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LATEST DIALOGUES When Is Sex a Spiritual Practice?


Recognizing that our bodies and our sexuality are sacred is a good way to begin undoing the split between sex and spirit that’s plagued our dualistic culture for millennia. But much more is necessary for erotic activity to take its rightful place as a spiritual practice.

The sex negative conditioning so pervasive in both secular and spiritual communities has long served to distort our natural desire for Union. While there are certainly gifts to be found in celibacy, both the shadow side of abstaining and the loss of the gifts of a fully expressed sexuality, take their toll on bodymind.

The reality is that consciously opening to the natural sensuality of the body supports presence, relaxation, and consciousness as long as we’re not driven by addictive desperation in the pursuit of pleasure. Addictions arise in response to a combination of repressed desire, unmet needs and lack of connection to Source. Consequently, grounding sexuality in genuine spiritual practice, that is, a practice that supports awareness of “who we really are” and opens the heart can serve to inoculate us from addiction.

I’m going to use the term Erotic Spirituality here to refer to body-based sensual and sexual practices that function to support spiritual evolution. Erotic Spirituality offers a wonderfully expansive ground for embracing life exactly as it is and releasing the egoic contraction, which drives us to escape into mental masturbation. Sadly, Erotic Spirituality is often confused with the many varieties of Spiritual Materialism beautifully articulated by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Any exotic type of sexual activity, whether it be Tantric sex, sexual healing, conscious sex, Erotic Meditation, Orgasmic Meditation, BDSM or polyamorous sex, can easily become more fuel for an ego dressed up in spiritual clothing who has now found yet another way to be special with yet another obsession or identity.

This tendency toward creating a spiritual ego is perfectly human and is certainly not limited to the realm of sacred sexuality. It’s a phenomenon well known to most spiritual seekers, but often overlooked by those searching for God in the sexual realms, and perhaps partly responsible for the cautious disdain with which sexuality is sometimes viewed in spiritual circles.

Erotic Spirituality is far too potent and valuable to let spiritual materialism deter us from discovering how erotic activation can directly serve awakening. Just to be sure we’re on the same page here, let me be clear that what I mean by spiritual awakening or liberation is shifting the center of gravity from the personal self, or the individual bodymind to The One, the Self, God/Goddess, The Divine, The Beloved, All and Everything, Existence, the Peace that Passeth Understanding, the Space with a Capacity to Know, or whatever language you want to use which implies the awareness of something beyond a separate self.

A common step in this direction is the cultivation of what is sometimes called the Observer or Witness Consciousness. If we never look beyond the “I” who seems to be who we are, the one who’s been conditioned from birth to sense, speak, and react (or not) in socially approved ways, then we have little possibility of waking up.

In terms of sexuality, our conditioning tells us with whom, when, and how it’s appropriate to experience sexuality. If we don’t happen to resonate with or are unable to conform to whatever cultural expectations we’ve internalized, suffering happens. Some simply rebel against this conditioning and do the opposite, others struggle to free themselves from sexual shame and guilt, but until we realize that the one watching the conditioned self can not itself be the conditioned self, we’re really not engaged in anything more than a self improvement project called sexual liberation.

There’s something to be said for self improvement, especially when it frees us from the pressure of believing that only the young, chic, and slim are sexually desirable and that no matter how hard you try, you will never be good enough or deserving enough or free enough to be loved and sexually satisfied. But true liberation implies far more than this.

My observation is that the need for a partner who fits the social definition of desirable is equal to the level of internalized repulsion and fear of physical reality –bodies, sex, death and Nature, held by the mind.

In order to place sex in service of spirit, we must first reclaim our innocent joy in sensory experience, and get over the idea that physical desires are not spiritual, and that sex is sinful or shameful, but this is just the beginning of accessing the spiritual potential of the erotic.

When erotic activation occurs within a shared meditative container where there is no agenda, no goal, no knowing what’s going to happen next, we can practice being present and connecting in a uniquely pleasurable way. This practice can present an appropriate challenge for those who’ve mastered sitting meditation and want to take their practice off the cushion. As a bonus, sensitivity to both physical sensation and the energetic flow are enhanced, as the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system leads to a relaxing of the usual egoic concerns. Then a letting go of one pointed focus so that a sense of Oneness and expansion naturally arises. Truly this is a very feminine form of spiritual expression, and it requires a real mastery in anchoring conscious presence.

When we stop depending upon and identifying with visual stimulation, fantasy, conditioning, emotional desires, acquired information, or hormones to shape our erotic experience, and stay present and embodied while strongly activated, we are available for direct contact with the Divine. Now the erotic energy – whose function is connecting heaven and earth – is truly serving our spiritual evolution!

If instead we find our attention trapped in a maze of thoughts, emotions, desires, and unfinished business, we can see what needs to be taken care of in order to relax into awareness. This is also an occasion where the erotic is serving spiritual development. If you’re trying to avoid seeing yourself, and seeing through your story, this is, of course, the last thing you want. The same is true for other forms of meditation, of course, but perhaps this type of meditation, which involves movement and interaction with another, is a little closer to ordinary life than sitting on a cushion.

Many people use traditional meditation as medication or as a spiritual bypass in an attempt to get around making the effort of becoming more transparent. Authentic spirituality, whether erotic or not, always involves a seeing through of illusions, the aspects of life that seem glamorous, or satisfying, but are actually transitory or misleading.

My experience is that there is far more willingness to release these illusory phenomenon when the body feels open, pleasurable, relaxed, and energized.

It’s easy to get distracted from presence by the power of sexual attraction or arousal and to move into conditioned patterns of release. If instead we can remain neutral toward the outcome, we simultaneously increase our capacity for presence and pleasure in an upward spiral of awakening to our true nature!

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Deborah Taj Anapol, Ph.D. is an explorer of the spaces where sex, spirit, sustainability, love and ecology meet. Her Tantric journey through inner and outer space is an ongoing process of discovery. She brings a rare integration of over three decades of spiritual practice, the healing arts, Western psychology, academic training, yoga, and woman’s wisdom to her work as a seminar leader and relationship coach. She has two daughters and two granddaughters and is based in the San Francisco Bay Area when she is not traveling the world. Dr. Anapol, Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology is the author of 'Polyamory in the 21st Century' (2010), 'The Seven Natural Laws of Love' (2005), 'Compersion: Using Jealousy as a Path to Unconditional Love' (ebook, 2004), 'Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits' (1997) and producer of the video, 'Pelvic Heart Integration.' Dr. Anapol has worked with groups, partners, and individuals who are exploring conscious relationships, tantra, and sexual healing for over twenty-five years, leads workshops internationally, and is an inspiring and dynamic speaker.

3 Responses to “When Is Sex a Spiritual Practice?”

  1. November 27, 2014 at 8:31 pm, Lee Gee said:

    I’d be interested to read your rewrite for those of us who are in long-term sexual and “spiritual” marriages.

    • August 24, 2015 at 9:28 am, Ulf Haukenes said:

      would love that as well. 🙂

    • September 02, 2015 at 4:29 am, Elise Dv said:

      Unfortunately she has left us. Perhaps you can carry on her work in the direction you need it.

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