Pleasure is experienced subjectively. What leads to pleasure for one person does not necessarily cause the same response in someone else.

When you receive a stimulus, nerves deliver messages to the brain. It releases chemical substances bound to the message. These substances are a kind of chemical gift bags to the brain. The messages are released when, for example, you expect a lovely physical touch, respond positively to the touch, experience the touch related to a specific meaning, and maybe even put the stimuli in relation to previous good experiences.

The output of the messages will be translated into a feeling. When you experience positive emotions, such as pleasure, it happens when a stimulus is positively assessed and thereby converted into a positive emotional experience.

Terms of Pleasure

People are programmed to stay alive and to reproduce, guided by small substances, such as hormones and neurotransmitters, from which essence can sometimes be expressed in the experience of pleasure. Pleasure becomes a beacon. It drives us toward the stimuli and sensations we appreciate. This makes us willing to make an effort to get more of our preferred sensations.

The road to pleasure

To achieve the goal, you must put forth an effort. These efforts are the ones that aim to receive the stimuli that lead to your enjoyment. 

Pleasure is a give-and-receive experience.

Is your goal to experience sensory pleasure? You must first find out which stimuli and sensations lead you there. Maybe you enjoy massages or warm baths. Then, in order to achieve that pleasure you need to set aside time for it. For example, when massage stimuli are received, you must accept the terms by which stimuli come. To achieve indulgence, try and  keep focused on the good stimuli, and attribute their positive value and associated feeling to the stimuli itself. With that being said, when you lie down and get a massage, keep your mind in check. When you receive a stimulus, it is important to be in the moment and not think of dinner or cold toes.

Do not hunt the experience of pleasure by asking yourself, if this is right. Instead, focus on your perception and how your body reacts. Relax and tune in to the stimuli and sensations you like. This reinforces the positivity of the experience and the chance that it will be remembered as something good.

It is all about selecting, investing in, and appreciating the right stimuli and sensations, which lead to your experience of pleasure. It applies to sensory enjoyment as well as sexual pleasure. 

Cheating and deceiving your brain

You can manipulate your brain’s assessment of stimuli and sensations by adding a little spice in the form of a conscious positive or a negative voice.

The positive voice

You can reinforce an experience by focusing on the good that it brings you. It is even possible, to some extent, to make a negative experience into something positive.

It is a bit like eating a chili pepper. Immediately, the chili burns your mouth. When you feel your mouth burning, the body will instinctively send signals to the brain about the pain and the brain will probably request that you stop eating. Some people will in response spit the chili out, while others continue eating, even if it burns. In the event that they continue to eat the chili, the brain has given a counter-command to continue eating even if it burns, perhaps because the brain does not experience the pain as dangerous, or because the excitement outweighs the pain.

Not everyone likes chilli and we all tolerate it in varying degrees. Perhaps the reason why individuals have different pain perception is our varying ability to see pain as thrilling or they have different success rates with talking down the pain, so to speak. This is not said to encourage you to find pleasure, where there is a pain, but to enlighten that you might be able to add a surplus to an okay stimulus.  

The negative voice

Just like talking ourselves into enjoying something, we can talk ourselves into pain and discomfort. If we focus on that, it will become the centre of our attention.

The body has pain gates, which limit, amplify, or maintain the painful experiences that are sent to the brain. By shifting the focus away from the pain, you may help pain gates in inhibiting the impression of pain. If you avoid focusing on the expectation that it is going to or that it already does hurt, you may help the positive stimuli and sensations that are present to take precedence.

Our internal voices can persuade us to assess stimuli and sensations in different ways. You can fool the brain too much, however! It is a powerful tool, which is not to be trifled with. You risk losing touch with what you really feel by changing the meaning of the stimuli and sensations you receive.

Influencing your perception of stimuli should be used with caution. In other words: beware that you do not accept things that don’t feel good, just because you can. It must be said that the brain has no super powers. It can’t think itself to fly.

Every day, we change how we perceive stimuli. Think about the ones that come from just having clothes on. If we did not inhibit the perception of some stimuli, we would probably not be able to think about anything else. Babies get loose clothing as to limit the uncomfortable stimuli they will receive and, with age, we tend to turn up the unpleasant stimuli of our clothing. We endure wearing clothes with stiffer and bothersome stitching. We even wear some that are tight or shoes that constrict and hurt our feet.

If you decide to cheat and deceive your brain, remember that it must be for the benefit of your entire body.

Be aware that you, with your focus, can change the meaning of the sensations that the brain receives. Stimulating, positive experiences may be perceived in spite of pain. Expectations of pain or pleasure can have an impact on the overall impression of the experience.   

The brain on autopilot

Everyday life is filled with automatic reflexes. Your brain has decided that these reflexes are meaningful. The decision may be based on your experiences or learning. The brain is lazy and it makes shortcuts based on assumptions. These unconscious links might interfere with your life without you noticing.

Experiments have shown that the brain can even be tricked into thinking that you can feel sensation in a hand that is not actually your own. One experiment consists of a fake hand placed on a table and your own actual hand is placed under the table. Both hands will be stroked, so you feel the sensation on your actual hand and see the false hand being stroked on top of the table. If the fake hand is threatened by something dangerous, your brain sends a message to your own hand to avoid the danger. The brain assumes that the fake hand is your hand, due to the deception of seeing the false hand being touched while your real hand was being touched as well. Since your sensory experience matches the visual experience of seeing a hand being touched, your brain is tricked into believing that the false hand is somehow connected to your body and that you will experience the sensations from what is done to the fake hand.

In the same sense, your brain will easily link pain with penetration if penetration has caused you pain before.

Read Understanding Pain

Pavlov’s dogs and our pelvises

The brain will, over time, produce more and more automatic reflexes.

Most famously, a psychologist named Ivan Pavlov conducted reflex studies with hungry dogs and some tasty meat. Every time Pavlov would feed his dogs, a bell would ring. After some time the dogs would begin to salivate every time they heard the bell, whether or not they could see the food. Pavlov called this reaction a conditioned reflex.  They learned that the bell meant food!

Humans as well develop conditioned reflexes all the time. Some women create a link between the act of penetration and the experience of pain. Instead of salivation, their conditioned reflex is a contraction of pelvic floor muscles to ensure that no penetration takes place. So just like the bell suggested the presence of food for Pavlov’s dogs, the idea of penetration suggests the experience of pain and the muscles start tightening.

The body’s reactions are partly formed through experiences.

Your reactions may however not be in response to something you have personally experienced; it could also be something you have seen or heard.

It takes time and understanding to learn and recognize your body’s response patterns, and thereby what might not lead to pleasure although it does to most people. 

Change your negatively conditioned reflexes

Only you can change your reaction patterns and transform them into new ones.

You should know that it takes time to develop a new conditioned reflex, but it is possible. You must be open to understanding what governs your emotions and decision-making. Then, you can reflect on whether you will invest in new experiences to replace your old memories with new ones.

Read Understanding Pain

Recognizing our stories

Every day, we tell ourselves stories. They are evidence of how we think and do as we do. These stories may support our faith or belief in something larger than ourselves. Our stories can be justified by our culture, our parents, and by the experiences and beliefs of our family and friends.

It is important to have these stories; they may even protect us in some way or make sense of what we are experiencing. However, some stories can have a negative impact on our lives and prevent us from moving forward and feeling pleasure.


We often evaluate situations from what has previously happened to us, but the question remains as to whether we always remember or value our situations correctly?

When we tell ourselves that sex in the past has always been good – is that the whole truth? Maybe certain elements were better, but there is a possibility things were not always as great as we remember them. Perhaps we forget that sex was exciting because the sex was new to us or our relationship. It may be that we had fewer and lower expectations then.

If we stop glorifying what was, new experiences might be able to shine in their own right, providing excitement and pleasure.

Give different stories a chance

We hold onto our stories because they have provided, or still do provide, us with explanations.

  • Would it make sense for you to re-evaluate some of your stories?
  • Would it be beneficial to make new ones or weigh the importance of old stories differently?

Start with baby steps or even the help of a therapist. Lay down the barriers of your preconceptions and open yourself to learn firsthand about your likes and dislikes.

Some stories can affect your behaviour

Most people carry around a story of suffering. Some experiences are so significant that they affect how we look at and act in life. At some point, you might be ready to evaluate the impact of that story.

Changing how you perceive your story may allow you to understand why you keep yourself from feeling pleasure. To break out of your tale of woe, you will have to examine the event, recognize that it exists, and find out how to be proactive and release your inhibitions.

You cannot change what has happened, but you may be able to change the extent to which your experiences affect you now.

It is about accepting and finding ways to move around your problems in order to achieve your goals, like passion and pleasure.  

Let ‘s say

Maybe your story has resulted in your inability or lack of desire to engage in penetrative sex. In turn, that may withhold you from engaging in any sexual activity at all. However, penetration holds no monopoly on sex.

If you can let go of your idea of yourself as someone who cannot be sexually active, you open yourself up to the opportunity of stepping into a completely new role. One of a sexually active individual who can have sex – maybe just not traditional penetrative sex. There are many other fulfilling and exciting ways to be intimate and have sex. 

It sounds much easier to change the impact of your stories than it is actually to change them. Because of this, many choose to get help from one or more therapists. It takes time and lots of work to recognize what your story entails, how it affects you, and how to overcome its impact.