This week I was invited to consider what it means to have the freedom of sexual expression as part of the #freedomtribe #freedomfriday challenge. My limited experience and involvement with Taoist sexual alchemy and neo-tantric/shamanic sexuality has been deeply healing and awe-inspiring. I’m also troubled by some of what I’ve encountered.
Let me state this from the beginning to get this out of the way:
I am completely for all people to be able to express their sexuality however the goddamned hell they wish. It’s none of mine — or anyone else’s — business!
Whether you’re straight, same-sex, bi, polyamorous, monogamous, BDSM, kink, fetish, not-before-marriage, or whatever… it is your right to express your sexuality however suits you, and have sex with whomever (or even whatever) you want, and do so safely, consentually, and enjoyably!
Now that’s out of the way, I want to share why. And also to shed some light on some of the pitfalls that I’ve experienced and witnessed.
I won’t feel guilty
No matter what they’re telling me
I won’t feel dirty and buy into their misery
I won’t be shamed ’cause I believe that love is free
It fuels the heart and sex is not my enemy
Closer to god
From a Taoist perspective, sexual practices was seen as an important aspect towards longevity & immortality. Excavated texts dating as far back as the 2nd Century BCE provide detailed and lurid descriptions on how to have sex with a partner and preserve 精 jīng (‘essence’ or ‘vitality’).
By avoiding ejaculation and finishing love-making with an erection, and helping women reach climax, sexual energy was able to remain in the body and be circulated through the meridian network, thus sustaining life for as long as possible and preventing illness and disease.
By the time of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 CE), Taoist alchemists had developed these sexual practices for the purposes of attaining spiritual enlightenment, seeing the sexual energy of 精 jīng being the only substance in the body to help create powerful alchemical transformations necessary. One alchemical school encouraged ‘dual cultivation’ practices, as practitioners were always older and needed the presence of a partner to help cultivate enough sexual energy for these alchemical processes.
This was a similar track taken by some tantric schools in India. Contrary to popular belief, tantrism was not solely concerned with sex, but with embodiment. That is, spiritual enlightenment was something to be experienced in the here-and-now, in the everyday, normal experience of life on earth. Thus, sex — as a part of everyday existence — was something that could help you get closer to the divine spirit, as any other activity such as eating, drinking, and working.
In both traditions, polarity plays an important part of the cosmology. Male and female are obvious models of something that occurs naturally in the universe. Thus the coming together of Yīn/Yàng or Shakti/Shiva is exemplified in the act of love-making.
In a future essay, I will present an overview of this in greater detail, based on a lecture I presented a couple of years back. Suffice it to say that Taoists and Tantriks saw the act of love-making to hold benefits to health and spirituality. Further to this, I feel that Taoist sexual alchemy is a wonderful inclusive model for sexuality that goes beyond hetero-normative notions of love and sex.
Make A Sex Noise Here
Returning briefly to the notion of sex being beneficial to health and longevity, this understanding is supported in the theoretical framework of Chinese Medicine. When sexual energy is suppressed, it creates a state of stagnation of Qì flow through the network of channels and meridians. When Qì doesn’t flow, none of the organs and tissues are nourished properly and cease to function as efficiently as they should.
This stagnation also affects our emotions: frustration, irritability, anger, jealousy, paranoia, excessive rumination, and so on. It is my hypothesis that the repression of an individual’s sexual expression (whatever that may be) creates Qì stagnation, and can cause physiological health problems as well as creating limiting emotional states.
As well as preventing these states, sexual activity and a free expression of one’s sexuality can help treat certain health disorders.
Makes me feel so fine
Helps to relieve my mind
Sexual healing, baby, is good for me
— Marvin Gaye
In order for sexuality to be useful, most of us need to remove the many layers of conditioned shame and guilt around sex. Unfortunately, many cultures and creeds have somehow feared sexual energy and the brazen empowerment that free sexual expression brings. Sex for humans is simply not just about procreation; I think evidence for this comes from the fact that the clitoris serves no other function than the creation and experience of sexual pleasure!
Finding our true expression of sexuality is challenging and rewarding. The process and journey of discovering your pleasures will unlock many facets of your true nature that have also been repressed, as any opening up of true expression will.
But — buyer beware! It may also unlock deep wounds and pains that you were unaware of. Because sometimes its not simply ‘social conditioning’ that locks down your sexual expression; sometimes it’s very serious and horrible traumas hidden from conscious memory.
In these situations, you need to have very competent and highly-trained experts to help guide you through these layers and traumas. They need to have the highest integrity and openness about all manner of sexual topics. You also need to feel completely safe with them and trust with them.
Tell me your dreams; am I in them?
Tell me your fears; are you scared?
Tell me your stories;
I’m not afraid of who you are
I want your sex
Unfortunately there are plenty of unscrupulous people out there. Self-appointed gurus and tantric teachers will offer to “help” you with your healing. I’ve heard way too many stories from people who have experienced these situations; and thankfully most of them have been near-misses. But there are plenty of people who have fallen victim to ‘teachers’ who have abused their position of power and used sexuality and spirituality to further their own ends. This is the dangerous and shadowy aspect of a field that is bristling and teeming with raw power and energy — and these people want nothing other than to take your energy. They are quite literally vampires!
My only advice in this regard is the following three words:
consent, consent, consent
I often hear people refer to sexual restraint as a sign that they haven’t quite worked out their sexual expression yet. Sometimes that is true. However there are probably many times that the restraint is a warning signal, a red flag from your unconscious/intuitive mind that is actually serving to protect you from harm.
One thing a couple of teachers taught me was:
- a “yes signal” means yes
- a “no signal” means no
- a “maybe/not sure/I don’t know” signal means no
Having said all this, there are many good teachers and therapists out there who are fully in their integrity when it comes to this work. A good starting point for all this, and understanding the notion of consent, and the different aspects of it is the highly-acclaimed work of Betty Martin and her Wheel of Consent.
In looking for courses, workshops, teachers, and therapists I would try and and get referrals from people you know and trust. If you don’t know anyone who has embarked down this path, then take the time to do your homework, read across as many websites as possible, and use your intuition and yes/no signals to gauge whether something feels appropriate. Rest assured, there are plenty of very good people out there who can help, such as Mangala Holland and Cyndi Darnell.
Je t’aims moi non plus
In this sense, the sense of safety and security one needs to feel with a tantric teacher or sexual therapist in order to open into the healing from sexual (or other) trauma is the same sense of safety one needs to feel into a loving, open-hearted relationship.
I don’t believe women cannot orgasm; I believe they don’t feel safe enough with a lover to do so.
Equally, men can’t open into their emotional selves unless they feel safe in the presence of a partner who isn’t going to reject them for their vulnerability.
Because to be truly in love, and truly surrender into your truest sexual expression requires an incredibly level of trust in the other person.
And this is the truly unfortunate part about the cultural taboo of sex and sexual expression — it creates an atmosphere of mistrust and fear. How can we feel bold enough to be ourselves if we fear we will be judged or shunned for it? Why do same-sex couples have to be treated like second-grade citizens? Why are sex workers discriminated against still, while their clients hide the meeting of their needs kept in the shadows? Why do so many men and women of all ages feel they can’t be fulfilled sexually?
It’s my hope that we can create communities where all people feel safe to express themselves, so that we will have a harmonious and free society.
How did you know I’d give my heart gladly?
Yesterday I was one of the lonely people,
Now you’re lying close to me, making love to me
— Hot Chocolate