What if we’re all performing, instead of experiencing, pleasure?

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to interview erotic film director Erika Lust. She makes some of the sexiest erotic films in the world (in my opinion), and she is also beautifully thoughtful and articulate about the role pornography plays in our experience of sexuality.

I keep bumping up against this idea that we are all taught about the performance of sex instead of the experience of sex.

Since so few of us had a decent sex education and even fewer had any actual models of sexual pleasure as we grew up, most of us learned about sex from movies, porn, TV shows, romance novels, and friends. But, each of them is centered on a performance meant for entertainment and consumption, an edited version of the truth, a dramatic invention for plot twists in worlds where the weight of real responsibilities is lighter and simpler.

I’ve been wondering how porn and Hollywood have shaped the way most of us have sex, or think we should have sex. It’s created so much curiosity in me.

For instance, where did we learn what “normal” sex looks like? Who or what told us how often we should be having it? Why are so many people focused on orgasm? Who decided what arousal sounds like and how did someone else’s ideas influence the way we vocalize ourselves? What is sexy and why is the cultural definition so damn narrow and rigid?

More importantly, why are so many of us trying to fit our bodies, experiences, needs, and fantasies into a box that was designed for someone else?

Erika used the word “variety” to describe her films. I find that endlessly refreshing.

When it comes to learning about sexual pleasure and sexual experience, if we had an endless buffet of options in front of us, it would force us to look within to decide what felt like a good fit and what did not.

Even I fall into this comparison and culturally informed sexuality trap on a daily basis, and I spend my days and nights studying, thinking, and working to shift the dialog.

What if erotic ecstasy didn’t involve genitals? What if an orgasm didn’t happen? What if I didn’t shave my legs or worry about those nipple hairs? What if I could experience erotic connection and sensual pleasure with all of my clothes on?

I told Erika that one of the things I most admired about her films is that they all have some element of humor – either a genuine laugh out loud moment or a small wink to the viewer that ensures you’re in on the joke. That humor is refreshing because there is no room for shame or apologies when you’re smiling and laughing while looking at sexy naked bodies in motion.

Healthy sexual expression and erotic creativity cannot fully breathe in the presence of shame. And yet so many of us are ashamed of our bodies, our genitals, the amount of sex we have or do not have, the dreams of pleasure that haunt our quiet moments…

Is it possible to stand before the endless cornucopia of sexual possibilities and erotic expression, open your arms wide, and to marvel at all of the living, breathing opportunities for pleasure, creativity, and connection available to you in each moment of your life?

I wonder. I invite. I hope. I dream. And I wish this for me and for you.


One of my guiding beliefs is that sex is a social skill.

It’s something we learn by doing, by relating, and by understanding ourselves, first and foremost.

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