I’m a 6, for instance, I should be asking myself how I can become a 7. What hard conversations do I have to have in order to get there? What practices do I need to adopt? What barriers to my pleasure do I have to remove? What fears are keeping me at the threshold of being a 7. Once there, how can I become an 8?

Of course, the secret is that even at 10, we can push ourselves to become an 11, or a 17, or even a 23498237498723948723691627. There is truly no limit to the pleasure we can experience. If there is, science certainly hasn’t discovered it, though I’d volunteer to be a research subject for the study that tries to find it out! ;)

As we conform to societal expectations of what we can and cannot do to pursue our pleasure, Pleasure Activism urges us to reevaluate the norms and institutions that restrain our pleasure, and then work to systematically dismantle them.

It’s amazing that we even have bodies at all — we should use them as the vessels for pleasure that they truly are and try to fill them to the brim.

Pleasure is our birthright — let’s start acting like it.

[Originally posted on Substack — subscribe for more]