Monday, June 8, 2009

A Word on the Spiritualization of Sex...

I am about finished writing a review of a sex educational video on the G-spot and fortuitously discovered an excellent post by Greta Christina on a topic that is very relevant to the DVD I am reviewing right now. Because while this particular movie is an excellent instructional, it is also rather rife with sex woo (I will be reviewing some educational videos that aren't so big on the woo as well). I think the quality of instruction and also the overall format of this movie make it worthy in spite of the woo, but I definitely have some issues with the spiritualizing of sexuality.

I am in the process of organizing and will start writing a series on sex and sexuality, from a basic discussion of exploring your partner's body and into discussions about how our society in general treats sex, human sexuality outside the hetero/homo dichotomy and beyond. I will be posting fairly detailed instructional posts about the mechanics of certain sexual techniques and ways to enhance the sexual pleasure of both partners and even get into self-pleasure. I am not going to stop posting about the things I generally post about and intend for this series to be written over an extended period...And now that word about sex woo....

"Tantric Orgasms and Sacred Sex: New Age Spirituality in the Sex Community," is actually a response to some discussions of Greta's earlier post; "A Skeptic's View of Sexual Transcendence." Specifically it addresses the question of why so much of the sex-positive community is into this spiritualization of sexuality.

I am not so far out of my own Faith and spirituality. It was less than a year ago, when I finally let it all go and that, kicking and screaming (metaphorically). So it is really easy for me to miss out on the obvious and I think that Greta really hits on some issues that should be pretty obvious to someone like me, who has been there and come out the other side.

In short, her first point is that society as a generalization tends to look at religion/spiritualism as positive forces, while the generalized social perception of sex is more of a negative. Thus many in the sex positive community will equate sexuality as a spiritual experience. She also makes a couple of other important points and I highly recommend reading both of the posts I linked to, but I rather wanted to focus on this point - mainly because it is absolutely not what ever motivated me to perceive sex as a spiritual experience. In all honesty, I have never thought of sex as a bad thing, ever since that initial clumsy fumbling about with a girl I went to church with, so many years ago. Indeed, both that then girl and I both walked away from our virginity believing that sex is absolutely fucking wonderful - in spite of the fact that that first time wasn't terribly impressive - the key was that it felt really good and absolutely nothing horrible happened because of it. While I have not had contact with her in more than ten years, I would consider her a rather dear friend and am confident that she feels the same about me.

But then, most people are aware I'm something of a freak. If you weren't aware, hang around for a while and you'll get the picture. Point being, I suspect that there really is something to Greta's assertion. And because I suspect that there is something to her assertion, I feel the need to clarify how I feel about sex and more importantly, the perspective I will be approaching this topic from. I don't want people who feel some kind of spiritual connection through sex to feel that I don't respect you or that these posts are just not for you. You are absolutely welcome here and while I don't buy into the spiritualization of sex, I don't have a problem with you doing so...I would however, suggest that you really consider your feelings about sex and what might be motivating those feelings.

Obviously I think that sex is a positive thing. And now that I have gotten done telling you that I don't buy into the spiritualization of sex, I will clarify that sex can and often is a transcendent experience for me. It is one of the few activities that makes it possible for me to actually get out of my head. I get hyperfocused when I am having sex - I am not thinking about anything else, not splitting my focus at all - everything and everything is about pleasing my partner. At the same time, my partner is doing exactly the same with me and thus, we are both experiencing intense pleasures, while not being entirely cognisant of what is happening to our own bodies - it's almost like experiencing the pleasure through the person we are pleasing.

It's also what to me, defines the difference between sex and masturbation that uses someone else's body as a sex toy.

I truly and passionately believe that sex is an incredible way to connect to other human beings. I have never been huge on monogamy, because I have never been one to equate sex with love in the sense of loving a romantic partner - though that is changing as I am developing a relationship the likes of which I have never experienced before. That is not to say that I don't equate sex with love - I have loved most of the people I had sex with, on a certain level. But I have never really been one to make a solid connection between having sex and the love that I have had for the few romantic partners I've had. But I love to make that connection - the feeling of another person's body, reacting and moving - solidly connected to my body - sweaty, messy and completely, deliciously raw human interaction.

Why the fuck do we need to attach something more to something so very awesome as all that? Putting some spiritual dimension to it can't possibly add anything to the wonder that is the sexual experience. It is plenty magical enough, without adding actual magical thinking to the mix - I tend to think that such magical thinking can only be a detraction - a distraction from being so wholly consumed by this engagement with another human being. If you are focusing on some magical component, it is just that much less focus you are putting into making this sex, the very best sexual experience your partner has ever had.

Sex is truly transcendent enough, without the magical thinking and I can't help but think that it is far more transcendent when the magical thinking isn't getting in the way...


Juniper Shoemaker said...

I was going to comment on another post first, but oh well.

I have never been huge on monogamy, because I have never been one to equate sex with love in the sense of loving a romantic partner

But there are value-neutral reasons to be monogamous. Preferring monogamy to promiscuity doesn't automatically indicate a conflation of sex with romantic love. For example, no one can have sex without either addressing the issues of STDs or pregnancy or paying the price of ignoring them. Or handling them poorly, for that matter. In terms of biology, therefore, sex is never as casual a type of interaction as conversing or as less intimate forms of physical contact.

I have trouble discussing sex as if it's purely a matter of love or enjoyment for this reason.

DuWayne Brayton said...

Oh I know darling, but I am talking about my own feelings and motivations here. And that was very much a primary factor in many of the attachments I formed when I was younger and a little bit promiscuous.

DuWayne Brayton said...

I occurs to me that a better way to have put my last comment, is that in large part, this post was intended to express some of the perspective I am coming from, as I get into writing this series on sex and sexuality.

Dan J said...

This is coming from someone who has never been truly into the woo. I have, however, been into altering my conscious state through various means. Do you think the equation of spirituality and sex comes from the altered consciousness (getting out of your head, as you mentioned) being explainable in no other way to people who are into woo of some particular flavor?

Sorry if that didn't come out very coherent. I'm heading off to bed after some tylenol and a hot shower.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for directing more people to Greta's excellent blog. She's got a knack for explaining things I consider mundane to people who consider them extreme. A knack I more or less completely lack.

Based on this post, I can honestly say that I look forward to seeing what else you have to say on the subject.

Ambivalent Academic said...

I get hyperfocused when I am having sex - I am not thinking about anything else, not splitting my focus at all - everything and everything is about pleasing my partner. At the same time, my partner is doing exactly the same with me

This is tantra as I understand it. Be present psychologically and emotionally. Be generous - give first. Have better sex (than many people might have been having previously) as a result. Some people also find that the being present and generous spills over to other aspects of their life. Not a bad thing. I realize that some people hyper-spiritualize all of this. I say, if it works for them, fine. But I think the principles are sound even if you don't make it spiritual. Kind of like meditation. For some people, it's spiritual, for others it's "good practice".

Jason Thibeault said...

While I have never had sex with anyone I don't love, I can compartmentalize it, such that sex or lack thereof has less impact on my feelings for the person. That said, I crave the physical contact, the intimacy, and the sense of selflessness that comes from focusing on your partner's pleasure over your own.

I always find myself very strongly put off by magical thinking, though. So, I can understand the whole concept of deriving spiritual pleasure from something as "magical" as finding a real (or perceived) connection between yourself and someone you love. But to turn it into a religious experience with a pantheon of Goddesses and mystical energy fields and other such bullshit just makes me limp. Pro tip for anyone who gets me in the sack -- if you say "I saw God", well, I'm complimented, but don't expect me to do you again.

DuWayne Brayton said...

AA -

I'm very aware of what Tantric (Tantra is actually much more than sex) sexual practices are about, having gotten into them with several partners over the years and reading several books on it. That's actually why I used the phrasing "everything and everything," which was given as a translation from an Awadhi text (no, I don't know that it was accurate - but it would certainly fit within Tantric Hinduism, as I understand it).

The problem I have with this is that no matter what it is supposed to be, it is nothing more than a layer of distraction from what I believe sex should be. Focusing on the "energy flow" between you and your partner, means you aren't focusing on your partner. Being concerned that you are "doing it right" means you are doing it wrong.

I do not want to give the impression that I don't believe that one can have incredible sex with the spiritualism in - believe me, I have had awesome sex that involved Tantric practices. I have also had really great sex while attempting ritual magic.

I am just saying that in the end, these are all a distraction from what great sex can be.

Juniper Shoemaker said...

I occurs to me that a better way to have put my last comment, is that in large part, this post was intended to express some of the perspective I am coming from, as I get into writing this series on sex and sexuality.

Point taken, love. I apologize for my tangent.

Sexuality is viewed with such forceful negativity in our culture-- our adolescent sensationalization of it as evinced in pop culture is just another way of saying OOH OMG TEH SEKS IS BAD, and not a wholehearted approval of it, in my opinion-- that I can see people invoking spirituality to "legitimize" it for a long time yet. For some odd reason, we (as a society) seem to think that "I am doing this solely because it delights me, therefore I must be willing to harm other people to do it" makes logical sense. Thus the "distractions" you name in an endeavor worthy in and of itself.

Why is my Verification Word "notingle"? See, DuWayne, were I still incredibly superstitious, I would fear this as a portent of bedroom doom. ;)

Abby Normal said...

I must say, the spiritualization of sex doesn't much bother me. As is true of just about everything, it can be taken to an unhealthy extreme. Some of what's talked about in the linked articles probably falls into that category. But I think for the most part it's just a way of people trying to express concepts and feelings that are difficult to put into words.

Echoing what Dan J said, the language of spirituality lends itself well to sexuality, as evidence by the repeated use of "transcendent" to describe really good sex in the original article. Likewise, as I see it "focusing on energy" is just another way of saying "consciously pay attention to what's going on in the moment, what you're feeling and what your partner is communicating," but in a more condensed and romantic way. Whether or not someone believes there really is some kind of mystical energy exchange doesn't make much difference if it leads them to being more attentive.

Regarding this statement:
The problem I have with this is that no matter what it is supposed to be, it is nothing more than a layer of distraction from what I believe sex should be.

I don't want my every sexual encounter to be the deep, meaningful event DuWayne described. Sometimes a bit of distraction is perfectly in order. Sometimes I just want to play, or relieve stress, to learn, to rut, to get mine, or to just be used. I don't think those things are obstacles to also having wonderful, giving, connected, transcendent sex. Nor is such variety an obstacle to monogamy. What sex "should be" is whatever that particular session turns out to be. To borrow from a wise man, "Being concerned that you are 'doing it right' means you are doing it wrong."

DuWayne Brayton said...

I don't want my every sexual encounter to be the deep, meaningful event DuWayne described.

I really wasn't expressing myself all that well - it isn't about making it deep and meaningful, it is about focusing on what you're doing when you're having sex and focusing on pleasing your partner - which perversely will occasionally mean letting your partner take the time and effort to totally please you, without any effort on your part. Or taking part in any of innumerable games that lovers can play. It's not about limiting what one can do, nor is it about making every sex act a long, drawn out event. Quickies are important too sometimes...

It's about being present. Not something that has always been important to me, but rather something that has developed into something important to me.

Abby Normal said...

I think I understand you DuWayne. I even agree to a point. It's just phrases like "sex is about" and "sex should be" that are causing me to bristle a bit. I get the impression that your talking about more than your personal preference. I would have no problem if you said something like, "I find [whatever woo] to be a distraction." But I think what you've actually been saying is too overly broad.

I agree with you that, both (or all) participants being completely present is important, as is focusing on your partner. I would even go so far as to say couple who never has that kind of sex could use some help. I'm just drawing the line short of those elements always being required, even in sex between loving and committed partners.

For example, sex while sleeping. I was in a relationship where my partner gave me general permission to have sex with her while she slept and I did the same for her. Obviously an unconscious partner is neither present nor focusing on anyone's pleasure.

But it was totally exciting. The idea of my lover simply using my body, without consideration for my pleasure, was a real turn on. Simply using her on occasion was exhilarating too. Moreover the trust displayed by giving each other power over our own body while it was most vulnerable built intimacy, benefiting the whole relationship. (Plus, occasionally waking up to discover you're in the middle of having sex was great fun. But that's not really here nor there for the purpose of this example.)

What do you think, do we have a failure to communicate or an honest disagreement?

DuWayne Brayton said...

In all honesty Abby, I just didn't make it nearly as clear as I should have what this post was meant to accomplish. I wasn't really trying to tell anyone else what they should do or how they should do it, it was only intended to explain where I am coming from, before I dive into this series.

I do think that it's entirely valid to enjoy sex that isn't so very focused as I like it to be. It's not my thing, but then, neither is sex that involves blood being drawn or foot worship - yet I am all about people for whom those are a turn-on having right at it.

For that matter, I am not averse to people spiritualizing sex either. For some people, it's how they learn to be more focused on their partner and learn to have great sex. Again, not my thing, but if it is yours - have at it...

I really am quite vales neutral about the sexual preferences of others. I intend on writing about a lot of sexual practices that I personally don't engage in. In all honesty, my own preferences are fairly basic (not really vanilla, just not involving any "major" fetishes). I just know a lot about a lot of sex for a variety of reasons - mostly through trying things out.

Basically, as long as it's consensual and safe, I am all about people fucking however they like. I accept that for some people part of the kink is the lack of safety - it makes for mixed feelings, but knowing too many people with HIV/AIDS, I come down on "Fuck That!!!" And by consensual, I do mean legally capable of consenting...

Abby Normal said...

Damn. How can we have a good back and forth, point/counterpoint, if we keep agreeing? Don’t make me say something absurd. You know I’ll do it. ;-)