No doubt everyone who uses the term sacred sex has their own definition. Mine is straightforward:

Ongoing sexual exchange for the purpose of heightening the spiritual awareness of both partners

Simply put, it’s a mutual spiritual practice in the context of a sexually intimate relationship.

What sacred sex is not

Sacred sex need not be related to any particular tradition. Branches of some traditions are nearer to the above definition and others farther away. For example, the tantric ritual in which one partner seeks enlightenment by exploiting another would not meet my sacred sex definition because it is not mutual. Nor would the attempt to use orgasm as a path to enlightenment, which confuses a heightened state of sensory pleasure with spiritual progress. In fact orgasm has a tendency to dim spiritual awareness. More on that in a moment.

Sacred sex also has nothing to do with procreation or the sanctity of marriage, although it does benefit from a close, trusted union for reasons explained below.

A mutual gift

My understanding of sacred sex rests on the principle that what we give out comes back to us. So, in order to generate feelings of wholeness and wellbeing (including spiritual wellbeing), partners want to use sex selflessly. Each desires to nurture the other as carefully and consciously as possible.

If instead partners seek to use a lover to gratify their own urges or meet their selfish ends, they will be exploited in turn. Selfishness and manipulativeness attract their counterparts. Sex turns destructive when partners make use of each other for selfish goals.

When sex is a mutual, selfless gift it enhances both partners’ lives. Significantly, such trust-building exchanges produce deep feelings of wholeness. These feelings augment spiritual awareness because they minimize dualistic (“them versus me”) perception. Feeling more whole, lovers sense the inter-relatedness of things. Some sacred sex lovers report a sense of being “in the flow.” Life seems more synchronistic and unfolds with less stress.

Interestingly, it appears from some traditions that lovers can achieve these deep feelings of wholeness without actual intercourse. Thus, factors like age and physical condition lose significance compared with intent to benefit and generosity.

So, you may ask, “Would the exchange of sex for mutual sexual gratification (itch-scratching) be a problem?” Well, it turns out that there’s more to climax than generally acknowledged. Sex for gratification (as opposed to sex with the goal of heightening both partners’ spiritual awareness) dims/distorts perception, even if mutual.

Sexual self-control

Have you ever wondered why most sacred sexual traditions emphasise sexual self-control? Interestingly, neuroscientific findings about orgasm suggest that its intensity can trigger neuroendocrine dominoes that continue to fall for days or even weeks. The ancient Chinese spoke of stopping short of climax to nourish the brain. This makes sense given orgasm’s neuroendocrine fallout.

These natural neuroendocrine fluctuations no doubt explain why conventional lovers often report feelings of irritability, unhappiness, frustration, worthlessness, or low energy after sex despite the short-term pleasure. Perhaps you see how these subtle, but unwelcome shifts could interfere with benign feelings toward anyone and anything.

Feelings of uneasiness, dissatisfaction and pessimism tend to dull spiritual perception (after the neurochemical high of climax wears off). This is why many sacred-sex traditions advise lovers to cultivate their sexual energy with great care, such that intimacy enhances the spiritual awareness of both partners.

Sexual vampirism

Given the subtle aftereffects of orgasm, some sacred sex traditions understandably counsel both partners to avoid climax. Other sexual traditions advise men (only) to avoid orgasm, and to urge their female partners to climax as much as possible. This approach may be an echo of various dubious Taoist and Tantric practices, which took the form of ‘sexual vampirism’.

‘Sexual vampires’ understood that climax left them feeling drained. But they persuaded themselves that, by retaining their semen while urging their partner to climax as much as possible, they would absorb their partner’s sexual energy at her expense. Of course, the flip side is that they believed any woman who caused them to ejaculate was “stealing” their sexual energy. (And yes, there have been would-be female ‘sexual vampires’ too.) Needless to add, the sexual vampirism mindset alienates the sexes, as their interests are diametrically opposed.

This shortsighted practice reached its zenith in China where aspiring supermen procured females just on the verge of puberty. The word on the street was that girls in this state possessed the most yin energy for the taking.

Spiritually speaking, how could such a selfish practice ever result in anything but a nasty karmic debt? Think Jeffrey Epstein.

A choice of two paths

Sex always has an impact even when its effects are subtle. Sex can muddy our perception due to perfectly natural post-orgasm neuroendocrine fluctuations. These then drive unconscious, yet selfish, motives that embroil us in the unwanted repercussions of our own actions.

Alternatively, sex with mutual intent to nurture and without climax can sharpen and expand our perception. This is because sustainable feelings of wholeness improve mental, emotional and spiritual clarity. It’s our choice.

Sacred sex may tax our self-discipline but the fundamentals are simple. Today the practice need not be obscured by a profusion of Hindu or Tibetan deities, cultish practices, confusing inconsistencies, flowery euphemisms, or any moral strictures other than the very basic, “What goes around comes around.”

For best results, experiment with sacred sex within a committed partnership. Sexual self-control is especially challenging with novel partners but gets easier within an ongoing union. Daily affectionate contact also helps to stabilize feelings of wholeness.

Clarity of mind brought about by dependence on what is right can transform the world and perfect it. – R.L. Wing