Why Sex Is Not Spiritual

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Chris Hall
​One of the things that sets my teeth on edge about what an old friend calls San Francisco's "Kinky Konfederacy" -- the loose affiliation of queers, kinksters, fetishists, swingers, pornographers, sex workers, and perverts who band together under the ethic of sex positivity -- is the idea that sex should somehow be "spiritual." As moving and powerful and important as sex might be to me, it's not spiritual to me -- not in the least. More to the point, I don't think it should be.

At first glance, saying that might sound like I just came out in opposition to fluffy bunnies and lollipops. And that's the problem: "spirituality" is vague enough that it doesn't say anything meaningful but still gives you warm fuzzy feelings inside. It's one of the fluffy bunnies of the English language -- and what kind of sick, heartless bastard could be against fluffy bunnies?

Well, me. I think that anything that could be called sex-positive in any meaningful sense needs to be strictly anti-fluffy bunny. I would go even further: I think that the whole point of being sex-positive is to seek out fluffy bunnies in sex and gender, wring their little necks, skin them, and sink our teeth into the meat with relish. The fact that it is so very, very popular in sex-positive communities to put sexuality in the realm of the mystical by defining it as "spiritual" or "sacred" doesn't make me feel warm and fuzzy; it gives me a numbing chill because what I really hear is shame. I hear people making excuses for their kinks and their pleasure. That so much talk about sexuality is wrapped in platitudes about spirituality, magic(k), or transcendence shows how deeply we've failed in being able to discuss sexual pleasure as a good thing in itself, without any excuses.

Probably the biggest obstacle facing anyone who thinks or writes about sexuality is that the body is always suspect. The idea that our bodies are inherently flawed and corrupt and that what matters is our abstract self -- whether you call it soul, spirit, mind, or whatever -- is only slightly less universal than 1+1=2. It's central to the religious teachings of the Catholic Church and the Dalai Lama, but it's also laced into the more secular ideas of feminists who write about objectification, and transhumanists who long for the day when they can upload their consciousness into a cloud of nanites.

Our bodies can be seen, heard, felt, weighed. They bleed and sweat and shit and come. They eventually age and die. And bizarrely, that very substance is why they're considered the most superficial parts of ourselves. Perhaps the sickest, most perverse part of religion's legacy is the lie that followers should ignore their worldly suffering in favor of the bliss that will come in the afterlife, when they can leave the soiled impurity of the mortal shell behind. Greta Christina, talking about this very same subject, sums up the dualism that haunts even those of us who fight puritanism tooth and nail:

One of the central tropes of religion is that being a religious person makes you a good person, pretty much by definition. God is good, supposedly, so the closer you are to God, the better a person you are. And related to this is the notion that being a spiritual person means being connected with the most real, and most important, part of life and existence. The material world is hollow, according to this trope; a mere shell for the creamy metaphysical goodness that lies within. Focusing on the material world makes you shallow at best; focusing on the spiritual makes you deep.

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​All the paganism, Tantra, meditation, sacred sex, and BDSM sex magic(k) books and workshops represent a step backward. They are very convenient ways of rationalizing sexual pleasure by letting people claim that it's about "something more" than just making your body feel good. All the sweat and cum and juices and the delicious, confusing carnality of sex get shoved back into the closet in favor of much tidier abstractions so that we can believe that we're not just shallow hedonists. And that takes us back to square one, where we were told by our teachers, priests, and parents that sex was good -- or at least acceptable -- when done for any reason other than physical pleasure.

We cannot afford for sex to be sacred. Sacred things sit on altars to be worshiped from afar, not to become part of one's everyday life. They are not to be touched, played with, fondled, mocked, examined, or questioned. They do not come down into the dust and muck that we live in every day. The sacred stays safely behind the veil of mysticism and respect. Keeping sex behind that veil isn't just repressive and boring, it's fatal. In the 1980s and '90s, when being "sex-positive" started becoming a popular idea, the costs of being dishonest about sex were writ large not in words, but in thousands upon thousands of caskets -- those who died in the AIDS epidemic. In the midst of that, feminists and religious moralists alike were clinging to the idea that they could keep their desires neatly contained in this box or that, made pretty with rose petals and a Vaseline-smeared lens. Talking about queerness, kink, pleasure, and health -- openly and without shame -- wasn't just about finding better ways to fuck, it was life and death.

The popularity of dime-store mysticism in alt-sexuality communities silences that kind of radical discussion about our bodies and our lives. One of the most popular fuzzy bunnies slung about by people who style themselves as educators is "energy." Divorced from any connection to physics or chemistry, "energy" is a vague, anonymous placeholder of a word that means whatever the speaker or the listener wants it to mean. When educators go on about "energy" instead of diving into the nitty-gritty of circulation, muscles, digestion, or other bodily functions, it reminds me of my parents and teachers politely referring to the genitals as "down there." Learning how intricate and individual "down there" really was represents one of the most revelatory parts of my sexual education.

Sex is not spiritual. There is no god present when I kiss someone, no goddess there when I go down on that person. Neither my erection nor my orgasm is a devotion to spirits. Every bit of it belongs to me and to them, and to no one else. When you can have something like that, why would you want to embroider it with fairy tales and euphemism?

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Chris Hall is a godless pervert, sex nerd, and writer who lives in the East Bay. Follow him on Twitter at @LiteratePervert.

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162 comments
catgonzo
catgonzo

I don't entirely agree. Sex is physically pleasurable and that's definitely a good enough reason to engage in it if you want to. But, as social creatures, sex can also be lots of other things. I don't think it's "backwards" to look for those other things if a person wants to. And some of them are focused on increasing pleasure. Tantric sex can help you learn ways to have better, longer orgasms. BDSM can provide avenues of pleasure to people who experience some types of pain or vulnerability as pleasurable -- something they won't learn in our mainstream concept of sex.

Smarag
Smarag

I haven't read the rest of the comments, so bare with me (pun intended). The kind of "spirituality" I'm interested in is nonduality and the kind of sex I'm interested in ranges from romance to sheer hairy juicy kink. I'm very spiritual but it has nothing to do with energy or any of that. It's about the simple fact. Nobody can explain what life is, where it comes from, or where it goes. It's a miracle, 24/7/365. Knowing that is being awake. That's one pole. The other is the ongoing stories that life makes. Not illusions. Stories. Some good, some bad, some that help, some that hurt. That said, no church or state has the right to say what is right or correct or healthy in sexuality. Don't hurt people. And do what you want.

Derek_zary
Derek_zary

If you take the love and spirit out  of making love, what your left with is just lust and two people useing eachother for their own need mostly. This is then related to selfishness, and one own fulfilment. This - done often will bring on ones own guilt, which sooner or later will have a negitive effect and will make it harder to feel LOVE. Everyone wants love and the holy spirit is with love.I am a whitness to that feeling of guilt, and that is how I know. So perhaps people of today may get use to useing eachother just to have meaningless sex, but it is so much more better when love is involved...

Starry Eyd Babe
Starry Eyd Babe

I have no problem with however you decide to view sex, and I even agree with you that people attempt to reduce or reverse perceived stigma with spirituality, but we're still stuck on a dualistic scale of "good vs. bad," "sacred vs. profane." From my point of view, sex just is, any attempts to categorize or vilify are irrelevant. The foundation of my religion is sex as an expression of natural cycles. I believe in equating, not elevating, the mundane with the sacred. I know you are not personally condemning any practices or perspectives, but when you use the word "should" in relation to what human beings do or do not do with sex, your article starts to take on the tone of those you are protesting. I'm pretty sure you see sex in terms of "is and isn't" and are resisting any sort of qualifications placed on it, which I obviously agree with, but saying that spirituality should not be involved with sex is only applicable for those who don't need to be spiritual.

Jade
Jade

I see what you're saying here, and on some points I do agree. However, I would argue against trying to completely divorce sex and spirtuality--you won't manage it. Instead, I'd argue for letting it be what it is. For some people, BDSM IS about a spiritual experience, fulfilling a deep fantasy in a way that can be described as a 'spiritual feeling', something that soothes the 'soul'. For some people (like me), BDSM is about a few things. That kind of deep fulfilment, hedonistic pleasure, challenging myself, exploring my body. All of these things are interconnected and I don't think I could seperate them. They blur together too much, just like how my art blurs with my sexuality, just like how my art blurs with my science. Trying to cut out those feelings completely seems rather unfair--but I agree that them using them as a justification, rather than a reason, is bad. Ultimately it would be better to try and get people to make explanations, not try and create excuses. 

Persipone
Persipone like.author.displayName 1 Like

Late commenter, but--

I see your point and I think it's a good one.  Seeing sex as sacred can be limiting to sex-- it can shame us when the kind of sex we want to have isn't the kind of sex we think is holy.  It can make us feel like there's a right and a wrong kind of sex.  Sometimes sex is just the pleasure of the body.  It isn't this mystical joining, and it shouldn't have to be.

But, my theology (I'm Wiccan), teaches that the pleasure of the body *is* holy.  It challenges us to see the sacred in even the most edgy kinds of sex: to find the gods in scat, hustler, lifestyle D/s, slashfic, breathplay, ponyboys.  Maintaining the presence of the gods in sex demands that we expand our understanding of our gods, rather than limiting our understanding of sex.  It means we really have to get into the specifics of "all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals."

Anyway, my theology isn't everybody's cup of tea, and that's fine.  Some folks aren't spiritually or religiously minded, and some folks want to keep their sex and their religion separate.  And I will always stand in opposition to people who want to use religion to set limits on sex.  But I think there's something to be said for those of us who try to use sex to expand the limits of religion, without loosing any of sex's power to liberate.

mhays08
mhays08

@Persipone You are absolutely on track here. 


René Nash
René Nash

Did you think that maybe, just *maybe*, you should ask people what they mean when they describe sex as spiritual or sacred instead of deciding what you want to hear? Because a large number of people who I know that describe sex as spiritual actually consider "the sweat and cum and juices and the delicious, confusing carnality of sex" to be the sacred part. This whole post makes a lot of (in my experience, false) assumptions about how people who describe sex as "sacred" or "spiritual" relate to their spiritual beliefs. I can't imagine myself or any of my pagan friends viewing the sacred as " things sit on altars to be worshiped from afar, not to become part of one's everyday life" or something that cannot be "touched, played with, fondled, mocked, examined, or questioned", especially considering I've witnessed and participated in doing these things in pagan communities.

Hellena
Hellena

I think this discussion begs the question "what is spiritual?"  My definition of spirituality is "it is about exploring awareness about one's relationship to self and everything else in order to more consciously create and align with one's intention."  His premise reveals his own separation from the sacredness residing within himself, which is such a precious element and evidence of a greater level of self love, which is the basis of all sacred sexuality.  If we all loved ourselves as well as we love others, the world would be a much different place.

I recently worked with a client who was addicted to porn and unhappy about it.  When I suggested that he take a month long moratorium on porn and fantasizing, and instead choose to enjoy his self pleasuring focused totally on "being his own best lover" and his own touch and feelings and pleasure in the touch... relaxing into his breath and slowing down to actually "feel" more in his interactions with himself.  In following my suggestion, he reported that his desire to compulsively "scratch his sexual itch" had fallen easily by the wayside and that his personal pleasuring experience had shifted to a far more satisfying, nurturing and fulfilling experience.  And this was only the beginning of his shift in this.   His discussion resists the idea of a more "elevated" view of sexuality which may tend to create a certain level of separation from aspects of sexuality and to excuse self from personal judgmentalism.  From his point of view and premises, I agree with much of what he says...however, I disagree with his premises!The only thing that makes sacred sex sacred, is the level of consciousness/awareness and intention that one brings to whatever is going on.  I don't know that he understands that sacred sexuality practices activate the body/mind/spirit in certain ways to include the whole being in the experience rather than staying focused say on... the genitals alone.  In my experience, including such practices does change the paradigm in which one plays -- it is like going from high school to college.  It is a totally different experience.  This does not denigrate any other way of playing in sexuality, it is just different and more expanded in feeling, scope and depth.  As we expand our understanding of what may be available in sexuality, it will exponentially change our perspective on the experience as a whole, just as such personal expansion affects us in other areas of understanding.I wonder if this author has actually opened his mind and body to actually step into such an experience so that he speaks from experience?Our current relationship with sexuality in our culture is problematic on so many levels, I believe that it is important that we make better friends with this aspect of self and give ourselves permission to stop fumbling about in the dark guessing at what works and doesn't - and instead avail ourselves of information available to take our experiences to a more conscious, effective level.  For greater overall sexual health it is essential that we focus on a more sex positive approach, free of shame, guilt, repression, etc.  Ignoring same, we may lose the opportunity to expand our consciousness and up level our experience and make it more affective, fulfilling and healthy.

Fellow godless perv
Fellow godless perv

I find much or most or all of what you say to be very ambiguous. And what is porn "addiction"? $100 a day habit? Or could your client not possess porn without compulsively masturbating? And divorcing masturbation also from fantasy (intangible "porn"), and instead focusing exclusively on the "pleasure of my own touch" and concepts like "self love" and "being my own best lover?!!!" might be somehow spiritually or therapeutically or politically "correct" in some New Age "paradigm".  But this would not work for me. The blood would not fill my penis. Or should I leave my penis out of the mix also? And why would I want to be shamed, guilted or repressed into doing so?

"His discussion resists the idea of a more "elevated" view of sexuality which may tend to create a certain level of separation from aspects of sexuality and to excuse self from personal judgmentalism". I'm lost here.

And why would you assume that unenlightened, base and perverted creatures like myself would focus on "genitals only"? I find all of a lovers body to possess aesthetic erotic beauty and sensuality. From the bottom of her feet to the top of her head.

You seem to imply perhaps that this focus on physical beauty, an erotic aesthetic, is bad. And somehow denies the "higher self".  Or perhaps that focus on physical beauty denies the inherent but intangible humanity of the love "object"?

Your "sex positivity" appears to me to be fraught with repression and shame.

"Show me my favorite beauty spot. Tie me up in a love knot". ;-)

Chris H
Chris H

Wow. So much of this comment validates my reasons for writing the essay, I feel like I have to thank you for it. The condescension in the second half is especially demonstrative of why the conflation of sex positivity with "spirituality" is so disturbing to me. You know nothing of my sexuality, and it certainly isn't "genitals only." I'm even more disturbed, though, that your cure for "porn addiction" (a pseudo-scientific justification for puritanism if there ever was one) included not only having your client stop looking at porn, but stop *fantasizing*. That's horrifying to me, because it so explicitly calls for a narrowing of sexual imagination in order to reach one's "higher self." No thank  you.

Bogart Stuyvesant
Bogart Stuyvesant

sex is over rated anyway, when one realizes one's total creative potential in any arena.  get a new hobby, craft, art, etc.  childhood does end, you know.

Fellow godless perv
Fellow godless perv

I am longer no interested in sex since I took up finger painting. I'm a big boy now.

Bogart Stuyvesant
Bogart Stuyvesant

if that is the limit of your capacity, then by all means give it all you have to the world of finger painting...

Fellow godless perv
Fellow godless perv

An interesting rant. My views on "reality" are similar to yours. I'm an agnostic; an atheist with a grain of doubt. An existential materialist. Our bodies are real and are our ultimate reality. Otherworlds, afterworlds and afterlives are fictions and fantasies. Faith notwithstanding. But faith doesn't count in this argument. Only that which can be perceived can be judged to be real in rational scientific inquiry. .Still, there is much to the the Universe that is not perceptible. At  least according to physics and physics theories. And so far our perception of the material Universe on a base subatomic level does not even jibe with that of our "macro" perception of the Universe. This leaves even our "mundane" earthly existences in a place that is somewhat unfathomable and quite mysterious. The Universe is to us, to an extent unknown, mystical.As a materialist my only definition of spirit could be that which is mortal and perishes with the flesh. If I recall, Nietzsche was not fond of the terms "spirit" or "soul". Zarathustra said something like "this thing you call (spirit or soul) is just a toy of your mind" in denying an immortal soul. Or separation of spirit and flesh.You say that no god is present when you kiss someone. But this point is moot. You are an atheist.In 'Zarathustra', even the "higher men" perceive an ass, which wanders into Zarathustras cave, to be "God" shortly after Z converts them to atheism. In the absence of god(s) or spirituality, anything will do. For a life to have meaning a materialist must choose to give it one. A kind of "spirituality" can exist within the constraints of spirit as mortal. And having some effect on those with which we share the experience of existence, and thus history as well as those yet unborn. I think it's human nature (for many) to need transcendent meaning to temporary existence, thus religion.And simple enjoyment of life and of sensual pleasure is certainly uplifting to the "mortal spirit".Sex certainly feels transcendent, physically and mentally, in comparison to things like repetitious manual labor, housework, paying bills, not paying bills, etc.So does smoking opium. For me anyway. But opium is a self contained experience.With sex, more than one may play. And this play may go beyond sex. Anonymous or casual sex excepted.I think "love" is missing from your equation. The erotic bonding to a lover  who becomes also a best friend and soulmate is one of lifes profoundest pleasures and fortunes. If sensual pleasure is not bad then why exclude it from the transcendent or "spiritual"? Or ignore the variety of social contexts in which sex can take place? Anything from rape to selfless giving of pleasure to another while forgoing self satisfaction (for free :-).A romantic short story. A dearest female friend and mortal soul departed was a young street whore happily addicted to heroin in Hollywood long ago during the punk rock days. One night a young john picked her up. He seemed very "gay". He took her home and spent the entire night licking her pearl and working her over with a vibrator. He remained fully clothed the entire night. In the morning she gave him his money back and left. A fond memory for her.This true story is oddly "spiritual" to me in some quirky and amusing way. The Universe is both quirky and mystical. Even if ones god is really an ass in a cave, this ass may be worthy of worship.A nearly godless perv myself, I'm sure I qualify in the esoteric fetish with sprinkles of SM/BD dept. I was unaware of the Konfederacy, SM sex magic, etc.Or that the New Age cliche "energy", a verbal instrument of ambiguity and obfuscation, was part of this "consciousness expansion". Wild."YEEEEAAAHHHH HAAAAAAWWW!!!" brayed the ass.Peace.

   

Bogart Stuyvesant
Bogart Stuyvesant

That which has Imagination, has capacity of Soul.  By rooting the soul phenomenologically in  the imagination and the Imaginal,  Henry Corbin  rescued the Spiritual from the sterile abstraction it has been reduced to since the Enlightenment.  

http://henrycorbinproject.blog...

Kate
Kate

I found this article original and refreshing.

I'm tired of the righteousness and exclusivity of people who behave as though their orgasm is more enlightened and complete than that of ordinary people. Not to mention their annoying diatribes about why their training or practice rationalizes or justifies making lusty sex OK.

I don't need a reason or excuse for enjoying sex. Thank you for saying something that's needed to be said for a long time.

Fellow godless perv
Fellow godless perv

How does orgasm achieve enlightenment? Through disillusionment. A Buddhist joke.Is lustless sex okay? I would need more than a reason or excuse to enjoy lustless sex.

   

Bogart Stuyvesant
Bogart Stuyvesant

On Spiritual Reality & Imagination

For all our esotericists, the interior world designates the spiritual reality of the supersensible universe which, while a spiritual reality, is that which encircles and envelopes the reality of the external world... 'To leave' that which we commonly call the exterior world is an experience not at all 'subjective' but as 'objective' as possible, but it is difficult to transmit this to a spirit wanting to be modern. - En Islam Iranien v. 1, 82

The Active Imagination guides, anticipates, molds sensory perception; that is why it transmutes sensory data into symbols. The Burning Bush is only a brushwood fire if it is merely perceived by the sensory organs. In order that Moses may perceive the Burning Bush and hear the Voice calling him 'from the right side of the valley' - in short, in order that there may be a theophany - an organ of trans-sensory perception is needed. - Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi, 80

…The seriousness of the role of the Imagination is stressed by our [Iranian] philosophers when they state that it can be 'the Tree of Blessedness' or on the contrary 'the Accursed Tree' of which the Qur'an speaks… The imaginary can be innocuous, the imaginal never can. - Spiritual Body & Celestial Earth, vii-x.It may befall a soul to 'die' as a soul can die, by falling below itself, below its condition of a human soul: by actualizing in itself its bestial and demonic virtuality. This is its hell, the hell that it carries in itself - just as its bliss is its elevation above itself, flowering of its angelic virtuality. Personal survival cannot then be thought of as purely and simply prolonging the status of the human condition, the 'acquired dispositions.' The latter doubtless concern what we call the 'personality.' But...the essential person in its posthumous becoming and in its immortality perhaps immeasurably transcends the 'personality' of so-and-so son of so-and-so. - Avicenna & the Visionary Recital, 116

It is not in the power of a human being to destroy his celestial Idea; but it is in his power to betray it, to separate himself from it, to have, at the entrance to the Chinvat Bridge, nothing face to face with him but the abominable and demonic caricature of his 'I' delivered over to himself without a heavenly sponsor. - Spiritual Body & Celestial Earth, 42

Daka Dom
Daka Dom

Glad this discussion is so lively. It points, in my opinion, to exactly how complex our sexuality is...despite the authors noble and skilled efforts to "keep it simple, stupid!" We are in the vanguard of a new era of sexual liberation, unprecedented in the history of civilization. It may take a few generations for all the threads of perversity to get sorted out. But I applaud each individual for speaking up for their own version of the truth...there is no one way...sexual freedom by its own definition means freedom to be different.

GalenConscious Kink Bloghttp://DakaDom.com

Donna Vernon
Donna Vernon

I feel sorry for you that you don't feel the presence of God when you kiss someone.  Try connecting  your sex to your heart and feel the difference.  The experience is transcendent!

René Nash
René Nash

I don't think anyone's sex HAS to be spiritual. I think to say it does is fairly self-righteous and some super-pervy proselytizing. I merely balk at the notion that people who see their sexual behavior as spiritual should not do so.

Donna Vernon
Donna Vernon

I feel sorry for you that God is not present when you kiss someone.  Sounds like you could use some heart opening prayer.  Ram Das said it best when he suggested that an evolved intimate relationship is "coming to God together".

Nuku
Nuku

my issue is not that you wrote this but that you didn't really go into examples of kinky konfederacy thinking. that would have grounded your argument and giving you something more solid to be against. your argument might as well be akin to pissing in the wind.. 

EvanT
EvanT

A very powerful article, Chris (and Greta's plug sure drew a lot of comments :) ) Now that the hoopla has died down, it looks like a good time to make my request. Would you mind if I translated this article in Greek for my blog?

Chris H
Chris H

I don't really have anything to say about that. You'd have to talk to Village Voice Media.

Samie Cordon
Samie Cordon

There are points that I agree with and disagree with on this. I love sex for the physical fun of it, but I also enjoy it for the other aspects. Sex can be spiritual or sacred, but it doesn't -have- to be.

I don't believe that any kind of sex; sex for the physical enjoyment, the spiritual enjoyment, the emotional connection or even simply or the novelty, is better than any other kind. Just depends on your mood at the time, I think.

Denim
Denim

I think it's very reasonable to say one kind of sex is better than another.  For example, sex where all participants are respected is better than sex where they aren't (I happen to think consensual BDSM-play represents respect for the masochistic/submissive desires of the bottom, just so I don't give the wrong impression).  It's just, outside of extreme examples like safe vs. not safe or consent vs. not consent, it's impossible to really show that one kind of sex is better than another, especially when compounded with the extreme variation in human desire.

The real issue is whether we say one kind of sex is better because of good reasons or just because it's the specific kind of sex we like having.

But I think instead of reading this article as "our sex is better than yours and here's why," you should instead read it in the context of a creeping spirituality and credulous woo-ey culture; to me, this article reads instead, "I don't want your kind of sex and here's why."

Edmund Metheny
Edmund Metheny

I think that part of the problem here is that the word "spiritual" is freighted with a number of meanings.

I view sex as having a spiritual component.  By "spiritual" I mean specifically  "an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being" or in this case "the essence of my being and my relationship with my partner".  I reject the idea that this is some sort of escape mechanism allowing me to avoid some sort of guilt because I don't feel guilty about the sex I have.The term "sacred" also has a number of meanings.  I don't believe sex is in any way a sort of hotline to the divine.  I do believe that for those who believe that spirituality, in whatever form they define it, is a part of their existence, sex may be a worthy of spiritual respect or devotion.Or not.We know that humans have a wide-ranging reaction to sex, both physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Saying that putting a spiritual component in your sex is wrong is like saying that putting an anal component in your sex is wrong.I understand from some of the comments made that the author is trying to simply state a case, but I think the piece as written comes across as too categorical in its rejection.

Ken Ingram
Ken Ingram

I think you make some good points Chris. Although t also seems that you conflate spirituality and religion in this discussion. Spirituality is personal and individual, like sex.Effectively, religion is a set of dogmas and doctrines by which one person or a group of people seeks to control the spirituality of others. And in some sense, religion began as a community of people with similar "spiritual" ideas finding a way to put that spirituality to use in the physical world. If we observe history carefully, we might notice that in particular, Abrahamic, Hindu and Buddhist religions have been subverted by power hungry despots which allowed the more altruistic aspects of such community to be turned to purposes other than what one's "spiritual" nature intends. If the nature of our individual spiritual designs is to simply increase the possibility of connection to other human beings, what is lost by accepting the "spiritual" as equal to the physical? I agree with you conjecture about shame having some part in this. (I'm a recovering catholic, thank you). My conjecture is that for SOME people, in order to reconcile the deep religious and/or societal programming around sex with their inherent hedonistic nature, there is some middle ground where if they make sex "spiritual" that deeper religious hook won't be activated. In effect some people lie to themselves that their sluts, but if they make it "spiritual" then their behavior is working toward a higher good. Not everyone speaking on the spirituality of sex is coming from a place of shame however.

I understand your atheist viewpoint and I respect what you are saying. It really is simple.But, the non-physicality of sex is just as real as the physical aspect. (Non-physical being what goes on in our brain) As someone who sees both sides, I have an interest in achieving an experience of non-duality. No distinction between sex causing a non-physical transcendant experience or a a purely physical experience. While I have had some experiences during sex that have influenced my intuitive experiences, I thoroughly enjoy the rough, tender, grunting, wet, sticky, slippery, aromatic, joyful, agressive experience of sex in all it's raw carnality. As someone who appreciates both sides, I applaud you for speaking your mind in such a public way. You have courage to be a lightning rod on a such a difficult subject.

Chris H
Chris H

Part of the point I'm trying to make, Ken, is that the stuff that goes on inside our brains is part of the physical experience. How we express ourselves to the world and experience it is directly influenced by the physical structure of our brains. Change that structure, and you have a different person. Just look at any of the people who were given lobotomies back in the good old days, or at the unique case of Phineas Gage, back in the 19th century. Gage, while working on a railroad, had his skull transfixed by a metal rod in an explosion. He survived, but his personality changed radically. You can't actually say "This is physical, this isn't." We are physical beings, and what I don't like about talking about sex as a spiritual experience is that it tries to draw an artificial line that marks where our selves stop being physical.

Ken Ingram
Ken Ingram

Sure. I get that. And there is an element of who we are at that level that NO ONE can comprehend.And I think this is where your statements generate push back. There is absolutely no way you can know my mind. Hell, I bet 99% of the people reading your article don't know their own mind regarding most of their life. I think it is arrogant to say that we know anything beyond our own direct experience, be you uber scientist or mega magician.And it is divisive and disrespectful to assert as fact, an opinion that I have about what is inside someone else's head.I speak of these things based on prevailing knowledge, but the research is based on someone else's experimentation and interpretation, so what is factual and what is conjecture is a bit blurry. For me.I can only reasonably trust my direct experience. Which is limited since I only have so many people I can interact with in my lifetime. And my ability to research certain topics is limited by time, funding and mental capacity. I make every effort to make no presumptions about what someone is experiencing and why. I just ask them and accept it at face value, even if they are deluded. When their delusions create a barrier to connection, I try to burst that bubble or I stay away.

Really, I get what you are saying and it sounds as though you've been around some people you are better off avoiding. I hope you are finding some honest physical joy and pleasure in your sexual experiences.

godofbiscuits
godofbiscuits

Except that on another level, "I" isn't a physical being at all and has no direct physical contact with the physical world..."I" only gets sensory input and otherwise exists in a void.

From a Gödelian perspective, you can't really have perspective, because you can't step outside the cosm that is you in order to gain some 3rd party distance: you are subject to your own chemistry because your chemistry is you.

It's enough to drive you insane, unless you *suppose* a distance 3rd party point of view for yourself and conjure up what that might be like from that up-high place.  It'd have to be a canonical figure of a person because any detail would color the point-of-view....oh, wait...

Siggy
Siggy

As an asexual, the notion that sex is spiritual really puts me on edge.  The unfortunate implication is that asexuals are spiritually lesser.  As an atheist, I don't care about being spiritual, but unfortunately it's often associated with being a better, fuller person.

The value of sex is not in its spirituality, the value is in the fact that you like it.  If I don't like it, it has no value to me, spiritual or otherwise.

Ken Ingram
Ken Ingram

That's very interesting.Not sexual. Not "spiritual".You must have a lot of patience navigating this sex and religion obsessed world.I'm curious how you deal with it when the "peer pressure" starts ramping up and people can't believe you aren't interested in either activity.

Chris H
Chris H

That's a really good point, Siggy, and one that I hadn't thought of. Thanks for bringing it up. And your last sentence kind of sums everything up in a nice, neat package. 

Elizabeth Walls
Elizabeth Walls

Hi Chris. I came here from Greta's blog, and I have a teensy question about the connection of this rather un-positive view of sex with feminism: "The idea that our bodies are inherently flawed...[is] also laced into the more secular ideas of feminists who write about objectification." Now, I'm only recently an out feminist; still, this is the first time I've run across this dark-seeming thread concerning the feminist movement, especially of the 80s and 90s (when I was a kid), which you mention in another paragraph. Can you explain what you mean here?

(I have to backpedal a bit, since this the Internet, and let you know I'm not trying for antagonism, I just want more information.)

Rowan Hildebrand-Chupp
Rowan Hildebrand-Chupp

I think that there might be something to your argument that that mystical/spiritual language might be partly motivated by some kind of internalized shame that incentivizes people to talk about sex as something deep and meaningful. I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case.

But I don't think that it necessarily follows that "All the paganism, Tantra, meditation, sacred sex, and BDSM sex magic(k) books and workshops represent a step backward." The fact is that some people do experience sex in those ways, and it seems to fly in the face of sex positivity to look down on those manifestations of sexuality. I know that your vague response to this argument has been "All I'm doing is using words, that's not restricting anyone else's freedom" but if I just "used my words" to, for example, argue how BDSM is inherently destructive and sexist and should not be practiced by anyone evar blah blah blah, you could call me on my shit and describe such a perspective as "sex-negative" (rightfully so!).

Rather than broadly proclaim that these spiritual/mystical frames are intrinsically problematic and should not ever be used, I think it is probably more helpful to keep in mind the possible problems that that kind of language can create when working towards better sex positive spaces/discourses.

Similarly, as Kitty talked about, there are definitely sexist, heterosexist, and cissexist aspects to neopaganism, but rather than reject neopaganism entirely as inherently -ist (and cling to some illusion that you can escape these things by being an atheist, because *spoilers*: that doesn't work), I think it's probably more useful to critique those strands as they manifest within neopaganism.

Gina Luttrell
Gina Luttrell

I humbly skimmed comments and didn't find my points made, so I'll throw my hat in:

First of all, this author misses the unification of physical and sacred that often occurs in pagan religions. Carnality and spirituality are not separate for many pagan religions. You're talking about a set of peoples who worship the :earth,: the very essence and origin of carnality. We find the physical to be holy and vice versa. Many non-pagan religions often focus on an other-worldly source for their spirituality. It is not so for most pagans that I am aware of. Even if they are mono/duo/poly theists, they still worship said deities via their physical representations on earth -- the earth itself. So, for pagans, physical = sacred.

Secondly, this author uses a VERY narrow definition of spirituality, and one that I think is false. He seems to take it as meaning 'relating to a deity' or, generously, 'other-worldly.' When for the VAST MAJORITY of people, it does not mean this at all. According to Wikipedia (which has good citations):

Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality;[1] an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.”[2]It is that last part that pagans -- and many people -- mean when they say something is spiritual.

I see this used by many, regardless as to whether or not they actually believe in a spirit. From this, I would say that 'spiritual' does not mean other-worldly as in a god or a Sacred (although it could). Rather, saying something is 'spiritual' means 'it touched my spirit.' As in 'it affects me so deeply, so profoundly, that it's as if it touches the very core of me' -- the spirit.

I think that this is true for many people, particularly those who are sex-positive, those who practice BDSM, et al. They seek sexuality and non-conventional sexual practices because it fulfills them in a deep way. For many people, sex touches the very core of their being. Who is this author to say that sex 'ought' to be only physical, or that it 'ought not' to be spiritual? People have sex and experience sex in lots of different ways. To say that sex 'ought' to be only carnal is just as narrow a view as saying that sex must 'always' be spiritual.

Finally, I think this author has a really sad, and incorrect, view of Christianity. I was ALWAYS taught, within Christianity, that sex is *designed* to feel good physically. It is ALSO designed to feel good spiritually, under the right conditions. Christianity just has different conditions than many sex-positive people do (monogamy, for instance). If people have those values, again, who is the author to say that those values aren't right for them?

In summary, saying something is sacred, spiritual, or important to you DOES NOT deny the carnality or physicality of it. For many pagan religions, the carnality is necessary for the spiritual, and this author TOTALLY misses that. In the same way that understanding something doesn't make it any less special, feeling that something is special doesn't impede your understanding of it -- or the physicality of it.

*A note: I was raised non-denominational Christian till 15, converted to agnosticism for 5yrs, then adopted Pantheism and Druidry for the past 3 years.

Archermonkey
Archermonkey

I read this piece last night.  It took me until I woke up this morning to realise what wasn't sitting right with me about it.

Chris, your piece is entitled "Why Sex Is Not Spiritual", yet at no point do you make any serious attempt to prove that it is not.  Instead, you start with the basis that all spirituality is false.  From that, you infer that those who practise spirituality in their sexual expression are using a fiction to cover their own shame.  You have assumed the point that your title purports to argue and from there used that assumption to imply that those who do not agree with you are self-deluding and thus must be ashamed of their sexuality.  At no point does your piece concede or even allude to the idea that some people may, in fact, earnest believe in spirituality, even if you do not.  Because if they earnestly believe, then it is not just a convenient 'fig leaf' fiction - it is a part of their lives and honest self-expression and does not in any way imply a sense of shame.  Certainly any person who practises sacred sexuality might be ashamed of their sexuality, but that is no more implied in the practise than shame is implied in a materialist's sexual expression just because a person is a materialist.

Frankly, and with all due respect, your central thesis is faulty and unproven by your piece.  If you proved that point, then the rest of your logic here might be meaningful, but the fact remains that it all rests on a (somewhat insulting) assumption.

Chris H
Chris H

At no point does your piece concede or even allude to the idea that some people may, in fact, earnest believe in spirituality, even if you do not.  Because if they earnestly believe, then it is not just a convenient 'fig leaf' fiction - it is a part of their lives and honest self-expression and does not in any way imply a sense of shame.

I absolutely acknowledge that people earnestly believe in all sorts of spirituality. I acknowledge that people earnestly believe in chi, reincarnation, psychic powers, the six-day creation as recorded in Genesis, shape-shifting reptoids, the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, Mohammed's ascension to heaven on a winged steed, channelling, guardian angels, and fairies. No matter how earnestly and completely they might believe in these things, no matter how many people believe in them, that doesn't speak to their truth. 

godofbiscuits
godofbiscuits

Except that some of those things have value as points of view, as ways of looking at the universe or at microcosm in order to gain new insights.  

Viewing the body from a systems perspective using Qi/Chi can teach you about movement and breathing and there are scientifically-demonstrated (if you must) healing methods that exist because of viewing the body thru Qi.

You don't have to "believe" in Qi take advantage of Qi Gong.

Archermonkey
Archermonkey

To illustrate more clearly, your argument seems to be...

Faith is a lie  -->  People who hold faith are lying to themselves  -->  They wouldn't lie to themselves about their sexuality if they weren't ashamed of it.

Can you see how this line of reasoning only makes sense to atheists?  As I said in an earlier response: "Yes, the universe might be a purely material place, but that is not a belief held by everyone, and I don't understand why you seem to think that those who do not hold that belief are somehow ashamed when they bring that aspect of their experience of the world into their sexuality.  That's like saying that all masochists are ashamed of their sexuality and want to be punished for it, because they cannot deal with engaging sexually without pain.  Would you agree with that?  I wouldn't, but I can't see any difference between your argument here and that statement."

I agree with you unreservedly that people should celebrate their sexuality in a variety of ways, and should not be ashamed of it, but you are saying that faith inherently implies sexual shame, and not only does my experience disagree with that, but you have not proven the point to any objective standard.  Nor have you proven that sex is not spiritual - this is in fact your starting assumption, not the thesis of your piece.  Not all people who hold beliefs that differ from yours are self-deluding.  Perhaps their experiences differ from yours, or their starting assumptions.  Yet your argument requires that their sacred take on sexuality be a sort of fiction that the weak-minded use to escape their shame, rather than an honest and open expression of their sexuality.

Valhar2000
Valhar2000

Can you see how this line of reasoning only makes sense to atheists?

So, basically, atheists should shut up already, unless they are willing to agree with the obvious superiority of other people's ideas?

Okay, yeah. I think I get it.

raduga
raduga

"Sacred things sit on altars to be worshiped from afar, not to become part of one's everyday life."  If this is your experience of the sacred, then it's no wonder you want to avoid putting sex into that category!  Dogmatic religion has indeed taken the sacred out of the realm of personal experience and put it on an altar behind priests or masked it behind elaborate ritual and myth. Many people, however, have a a different experience of the sacred (aka "God" or "spirit" or their "higher self")*. Many people experience the sacred as a continual part of their experience of themselves and the world. And, as all the mystics of every tradition have attested, once you have this personal experience of the divine, you realize no one, including the Church, has a monopoly on it, and no one can take it away. It is a profoundly personal, intimate, subtle, experience that can at times be profound, life-changing, ego-destroying, soul-shaking. You know, kinda like sex. You are touching upon some interesting ideas in this article, including the propensity for people to avoid what makes them uncomfortable by couching their experience in spiritual ideas and language. Transpersonal psychologists call this "spiritual bypassing."  It happens in every area of life. It happens even with something as seemingly "spiritual" as meditation -- it's not uncommon for people who have been meditating for 15 or 20 years to suddenly realize that they've actually been using it as a method of avoiding their psychological wounds. But then again... meditation really can be a profound spiritual experience for some.I think the heart of the matter is around what you define as "spiritual." Reading the article, I get the sense that you don't experience much in life as spiritual. Which is fine, I suppose. But if you don't experience the spiritual dimension of life, what gives you any authority to tell others that their experience isn't real?* See the writing of C.G. Jung.

homasapiens
homasapiens

and dogmatic people speak about sex as if it were only good when it's used for a "higher purpose."

Ismaninb
Ismaninb

Spirituality is baked air.Sex should be fun.That's all we need to know.

René Nash
René Nash

Sex can be spiritual AND fun. Or one or the other. Or something else entirely.

Ken Ingram
Ken Ingram

No. That's all YOU need to know. Enjoy!

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