Recently, I found myself sitting in on a conversation about sex and spirituality, noticing I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. As it was the end of a long day, I didn’t pin down what was making me so restless until much later, when I was back in my own space. It was then I realised what I felt had been missing from the discussion:
The term “sex” was being used as though everyone knew what it meant – and, despite the fact that it was being discussed within a spiritual context, no distinction had been made between the physical act of intercourse, and what I might term Conscious Sexuality.
I’ve been pondering since then why I felt this was a disadvantage to the conversation. I certainly don’t wish to stumble into the pitfall of implying that conscious intimacy is somehow superior to the physical act often referred to as sex – nor do I believe there is a clear and discernible line between the two; many who develop an interest in the former do so because of experiences they have unintentionally during sex that make them want to find out more.
Like so many of the best things in life, it’s really more of a spectrum.
So what, if any, are the differences?
In my experience, it comes down to the following three internal factors. A lot of the other more visible differences stem from these:
Before I delve deeper into these in my attempt to come up with a loose – and doubtless highly subjective – definition of Conscious Sexuality for your pleasure and critique, I want to acknowledge the ridiculousness of the term. Yes, of course, you should always be conscious for sex if you take the term to mean “awake and consenting”. ALWAYS.
Unless you’re fabulously kinky and playing with someone you trust with your life and have negotiated otherwise.
My point is, it should be fairly apparent that that’s not where the term originates. Rather, it stems from the consciousness referred to by practitioners of mindfulness and meditation – and has more to do with the quality of our awareness in sex than whether we’re awake or not. So let’s start there…
When we engage in conscious (or mindful, sacred, or integrative) sexuality, we do so with the understanding that sex is a deeply vulnerable act, which touches not just our physical, but also our emotional and energetic bodies – and that therein lies its potency. Accordingly, we use our awareness to get down deep into our embodied selves; we become aware of all the layers of ourselves that we are able to, and include them in the erotic experience.
We also use that same awareness to attend to our intuition when it comes to being sexual with another person. We listen to the flow of energy (the chemistry, if you prefer) between us, we play close attention to the messages we receive from their eyes and skin – and to those messages that seem to be just “feelings” or “hunches”, but are much more likely to be useful information.
All of this inevitably impacts our
People have sex for all kinds of reasons. Pleasure is a fairly high-ranking one in the west, and so is romantic love – but obligation, money, status, self-worth, release and relaxation – these are just a few of the multitude of meanings we ascribe to the sexual act.
When we approach sex with the aforementioned understanding that it can, and most likely will, impact our whole selves, and the whole selves of anyone we share our erotic experience with, our primary intention becomes one of being Present. We want to be as fully present as we can be to the effects the sexual experience in question is having in us, and, if another person(s) is involved, we want to be present to their experience as well.
Being present to our pleasure experience allows that experience to expand; if I am having some yummy feelings in my genitals, and I place my awareness in my heart, the yummy feelings might come up there. If I am experiencing yummy feelings with someone else, and we can be aware of each other’s yummy feelings, our individual pleasure is likely to build as we connect in to the other person’s.
But pleasure isn’t the only likely component of whole-person conscious sex. Other feelings and emotions can arise up from the depths of our being when we are engaging so fully in an activity this all-encompassing and vulnerable. By being present, we have a better chance at being able to hold whatever arises, to process it together, and allow it to be a precious part of the experience – even if it is something that frightens us. When we are present, we can be witnessed in our fullness, which in turn allows for catharsis, integration, healing, growth, and ecstatic release – bringing new possibilities for meaning to the erotic encounter.
Not everyone engaging in conscious sexuality professes a faith in some sort of divinity. However, most of us at some point will have an experience that is touched with something we can’t quite explain. Some of us might use words like magic, energy, or god to describe it – but whatever the language, it is clear that engaging in conscious sexuality opens the door to altered or transcendent experiences. Knowing this offers us two gifts:
Firstly, knowing what is possible, we can start to seek out and establish pathways to these experiences.
And secondly, we can choose to trust that there is something taking place in the space between us that is greater than we are, and we can reach out and forge relationship with that something. In the all-too-messy daily relational realities into which so many of us try to fit our sex lives, this something bigger can be a source of great comfort, and a source of new erotic possibilities – even in those moments when we feel we’ve run out of erotic energy all together.
So. Awareness, Intention and Presence, and allowing for the possibility of moments, acts, of Grace. I wonder now, do I have enough to attempt at least a messy, temporary, definition of Conscious Sex?
To engage in Conscious Sex is to engage and commit your whole self to the erotic experience – to endeavour to become as fully present as you can to what is moving in you in each moment, and to what is moving in anyone else engaging in the experience with you. It is to be present enough to what is moving in the erotic body, or the space between erotic bodies, to allow an infinite number of possibilities to unfold there – including what might be described as miracles.
In my next post, I’ll be talking about some of the possible outcomes of Conscious Sexuality – including integration; ecstatic experience; and the expansion of the definition of what it is to be sexual, which in turn makes sexuality more accessible, and inclusive, for all of us.