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Direct and Indirect Pleasure

Image taken from

Image description: A white rectangle contains a heading saying "Direct / Indirect Pleasure Map. There is a picture of a hand and arm underneath a brain. The are arrows connecting the brain and hand. In front of the brain there is a yellow smiley face. Orange arrows connect the hand with the face and the face with the brain.

The model explained in the diagram above sets out two different ways that we can experience pleasure. The first of these is direct pleasure. If you stroke a soft blanket, this may cause a pleasurable feeling in your hands. The pleasure that you experience from these sensations is known as direct pleasure. 

If the thing you are stroking is not a blanket but a dog, you may experience direct and indirect pleasure at the same time. Again, you may feel direct pleasure from the sensations of touching the dog’s soft fur. But if the dog wags its tail, you may also experience pleasure from knowing that it is enjoying the affection. This brings you indirect pleasure. 

Lots of people find it easier to access indirect pleasure than direct pleasure. It’s not the case that one is better than the other, but if we increase our awareness about what’s going on for us, it increases our capacity to make informed choices and it ensures that we are able to communicate with other people consensually. 

If you are not able to access direct pleasure, you will not be able to enjoy touch that is for your benefit - this would be represented by the Take and Accept quadrants in the Wheel of Consent. There is nothing wrong with this! You might decide that that’s just fine with you, but having this knowledge will allow you to make clear requests to your partners - you only want to give touch that is for their pleasure (Serve) or to allow yourself to be touched for their pleasure (Allow). 

Direct pleasure, as set out in the model above, is based on being able to enjoy the physical sensations of touch. Although I think the metaphor is a useful binary for gaining insight into what’s hot for you, I would say that the diagram above goes a little further in presenting direct pleasure as an important part of normative sexual functioning that we should all be able to enjoy. But if the greatest pleasure you can imagine is being a 24/7 lifestyle sub whose entire pleasure world is focussed on being an object for someone else’s delight - then I would say go do that and don’t worry about stroking soft blankets. 

However, if you do notice that it’s easier for you to take pleasure in someone else’s pleasure than your own, you might decide that you’d like to try and shift that. If, for example, you’re a member of a social group who has been socialised into elevating the needs of others over your own, it might give you a sense of political empowerment to focus on your connection to your own pleasure. If you’re someone who had to take on caring responsibilities in your family of origin at a young age, you might find it easier to attune to the needs of others than your own. Connecting with your capacity for direct pleasure may allow you to get to know new parts of yourself. If you do decide that you’d like more direct pleasure in your life, then check out my Waking up the Hands post for a practice exercise.


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