The Power of Pleasure

Before my herpes diagnosis, I never really thought too much about pleasure. Sure, I had sex and would often whip out my vibrator to enjoy when the mood would strike - but really dissecting what pleasure was, and how my body responded to it, never really crossed my mind.

When herpes happened I sort of took pleasure out of the equation. It was hard to enjoy sex with my partner because my thoughts were usually consumed with worry of transmitting or wondering what he must have been thinking while he was fucking me. I couldn’t fully enjoy anything. Even on really great days when I was out and about, doing something spectacular - that dull, painful ache was always in the background, stealing my joy, robbing me of pleasure.

When I had finally decided to focus on finding myself again, to unbury parts of myself that herpes had hidden, I wanted to focus on pleasure. After nearly two years of shame, self-loathing, and tension, I wanted to coax my body and my mind out of the darkness with something sweet and fulfilling.

Simple Pleasures

At first, I started with simple pleasures - like words of affirmation or some kind of small indulgence. I’d have a long bubble bath on Friday nights or I’d enjoy a special pastry I picked up from my favorite vegan bakery. Like some small, mistreated animal - I slowly began to trust the hand that was feeding me…. my own.

It was interesting to see how quickly I became comfortable receiving these small pleasures. Up until then, I hadn’t thought that I was deserving of much…so being able to accept these small tokens of kindness was a really big step for me. This practice became routine and I was ready to accept more.

Masturbation & Sensual Touch

Herpes (& HPV!) made me hyperaware of my genitals. I was constantly examining my vulva, looking for any sign of an outbreak, or another pre-cancerous growth. Every itch, every pinch, any kind of cramp or ache had me hovering over a mirror, in fear that something was happening!

One day, after reading a book that mentioned “pussy gazing” I decided to look at myself in the mirror with no other intention but to appreciate what I saw. My vulva had been through so much in the past years - a few heartbreaking diagnoses, a surgery, and an area that was very slow to heal- I wanted to look at her through a different set of eyes. Instead of looking in fear or worry, I wanted to look with love and appreciation. While I sat there, looking at my vulva, I lightly touched myself.

This became my new norm - instead of frantically looking for something wrong, I started to look at all of the beautiful things that were RIGHT. You know what I learned? It was all right. This gentle, adoring touch paired with thoughts and words of affirmation was more healing than I can ever explain.

This sensual touch evolved into breast and body massage (which is standard foreplay now every time I masturbate.) Providing a safe, warm touch - tracing my unique curves and features- felt really good. Safety, massage, vulnerability, warm oil, trust….all of it was pleasure! From there, it was easy to do more self-exploration. You try standing in front of a mirror, covered in coconut oil, tracing the curves of your body, thinking wonderful things about yourself and NOT get turned on.

The first time I masturbated without the help of my vibrator was life changing. I had always just told myself that I couldn’t get off manually - but after I listened to this podcast - I wanted to prove myself wrong. And I didn’t care how long it took me to get there! I wanted to explore my entire body and see what brought me true pleasure. 20 delicious minutes later, I was shaking with ecstasy and crying tears of absolute joy.

I try to masturbate like this at least once a week (if not more often.) I don’t always have half an hour to dedicate to self-pleasure and sexual exploration. But I do make it a priority, it’s just not a daily one :)


A ritual is a sequence of special gestures that are thoughtfully planned and carried out with intention. Rituals are something you tend to with extra sweetness, taking your time to be fully present and indulge. You can make ANYTHING a ritual.

For example - instead of just using my vibrator for a quick before-bed buzz - I make masturbation a ritual. I usually shower or take a bath before (making the bath extra special with essential oils and salts.) I perform my usual coconut oil massage and climb into bed. Sometimes I’ll use my yoni egg -holding it close to my heart or against my abdomen, near my womb- as I masturbate. I charge the stone with this euphoric energy before placing it inside of me. This is my ritual. Along with yoga, meditation, and cleaning my apartment on Saturday mornings - I look forward to these rituals.

Rituals help to cultivate pleasure & enchantment. By dropping into the present moment, to carefully tend to yourself or to the task at hand, you are able to differentiate between what is sacred and what is mundane. Allowing yourself to indulge in what you believe is special is just another form of self-pleasure.

Since becoming dedicated to regular self-pleasure practices, I’ve noticed an incredible difference in myself. I now know that I am deserving of these things - of special and sacred things. I know that even after a tremendous amount of pain and suffering, my body is still capable of experiencing earth shaking pleasure and knee-buckling bliss. I think that in realizing this, I was able to let go of the limiting belief that I was not deserving of any it…instead, it was exactly what I needed to pick up the pieces and carry on.

Every time my body shows me what it is capable of- I forget about all the things I used to believe that it could no longer do. Offer yourself more moments of tenderness and pleasure. In doing so, you’ll begin to trust yourself and your body as it reminds you that it is capable of so much magic.

Rae Higgins