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Pleasure Activism

The Politics of Feeling Good

By adrienne maree brown
12-minute read
Audio available
Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown

Pleasure Activism (2019) offers an introduction to the politics of pleasure. It explores the ways in which we can break free of repression and marginalization – and instead embrace the feelings of freedom. It offers ways in which we can gain a better understanding of past traumas and move forward with a deeper connection to our bodies and our communities.

  • Anyone dealing with past trauma or oppression 
  • People interested in the politics of pleasure and sexuality
  • Marginalized people looking for tools of empowerment

adrienne maree brown is a writer, doula, and activist who’s been involved in numerous community outreach programs, including the Harm Reduction Coalition and the Ruckus Society. She was previously a columnist for Bitch magazine and is the author of Emergent Strategy and coeditor of Octavia’s Brood – both of which draw on the work of award-winning science fiction and fantasy writer Octavia E. Butler.

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Pleasure Activism

The Politics of Feeling Good

By adrienne maree brown
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown
Synopsis

Pleasure Activism (2019) offers an introduction to the politics of pleasure. It explores the ways in which we can break free of repression and marginalization – and instead embrace the feelings of freedom. It offers ways in which we can gain a better understanding of past traumas and move forward with a deeper connection to our bodies and our communities.

Key idea 1 of 7

Pleasure is about feeling whole and satisfied – not about indulging in excess.

Pleasure is freedom. To feel happiness, joy, and satisfaction – in short, to feel pleasure – is to know you are alive and liberated. In this regard, pleasure can be political, especially if you identify as a woman, femme, LGBTQ+, or have had to live in an oppressive environment. 

Experiencing pleasure as an act of defiance is where the term pleasure activism comes in. In the author’s own words, pleasure activism is “the work we do to reclaim our whole, happy, and satisfiable selves from the impacts, delusions, and limitations of oppression and/or supremacy.” As someone who identifies as a queer, Black, mixed-race woman, the author has had to learn ways to understand and move through childhood traumas. Finding pleasure, and finding a way to her yes, has been central to that process.

The key message here is: Pleasure is about feeling whole and satisfied – not about indulging in excess.

Many of us have grown up with certain beliefs that have trained us to equate pleasure with indecency or needless indulgence. We’ve been taught to repress our desires for pleasure so much that any sort of allowance is seen as excessive. As a result, when people hear ideas about embracing pleasure, their thoughts often immediately turn to these negative perceptions. But that’s not what pleasure activism is about. The author and those she interviewed like to say, “everything in moderation.” So, while we extol the virtues of pleasure, try not to think of it in terms of excess or overindulgence!

Alana Devich Cyril’s story is a great example of this mantra. After being diagnosed with late-stage cancer, finding pleasure and experiencing satisfaction despite feeling sick a lot of the time became more important than ever.

For a while, the cancer and the chemotherapy left Alana feeling betrayed by her body, and pleasure was something that seemed inaccessible. But thanks in part to friendly health-care workers, her friends, and her loving partner, she was able to gradually bring pleasure back into her life. There was pleasure in having friends over, throwing a karaoke party, and eventually reengaging in sex. It took effort to once again open herself up to these experiences, but, for her, they were life-affirming.

As Alana sees it, a big part of being a human being on Earth is to experience pleasure. And when she advocates for “everything in moderation,” she emphasizes the “everything.” Through her journey, we see that adopting pleasure as a practice can help when we feel dissociated from our bodies or find ourselves slipping into depression. 

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