What Children Have to Teach Us about Pure Sensual Joy


Photo by Martin Talbot

Photo by Martin Talbot

There is something so refreshing and soul nourishing in the innocent observations of children. Before they are infected by societal messages of what or who is appropriate and inappropriate, valued and unvalued and all the judgments regarding what they ‘should’ think and feel. Before all this, they respond in the truth … their truth … free, unadulterated, uncensored truth of their experience. I remember an afternoon when my daughter was about 5 we were playing around on the couch. She reached over and wrapped her arms around my lap and laid her head on my tummy. Then she said in joyful earnest, “I just love your body mommy, it is so squishy!” This was said with overflowing love and truth. My job was to hear the gift of her love – not dismiss it by privileging all the cultural discourses that would speak to the contrary. She had not yet learned that in her society the body 20 pounds overweight was less beautiful, less valued then the female body 20 pounds underweight. She had not learned that it was inappropriate for a girl to wrap her arms lovingly around another girl and nuzzle-in. She had not learned how uncool it was for a daughter to be crazy about her mom. She only knew what she knew – that she loved the sensual feeling of my body, that she loved me with every molecule of her being and she wanted to declare her truth in that moment.

We all begin with this purity of knowing. That is part of why the innocence and expressed truth of children is so profound. Our very souls respond to the clarity of their voice and the absence of apology … or even an awareness that they ‘should’ apologize. By the time we are 5 or 6, adults have begun to impose a comprehensive inundation of socially appropriate responses, feelings and desires. We slowly learn to mask our core experience and present a sterilized filtered normed response. By 10 the child who can act like they are 30 – ‘appropriate’ in response, in activity level, courteous, mature, gracious, selfless, disciplined, etc is given the highest praise. It doesn’t seem to matter that this is NOT NORMAL behavior for a ten year old! We are too busy passing on our ethic that we value certain appearances more than we value raising people able to express their truth with the increasing grace and skill that matches their developmental level.

What happens to our truth about our sensual world – what we love to hear, to taste, to see, to touch, to smell, to speak – that we palpably knew as children? Can you find in your memory the joy of being squeezed by your grandmother or other family member, smelling cookies in the oven, feeling a warm bath filled with bubbles encase your whole body, letting ice-cream drip down your face and tummy, slurping up a long spaghetti noodle and hoping it hits your nose, feeling the grass or sand between your toes, or watching a caterpillar move across your hand? Can you remember singing and dancing to your favorite songs or rolling down a long grass filled hill screaming with your friends? There was a time when you lived unapologetically and truthfully in your body. Sensuality (through your 5 senses) was how you gathered information of what you loved and how you learned about your physical world. It was free of outside descriptions and concepts – it was not contained or encapsulated by someone else’s meaning system. It just was … for a time … your experience.

If our natural tendency is to learn about the world through our senses and express this learning to others, what is the cost to us when we replace this intrinsic way of knowing with the mandates of culture? By 5 we have a sense of what is beautiful, what is loving, what is scary, what is exciting. We know what many objects feel like when we touch them, what certain things smell like, what certain things taste like. And we already know many of our preferences. What is the cost to us – to our relationships, to our sense of ourselves, to our sense of joy, to our sexuality (our in-bodied experience) when we replace what we know with what the culture says is beautiful/desirable, right/wrong, accepted/ridiculed? What happens as we learn that our peer group’s standards and expectations are different than the adults in our life? That our partner’s expectations are different than our children’s, which are different from our boss? In part here is what we learn –

  1. To hide who we really are until we can’t feel him or her.
  2. We lose touch with our creative center that is born out of our unique experience and truth.
  3. We learn to be skilled pretenders who present a veneer of who we are. We present what will be accepted and praised and we hide everything else.
  4. We replace what makes us happy with what is ‘supposed’ to make us happy
  5. We decide what we ‘should’ be like, our children ‘should’ be like, our partners ‘should’ be like, etc. We become so focused on what ‘should be’ that we forget what we really think and feel. And we fail to be curious about what our loved ones think and feel.
  6. If we lose touch with our core experience then we will fail to really show up as we really are. And if we are not honestly present then we cannot honestly give or receive love. Love is as true as it is honest.

It’s a wonder then – when we have travelled so far from our pure joy – that we even know how to construct a loving erotic sexual relationship as an adult. What we usually know is what is expected and ‘valued’. Boys should be ‘this way’ and girls ‘that way’. We know sexual activity should be driven by arousal cycles and culminate in intercourse ‘to be real’ or ‘to be good’. We know it is a ‘conquest’ for boys and a way to ‘get love’ for girls. Young adults know that blow-jobs and porn and sex in public places will get a response from certain friends. But we also know that none of these things guarantee sheer joy, a sense of play, or deep love. In fact by the time we are an adult we have often learned that sexual touch and sexual behavior as the culture touts is often empty, routine, shallow in satisfaction and can leave you wanting. Because by then, gone is our essence of playfulness, our essence of sensual joy and saturated love. Gone is our awareness of what we want and need to guarantee lingering sensations of joy, play and love. Gone is our ability to say ‘no’ to that which we know will leave us empty. In fact by then we have been so inundated by cultural messages that most think if they are left feeling empty that something must be wrong with them. If you are like most, your childlike self may have joyfully lived for 5 or 6 years, but it has been smothered and replaced daily for more than a decade. Can you even find it??

To have a sensual erotic freedom and joy laced sexual relationship with your partner, you must find your way back to this childlike innocence of what you loved. Find your way back to sensual play and awareness – did you used to love to finger paint? Do that again – this time with butcher paper and chocolate pudding. Did you like to walk in the woods and find salamanders? Do this again, and touch, see and smell everything that marvels you. Give yourself time to feel your delight and your love again. Let it well up in a laugh. If you weren’t allowed to get dirty, even at 2, take a pottery class and find your way through your disgust with getting clay under your fingernails until the dripping clay swirling on the wheel fills you with sensual joy.

Spend time finding your stories of innocence, joy, play, discovery, overflowing love. Recapture what every cell in your body knew as truth then … find it again … and now intentionally reclaim it. Relearn it. Then bring all the strands of truth, knowledge and wisdom into your sexual self and sexual relationship. Begin to capture your created gift of sensual, innocent, playful, honest expression of your joy in what, who and how you love. Let your discovery in the experience be your purpose … not some culturally mandated end result.

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