"Seeing God/dess" in an erotic encounter might sound cliche to skeptics, but to many, the links between sex and spirituality are palpable and powerful. Both can offer consciousness-altering experiences, and both can make you feel centered and connected to something (or someone) beyond yourself. Despite these similarities, however, prohibitions on sexual expression ironically pervade the doctrines of many major religions.
The "Big 3" (aka Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) each stress chastity until marriage in their own ways — and even then women are supposed to submit sexually to a man's desires — not their own. According to the Bible, for example, we're supposed to "flee fornication" because "it is God's will that you be sanctified: You must abstain from sexual immorality." On the other hand, you've got passages celebrating sensuality with lines like: "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine." Even within religions that are notorious for their less-than-enthusiastic views on sex, there's still some wiggle room. When it comes to belief systems outside the Abrahamic religions, however, sex itself is often an intimate part of spiritual practice.
These are four links between sex and spirituality, because for practitioners around the world, they are parallel pathways to enlightenment:
1. The Sex Hormone Oxtyocin
According to a new study by Duke University, sex can make you more open to spiritual connection. When they boosted the oxytocin levels of middle-aged male subjects, researchers noticed an increase in self-reported spirituality. As the Independent reports, the men who were given oxytocin (which is released during sex and intimate touching) "gave more positive responses to statements including 'all life is interconnected' and 'there is a higher plane of consciousness or spirituality that binds all people.'" Of course, we can't say this would be true for all genders and all people after an oxy rush, but it's a fascinating hormonal link between sexuality and spirituality nonetheless.
2. Sex Magic
For many witches and pagans, sex magic is a sacred part of their ritual practice. The idea is that the powerful energy raised during arousal and release between two (or more) people is tantamount to spell casting, and the throes of ecstasy is a perfect place for visualization and creation. As Margot Anand asserts in The Art of Sexual Magic , “Any vision or desire that you wish to manifest in your life needs to be charged with your orgasmic sexual power.”
3. Tantric Sex
Tantric sex is an ancient Hindu practice that dates back thousands of years and links spiritual development to mastery of the sexual impulse. Through intensely focused attention to the breath and the body, pleasure can be multiplied tenfold, with every moment offering explosive potential for intimacy and enjoyment — sometimes without resulting in orgasm or even sexual touching. It can take years to master tantric methods, but slowly and mindfully building connection to a loved one doesn't really have a downside if you have the patience.
4. The "Sacred Whore"
Uniting the spiritual and the sexual like no other historical figure is the “sacred whore.” These women were priestesses in places like ancient Mesopotamia, Greece, and India who served as the living expression of the goddess of love over whose temple they presided. Historical fact often blends with legend on this subject, but it was believed that through sexual congress with sacred whores, worshipers could reach higher states of religious connection. As Merlin Stone explains in When God Was A Woman , these priestesses had the ability to sire divine ecstasy with their lovers: “In the worship of the female deity, sex was Her gift to humanity. It was sacred and holy. She was the Goddess of Sexual Love and Procreation.”
Images: Unsplash; Giphy (4)