Not long ago, German scientists set out to test Buddha’s famous maxim: Craving and desire are the root of all suffering. (Testing Buddha: Is Acute Desire Associated with Lower Momentary Happiness?)

The results agreed with Buddha’s teaching. Happiness was significantly greater in instances where individuals were not experiencing a desire. This held true even when their desires did not conflict with their personal goals. In short, wanting itself correlates with decreased happiness.

Not all desires are equally problematic. The appetitive desires for sensual objects or activities give rise to the most suffering. In contrast, higher order goals, as for heightened spiritual awareness or service to others, likely promote happiness.

We tend to associate sensual desires with their gratification. We forget that unmet desires often condemn us to long periods of perceived deprivation or dissatisfaction. This is especially so where desires are unattainable or they conflict with our personal goals. Factor in these inevitable frustrations and Buddha was right. Desire is uncomfortable. It is associated with more suffering than happiness.

That said, the researchers point out that causation isn’t settled. Desire may not cause unhappiness. Theoretically happiness may give rise to a no-desire state, in other words a state of contentment, and unhappiness to a state of acute desiring or wanting. We already know that stress, unhappiness and fatigue orient people toward seeking gratification.

Transforming sexual desire

One Buddhist strategy for increasing happiness is to extinguish desire, sometimes defined as transforming “grasping” desire into the kind of desire that promotes happiness. Obviously, sexual desire produces some of the most bothersome desires. One might wonder if there is a way to transform this perennial source of frustration and unhappiness into a higher-order, happiness-promoting desire.

Many cultures reported benefits from Synergy-style sex: stronger emotional bonds, lightheartedness, reduced sexual frustration, less selfishness, and so forth. Synergy lovers make connection, not orgasm, the goal of their lovemaking.

To the uninitiated this must sound like a recipe for tyrannical cravings. Yet, in practice, the reverse is true if lovers are consistent.

Some thoughts on why this might be so
  • Orgasm is the beginning of a neurochemical cycle. Some of the “lows” in that cycle can temporarily produce a subconscious sense of lack. So, post-orgasmic lovers may feel drained of the energy necessary to offer their mates support or attention (including sexual attention). This can foster resentment. Perhaps lovers force themselves to override their temporary run-down feelings draining them further. Or perhaps they, in fact, neglect their partners, focus selfishly on themselves, or don’t pull their weight in the relationship. With full tanks, Synergy lovers have more to give each other. Consequently, antipathy doesn’t build up as easily.
  • Too often conventional lovers find themselves on a treadmill trying to counter habituation by “spicing things up”. The constant need for novel stimulation can become a chore. If unmet, it may also give rise to bitterness, mistrust or betrayal. In contrast, Synergy lovers notice that even vanilla sex tends to stay enjoyable. Perhaps it’s because they sidestep the “fertilisation” event (climax), thus averting the Coolidge Effect. (The Coolidge Effect is the biological programme that drives habituation and the pursuit of novelty.)
  • As the researchers above confirmed, reducing acute desires correlates with greater happiness. Similarly, when vanilla sex satisfies unmet desires, if any, seem less pressing. Sexual contentment and sincere devotion are more effortless. One result is happier relationships regardless of life’s ups and downs.
  • Synergy calls for gentler, less vigorous lovemaking. Sex becomes a tender experience offering all of the benefits of closeness and affectionate touch while simultaneously easing intense desire indirectly.
  • Conventional sex generally focuses lovers, by turns, on producing orgasms for themselves or their partner. This can feel a bit lonely. In contrast, Synergy unifies the lovers’ goal. Both work together trying not to go over The Edge.
Cooler desire = more happiness?

It’s an unfamiliar choice not to seek sexual satisfaction by heating up desire to the point of climax (and its aftermath). However, maintaining attraction at a steady glow instead has unexpected rewards. The ancient Chinese Taoists taught that the mutual nourishment of yin and yang during sex without climax promoted health and happiness. Perhaps affectionate exchange neutralizes the intense sexual desire of both partners by meeting their genetically programmed needs for closeness and affectionate touch.

So, if you want to experiment, make love frequently – and harmonize yin and yang:

If you remain completely desireless, the energies will not intersect, and there will be no benefit for your life.
And if your desire is overly strong, it will burn up the newly growing tender energies inside more quickly, causing you to age faster and die sooner.
Engaging in that style of intercourse will lead both of you to drown in the shoreless sea of Desire. …

[Place] the mind in between the states of desire and no desire.
Gradually, as you both unite your chi, you forget the existence of your individual selves and no longer feel your separate bodies.
With the interweaving of yin and yang, the two types of chi return to the oneness of the origin of life.