If you had asked me that question in my 20s and 30s I would *definitely* have said food… Now, in my early 40s, I, and the answer, are very different.
Through writing and researching my book, Appetite, I have come to realise how much my own negative thinking about sex and food was learnt from my social and cultural environment as well as my personal experiences growing up. Thoughts such as: sex is not important, sex is a once a week activity, sex is not something one invests time or energy in thinking about, pleasure is not something one should prioritise. It was my own deep, personal unhappiness and frustration in my mid 30s that caused me to question these assumptions but that took a lot of courage: it is hard to question norms that you have internalised deeply and which society reinforces at every turn.
Too often we struggle to accept our bodies and our physical needs. This voiceless struggle can cause us to turn in and against ourselves: to use food and sex as a means of escape or control. But they are merely part of the pleasures of life. They are not to be demonised or deified. They just are. And sometimes sex and pleasure plays a central part in your life and other times they take a step back, this is part of the ebb and flow of life. The key is to remember that pleasure IS part of life and not to negate it or deny it. This dynamic balance is one that we can all struggle to achieve but, as with a plane that is never completely on course as it heads to its destination, we can adjust and change the direction as we go, always heading towards an allowing of our whole selves, a self that has permission to experience pleasure.
Feeling pleasure though sex with another (or even other’s) or self-pleasuring, is a way of truly seeing the self and discovering the needs of the self. To be seen, to be touched, to be heard and responded to - this is what touch, sex and connection are for. Without it, you (and any relationship you are in) will starve. It is a way of connecting and relating that goes way beyond what one can gain from sharing a slice of cake. It is about seeing that pleasure is a heathy part of life - even more valuable to our mental and physical well-being than your seven a day.
And yet one thing does not exclude the other. Food can, of course, provide genuine pleasure, the mind and body responds to a range of stimuli but, for me, sex and physical intimacy foster an awareness of the body and self that can never be found on a plate.