Pleasure For Every Body with Euphemia Russell
Pleasure For Every Body with Euphemia Russell
Felicity Cohen: Hello, I’m Felicity Cohen. I’m so excited to introduce you to my wellness warriors podcast. For over 20 years, I’ve been a passionate advocate for helping thousands of Australians find solutions to treating obesity and health-related complications. Through surgical intervention and holistic managed care.
My podcast is dedicated to all the people past, present, and future who have helped shape my journey and continue to inspire me to work consistently to achieve a healthier Australia for both adults and future generations. I hope you enjoy it.
Felicity Cohen: Good morning or welcome I should say Euphemia to the Wellness Warriors podcast. It’s an absolute pleasure to book and me here today. Thanks so much for joining us from your home at the moment, being in LA. It’s not always easy to coordinate times and all these other challenges, but technology is a wonderful thing and it’s so lovely to connect with you and to have you here on the podcast today.
Euphemia Russell: I’m so excited to be here. It’s such a pleasure to meet you and I think we made good coordination. As I look out into the mountains and get to speak to you while you’re on the Gold Coast, it’s pretty magical.
Felicity Cohen: It’s fantastic! The world’s become a much smaller place and it’s so nice to be able to connect in this way. So wellness is such a big thing and your specialist area is really unique.
Euphemia, you’re certified in sex-positive education, sexual violence counselling, somatic coaching, and trauma-informed facilitation, and you’ve also got a background in community cultural development. That’s a pretty big mouthful! Can you tell me a little bit about what led you into this space, and what’s different about your role, I guess, as a pleasure coach, as opposed to someone who sees themselves or defines themselves as a sex therapist is very different. I’m really keen to understand the differences and what your professional spaces, are all about first of all?
Euphemia Russell: Such a beautiful question. I feel as though the workaround pleasure in general is quite a niche. Everyone thinks that you kind of do the same thing if you’re working in that area, but really it’s so vast.
So I appreciate your asking, and the way that I explain my work at the moment is that I am a pleasure and somatic’s coach, and I specifically find that combination really suits me because I love coaching because it focuses on what you want to move towards? What do you want to be in alignment with and how can you feel yourself in this moment and what needs to transform to be able to make that more of a reality for you?
I am much more focused on somatic’s and that word is often used, and by that, I mean, bringing the thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and our awareness of them to inform how we feel and how we want to feel in the world so that we can be most in alignment. And I focus on pleasure with all of that. So it is a mouthful and it is very nuanced, but it’s basically how to feel more pleasure in your life by being aware of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and movement as a way to really listen and trust and invite more pleasure into your life.
Felicity Cohen: Can you give me a little bit of a, I guess anecdotal story around a patient who has come to you who’s been in a situation where they haven’t been exposed to understanding what pleasures looked like or haven’t, hasn’t had that personal experience. What does that transformation look like, and how has that changed that individual’s life?
Euphemia Russell: Such good questions Felicity, I’m loving this. So with my coaching clients, there are various different experiences, which I can talk about a little bit later if you’d like, two of the major experiences that people have is feeling either, stuck in their head or not able to be aware of their body and therefore not being able to be aware of the pleasure that is available to them, and the other one is people-pleasing, so often finding that their attention and their focus is with someone else or with a situation rather than what is happening for them in their body, at that moment. So it’s retraining and remembering.
I say to people that this work is not about learning all of this information and hoarding information to try and succeed and master something, it’s creating space to remember, to listen, and to be able to be like, oh my body, my pleasure has been there all along, but it’s how do I do movement and practices to come back and trust?
So I do a lot of movement exercises, I do a lot of Somatic exercises, which reveals to you potentially where your focus is or how you might respond to a situation, and that can give you insights of, oh, I notice that when I think of pleasure, my attention goes way out of my body towards someone else.
And how do I bring that attention back to me to notice the subtleties and the nuances and my choices for pleasure at this moment, it is the greatest joy, truly the greatest joy to watch and witness people coming back to themselves and realizing, oh my gosh this isn’t learning, this is remembering and practising, and I have been able to create so many more possibilities for pleasure in my day-to-day life and therefore be able to be more present with others when it comes to pleasure as well.
Felicity Cohen: Well, that was a beautiful explanation, thank you so much. So you’re a sex-positive educator and you focus on coaching and counselling, the bestselling book that you launched in March of this year, and I’m really, really looking forward to having the conversation with you today all about slow pleasure and where that came from. First of all, I have to say, I love the title and it really made me think a lot about those two words separately and independently and then put them together. I know that you know, you talk about in your book about busyness and the fact that probably all of us need to stop and think about slowing down at some point. I don’t personally believe that there, the myth around work-life balance that doesn’t really exist, it’s finding what’s right for you. But it’s funny because the word slow seems to be a bit of repetition for me that seems to be coming up, firstly, with your beautiful book title, last night, I did a slow flow yoga class and I thought, oh, there’s the word slow again, must be telling me something, so fascinating.
I love the title, and you also run online courses as well, and that’s how we describe you on paper, but how do you describe yourself?
Euphemia Russell: That’s such thoughtful questions, I really love this. I think, as I said in my work, I described myself as a pleasure and somatic coach and I used to be really resistant to the word coach because it felt like it was egging someone on towards something.
But I realized actually, that it’s just how to create space and those words are always limited for what that is, and we can make what that is for ourselves. So I’ve made my own version of what a coach is in that, and then beyond that, I am multitudes. I am ever-shifting, ever-fluid ever-evolving, and I, I suppose some words or some identities that are important to me is that I’m essentialist and I’m a dork, definitely a major dork.
I’m a gardener, I’m non-binary, so my gender is non-binary. I, I’m an animist, which is not something I talk often about in my work, but it’s believing that all living things have a spirit and an identity, and that feels like an extension of an embodiment for me is when we’re aware of ourselves, we’re aware of others, and then we can have a nourishing connection with ourselves, others, and then the land and the world around us. So, I hold a very dynamic identity, but there are some of the things that I love that you invited me to bring into this conversation, not just one version of me.
Felicity Cohen: Beautiful, thank you so much. So one of the things that I’m really excited to ask you about today, and I’m going to quote you back to you and I hope you’ll forgive me for doing so. This is a quote from an essay that you wrote. And I think this is so interesting and there’s a lot to talk about in this one particular quote. So it comes from one of your essays, which I really loved, and you say “Pleasure isn’t a wasteful frivolous distraction. Pleasure is enjoyment. Pleasure is political. Pleasure is health.”
Can you expand on that and help us understand why is pleasure so important to wellness? That’s such a powerful quote and there’s so much in there, I’d love you to expand a little bit.
Euphemia Russell: There is a lot in there. I think I’ll start with why I think pleasure is important to health and then we can explore the other parts there.
But I believe that pleasure is important for the sake of itself, not in service to anything else, and the deepest importance I think is alive-ness. And that’s the essence of my work is that people can feel more alive in themselves and in the world and in existence. And that as part of that, there are many things that pleasure can serve.
And I suppose one of the many things is, is that it can, I talk about the idea that pleasure is fuel not reward, so often we think of, as it, as I say in that quote, that pleasure isn’t frivolous and it isn’t a distraction, it’s not going to corrupt us. It actually helps us to, to feel more alive, it helps us to feel healthier.
It boosts our immune system, it boosts our sense of belonging. It makes us feel as though we can be in ourselves at that moment, and there are many reasons that I think that belonging can add to our quality of life. And I know that your work is so much about quality of life, and I think that that is the essence of health is how do we look after ourselves?
How do we show ourselves in the world that we value ourselves? And we see ourselves as important and that our quality of life, when we feed that ripples out into everything.
Felicity Cohen: Absolutely. I’m also really fascinated by the political statement, that pleasure is political. Can you expand a little bit on that component?
Euphemia Russell: Yeah, totally. My background is in community cultural development, which is basically how to resource communities to move towards things that they already know they want and need. So it’s not coming in and saying, “Hey, we think you need this” and that’s also how my coach actually is not telling people, “I think you need this.”
It’s creating space for them to work out what they need in a world that is incredibly intense and in a stage, an era of society, that is incredibly intense. I think it’s really important to remember that everything that happens to us happens when in our bodies, we are always living in our bodies and therefore our bodies are inherently political.
Some bodies are much more political than others because of the identities or the potential challenges societal that they have and oppression that they may experience because of those identities. But pleasure is also highly charged because of societal shame that we’ve all inherited and the beliefs that we’ve internalized often people think that pleasure or their challenges around pleasure are their personal lack of something and that they are experiencing that struggle solo, and no one else’s, everyone else’s, they think got it sorted. But actually, we have inherited so many structures that teach us to be ashamed of our pleasure of ourselves, of our bodies, of our desires and therefore pleasure and all essence and all senses the word is political because when we prioritize our pleasure, we are going against the world that we’ve inherited and the beliefs that we’ve inherited for the greater good, I believe.
Felicity Cohen: That was actually a beautiful interpretation, and I so understand and get that, the shame that’s associated with pleasure has been, I guess, you know, from a political standpoint or a cultural perspective, been our norm, you know, most of us, especially growing up in a very conservative environment, culturally, and especially for those of maybe older generations, perhaps even of my era, that these are topics of conversation that weren’t the norm.
And I love that there’s been that big shift that this has become a lot more acceptable and we can have these conversations. Can you remember a time for you in your life or through your career to date where you’ve actually really seen that shift, that change in terms of acceptance of this being a conversation that is not just normal and valuable, but it’s really so important that we bring this to a more heightened level of acceptance to have these types of conversations?
Euphemia Russell: I was actually just sharing about this through my newsletter and social media the other day because doing all of these interviews for this book when I started this work over five years ago, it was really hard to, to, I suppose, convince the media that this was an important topic to talk about and that they wouldn’t be, there wouldn’t be a backlash to speak about it, that people actually wanted it and needed it, but didn’t know how to ask for it more publicly to have that kind of representation. And it’s fascinating to see, even in the last two years, I would say a major cultural change around talking about pleasure and that media, and now seeing, oh, if we talk about it and we represent it, we are being perceived by our audience as being potentially more progressive or more inclusive or more willing to talk about taboos and things that were previously a lot more hidden and secretive and shameful. So it’s really interesting, and I think there are various factors of why that rapid change has happened even in the last two years, but I think the combination of digital, the combination of funding for sex tech businesses, the pandemic, and also just being, people being able to represent their own experiences more in digital spaces rather than being fed through media and then being shaped by more traditional media.
So it’s a really interesting time for me to be doing this work, and even in this short five years to see, wow, when I was starting this personal journey 12 or so 13 years ago, it was impossible to find any resources, and now there are so many, and that’s so exciting. I welcomed so many more people to join the industry because there is a lot of work to be done.
Felicity Cohen: So let’s just talk for a little while about slow pleasure, this beautiful book that you’ve launched only just in March of this year, it’s already a bestseller. Can you tell me a little bit about what inspired you to actually write the book and why is the book so important to you?
Euphemia Russell: The book, I was inspired to write the book because I’d been focusing on slow pleasure and the concept of it through workshops and courses, well before the pandemic actually, but it’s just bizarre to think that I started writing it just before the pandemic began and how much slowness became a thing that people realised they needed more of.
But what I observed in myself and I observed in my clients and the world around me is that as I speak about in my book, I believe that we’re in experiencing a crisis of pace and disconnection, and that is collective it’s not individual, but that we feel it and we are impacted by it personally because of the default belief that everything needs to be fast and there needs to be a particular way it’s done. And I think that when I moved to the United States from Australia, I noticed the ferocity or ferociousness of pace was much more intensified here. And I really had to be very boundaries and very clear about my capacity.
And my desires and my willingness of what was seen as collectively normal or celebrated to do and how to live. And so it was born out of witnessing others and witnessing myself and seeing that fast is not bad, that’s definitely not what I’m saying in this book, but it’s rather that there’s such a focus on fast that we need to create more options and more choices on that spectrum of pace and, and choices to include any, even know how to go slower.
And when we go slower, we can listen to ourselves more of when we pause and be like, oh, I was just in motion and in the momentum believing this is what I wanted and needed, but actually when I pause, I can hear that there’s something much different. And so that’s something that’s always a practice, never mastered, but this book is an encouragement of doing that more in a world that doesn’t necessarily support it.
Felicity Cohen: Fantastic. So for the patient population that I work with on a daily basis, many of them are going through really drastic body transformations. Many of them there’s a lot of weight, their identity changes, their quality of life changes, their whole health spectrum changes, not just in terms of their physical health, their mental, everything their whole world changes. They’re stepping into this whole new realm of a new, a whole new world really in many ways, and their sex lives change too. And their options and their opportunities change across the board. What are some of the things that you think a person who’s going through that complete body transformation can, you know, what are the takeaways or the big key messages that they can learn from the slow pleasure that would help them?
Euphemia Russell: To normalize that change can create disconnection from ourselves and that you are not alone in that potential disconnection and reconfiguring of who you are and how you feel in yourself and how you relate to the world around you, and also that moment of change and transition can be so fruitful.
It can be such a fertile opportunity to reflect on how you actually want to be and how you actually want to feel. And that may be scary cause change can be a lot, but I also find that pleasure, and what I talk about in the book is really small practices of pleasure in daily life, in everyday moments, like surgical pain.
So there are a couple of little practices that I think can be so supportive to anyone and you can create reminders on your phone or write them down. And a couple of them are how to notice where in your body you might feel ease or comfort or even pleasure at this moment.
And that can be an anchor for you when someone is going through a big change to be like, oh, there is a place that I can feel in my body and be present within my body. And that can be really reassuring when everything else feels like it’s changing. And then the other one is that I encourage people to focus on what feels good for me instead of what might look good to others and whatever practice that is it can be, you can ask yourself the question, how can I bring even 10% more pleasure or joy or comfort or ease into this moment or into this action. And when we ask ourselves that question, particularly through big periods of change or potential disconnection, that can be the small practice to bring us back to ourselves, to bring us back to connection and to remind ourselves that pleasure and joy and fulfilment are possible, but that we need to do it bit by bit.
Felicity Cohen: Thank you so much. I really believe that your book is of great value to this particular group of people and that they’ve got so much that they can gain from it. We probably should include it in their packages, cause I think it’s, there’s so much that they will gain. So thank you for that.
Euphemia Russell: Wow, that would be such an honour. I work with a lot of people who go through those big transitions and it’s really beautiful to see that reconnection through pleasures, so I would be, I’d be deeply touched if you did that.
Felicity Cohen: Thank you. What are the risks for our own mental health, for our physical and our spiritual health if we aren’t accessing pleasure?
Euphemia Russell: I think it would be the other side of everything we’ve been speaking about, which is that lack of quality of life, that lack of aliveness, that lack of joy of not knowing your potential capacity to enjoy a moment or to savour a moment. I also believe that healing and pleasure help us feel rather, and pleasure helps us to heal.
And as I spoke about before trauma, one way to describe trauma is a chronic state of disconnection. And one way to heal that is through pleasure, which is a state or a moment of connection. And so I think the risks of dampening or limiting all of those abilities to feel, heal, and savour life.
Felicity Cohen: Thank you, I totally agree with you and I think that’s really powerful.
Thank you so much, you’ve expressed that so well. So if we were to incorporate a couple of daily practices or weekly practices, what are your recommendations for maybe the top three that you would say we should incorporate into our lives to expand on our own experience of pleasure?
Euphemia Russell: I encourage people to write a list of things that bring them joy and bring them pleasure because often when we’re stressed or we’re rushing or we’re feeling overwhelmed or in a big moment of change, we can forget who we are, what our name is, what we’re like, what we want to do, what brings us a sense of joy.
So, to write a list, whether it’s written down or on your phone, and as I mentioned before, that exercise of the practice of having a reminder to ask yourself throughout your day, how can I bring more pleasure into this moment? Once you’ve built that library of experiences, you can access more pleasure more easily, and that could be going through each sense.
So the five senses that could be going through a particular area, like when I walked through this area, I know that I like to feel the wind on my skin, or I like to look at the leaves on the trees or I like to wear silk because it makes me feel really good, or I like to eat ice cream with a cup of tea because I like the contrast.
Just really noticing all of those very minute details that make the world feel so much richer to you, but maybe not perceived by anyone else and to just start writing them down. And then when you ask yourself that question, how do I bring 10% more pleasure in? There are more things to draw on. And then the other practice that I find people respond so deeply to is what I call a hand scan, which is not a handstand, but it’s like a body scan, but with your hands and going through and touching each part of your body and reminding yourself, I live in my body at this moment in time and space and just orienting back to the realization of, oh, I am here and as you go, potentially naming each body part to yourself. So you can be really aware of the fact that it is yours. And then you can potentially add a layer, which is as you’re holding this part of your body and touching it in the way that you want, how can you potentially bring more pleasure to that area at this moment? So for example, with the hands, maybe you’re holding the hands and you realise, oh, I often give and do things with my hands, how can I receive pleasure from myself at this moment?
And that might be gentle stroking that might be a firm holding that’s reassuring, maybe it’s a massage along the fingers and realizing how many choices we have of how we can interact with ourselves. And that can be a soothing or an enlivening practice, depending on what mood you’re in as well. So they’re the two main practices that I suggest, and I find fundamental to anyone when it comes to pleasure and embodiment.
Felicity Cohen: Thank you.
There was one of your articles that I read that was talking about how we can become desensitized or our nerve endings can, we can become over time desensitised just based on the fact that we get stuck in these patterns of behaviour, that we’re not aware that by stimulating different areas or doing things differently, that we can actually regrow or find this new generation or regeneration of nerve endings pleasurable spaces. Can you talk to me a little bit about, does that look like, and perhaps for people who maybe do feel like they’re stuck in that pattern that maybe there’s more out there in terms of those nerves and that pleasure-seeking kind of opportunity for them?
Euphemia Russell: I love that you know that and you read that because it’s one of my favourite things is being like, oh wow, the neurology and the biology of our bodies, they respond, we have thousands and thousands of nerve endings all across our body. And each of them has nerve endings specifically for light touch or heavy touch and they have nerve endings for receptive’s rather than for lots of other sensations too. But when we touch ourselves or when we are touched or when we move and explore in different ways, those nerve endings, we can grow more of.
(30:33) So you actually are investing in your capacity or your potential for pleasure by experiencing pleasure. Whether, if that particularly touch is, is what I mean, and when we touch ourselves in different ways, we also build our capacity to feel particular sensations and then build that range of that sensation.
And that can be in areas that don’t have more arousal tissue, or that could be in areas that do have arousal tissue. And there are various areas of the body other than the genitals that do have arousal tissue and nerve endings. But for example, most nerve endings are in the genitals and then the face and then the hands. (31:23)
And so these areas, as I was mentioning with the hand exercise, this area has so much potential for pleasure and that when we explore in different ways, we can become more sensitive. So, for example, if someone says, “oh, I don’t really like nipple play because I don’t really feel anything” and I say to them, “well, if you want to, then invest in touching them or exploring them, or touching them in new ways, finding new sensations and ways to feel them. And you will find that over time, more nerve endings grow, you become more sensitive and you can find more range in the kinds of pleasure and touch that you can feel” which is pretty cool to realize, oh my gosh, every time I experienced pleasure, I’m investing in more pleasure in the future.
Felicity Cohen: Thank you so much, it’s a fascinating area.
I’ve got a big question for you and this is something I like to end with for the Wellness Warriors podcast. As you’re probably aware, our listeners are our wellness warriors, and we all know that wellness is worth fighting for once you lose your health, you spend the rest of your life fighting to get it back, whether that’s physical or mental or spiritual health.
There’s something that’s always inspiring is learning about how others are going on, on their wellness journey. So my last question for you is, can you share with us a time when you were struggling with your wellness and what did you do to fight for it or to reclaim it?
Euphemia Russell: There are many times in my life and I would say that something that I had to remind myself of in those moments was all, this is not forever, this is just a stage or a phase. And to allow me to come back to health really slowly and paste. And just as I was starting my business, I experienced fairly intense trauma and experienced PTSD. So I was having a lot of challenges around that.
And I found that somatic therapy, so body-based therapy was so supportive to me being able to what’s called titrate, which is basically small doses of how to titrate into feeling a sense of safety again, or feeling a sense of myself or being able to allow that fight or flight or that freeze and that locked-in feeling that I had to be able to release through my body.
They use the analogy of like a carbonated drink, where if you know that the carbonated drink has been shaken up before you open it, you open it slowly and just bit by bit, and when you close it again and then, and when you close it again, and somatic therapy is like that. And I also think that old forms of healing and wellness and coming back to wellness practices, for me, is so supportive. So for example, I’ve just started meditating again and I’d been meditating for the last few weeks and that’s something I haven’t done consistently for years and it’s been something that I kept saying to myself, I am going to come back to this, this is fallen out of my practices. And for me it’s always okay, it’s better to do it and do it imperfectly than not do it because when I do commit to my wellness and do commit to my sense of feeling good in myself and the world, that has a much greater impact than if I do something perfectly and do an hour-long meditation and dah, dah, dah.
So that in those moments of struggle and coming back to wellness has been my greatest reminder and has served me so well.
Felicity Cohen: Beautiful, thank you so much. Euphemia, congratulations on your amazing book, Slow Pleasure. For our listeners, I just want to let them know that they can access your book and look for it on Amazon, it’s available on Kindle as well. So I definitely encourage all of our listeners to go and explore your book. I think it’s fabulous so well done. And I hope you’ll come and visit us in, in Queensland when you’re next here so we can learn more about Slow Pleasure.
So thank you so much for being on the Wellness Warriors podcast it’s been a pleasure to have you here today.
Euphemia Russell: Thanks, Felicity it has been such a pleasure to meet you and speak with you.