Dalychia Saah is a professor, writer, public speaker, and the co-founder of Afrosexology. She joined us with Afrosexology co-founder, Rafaella Fiallo, at Sessions Live 2019 to talk about "Less Oppression, More Orgasms," which was about eroticism being a tool for healing.
I’ve always been drawn to texture. I love the way new carpet feels under my feet, how silk and sheer fabrics feel on my body, how sand feels in my hands. I was often that child in the store running my hands across aisles to feel any and everything. And like most children, my wandering hands were often times met with a light hand slap followed by the directive to not touch. Eventually I learned to stop reaching out and touching things I felt drawn to, by internally slapping my own hand whenever I felt the desire arise. My internal dialogue often sounded like this:
Me: Mmmm that cake looks so delicious, I want some!
Me: That piece of cake isn’t healthy for you.
Me: I feel so exhausted and really want to rest today
Me: No, you have to be productive, you have so much to do.
Me: I want…
Many of us have learned to dismiss our inner most desires. Our erotic power is that voice or feeling within all of us connecting us to the things we desire for our body, our life, our relationships, our world. And it’s a source of power that we have learned to repeatedly dismiss, neglect, and ignore to the point where for some of us, our erotic voice is silent. When we’re faced with questions like what do you want, what are your dreams, what turns you on - the only response we have to offer is “I don’t know”. We have been conditioned to constantly deny our desire, and consequently deny ourselves. And as we work to reclaim our erotic power, we have to confront the ways we’ve been erotically disempowered.
We live in a country that was built on denying the full humanity of certain people. Throughout our history and currently to be Indigenous, Black, Queer, Femme presenting, poor, disabled, fat and the list goes on - means to receive messages your entire life from media, peers, institutional policies that undermine your full humanity. In the past decade alone we’ve seen and many of us have participated in movements like Black Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matter, against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Women’s March, #MeToo. We’ve seen High schoolers rally for gun control, folks fighting for environmental rights, people constantly remind us that people in Flint Michigan still don’t have clean water, people talking about the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women going unrecognized, the continual fight for reproductive justice, last year we had one of the largest prison strikes in our country, and so much more.
And in the midst of the protesting, analyzing, deconstructing, and rebuilding a world where we can all be seen and treated as a human, we also have to find ways to affirm our own humanity. My erotic voice has been a constant source of affirmation that not only do I deserve to have my humanity fully recognized, but that I also deserve to feel and experience pleasure right now, exactly how I am, with all of my various identities. It challenges the idea that I have to change something about me, earn, or delay pleasurable things. Confronting those thoughts that tell me “When I lose those 10 pounds, then I can wear that outfit.”, “When I get that dream job then I’ll take that vacation.”, “When I get in that relationship then I’ll be happy.” or “When I die and go to heaven, then I’ll be free.”. It is a myth that you have to do something or change who you are before you can experience pleasure.
Two years ago I stopped focusing on what I wanted to do with my day and life and started focusing on how I wanted to feel. Using my orgasms as the litmus test I started practicing what I call orgasmic living. I assessed every aspect of my life and evaluated how it made me feel, did I feel used and drained and in pain afterwards or did I feel pleasure, affirmed, and orgasmic? And it has been one of the most difficult and fulfilling journeys of my life. I quit my job, I ended friendships, I established boundaries, I played so much more, I learned to trust myself, I enrolled in a pottery class, I wrote, I masturbated, I spent more time outdoors, I took a career risk, I advocated for myself, I got into therapy, I traveled, and the list goes on. And I feel closer to my authentic, shame free, loving, creative, erotic, joyous, passionate, powerful self more than I ever have.
When we begin to tap into how we feel about things, when we begin to listen and acknowledge our desires, we begin to live an erotically powerful life. As we begin to live that way, it allows us to dream up what an erotically powerful world would be. One where we all feel open, authentic, free, liberated, expansive, joyous, erotic, creative, connected, and powerful. And that dream and desire is fucking terrifying to those who believe they have to hoard power because it is so much easier to oppress and exert power over people who are not connected to their power within.
I am a pleasure based sex educator not because I only want people to have better sex. I want people to be affirmed that in this oppressive world their body is deserving of more than just experiencing or even avoiding trauma, your body is deserving of experiencing pleasure. The erotic is an abundant, powerful resource that you always have access to and can indulge in. There are so many ways to reclaim, connect to, and amplify our erotic voice and power but a beautifully challenging place to start is by asking yourself - what is one thing that you deeply desire to say yes to in your life that you’ve been denying yourself?
To read more from Dalychia on eroticism, take a look at her article The Case for New Erotic Language.