The Pleasure Portal by Jennifer Dhingra

“Pleasure motivates behaviours, both positive and harmful. Which is why this is an incredible opportunity for positive change.”

Love Matters is a multi-national organisation that provides a platform for people from many different cultural backgrounds to talk about sex in a positive, honest, and open way. Therefore, when they invited Sexpression:UK to take part in their secretive immersive event, ‘The Pleasure Portal,’ I had no hesitation in strolling down a dimly lit alleyway in East London, clutching a contraceptive display kit.

Being a London based student and sex educator, this experience combined three of my greatest loves in life: SRE, immersive theatre, and an open bar. Upon arrival at a candlelit reception area, guests were shown into a seemingly ominous doctor’s waiting room. Amongst the old school sex education posters, portal passengers were presented with an invasive sex questionnaire, the results of which determined the appropriate ‘remedy’ needed to cure you of your ills, which was handily served to you in a bottle by the ‘certified’ medical professional present. This was intentionally the least pleasurable aspect of the entire experience, and cleverly depicted the detached, and sometimes shaming approach to sex that is so commonly experienced today.

Soon afterwards however, a small group of us were called forward to enter the portal, and begin our sensory journey. Portal passengers were then seated in a dimly lit room and blindfolded. It was here, in the chamber of smell and sound, with the scent of oil and smoke of sage being passed under our noses, that the Pleasure Portal delivered its key opening monologue.

“Yet when it comes to talking about sex, sexual rights and education, the subject of pleasure is taboo. At best, it’s seen as fluffy or a luxury – something to discuss once the REAL issues have been addressed. At worst, it is a dirty word. Visceral, fundamental, emotional, deeply connected to our sense of wellbeing: we ignore pleasure at our peril.”

The idea of sexual empowerment being linked to pleasure is a concept often misunderstood or even off-limits to modern society. The notion that pleasure can be used both openly and positively in sex and sex education is often deliberately ignored or feared as an ideology. This dialogue sought to make us reconsider the way we view pleasure as a society, and see past the clinical attitude towards sexual wellbeing. “By acknowledging pleasure, we can better understand sexual health as a state of physical, emotional, mental and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality.” As the words were spoken, their meaning was reinforced as Portal Passengers were exposed to different sorts of pleasure through, taste (sweets), touch (massage) and smell (sage).

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After the monologue ended, passengers, still blindfolded, were then led into a relaxation room to lay down on cushions in order to experience a ‘gong bath,’ a practice used by Buddhist monks to offer stimulation by sound and vibrations. This enabled passengers to experience pleasure through sound, or enjoy a Zen nap before they moved onto the next room.

The rest of the portal then led us on an educational journey of different rooms and experiences, each lasting 5 minutes, showing us different approaches to sexual health and education. Participants were taken to have tea with a LGBT activist from Morocco, who told us about her experiences of living in a society that shuns homosexuality. They were also able to speak with FGM/C activist Sarian Karim Kamara who told us her inspiring story of finding empowerment through pleasure, despite being a victim of FGM herself. People also found themselves holding an ‘intervention’ on sexual harassment, reading the real words of Indian activists to educate the young adult ‘Navinda’ on the issues around gender based violence, and watched a scene between a couple discussing HIV/AIDS and contraception. Passengers also experienced situations such as their first live broadcast on Pirate Pleasure Radio, hosted by Charlotte Rose, discussing sensual super powers, and questions on the power of porn and education with porn actor and Porn4Prep campaigner Jason Domino.

The experience ended with everyone congregating in the final room; a lounge where individuals could grab a drink, or grab some confession time in the onsite sexual confessions booth. Sexpression:UK was also there to provide contraception education through fun and interactive condom demonstrations. Once everyone had gathered for the final discussion, we held up our glasses to celebrate, “breaking taboos and frontline baddassary; to sex ed that makes sense; to expression, to knowledge.”

The Pleasure Portal was both an enlightening and educational experience. With inspiring information, immersive theatre, and an innovative environment, Love Matters was able to push beyond the boundaries of conventional sexual wellbeing, and empower individuals to embrace new ideas on the power of pleasure in sex and sex education. Love Matters lead creative Hannah Wallace said, “In many ways, The Pleasure Portal was a physical manifestation of the work Love Matters does online - engaging young people around their sexual health and rights, openly and without shame. By weaving together real audience testimony with theatre, research and storytelling, we sought to create a playful and safe space where our guests could experience first-hand the power of a pleasure-positive approach to educate".

“Pleasure motivates behaviours, both positive and harmful, which is why this is an incredible opportunity for positive change.”