In a previous post, I pointed out that, although purity culture gets it wrong, emotional connection is important in sex—and this connection can even lead to “soul to soul, body to body transcendence.” By that, I meant that sex is sacred—sexuality itself, within the human body and consciousness.
This is not the way we commonly think of sex. As Riane Eisler puts it in Sacred Pleasure, “Because we have been taught to think of sex as sinful, dirty, titillating, or prurient, the possibility that sex could be spiritual, much less sacred, may seem shocking.” American culture denigrates sex while seeming to celebrate it, plastering sexual imagery linked to violence everywhere, creating a voyeurism devoid of humanity. And the idea that sex—both sexual pleasure and the body that enjoys it—is dirty and wrong feeds this voyeurism as well as religiously-sanctioned patriarchy.
To think of sex as sacred—the impulse, the body, the sexual self, the act, whether it leads to procreation or not—requires a deep shift in perception. As Eisler says, it “…will require fundamental changes not only in how we view sex, spirituality, and society, but in how we view the human body, power, pleasure, and the sacred.”
Wow. That’s a tall order.
Where to begin?
The self, my friends. The self. For if sex is sacred, it begins within the body and mind of an individual, sexual consciousness.
Fully owning our own sexuality allows us to connect more deeply with the divine, as individuals—for if we are made in the image of God, it is our energy that is divine, and our energy is informed by and entwined with the erotic. As Audre Lorde puts it in her essay The Erotic as Power: “The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.”
Lorde is not only speaking of the sexual—eroticism here is in essence the sensual, the here and now of experience. To live fully, we must own ourselves within the power of the erotic: “…when we begin to live from within outward, in touch with the power of the erotic within ourselves, and allowing that power to inform and illuminate our actions upon the world around us, then we begin to be responsible for ourselves in the deepest sense.”
Sounds amazing—in fact, it is amazing. Downright miraculous, when you can manage it. But living within a patriarchy while trying to own your erotic spiritual self is an adventure in constant reclamation. While women are encouraged to self-objectify and self-shame, men are encouraged to cover emotion with bravado and to self-shame—while viewing women as sexual objects. And we live in a culture that privileges heterosexuality, either leaving other sexualities out of the conversation or actively shaming them.
All of which gets in the way of the second half of the spirituality of sex: the holy om of deep connection. Not every sexual encounter contains this connection. Coerced sex is its opposite, and though it involves a sexual act it is about violence. And when two people come together without really knowing one another, they might find mutual pleasure, and that might be all they’re looking for. This pleasure should not be shamed or judged, as it can play a role in sexual self-acceptance and enjoyment, and a vital piece of owning one’s sexuality is making choices about sexual encounters. However, such pleasure is by its nature fleeting rather than deeply revelatory of self and spirit—the potential to lose oneself often outweighs the potential to find oneself.
Getting to the sacred within sexuality is a lifelong journey for each of us. For some, the word sacred doesn’t fit—those who believe in the magic, mystery, and power of the world but not in God would name this energy something else. For some, sexual and emotional abuse has obscured the sacred in sex: the journey must begin with a deep reclamation of that which has been stolen. For some, religion itself has made sex and sexuality a source of shame. And all of us are living within a society that connects sex and violence, looks at pleasure—especially a woman’s—askance, and struggles with a medieval inheritance of sex and the body as inherently wrong, redeemable only under very specific circumstances.
We are living in a time that holds great potential for this shift, a time in which the divinity inherent in sexuality is rising, even as it contends with the forces of patriarchy. As we take this journey together, both individually and culturally, we must put Eisler’s words about sexuality at the forefront: “…human sexuality is not a hindrance but rather a help in the human quest for higher consciousness and more culturally and socially evolved and equitable forms of organization.”
In finding the holy om within our sexual selves, in finding the erotic in the everyday, in working our way toward connections that enhance rather than detract from our self-knowledge and our ability to bring compassionate action to the world, we embrace the divine within.