So far, in, I don’t know, 7-10 books on Buddhism, the only time sex is mentioned is in the precepts. As in, don’t use your sexuality to hurt people.
Do Buddhists have sex?
Oops, have to take back that first paragraph. Jack Kornfield talks about Krishnamurti’s womanizing in After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. He talks about how charismatic leaders can lose their shit and start abusing their power. In Buddhism as everywhere else.
Did the Buddha have sex after he awakened?
Christ, apparently, had some 6 or 7 children. According to the Unitarians. So he definitely had sex. And the Buddha had a wife who joined the monastic life after he awakened. So we know about the pre-awakening. Definitely sex.
As for the current pop psychology wisdom, in the book Intimacy and Desire by David Schnarch, sex is best in mid life when you’ve figured out how to both hold onto who you are and take the risk of telling your partner who you are–including who you are sexually, what you like, what you feel, what you long for, what you don’t like, all of which is so close to our deepest shame that the risk is paramount to…well, let’s say running with the bulls. (Because I am linking my blog together and because I’m still playing with unlike things that may not be that unlike.)
Now I must confess that after so many people read my last blog with the word therapy in the title, I just had to try putting the word sex in the title to see what would happen. Only now I feel obligated to talk about it. OMG!
Well, here goes. I’m queer. And therefore there’s this extra burden to be sexually enlightened, along with the necessity of paying attention to what my experiences with homophobia have done to me…do I bring the prejudice I’ve experienced into the bedroom? I think all gay people need to ask themselves about that…about the internalization of shame.
Then, I’m a woman. And along with homophobia, there’s objectification, and how looks can work for you, and how you use them without even thinking about it. There’s also exploitation and violence against women.
In other words, it’s never just sex.
In my plays, I write about sexuality as a sacrament. When my characters become sexual, they are always reaching to God, reaching for meaning. But often the reason sexuality has become so meaningful is because they’ve been hurt, because letting another person so close is not just intrinsically meaningful, it’s intrinsically terrifying. The potential for being hurt is so great.
For seven years I worked with a man who was writing a memoir about his four marriages. His first wife rejected him sexually, and this cut through him, really destroyed him in some fundamental way. He wrote about it in terms of the myth of Inanna, who is skinned alive in the underworld, then put back together. His third wife was a cancer survivor…sexually adventurous, sexually accepting, sexually challenging. In his writing and in the conversations we had about it, it was clear that in some way she healed him before she died.
I learned so much from mentoring that man…probably 30-40 years my senior. I learn how much we can both give and take away from each other when we become intimate.
I’m a woman, and I was raised Catholic, so I don’t particularly want to talk about my own sexual history. I can say this–I came of age in the late 70’s, and I believed I could be sexual the way men were, that free sexuality and adventurousness were open to women as part of women’s liberation. Which was, of course, followed by the advent of AIDS and watching nearly every gay man I knew die of it. Not to mention getting tested myself.
I am a woman. So sex and intimacy are irrevocably tied for me. Think of that absolutely beautiful scene on Glee when Curt’s father tells him to treat himself as valuable, not to give his body unless he’s given his heart.
But I am experienced, and I know these things–if you have sex too early in a relationship, you create unbelievable drama, because your emotional system can’t handle it. If you avoid talking about sexual problems, the space between you and your partner will become charged with tension and anger. If you have sexual pain, your partner will feel it one way or another. If you use sexuality to numb yourself, to avoid knowing who you are, or to unconsciously express shame, you are committing spiritual suicide. And you are harming anyone you touch.
I learned from David Schnarch that sexual problems in long term relationships are common. That there is always a high desire partner and low desire partner and that their feelings and dynamics are predictable. That variety comes from intimacy, honesty and risk, not from tantra or kink. That monogamy creates a crucible in which who we are is always known–that when we hurt our partner we know exactly what we’re doing, that when our partner isn’t satisfied or happy, we know it, just as we know exactly how to please our partner because inevitably SHE HAS TOLD US. Often without words, but we have been notified nonetheless.
Father Paul Bresnahan and I had a conversation about homophobia and sexuality, in which we congratulated ourselves on agreeing that sexuality and spirituality are tied together, are in fact one thing, and that to strike at a person’s sexuality or sexual preference is to strike at his or her soul.
I will say this personal thing. I come to sexuality with such a deep hope of acceptance, of being seen as precious and worthy and beautiful. Those needs are so tender, they make me so vulnerable, that I don’t want just anyone to see them. And to reveal oneself so deeply is spiritual. To witness such revelation is spiritual. It requires strength, and love, and honesty and care…the best of who we are. So often there are hidden resentments and conflicts of needs. We forget.
I would like to remember. Sex is not meditation. But it requires metta and the deep connection with metta for your partner.
Because face it, our partners drive us crazy, and most of the time that includes the bedroom.