In his Art of the Bedchamber, a scholarly anthology of ancient Chinese sexology texts, Professor Douglas Wile compared classical Chinese views about sex with the views of three well known Western sex commentators of the last century. Synergy fans may find these comparisons of interest.


Let’s begin with what Wile says about Watts in light of the classical Chinese point of view:

Alan Watt’s perfect orgasm, “the bursting in upon us of peace”, from the point of view of Chinese sexual practices is what the Roman historian called “creating a desert and calling it peace”. From the Chinese perspective, relaxation should not be achieved at the price of depletion: relaxation is achieved by relaxing. The function of sex is to send a charge of bioenergetic ching electricity through a conductor whose resistance has been lowered by relaxation. The Chinese have made an art, a yoga, a ritual, a therapy, and a meditation of sex. Watts, and the West in general, have left all of these possibilities completely out of the discussion….

Watts seemingly has not considered that a bit of art or yoga may actually enhance the interpersonal goals he has in mind, that without art and a mastery of internal energy, spontaneity may be only the spasm of a few seconds, and that the anticipated human communion may become an exercise in frustration…. In China, the medical emphasis on ching conservation led to an epicurean aesthetic that maximizes pleasure by moderating the price – truly a strategy for “having one’s cake and eating it too”….

Chinese sexual practices attempt to seize the prize of immortality from the jaws of impermanence, to separate the desire for “release” from the experience of loss and transform the orgasm into rebirth…. This is an aesthetic of happy endings rather than climax and catharsis, of long volleys rather than smash and point, of riding the swells and avoiding the breaking waves.… These techniques may contribute greatly to the forging of a truly egalitarian sexual covenant, offering as they do enhanced sensitivity and control and providing a greatly enriched vocabulary for sexual communication.

Note: For more of what Watts had to say about sex, see Did Krishnamurti hint at Synergy? and Nature, Man And Woman.

Freud and Reich

Wile also compared the classical Chinese mind-set with those of Freud and Reich:

To some Freudians, then, the Chinese male may look “orally arrested”, but it is worth remembering that to many Chinese, the Western male looks hopelessly addicted to the adolescent thrill of genital orgasm. It is a two-way street.

Reich’s theory of “sexual energy” and “orgone” in many ways answers to the Chinese concepts of ching and ch’i. Taoist meditation, yoga, and sexual practices are aimed at breaking down what Reich called “muscular armour”. Reich’s opposition to monogamy, of course, sets well with the Chinese custom of polygamy and the insistence in sexual practice on multiple partners. Both Reich and the Chinese share a common fear of sexual repression and belief in the importance of sexual contact for maintaining psychological health. However, Reich’s vision of social revolution through sexual liberation and China’s pursuit of health and immortality through sexual yoga diverge in the interpretation of orgasm.

For Reich, the function of orgasm is to discharge sexual tension, and full orgasmic potency is characterized by “involuntary muscular contractions” and “the clouding of consciousness”. The feeling of pleasure is derived from the decline in tension and the return to equilibrium. This to the Chinese makes a narcotic of sex. For them, contact and arousal are the most fundamental biological needs, not orgasm. The energy discharged during sex should not be drained from the body, but shared with the organism as a whole, and particularly the brain. This results in a state of spiritual illumination (shen-ming), which may be said to be diametrically opposed to Reich’s “clouding of consciousness”. The spiritual “irrigation” experienced by the Chinese sexual yogis is a far cry from the Western waters of oblivion.

Have we in the West perhaps missed the exit for health sexuality in pursuit of evermore sexual stimulation? Would return to a sustainable balance of contentment and self-control increase our sensitivity to pleasure and, more important, our capacity to love unselfishly? For more Chinese views on sexual health, see The Foundation of Conjugal Harmony.

Also of possible interest: