We live in a sex-obsessed society. Sexy images of men and women fill magazines, movies, and TV, and chances are that when we are not looking at these images we may be fantasizing about a new romance or imagining an explicit encounter. Some may argue that this obsession is somehow a relatively recent phenomenon; that there was time in the near past when people were more proper, when sexuality played less of a role in our lives, or when, at least, it was less visible. Certainly there were times when such overtly sexual images were not as public as today, but even a cursory overview of history shows that sex has always been in the forefront of humanity's thoughts. Our most ancient literature is often sexually explicit, as is much of our earliest art. We are, in fact, a sex-obsessed species.
Whether we view sexual attraction as simply a function of biology and evolution or as something more, the need for sexual contact is one of our strongest urges, and how we understand and seek to fulfill this urge can lead to meaningful connection and bliss, or pain, anger and even violence. Sex has tremendous power, and this power, if not understood and properly channeled, can do tremendous damage.
Not surprisingly, then, religions, which in their essence seek to teach us how to live in accordance with our highest nature, have had much to say about sex. There is a common perception that religions finds sex distasteful; that sexuality is somehow impure and shameful, or that at best it should only be used for procreation. This is certainly a position that can be found in several religious traditions. Some of this discomfort comes from the Platonic view that our physicality is inferior to our non-physical aspects of mind and soul; that any physical desires are distractions, or even deliberate temptations, away from the higher realms of ideas and spirit. In its darker form, religious discomfort with sexuality arises from those who are threatened or overwhelmed by their feelings of sexual attraction and use the authority of religion to create a straight-jacket around sexuality in order to diminish and control others and justify their feelings of shame or insecurity.
This is a tragic and dangerous distortion. Deeply spiritual religious teaching view sex from a higher perspective, and when seen through the lens of energetic flow, sex can be a sacred, holy and profoundly religious act that creates connection in a way that nothing else that we do or experience can. Below I've attempted to categorize and briefly explain a few of these views.
Sex as Bliss in the Re-unification of Oneness
The basis of spirituality is the recognition that everything originates and is sustained from the same source, that everything is in fact a part of this source, and that the highest reality is oneness. Physicality, though, is inherently dualistic because, just as atoms need negative and positive charges, duality is what makes physicality possible. In both creation stories in the Bible (which, just to be clear, are allegorical stories that present complex truths, not history) humanity began as a single being that was split in to male and female. We all intuit this unity and yearn to return to this original state, and the ecstasy of sex is the emergence, contact and reunification of raw male and female energies -- giving and receiving, static and flowing, strength and surrender, containment and release. The masculine is aroused by the abundance and flow of the feminine and the feminine is aroused by being an agent of arousal. The greater the distinction, power and clarity of each, the greater the pleasure for both partners.
It is important to know that while men tend to contain a predominance of male energy and women a predominance of female, each has an element of the other, (hence the white dot in the black and the black dot in white as found in the yin/yang symbol) so this unification can therefore occur in same-gender encounters as well.
Sex as Pleasure in the Bounty and Goodness of Life
Several lines from "The Song of Songs", an ancient erotic poem in the form of a dialogue between two lovers, read:
"How beautiful is your loving, my beloved,
How much better is your loving than wine and your oils more fragranct than all spices.
Honey drips from your lips, my beloved; honey and milk under your tongue...
How beautiful and how sweet is love in its pleasures:
You stand like a palm tree, and your breasts are the clusters of fruit.
Let me climb into that palm tree, and hold its branches."
The "Song of Songs" is one of the most explicit and sexually charged pieces of literature ever written. And it is also recognized as a holy text by Jews and Christians alike. Some have struggled with its explicit physicality, and insist that it is meant as a metaphor of the relationship between God and humanity -- a description of the ecstatic joy in a connection with the Divine. This is just one aspect of this rapturous poem, though. The "Song of Songs" is holy because it celebrates the pleasure in the experience of the essential goodness of creation. The lovers explore each other with abandon, swept up in their attraction and admiration for the other's beauty, in appreciation for the joys of physical contact, desire, and passion. From this view, sex is a great gift for which we should always be thankful. It is only when we loose contact with gratitude that sex can turn narcissistic and destructive.
Sex as an Experience of the Ecstasy of Creation
The 16th century Jewish mystics of Tzfat, Israel, imagined that the act of creation required a contraction; that God needed to withdraw from an infinitesimally small space in order for something else to emerge. But this contraction caused a cosmic paradox (how some-thing emerges from no-thing), and so God's infinite presence surged through this tiny space and burst in to physicality in an ecstasy of creation. This vision (which is very much like the modern image of the Big Bang), has clear and deliberate sexual overtones. Mystics from many different traditions have seen that sexual climax mimics the bursting and flowering of creation, and that sex can connect us to the primordial, animating energy. In the moment of sexual climax, people have reported feeling an oceanic loss of self, an opening or clearing away, or visions of energy flows. In that moment people have reported feeling a powerful, loving and purposeful presence, and as has often been pointed out, it is no coincidence that in this moment people often scream, "Oh God!"
Religion and spiritual teachings have said a lot about sex, both positive and encouraging, and negative and dismissive. We must always remember, though, that religion is a man-made institution that is subject to the distortions and inclinations of its leaders and its culture, but that contains within it the impulse to help elevate humanity to its highest potential by reminding us that we are manifestations of the Divine. From this perspective, sex is a great gift that was given to us as a way to deeply connect with the power of life, the presence of spirit and the ecstasy of creation. We are naturally obsessed with sex because we yearn for these connections in order to experience who we really are, where we came from and what we are capable of being.