How to work out what you do & don't like
Asexual Intimate Pleasure
This article offers you one approach I use with asexual clients in weekly therapy. The aim is to take the focus off sex and to help them (or you) discover what they do and don’t want in their own sensory, sensual intimate repertoire. It’s straightforward, empowering, and a transformative tool to use in relationships.
The process is laid out here as I would use it with a client in case you want to walk yourself through it. Please be aware this can take weeks or months and works best when each step is suitably savoured. This is because it can take a very long time to allow yourself to know what you really do and don’t like and push aside the learned, socialised norms around sex and sensual pleasure.
Given many (maybe all?) of my ace clients are also neurodivergent and many are neuroqueer, the systematic approach offered here seems to be particularly comforting. Also, it really helps the client concentrate on exploring what brings them sensory pleasure, without any mention of sex at all.
1. Getting started
We start by talking about nine different senses:
The sort of questions we talk about are:
Which is your favourite/strongest/most reliable/most enjoyable sense?
What level of stimulation do you most enjoy?
Through which sense or combination of senses do you tend to experience the most pleasure?
For some clients, this step is a new way to explore pleasure. While it must be handled very carefully, framing pain as another sense can be helpful. For some people with a history of self-harm or physical abuse, with appropriate professional support, this can be a healing and helpful understanding.
With the client’s consent, we can dig into past positive and negative sensory experiences. This helps us gain a better picture of what sort of experiences are likely to bring them delight and pleasure vs discomfort and displeasure.
If you are neurodivergent and want to understand more about sensory processing, I’ve written this article.
2. Doing field research
Next, the focus is on the client themselves and what sort of sensory input makes them feel good. They need to write down what they do and don’t find pleasurable in relation to the 9 senses.
Typically, clients have shown me two main ways they like to do this.
- Some autistic clients choose one sense per week. For example, if they choose hearing, then for that week they record all the sounds they heard that they really enjoyed and really didn’t enjoy. They might include:
How loud were the best and worst sounds?
What was it about these noises they did and didn’t enjoy?
What happened in their body during and after they experienced these sounds?
2. In contrast, some ADHD clients prefer to keep a general record of all good and bad sensory input over a few weeks. In this case, we might talk about:
Which senses do you notice noticing the most?
Which senses do you make the most positive and negative notes about?
What patterns or trends do you notice within and between the weeks?
3. Filling in the gaps
I expect you feel you have a ‘favourite’ sense; mine is smell. Most of us feel more connected to some of our senses than others. We may even struggle to find any pleasure in one of them. We often have a very good reason to be disconnected from a specific sense. However, this is therapy. So it’s an ideal opportunity to lovingly question this disconnection. We might consider:
Why is this sense unavailable now?
What are the costs and benefits to this sense being currently unavailable?
What might it be like to have that sense as a resource for pleasure?
Filling in the gaps is an ongoing process bigger than this exercise. For some, this is months or years of work. However, it’s important the client has at least one positive and one negative for each of the senses before moving on to the next step.
If you’re doing this yourself, you may find there are some sexual activities you want to include in your sensory pleasure lists. That’s wonderful, and if so, please include them. If there are no sexual activities you want to include, that’s also wonderful. This is only about what brings you pleasure.
4. Acing the presentation
(Apologies for the ace pun, I just couldn’t help myself!)
Having done plenty of self-research, the client usually has a lot of notes, bullet points, and maybe some phone memos. In this stage, they then need to synthesise all of these into a meaningful and comprehensive presentation. Think school project. So this might mean writing it out on an A3 card with sense pictures and glitter borders, printing an A5 mini-booklet with a page per sense, or even a snazzy spreadsheet with colour-coding. It’s important that the client’s pleasure compendium is made in a way that works for them.
If you’re doing this yourself, I strongly encourage you not to overlook this part. It is really, really important, as this is where the real magic happens. This is where you compile your unique and beautiful repertoire of pleasure. You might want to ask yourself:
How do I want to express my incredible findings about myself?
What format do I want my pleasure repertoire to take?
What’s a useful and authentic way for me to present my sensory summary?
5. Sharing is caring
If you are partnered in any relationship configuration, your pleasure project can be a really valuable resource to share and discuss. It can be a conversation starter and it can help identify pleasurable activities that you can share together.
You might want to talk about:
Is there anything in my pleasure repertoire that surprises you or is missing?
Did you realise this sense/experience was especially pleasurable for me?
Instead of penetration/sex/orgasms, would you want to give me this particular sort of sensory stimulation e.g. a scalp massage with a favourite essential oil?
Want help with your pleasure repertoire?
If this sounds like the sort of thing you’d love to do, whether you’re ace or not, why not get in touch. This is one of many enjoyable exercises we can work through together to help you explore your sexuality on your own terms.