Understanding the neuroscience of pleasure

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/02/18/understanding-the-neuroscience.html


Make time for each other, listen to each other, turn the world noise off for a while, you’ll be surprised how things will change.


The idea that avoidance of pleasurable experience is somehow uniquely Western seems to, like many (Western) cultural analyses, completely ignore that little place called India, which you know, has the longest-running cultural heritage on the planet, or close to it.

As someone who is fascinated by Eastern belief systems, I can say that the idea of abstaining from pleasure as a path to enlightenment and in general being seen as something positive goes back at LEAST 5000 years, and its roots are almost certainly Eastern.


Why Good Sex Matters



Perfect hyphenation:


I’m kind of sick of olds levying allonormative horseshit that tries to pathologize entire generations for having less sex than prior generations. If anything, Millennials and Gen Z are having less sex because:

  • They are less beholden to the puritanical nonsense that previous generations were rebelling against and overcompensated against with a mythologization of sex as a universal, unequivocal good, and not, you know, just an activity like any other.
  • They are more accepting of experiences of folks on the ace/aro spectrums, so ace/aro people in those generations feel less obliged to have sex to conform to allonormative pressures.

Those are some ideas about why younger people might be having less sex, but the person who wrote this is a sex therapist who works with actual people having actual problems. The story in the article about Matt is not the story of a person who is doing just fine and just needs the olds to leave them alone.

Young people don’t have a universal enlightened view of sex. Young people may include those who are more accepting of the ace/aro spectrum, but they also include incels - people whose personal relationship with sex and pleasure seeking is so toxic that they have joined a terrorist group.

I imagine a sex therapist doesn’t see a lot of asexual patients, and should probably be mindful of that. But I think they were careful to say that “pleasure [not sexual pleasure] is essential to our … well being” and that our culture’s ambivalence about pleasure is “most obvious in our conflict with sex.” Not that sexual pleasure was essential to being human.

I’m not saying they have a perfect understanding of anything, but I think there is some wisdom in there that can be extracted.


Stoicism is not denial of pleasure, a common misconception. It is about finding joy in life as a discipline for overcoming hard times. The early Christians who worked to eradicate the “pagan” philosophies still had a grudging respect for the Stoics; they were so mentally tough when persecuted. Read Cicero “On the Good Life” or Marcus Aurelius “Meditations”. Stoicism helps find pleasure, not deny it.


NickyG, it seems you know very little about the history of India. Have you ever seen the numerous erotic temples? Have the read the Kama Sutra?
Have you ever read the sacred Indian texts called the Shiva Purana and Linga Purana?
Here are a few good quotes to help enlighten you:
“One must practice erotic acts while remaining aware that sensual delight is an approach to the divine. There exist no taboos or restrictions concerning the variants of eroticism.”

“When one encounters evil signs, one must, using appropriate gestures, exorcise the bad spell. Sighting monks and priests is a bad omen since they claim to renounce the divine experience of pleasure in the name of dubious moral values.”
-Sadhu Shambhudasa

“The phallus is the source of pleasure. It is the only means of obtaining earthly pleasure and salvation. By looking at it, touching it and meditating on it, living beings can free themselves from the cycle of future lives.”

  • Shiva Purana, Vidyeshvara Samhita , I, chap. 9, 20

“I am not distinct from the phallus. The phallus is identical with me. It draws my faithful to me, and therefore must be worshipped. My well-beloved! Wherever there is an upright male organ, I myself am present, even if there is no other representation of me.”

  • Shiva Purana, Vidyeshvara Samhita , I, chap. 9, 43 - 44

“He who lets his life pass by without having honored the phallus is in truth a pitiable, guilty and damned being. If one were to weigh on a scale, with one side holding the adoration of the phallus and the other holding charity, youth, pilgrimages, sacrifices, and virtue, it would be the adoration of the phallus, source of pleasure and liberation, as well as a sure protection against adversity that would outweigh the other side.”
Shiva Purana , 1.21, 23-24, and 26

Ralph, you don’t need to try to school me on that, as I’m quite familiar with it. I didn’t say that India’s spiritual culture was exclusively one of abstinence from pleasure, and as you said, some schools are quite oriented around those aspects of life. What I said was, if you read my post again, is that the idea that abstinence as a path toward salvation is somehow uniquely Western is not correct. Those paths have existed in the Eastern traditions for thousands of years. Which based on your knowledge, it seems like you will be familiar with as obviously true.


There’s certainly a degree to which this person’s profession is shaping their perspective. I’m sure an editorial penned by a seasoned outdoorsperson lamenting a lower frequency of hiking in young people these days, and ascribing higher rates of depression and anxiety to the loss of some connection to the natural world that they see as universally essential and necessary by virtue of their personal and professional experience. The difference, of course, would be that that outdoorsperson wouldn’t be reinforcing ages of rhetoric telling people they’re not human if they don’t participate in a given activity in a particular way.

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Having recently moved from a long-term relationship in which my needs for intimacy were being ignored, to one in which they are being met daily, I agree with the author. Regular receipt of sexual pleasure makes life in general a lot more enjoyable. Curiously, it’s not traditional sex itself, but rather making out, that does it for me.

Your mileage may vary.


So is it sexual pleasure, or intimacy/affection? And by the way you don’t need to answer of course, I’m not trying to press you on personal issues. I put the question out there rhetorically. I think for many men especially, we often think that intimacy and affection must go hand in hand with sex, and is inherently sexual, because we have so few outlets for these things outside of sex. I see many more women who are platonic friends engaging in physical affection with one another, than you tend to find with men, especially cis male heterosexual men.

Me, I’m demisexual in practice, so I’m just starting to get warmed up for sexual intimacy, by the time most women have put me in the “friend zone.” Which can be annoying, but it is what it is, and thankfully I seem to get along fairly well without sex for even years at a time. I do wish more women were wired to be attracted to the idea of being intimate with someone they are actually friends with and comfortable with, versus essentially strangers, but what am I gunnuh do.

[quote=“NickyG, post:13, topic:162901, full:true”]
So is it sexual pleasure, or intimacy/affection? And by the way you don’t need to answer of course, I’m not trying to press you on personal issues.[/quote]

That’s an interesting question. It’s both. Affection and sexual arousal are rather intertwined in my brain. This has changed as I grew older, but it’s always been there. Now I feel deep fulfillment by engaging in erotic cuddling.

I remember reading a self-help book that suggested that a couple could gain connection by engaging in cuddling without a sexual component. Didn’t work at all for me nor my then-partner. Turns out that I needed to be with a different partner, one who has the same type of intimacy needs. And that compartmentalizing the two types of intimacy is not for everyone.

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I have a bajillion things to say on this subject, but it is not the time to exposit at this exact juncture. It would also involve economic stuff noone likes

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