Sid Azmi on giving ourselves permission to experience pleasure
“When we are clear of our intentions, it is easier to give ourselves permission to experience pleasure.” Sid Azmi
Photo by Tatum Mangus.

Sid Azmi is the owner of Please New York, an educated pleasure shop in Brooklyn. Her column “Sid on Sex” explores her daily revelations gained helping all kinds of women lead satisfying, joyful sex lives. That said, even as a sex columnist, sex is not what comes to mind for Sid Azmi when thinking about how to experience pleasure. Instead, Azmi’s ultimate indulgence is “time of one’s own.”

As human beings, we are naturally attracted to pleasure. There is no way of escaping the inherent desire for pleasure. What is pleasure anyway? Macmillan’s Dictionary defines pleasure as “a feeling of happiness, enjoyment or satisfaction.” So let’s start here—what gives us joy, validation, and fulfillment, that is also independent of others?

Being an active (not reactive) sexual being comes from a place where you can allow yourself to experience all that is pleasurable. Ask yourself—what do I like? What do I want to do? What is pleasurable for me? If finding pleasure in the bedroom is a challenge for you, I believe that finding simple ways to do the things that bring you joy is the first step toward that mind-blowing, self-given orgasm! At some point in life, for any of us, it is a challenge to be erotically pleased. We are constantly going through some circumstance that affects our erotic mind. If lying in bed on some days with your legs wide open and trying to force yourself to conjure up erotic thoughts sounds a complete waste of time—this is normal. We have not been conditioned to think and to behave selflessly or erotically. So let us begin by making pleasure unerotic and “morally” justifiable. Let us bring it outside of the bedroom and turn a private, internal, erotic experience into one that is public, shared, and unerotic.

For a long time, it was difficult for me to enjoy this time alone. I felt selfish and wasteful. My mind wandered about the projects I’ve been sitting on, the people I needed to call back, the organizing I needed to do.

What is most pleasurable to me? Even as a sex columnist and a pleasure shop owner, sex is not what comes to mind. My ultimate indulgence is “time of one’s own.” I find it freeing and rejuvenating when I have the time to be on my own. I can be as hedonistic as I like without having to consider the needs of others and to negotiate; and without feeling judgment from anyone. As women, we are often “tied” to others—as mothers, partners, family members, friends, even as colleagues. But when we remove these dependencies for a few short hours, and we focus solely on ourselves, that responsible mother, woman, friend looks more and more like the carefree youngin she once was. The guilt of not being responsible dissipates. In this freeing space, when playfulness and happiness are felt, the mind fluidly gravitates towards the erotic.

On a day like this, I find being all alone in my own home by my empty dining table with a blank piece of paper is absolutely heavenly. In the absence of others, I can be fully present with my thoughts and my emotions. I write them down because that is my way of processing reality. I rethink my memories and recall my feelings because it is important to weed out unnecessary negative emotions. I do so to intentionally attach a positive and compassionate acceptance of what was, no matter how negative. It is important to do this because it is easy to get tangled up in the challenges and hurts of life. We can change our perception of what is, so make the choice to make it positive. This is an essential step in learning how to detach from bad associations to pleasure and form new kind ones.

We often forget that we have the ability to slow down life. We can choose how we manage our circumstances. We are in control. Always. For a long time, it was difficult for me to enjoy this time alone. I felt selfish and wasteful. My mind wandered about the projects I’ve been sitting on, the people I needed to call back, the organizing I needed to do. But all those responsibilities will not be rightly completed if I do not have the mental tranquility to address them thoughtfully. So I sit there with my paper, and I write, I process, I feel, I cry, I laugh and almost always, I come out empowered, not overwhelmed. Here I am taking the time to be attentive to my needs… The kind of quiet that makes room for pleasure.

So now that I have spent some time all on my own, I take myself out into an environment where I can be with others but not engage with anyone. I do this by going out to eat on my own, often at the most indulgent restaurants. There is joy and immense power in being able to be on our own; when all around us, someone is with another and/or when we have the choice of company but chose otherwise. We will discover within our independence that we are already complete as one, and joy is an emotion that can be experienced together, or alone. The selfishness that is attached to “choosing to be alone” feels now like a conscientious choice toward self-care and emotional independence. Our minds are able to differentiate between when we are being selfish and when we are taking moments to replenish so we can give more. We are taking time to be alone so that we can be better together. When we are clear of our intentions, it is easier to give ourselves permission to experience pleasure.

In my solidarity amidst all the clattering of silverware and the unrecognizable chatter all around me, I take a moment to pay close attention to how I react to the world. Do I feel judgment when I see couples stealing glances at me? Do I assume that they are imagining that I am sadly alone, or are they impressed by my courage to dine by myself in such an extravagant place? Am I disturbed if they are wondering whether I am sad when I am truly happy? Then, more importantly, I get to observe what I think of others, which is ultimately tied to what I think of myself. Do I automatically make the same judgmental assumptions about a couple who says nothing to one another, or do I pause and allow them the same space and compassion to just be, as I am allowing myself to do the same? This is the key point. We attract what we exude. If we want pleasure in our lives—whatever that looks like, we have to give ourselves and others space; and also the non-judgment to do so. We must recognize that our pleasure is independent of our need for other people, and what they think of pleasure in general, and vice versa. Pleasure thrives when we can be honest and vulnerable with ourselves or with others; and is offered the same courtesy in return.

Now there is painting—a hobby which I recently discovered and I enjoy tremendously. During painting, I am with others, but my work is independent. I get to choose my piece, my colors, and medium; and my teacher helps me fine-tune these choices. I am in this weekly workshop with various women. We are all working independently. I am on my own, but with the guidance of someone else telling me, “this is how you can do better.” I am taking yet another step toward understanding pleasure. All of us know something about pleasure. We already know from above that we have the right to it, and we get to define it for ourselves. Yet there is always something new to learn. We can know more. Allow ourselves the opportunity to discover, to be surprised. Embrace what others can offer us and use that “guidance” to better define for ourselves what is pleasurable. So take some time and consider finding an activity that engages you in an informative manner. It creates an openness for growth which heightens pleasure.

Now at the end of the day, we all have to come home and/or to return to our lives’ responsibilities. The deadlines, the to-dos, the chores. How do we make pleasure happen amidst all of these? For me, it is a simple 20 minutes in the bath. Asking for this uninterrupted time and space and allowing people around you to provide that for you is a skill towards pleasure. Being able to set boundaries for the things that are important to us, especially when we feel needed around others, is important. We need to practice the simple act of saying “mine,” “not now,” “no.” Pleasure feels better when we know what we want and don’t, and it feels even more delightful when we have the agency to verbalize it.

As we go through our days, partners, illness, life, we need to accept the fact that pleasure is a changing and evolving concept.

When we think of pleasure, the erotic is inevitably attached to it. But as I have pointed here, pleasure is all around us and is as much un-erotic, and it is erotic. To truly experience pleasure, it needs to come from a self-created place from within that carries no shame and judgment; one that is independent of others. We must have the willingness to learn and evolve. And we must create boundaries and practice our agency. This is how we are going to normalize erotic pleasure and make that masturbation as self-care the lying down, with our legs spread apart, vibrator or fingers on clits and inside of our vaginas—feel normal. I find myself repeating this line over and over, “There are no standards in pleasure or sex.”

Pleasure exists through our own perception. And our perception is influenced by our circumstances, and it fluctuates as our daily state of mind does. So as we go through our days, partners, illness, life, we need to accept the fact that pleasure is a changing and evolving concept. Hence we must find ways to diversify how we experience pleasure. Take some time and create these pleasurable unerotic moments for yourself. I assure you that the next time we talk about bedroom pleasure, your mind, heart, and body parts will wonder more easily toward the erotic.