The place of pleasure in sexual education has long been a point of contention. In a culture that leans on fear-based sex ed to highlight the risks of sexual activity—to literally scare the sexual desire out of students—opponents of comprehensive sex ed see pleasure as something that will tempt students to take those risks.

In my role as a journalist, I’ve written about why it’s essential to talk to kids about pleasure, within both school and home-based sex ed.

But it’s worth reiterating to all the grownups in the room: Pleasure is an essential component of sexual health and—gosh darn it—we deserve it.

What do I mean by pleasure?

We can derive pleasure from so many things. A tight hug. A good book. A delicious meal. That box of Cheez-Its I have hidden in my office closet.

When it comes to sexual pleasure, the Global Advisory Board (GAB) for Sexual Health and Wellbeing defines it as “the physical and/or psychological satisfaction and enjoyment derived from solitary or shared erotic experiences, including thoughts, dreams and autoeroticism.”

They go on to highlight the importance of things like consent, safety, privacy, and confidence, which are all characteristics that are integral to our sexual rights.

It’s also important to note that what one person finds pleasurable, another might find unpleasant.

Why is pleasure so important?

Why am I devoting an entire blog to this? Shouldn’t I assume the importance of pleasure is one of those no-duh things, something that can be left unsaid?

While researchers have confirmed that the top reasons for having sex include attraction and the desire to experience physical pleasure, they also pinpointed 235 other reasons people have sex, including social status, self-esteem, and feelings of obligation or pressure. These reports hint at an experience of sex that doesn’t take into account one’s own enjoyment or fulfillment. And I hate that.

So, here’s my case for mutually pleasurable sex: It feels good.

When you let all the distractions fall away. When you allow yourself to be fully absorbed in the present moment. When you’re focused on the sensations you experience with every breath and firm grasp and dry hump. Then, you can actually enjoy yourself.

I could end this list here. Enjoying the sex you’re having should be the only excuse you need to embrace pleasure. But pleasurable sex has a number of other physical, emotional, and relational benefits.

Knowing what brings you pleasure will lead to more pleasure going forward.

Once you start to notice and make note of what feels good, you can then use that knowledge to bring yourself more pleasure, and to communicate with your partner(s) about how they might bring you pleasure, too.

Knowing that you deserve pleasure will help you cultivate healthy sexual relationships.

When you understand that it is your right to experience pleasure within the context of your sexual relationships, you’re less likely to stand for anything less.

Yes, there will always be people who feel entitled to focus on their own pleasure at the expense of your pleasure or body autonomy. But that’s not your fault. Their behavior is not your responsibility.

Still, valuing your own pleasure and knowing what brings you pleasure can enable you to set important boundaries and engage in ongoing sexual negotiation.

It does a body good.

Again, you shouldn’t be having sex because it helps you burn calories or because it makes it easier to fall asleep at night (though those things are nice, too).

You should be having it because it feels good.

But pleasure is good for you. Physiologically and psychologically, it can lead to better sleep, better self-esteem, better fitness, less stress and tension, a longer life, and better overall health. Relationally, it can also lead to increased levels of trust, intimacy, and love.

You deserve to OWN your desire.

Our culture has a long history of policing our sexuality and desire. Frowning upon premarital and extramarital nonprocreative sex. Controlling our reproductive health. Simultaneously objectifying us and shaming us for our desires and our sexual expression.

Echoing what fellow Buzz blogger Ashley Townes writes, we have to stop judging women for wanting to experience pleasure.

We have to stop judging ourselves for wanting to experience pleasure.

If you haven’t been putting your own pleasure first, now’s the time. You deserve it.

Stephanie Auteri

Stephanie Auteri

Journalist, author, & sex educator
Steph Auteri has written about sexuality for the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, VICE, and other publications, and has collaborated with folks at the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), the Center for Sex Education, and Good in Bed. She is the author of A Dirty Word, a reported memoir about how female sexuality is so often treated like a dirty word.