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Is sex more transcendental than we think?

Ancient cultures viewed sexual relations as fulfilling higher functions than just procreation and pleasure; to them, it was something intrinsically linked to spirituality, growth and connection, a view that many want to bring back

The god Eros had a broader, more holistic definition of sexual love than the one we have today, encompassing creativity and connection.Rudy Sulgan (Getty Images)

Sex has long been dissociated from its strictly reproductive function; in fact, more and more couples, even among the young ones, need some help to procreate. One could safely say that the sexual relationship of today revolves around satisfaction and the search for pleasure – although for how much longer is anybody’s guess, as sex tech and robots hold the promise of a near future filled with almost instantaneous (albeit aseptic and solitary) orgasms.

Many already wonder if analog sex – that is, face to face and between people – will continue to exist when reproduction and pleasure, two of its fundamental functions, can be taken care of in a faster, more functional way. Others, however, think that the main function of sexuality is neither of the aforementioned two, but the one that ancient civilizations attributed to it from the beginning of humanity, when sex and spirituality were intrinsically linked (when we mention spirituality in this article, just to clarify, we are talking about the non-material part of the human being; not about religions and their teachings).

In The Sacred Sex Bible, a book that delves into the connection between sex and spirituality in the East and West, author Cassandra Lorius explains that our ideas about religion and sexuality reflect the type of society in which we live, in which for thousands of years most people have tended to channel anything that could be considered spiritual towards the established forms of religious expression. However, mystical traditions of all times have regarded the personal experience, and particularly the sexual encounter, as a door to a relationship with the divine.

When we talk about the transcendental dimension of sex, many automatically think of tantra, but this characteristic of sexuality has been present in many cultures. Inanna, from ancient Sumer – one of the first known goddesses, dating back to the year 3,000 BC – enjoyed sex very much, and sexual rites were held in her honor. Lorius’s book tells about the fertility rites that used to be performed at pagan festivals, which in all likelihood included sexual practices intended to guarantee successful crops. The very principle of Eros, according to the Jungian analyst Julián David, seems to have been a guiding principle among many ancient communities, which appreciated the need for interdependence and the meaning of uniting opposites. Eros used to have a broader, more holistic definition of sexual love than today, even encompassing creativity and connection.

“The sexual relationship is the most holistic relationship that exists with another person, as not only the bodies are in contact, but also the minds and energies,” says yoga teacher Munindra, author of the Crazy Yogi blog and an expert in tantra. “If more and more people are interested in tantra or Taoism it is because there is an intuition that there is something more to sex than just having a good time, and because sexuality in the West has always been quite poor, despite the sexual revolution. Of course, this should not be seen as a chore; otherwise we would be further intellectualizing sex, while tantra sees it as a game. It is not about having one more task to do, but about being more attentive and applying some techniques,” he continues.

Sexuality has beneficial effects on a physical and psychological level, but directed in a certain way it can provide more intense experiences. “These are episodes of a higher level of consciousness, similar to those that professional meditators or people who experiment with drugs may have,” says the expert. “Sexuality can also be a very powerful vehicle for personal growth. Working that energy, it can be directed towards artistic creativity or to recreating oneself, as in the myth of the phoenix, which is reborn from its ashes. What we know about sex is the basics, the animal level, and the trend of the times is to know less and quantity prevailing over quality.”

Still waiting for the real sexual revolution

“There are many traditions that suggest that erotic practice has a series of connotations that allow for a form of communication with something outside the person,” says sexologist Bruno Martínez, a graduate in religious sciences with a master’s degree in the history of religions and a teacher at the Sexological School in Madrid, Spain, specialized in non-normative sexualities. The ancients were well aware of this aspect of sexuality, but, according to Martínez, “things change after Saint Augustine. He is the one who best instills the concept of sin in relation to sex, because even a married man is one step away from committing an offense. A good man is celibate, although later sexuality and spirituality come together in the mystics, who spawned so many opposing views and problems for the Catholic Church.”

“That departure from yourself, even if only for a few seconds, that occurs during orgasm (which the French dubbed la petite mort, the little death); this ability to transcend, while we also feel very close to the other, is what brings us closer to another dimension and can be a powerful vehicle for knowledge and personal growth,” states Martínez. “The problem is that we live in a very utilitarian world. Just look at what most people know about tantra, an entire philosophy has been reduced to a small technique to delay ejaculation and feel more pleasure. But tantra is much more.”

In a world of fleeting intercourse, Bauman’s liquid relationships and egocentrism, sexual encounters have lost this enormous power and have been reduced to simple moments of pleasure. “More than relationships, we should talk about mutual masturbation, because the connection has disappeared,” says Martínez. “This, additionally, has caused sexual problems and disorders to increase, since sex is no longer the game it should be. It has become a competitive sport. We would need an intercourse ethic that teaches us to stop living the erotic moment as mere instruments for our pleasure and have a deeper intimacy.”

Albert Einstein defined sex as the most powerful energy in the universe. However, in times of empowerment, it seems to have lost its true strength. “We have to take the pleasure out of sex in order to be able to analyze and understand sex well,” says Miguel Vagalume, a sexologist who also works at the Sexological School and is part of Golfxs con Principios, a platform that promotes a sex-positive approach to non-conventional sex practices such as polyamory, swinging and BDSM. He believes that the real sexual revolution has not happened yet: “What we experienced during the 1970s was nothing more than an increase in the number of sexual relations, more sex, but with the same utilitarian philosophy. For true change to happen, we should reevaluate the distorted vision we have of what sex is (not knowing more, but knowing better), understand that sexuality encompasses many more things than an encounter with another person or persons and start practicing a simple exercise in our erotic encounters: being present.”

For Gloria Arancibia, a sexologist and psychologist with a practice in Madrid, sexuality, regardless of whether people choose to enjoy it or disregard it, is an essential dimension of the human being. “Well lived sex gives us freedom, knowledge, makes us more courageous and capable of facing the challenges of life. Not to mention that at the moment of orgasm transcendent experiences can be lived,” she says.

I have always thought that if sex has caused so many prohibitions, censorship and crimes throughout history, it is because it holds something big. Otherwise, Facebook would not go to such lengths to censor innocent nipples, prehistoric Venus figurines or well-known works of art, deeming them pornography.

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