Almost three years ago, I sat in a conference room and heard the words “pleasure is your birthright” for the first time. I was in a daylong sexuality institute at an LGBTQ+ conference, surrounded by advocates, activists, and educators who were seamlessly weaving sexual freedom into social justice.
Those words stuck with me, both as someone who had had a lot of sex but little pleasure, and as a budding sex blogger (even though I didn’t know it at the time). I can’t find my notes from that talk anymore, but the overarching principles remain: we have a human right to feel pleasure. Our pleasure is radical. Our pleasure is revolutionary.
Since that conference three years ago, I learned something else: pleasure is not only radical and revolutionary. Pleasure is a tool of resistance.
For much of this calendar year, it’s been hard for me to access pleasure as readily as I had before. I don’t masturbate as much as I used to, and when I do, it’s often to relieve pressure building in my body, be it emotional or physical. It’s more out of obligation, habit, or routine than desire to feel pleasure; always quick and with the same vibrator. Underwear off, lift dress up, grab some lube, turn on the wand, come, grab some more lube, come again, wand off, clean up, underwear on, dress smoothed back down. Repeat only when needed, not wanted. It’s like my orgasms come straight from the directions on the back of a goddamn medicine bottle.
I’ve found all forms of pleasure harder to access recently, not just sexual pleasure. Blogging brings me pleasure, too, just like reading and exploring new places and sitting outside on a sunny day do. But any scroll through my archives comparing my blogging activity pre-January and post-January will tell you something’s up (and I’m not the only one).
In this era of Trump and his white supremacist, misogynist, queer-and-transphobic companions, pleasure feels far away, even inaccessible at times — and not just because my mental health is suffering. There’s an incredible amount of pressure in activist culture to keep going, going, going until you inevitably burn out (or worse). And going, going, going means there’s rarely any time for desperately needed relaxation or leisure or pleasure.
I firmly, wholeheartedly believe we must do all we can to resist and persist in this political moment. What we are dealing with isn’t new—the United States was founded on white supremacy. Systemic oppression of marginalized people is written into our history at every single turn. To think the Trump administration’s human rights violations are “out of the ordinary” given the violent, genocidal history of this country would be a mistake. This is a long-haul fight, and if we’re going to not only survive, but thrive, we must allow ourselves to practice self-care and see pleasure as resistance.
Since Trump’s inauguration, “resist” and “resistance” have become wildly common when talking about political dissent, and with them, the expectation that “to resist” means doing something actionable that takes a concrete step towards liberation — calling your representatives, attending and organizing protests, taking down fascists in the street. Whether or not you prioritize working within government channels as a path to liberation (I don’t), people’s methods of resistance come in many forms.
What I do see missing from the a large part of the resistance “movement” is an affirmation of sex and pleasure as a path to liberation. For marginalized people, pleasure is actionable. Pleasure is resistance. Pleasure is a concrete step towards liberation: our liberation.
Claiming our bodies as our own and allowing ourselves to seek and feel pleasure in the face of violence and oppression is radical. Pleasure flies in the face of our oppressors — it is a direct “fuck you” to the people who want us to stay silent, to stay (politically) submissive, to be broken down slowly day after day by the hatred and violence they direct our way.
As a queer femme, pleasure as resistance is especially poignant for me. Queer intimacy is revolutionary. Joyfully reveling in ourselves, each other, and our pleasure is revolutionary. We’re not “supposed to” talk about our pleasure, much less show it or take pride in its beauty. By claiming our pleasure as our own, we’re subverting norms and resisting with the very things we were taught to hate about ourselves.
For marginalized people, our pleasure shouts “I see your violence, but you do not get to take THIS from me. My pleasure is mine, and mine alone. I will revel in it, defying your crusade to strip me of any joy. I am in charge now.”
No matter the political landscape, we all deserve to feel joy, experience pleasure, and take time for ourselves — something I would obviously do well to remember, too. We are allowed to take comfort in our bodies, in each other, in our communities. Pleasure is our birthright.
For more on sex and sexuality under the Trump administration, check out “Advocating for Sex Toys in the Age of Trump”. For more on self-care, check out “Surviving the Election: Self-Care Methods that Don’t Require Access to Money”.