“Pleasure is the object, duty, and the goal of all rational creatures.” -Voltaire
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines pleasure as:
pleasure |ˈple zh ər|
a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment : she smiled with pleasure at being praised.
• enjoyment and entertainment, contrasted with things done out of necessity : she had not traveled for pleasure for a long time.
• an event or activity from which one derives enjoyment : the car makes driving in the city a pleasure.
• sensual gratification.
adjective [ attrib. ]
used or intended for entertainment rather than business : pleasure boats.
verb [ trans. ]
give sexual enjoyment or satisfaction to : tell me what will pleasure you.
• [ intrans. ] ( pleasure in) derive enjoyment from : risky verbal exchanges that the pair might pleasure in.
“Do not be deceived by the blasphemers who tell you that the service is dangerous and laborious. The service of sensual pleasure is a constant joy. It does exhaust you, but it exhausts you with inebriations sublime. And finally, when you collapse in the street, even then your fortune is enviable.” –C.P. Cavafy
“It is all very well to keep food for another day, but pleasure should be taken as it comes.” –Ninon de L’Enclos
We all pursue pleasure in some form or another. The important question is whether or not our pursuit of pleasure has a direct harm on another human being. After all, people lie, cheat, steal, or even kill to defend their pursuit of pleasure, which is what causes the moral crusaders to rail against pleasure over all, as though psychotic behavior is innate to pleasure. This harm should not be a possible harm. Nor a diffuse harm that if you create enough extenuating circumstances and do enough mental gymnastics, ends up affecting you when it actually doesn’t. Beyond that, well, “do as thou wilt”.
Finding willing partners for the pursuit of whatever pleasure you desire varies in degrees of difficulty. For athletes in team sports, all they need to do is try-out for a team or in some cases merely sign up. Dancers, actors, and singers can find performance troupes or create their own. Creating art, music, writing, and other creative pursuits that bring pleasure can be done in a group though these can also be done alone.
For intimate pleasures, the pursuit has been made somewhat easier with the advent of things like the Internet. While you may never truly know a person from online interaction, it won’t result in a complete blind date. There are a plethora of online dating services and then, of course, us– professional providers. We’ve been around since the advent of humanity and this won’t change anytime soon, despite the efforts of some.
Then there’s self-pleasure. Of course, the first thing that pops into mind is masturbation. What a shame people still regard this activity with derision. It’s gotten better, with the popularity of sex toys for both sexes but it’s still spoken about in hushed terms or considered a second-rate substitution for a “real” sexual relationship. Well, to quote Woody Allen, “Don’t knock masturbation….it’s sex with someone I love.” But masturbation is great! Just like partner sex, it can rev you up or calm you down….make you feel better about yourself and stir up those erotic-creative energies so necessary to life. It’s also just basic fun and that is reason enough to do it.
Categories: sexual & non-sexual
“When the Regiment of the Senses parades by, with music, and with banners; when the senses shiver and shudder, it is only a fool and and an irreverent person that will keep his distance, who will not embrace the good cause, marching towards the conquest of pleasures and passions.” -C.P. Cavafy
“Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.” -Voltaire
I believe there is a very thin line separating sexual-sensual and non-sexual-sensual pleasures. In general, pursuing a non-sexual pleasure won’t directly lead to sex; however, the happy, excited feeling it inspires may make us more likely to want sexual-sensual play as well. Pleasure begets pleasure, after all, and a generally happy, pleasurable person is a happy, pleasurable lover. This is why treating your lover, paid or not, well and making them happy leads to a much better sexual interlude.
As a writer, a dancer, a musician (I play the flute), and a painter, pursuing any of these activities raises my spirits and even if I am not thinking about sex at that point, if it was proposed to me after that by a chosen partner, I would definitely say ‘yes’ then. If I was upset, I wouldn’t be in the mood for much of anything.
Eating and drinking is very hard to put firmly in the non-sexual category. Because the process of shopping for the food (or looking at the restaurant menu), cooking it or seeing it cooked, handling it, smelling it, even hearing it in some cases (the sizzle of anything on the grill), and eating it engages all of the senses, it is very easy to gain some sexual satisfaction from consumption. Advertisements explicitly make the connection between orgasm and eating certain foods considered to be aphrodisiacs.
But the sex act engages all the same senses as eating does and a lot of the terms, definitions, and descriptions are shared by these two physical acts. Some of the slang phrases for cunnilingus are “eating out” or “dining at the Y”, fellatio is “sucking cock” or “eating sausage” with the motions of the tongue identical to that of licking ice cream or sucking a piece of hard candy. A lover’s smell and taste, like that of food, will make or break an intimate moment. The way to a man’s heart is supposedly through his stomach but regardless of sex or gender, a lover who is a good cook is one that is kept around!
Music and dance have long since been considered suspect by those who are anhedonic, “anti-pleasure”. Music and dance, to them, is of the devil. Sound and movement can become transcendent and dance that requires interaction between two or more bodies engages touch, smell, and sight. Depending on the musician they can dance along with the main dancers or be positioned very close to them, similar to the scene at the right. The smell of an otherwise clean human body, slightly sweaty from enthusiastic dancing is probably that of pheromones, our natural musk. Taste, as in kissing and more erotic foreplay, could easily be inspired by the pleasures initiated by music and dance.
“My life’s joy and incense: recollection of those hours
when I found and captured pleasure as I wanted it.
My life’s joy and incense: that I refused
all indulgence in routine love affairs.” -C.P. Cavafy
“Sensual pleasure passes and vanishes, but the friendship between us, the mutual confidence, the delight of the heart, the enchantment of the soul, these things do not perish and can never be destroyed.” -Voltaire.
Pleasure is anything but frivolous. Philosophers have created entire schools around the serious discussion of pleasure, its role in humanity, and what its uses are. There are three main philosophies concerning pleasure: Cyrenaic, Epicurean, and Carvaka/Lokayata, the latter originating from India. All three schools would agree with Voltaire’s quote that opened this piece: pleasure is the highest good of all rational creatures. What qualifies as pleasure, how it should be pursued, and whether or not sexual or non-sexual pleasures are one in the same are the major points that the schools disagree on. The Carvaka/Lokayata adherents didn’t interact with the Cyrenaics or Epicureans of ancient Greece but the two Greek schools vehemently disagreed with each other.
The Cyrenaics would agree wholeheartedly with C.P. Cavafy’s quote above. Live for today, right now, not tomorrow. Damn the consequences! After all, you might not even see tomorrow. Or as that great philosopher Homer Simpson told his son, “Why, you might even wake up dead tomorrow!” Moreover, the best and most important pleasures are purely physical for the Cyrenaics. Mental or intellectual pleasures are a distant second because their impression is more fleeting and too esoteric, as I understand it, for the Cyrenaics to them considered true pleasures; physical interactions are the sine qua non of pleasurable experiences in this school of thought.
Cyrenaics are the hedonists people think about when they hear Epicurean, due to a gross mischaracterization of Epicureanism. Cyrenaics are not big on moderation, after all, that flies in the carpe diem dictum. They’re also not too big on establishing friendships. Those, after all, take time and don’t provide immediate gratification. Even the most casual friendships, you know of the “drinking buddy” or “fuck buddy” level, take time to develop. There is give and take in a friendship and when the giving is only done by one party and the taking by the other, well, that friendship is over.
Epicureans believe that friendship or any other long-term relationship contributes to pleasure consistently over many years. Moderation is what allows relationships to thrive: give and take should be fairly even and while much time may pass to even everything out, they do eventually even out with the Epicureans. Destroying a friendship would prevent pleasure of that person’s company down the road. Epicureanism is close to Utilitarianism in that Epicureans want the best for all involved with as little harm caused in the process as possible.
I don’t know much about Carvaka/Lokayata, only discovering it when writing this blog. However, according to what I’ve read so far, Carvaka/Lokayata seems very close to Epicureanism. Like Voltaire, Carvaka/Lokayata believes that, “The only end of man is enjoyment produced by sensual pleasures” and that pleasure and pain are handmaidens to each other in the human experience, though we should never avoid pleasure simply because there may be some pain as an accompaniment. This philosophy was a reaction to the extreme ascetic philosophies popular in India at that time, as well as a materialistic rejection of supernaturalism and spiritualism, namely Jainism and certain sects of Buddhism. As a result, Carvaka/Lokayata seems to be closer to Cyrenaics as it appears to encourage the pursuit of pleasure without restraints or at least without the moderation encouraged by Epicureans.
In then end, pleasure and the pursuit of pleasure is what makes life worth living. All animals pursue pleasure at some point and this includes the human animal. Wise pursuit of pleasure helps create civilization and keep it civil; therefore, those who make pleasure their profession are truly the gatekeepers of civilization.
And to bring this post to an appropriate musical end, I give you Madonna’s “Justify My Love” and Janet Jackson’s “Anytime, Anyplace”.