Words and images by: Clarity La
This article is part of the “The Wawa Complex” issue
This content may not be suitable for everyone 🔞
Being a parent who is in touch with one’s own pleasure is vital to raising children toward pleasure: mind, body, spirit pleasure. Inquire about what makes them feel good, mind, body, spirit. Encourage what brings them pleasure. Talk about it, inquire about it, laugh about it. Have age-appropriate anatomy conversation on an ongoing basis. Normalize the conversation about pleasure. Have it with people who are a part of our tribe to demonstrate that everyone is talking about it, particularly sexual pleasure.Adrienne Maree Brown, Pleasure Activism (2019)
I have to focus on work, but instead, I’m looking through random photos on my laptop. I stumble upon a video of my ex and I from last summer. Oh shit, I forgot about this, how delicious. My body feels tickles of memories of pleasure, and also a little bit of panic. I feel like I’m not supposed to be watching this because I’m at home, in my mother’s living room, but that’s what makes me want to watch it even more, getting a thrill out of this indecent secret on my laptop.
I’ve moved back home to my mother’s fourth-floor apartment in the same complex I grew up in. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry about feeling exactly like I did when I was a teenager. I remember when I looked up boobs for the first time on Google, and how I couldn’t look away. I scrolled slowly but was also hyper aware of the rest of the family’s locations in other rooms. Mama is in her room, sister is in the kitchen, and it’s a weekday, so Baba is not around. Still, I had my hands positioned to CTRL+W that will quickly exit any window. This was the beginning of my secret sexual life as a teenager filled with porn, stifled orgasms, and a huge complex about pleasure and sexuality.
When I was a teenager, I had elaborate methods of finding the privacy to watch porn and masturbate. Locked doors were allowed, but would always be knocked on and yelled through. I hated when my secret pleasure world collided with my family world. I loved watching women masturbate in cute outfits and scream obscenely on the family laptop. I did not love the idea of being caught; I had been taught this was something you do with your husband after you are married.
Double, triple checking that my earphones were plugged in and only unmuting once I was sure. Meticulously checking the history just in case, even though I knew how to use the incognito tab. The bathroom was the best spot. Usually, no one comes in to bother you during a shower and the running water provides extra coverage for noise, but even then, intrusions will happen in the middle of shower.
What it would look like to grow up in a context that not only accepted, but permitted teenage sexuality?Clarity La
At the time, I was disgusted with myself and the parts of me that needed and wanted sexual pleasure. I didn’t think what I was doing was wrong, necessarily, but I was just horrified at the idea of anyone seeing me this way. The person that I was to my family and community was a shy, nerdy rule-follower who was opinionated and funny when you got to know her. This did not reconcile with this other person who was very much enjoying the discovery of orgasms. To me, only the women on MTV Arabia and in my porn videos were allowed to feel this kind of pleasure. I was ashamed of this person.
In some ways, the shame became a part of the cycle of getting off: an initial rush of desire that always happened in the most inconvenient circumstances, and then a scrambling to be alone, lock doors, play music, turn the water on, and get some privacy. The forbidden desired fruit: usually porn. An orgasm and a sense of shame for being so out of control. And admittedly, a little pleasure in the deviance, in the naughtiness of what I wasn’t supposed to be doing. This was immediately muffled by torturous scenarios of shame where the internet company calls my parents and reports every single porn video that has been watched in our household.
I am now somewhat enraged at the lack of normalcy I felt in my natural sexuality, but at the same time, I can’t really imagine how to raise kids in a family life that creates a healthy sexuality. At the time, I couldn’t even imagine what it would look like to not be ashamed of what I was doing. What would it look like to grow up in a context that not only accepted, but permitted teenage sexuality?
When I left home and moved to another country, I easily left that shame behind. I was no longer a part of a traditional family unit, a representative who needed to be good and principled. I began to explore what it means to have a healthy sexuality and found Adrienne Maree Brown’s Pleasure Activism. A short passage describes how a family raises their children to be comfortable with sexuality, how? Adults who are comfortable with sexuality raise children who are comfortable with sexuality. So really, we are inheriting generations of shame.
Now back at home after many years of unlearning sexual shame and being able to honor my pleasure and desires in beautiful and radical ways, I find myself contending with this shame once again. I’m back to being a representative of a family unit. What does my family want me to represent? I’m an unmarried 28 year old who came back from America; does anyone really still believe I’m a virgin? I quickly realize that, yes, it is important to at least pretend I do not have a sexuality.
I can’t really exist as a sexual person publicly and I don’t live in a home where I can be sexual privately. There is a sense of regression. I haven’t been held sexually in so long, and exposing myself to strangers on Omegle becomes an enticing prospect again. But this time, I refuse to deny room for my sexual being in my own body. This time, I know better than to deny the source of life flowing within me. I will just have to explore my pleasure more subtly, quietly than I’m used to. Is it shame that I’m experiencing or a lack of privacy?
Eventually the 6m2 of the bathroom becomes my pleasure temple. I sneak my dildo into the bathroom in my pink fluffy robe. I let the water from the sink and the shower run to muffle the sounds of my orgasms and vibrations. I imagine complex scenarios as I ride my silicon member of the pleasure temple. I got it in Paris and almost had a heart attack trying to pass through customs in Rabat.
The bathroom ceiling is peeling and molding, not sexy, so I close my eyes. I am trying to go to a place where my body feels safe and private. Where my body feels the multitudes of me without complex: daughter, son, home-sex-film maker, nerd, Muslim. A place where my body feels honored, sensual, and playful so I can drift away into my own imaginative world of pleasure. When it comes to orgasming I need to be really quiet. I hate having quiet orgasms. But in this context sound becomes a sense I am hyper-aware of. It can’t be contained behind locked doors.
There is a line between privacy and shame. Shame is hiding the fact that I have an active sexuality, privacy is being able to enjoy intimacy without having to share the details. Pleasure Activism is one of many influences that allowed me to separate these two and understand my pleasure as essential.