This article is based on my booklet by the same name, and is also adapted from a chapter in Love Lust and the Longing for God.
What? Spiritual sex…is this an article about Kama Sutra or something? No. It is about how the spiritual qualities of intimacy, commitment and character can help you have a really wonderful sex life. You see, God wants us to be happy and to enjoy all of the wonderful things that this physical world has to offer—including great sex. He just wants us to do it intelligently, wisely, and in a way that won’t distract us from our spiritual development. If we look deeply into the writings of most religions, we will discover the eternal secret to truly great sex.
Many sex therapists are fond of saying that the most powerful “sexual organ” we possess is our brain. This means that the mental aspects of sex are more important than the physical ones. I would like to modify this phrase to say that the most powerful sexual organ we possess is really our heart. In other words, it is the emotional and spiritual connection we feel—the intimacy between two people—that makes sex really special.
Intimacy Versus Intensity
There are two main ingredients that, when added to sex, almost always increase our feelings of pleasure. They are intimacy and intensity. Most people today long for greater intimacy in their relationships. On the other hand, what the entertainment industry teaches us to pursue is intensity. What most people don’t realize is that these two ingredients are almost always mutually exclusive. They cancel each other out.
Why do I say this? Let’s take a look at the qualities and situations that create these two very different states and see how they relate.
What Is Intensity?
Intensity is the physical sensation of heightened alertness. Your heart beats faster, your palms sweat, you may feel weak in the knees, and your whole body seems to “buzz.” In other words, intensity comes in response to a heightened level of adrenaline in your blood stream. It is a low-level “fight or flight” response that heightens your senses by putting your whole system on alert and under stress. With all of your senses hyper-charged, sex can be ecstatic, overpowering and exhausting.
But where does adrenaline come from?
It comes from fear.
The entertainment industry would like us to believe that these physical symptoms are a sign of true love. But if you had this response in the presence of a rattlesnake, would you seek a relationship with it? Not hardly.
Because it doesn’t “make sense” to be afraid of a beautiful, sexy person standing beside us, we convince ourselves that the feeling we are experiencing is attraction. But is it? Consider for just a moment the possibility that what we are responding to is an unconscious awareness that this person could cause us physical, emotional or spiritual pain.
This does not mean that they are evil. Perhaps you simply sense that they might reject you, love and leave you, recognize your “fatal flaws,” or carry a disease. If you have grown up in a dysfunctional family, perhaps they remind you of an alcoholic parent, an abuser, or a sex addict. Perhaps it is a general fear of pregnancy, co-dependency, failure, making a commitment or playing the fool that you feel.
Whatever it is, your body is telling you that you are afraid. And fear is the opposite of trust, and trust is the foundation of intimacy.
What Is Intimacy?
Intimacy is a profound and complex subject that deserves more explanation than this short booklet can offer. Nevertheless, there are some key observations that can be made in relationship to sex and intimacy.
Intimacy involves a feeling of knowing and being known; of caring and being cared for, and of physical, mental and spiritual closeness. Intimacy involves sharing—not just sharing physical pleasure, but sharing time, thoughts, dreams, personal goals and spiritual priorities. The pleasure that comes from having sex with someone who knows who you really are—both the good and the bad—and loves you anyway, is more satisfying and long-lasting than the pleasure of intensity.
The foundation of intimacy is trust. Without trust, none of the other aspects of intimacy can be allowed to develop. So let’s consider some of the elements of a relationship that will create the trust necessary to foster intimacy.
Honesty is the first. You must know that what a person says is true and that his or her words and actions agree with each other. On a material level, this may be easy. But on an emotional level, honesty also requires us to know ourselves in order to be true to ourselves. A person who does not know his or her own feelings is incapable of being honest about them. So honesty implies a certain level of spiritual and emotional maturity.
Safety is the second. You must feel physically safe from violence, disease and financial irresponsibility; emotionally safe from betrayal, abuse and abandonment; spiritually safe from self-centeredness, apathy and decadence.
Good character is the third. Becoming intimate is a process in which people share their inner lives. There is a metaphoric “mingling of spirit” so to speak. If a person does not have a good character—if they are not kind, loving, generous, patient, etc.—then what they share will reflect their lack of these qualities and become a source of suffering and even spiritual degradation for their partner.
Just as having physical intimacy with a person who is physically unclean can cause disease and even death, so too, emotional and spiritual intimacy with an unhealthy soul can cause spiritual and emotional illness.
Finally, commitment is of paramount importance. Every action has a consequence. Love, sex, intimacy—these all have the potential for long-term physical, emotional and spiritual consequences. It is not safe, it is not honest, and it lacks character to pretend that they only exist “in the moment.”
Along with commitment goes perseverance. While it is possible to quickly recognize that you want to get to know someone, the process of actually getting to know that person always takes time. When we try to short-circuit the process, we often end up projecting our hopes on someone rather than discovering their reality. We fall in love with the person we want them to be rather than the person they really are.
The simple fact is that everything worth having is worth working for. “Work” involves both time and effort. Playing an instrument, playing a sport, learning to dance, learning to cook, building a house, building a career, learning to listen, learning to care—all of these goals require time and perseverance. Isn’t it reasonable, then, to acknowledge that something as important and transformative as love, intimacy and great sex requires (and is worth) the same kind of effort? Think about it.
Spiritual and emotional intimacy develop in stages. We go from strangers to acquaintances, to activities partners, to friends, to close friends, to intimate friends. “Instant spiritual intimacy” is a fallacy. It is a popular myth because it is very easy to project our fantasies on people rather than wait to see if a person’s inner reality matches his or her outer appearance. “We have so much in common…we think so much alike…It was love at first sight.” No matter how much we want these things to be true, we can’t know that they are until we spend some time together. If they are true, then the time we spend confirming our initial impressions will be a source of great pleasure and fond memories. But if we are mistaken, we will be grateful that we “looked before we leaped.” We may tell ourselves we have fallen out of love just in time to avoid a bad relationship, but in fact, we never loved to begin with.
Physical intimacy also develops in stages, and these stages should follow rather than precede their spiritual counterparts. “Instant physical intimacy” is really a form of exposure. There is an adrenaline rush that comes from laying ourselves out naked on the table (emotionally or physically) that has nothing to do with knowing, caring or moving closer, but a great deal to do with our deep longing to be known and accepted. If we do not establish our emotional safety first, then the vulnerability inherent in exposing this longing will only increase our fear and decrease our true intimacy.
So, you get to choose.
If you decide that what you are really interested in is intensity, then you will want to concentrate on those qualities and behaviors that help boost your adrenaline before engaging in sex. Fear, shame, anger and physical exertion are the four easiest ways to do this. You can see a scary movie, engage in risky, dangerous or illegal activity, or choose a partner who is likely to hurt, shame or abuse you. Fighting gets the juices flowing too. Shame, a slightly different “flavor” of arousal, provides some interesting options—you could cross-dress, have sex in a public space, or have your partner spank you, for example. You could also try drugs or alcohol to alter the experience and make it more interesting and intense.
Oh, there is just one word of caution if you make this choice…no matter what you do, you will have to do something a little more frightening, violent or shameful the next time in order to achieve the same level of intensity. Like other drugs, your body gets used to adrenaline and requires more each time, which means that it is psychologically addictive. Even relatively safe activities eventually evolve into more risky behaviors when their goal is to increase intensity rather than intimacy. But boy, will your sex life be exciting…while it lasts.
Or, instead of the addictive spiral of intensity, you can choose intimacy. Yes, “good old boring intimacy.” Morally upright intimacy. Spiritually uplifting intimacy. Sexually stimulating intimacy. Eternally improving intimacy. Safe, warm, comforting, satisfying, transformative intimacy. Intellectually, emotionally and spiritually stimulating intimacy. Life-enhancing intimacy.
Intimacy and Spirituality
Does it seem odd to you that the qualities and behaviors that lead to intimacy are also those encouraged by every major world religion?
Until now, you may have thought of the Founders of the world’s religions as a bunch of party-poopers—authority figures who just wanted to spoil your good time by making everyone feel repressed and guilty. Would it shatter your world-view to consider the possibility that They were trying to help us attain the very best that the world has to offer—even great sex—through the application of spiritual principles?
Honesty, self knowledge, maturity, the safety and security that comes from commitment and responsibility, good character, virtues and high morals—every religion has taught these principles. On the other hand, they have all discouraged mind-altering substances, violence and risky or shame-producing behaviors. Isn’t it amazing to discover that the secret of a wonderful, intimate sex life has been hidden in the Sacred Writings of the world’s religions all these years?
The Rest of the Story
OK, so religious teachings can help you develop your capacity for intimacy, and therefore help you have great sex. But lets be honest. That is not the purpose of religion. The purpose of religion is to improve our relationship with God, to help us become the very best people we can be, and to guide society as a whole so that it can continue to advance both materially and spiritually.
Sometimes our desire for great sex has to take a back seat to our larger goals. Sometimes sex has to wait until we deepen our connection with God, develop our virtues and meet some of our social obligations. Sex always has to wait until we are materially, emotionally and spiritually capable of making a permanent commitment. This shows our partner and the world that we are ready to create a safe environment for nurturing intimacy.
So, are you mature enough to postpone sex until you are physically, emotionally, materially and spiritually ready for it? If not, then you can forget about having great intimate sex, because, no matter what your age, you aren’t mature enough to experience it, let alone appreciate it.
Having Your Cake…
I know what you’re thinking…why not have intense sex now, and worry about intimate sex somewhere down the road? Because it doesn’t work that way.
- Because you are not a computer, and life is not a game. You can’t push a “reset” button and start all over.
- Because patterns and habits are hard to change
- Because getting used by different lovers makes you jaded and disillusioned.
- Because using other people is a sign of irresponsibility and untrustworthiness.
- Because you should not put yourself in the situation where you are defined by your sexual behavior.
- Because maintaining intensity requires increasing levels of risk, shame or substance abuse.
- Because adrenaline is addictive.
- Because risky behavior is addictive.
- Because shame is addictive.
- Because drugs & alcohol are addictive.
- Because sex with people you don’t really know only makes you desperate and lonely.
- Because the people who are willing to have sex with you without really knowing you are desperate and lonely and not very nurturing.
- Because other people will see your actions and begin to believe things about your character that will make it difficult for them to like and trust you.
- Because you will observe your own behavior and begin to believe things about your character that will make it difficult for you to like and trust yourself.
- Because it is hard to have a healthy relationship with God when you don’t like or trust yourself.
- Because the person you are looking for is not out there.
- Because the person you are looking for is inside of you.
- Because making babies is too sacred to do for a cheap thrill.
- Because dying of AIDS is too painful to risk for a cheap thrill.
- Because it can waste a lot of precious time.
- Because it can waste a lot of precious years.
- Because when sex precedes commitment, sex replaces commitment as the glue that holds a relationship together.
- Because lust will blind you to a lover’s faults.
- Because shame can blind you to a lover’s virtues.
- Because it will deprive you of the joy of experiencing sex and intimacy for the first time with the person you truly love.
- Because it will give you a variety of experiences that no single mate will be able to live up to, and will foster disappointment, jealousy, and infidelity.
- Because you deserve the best.
Now, while all of the preceding is true, it is also true that nothing in life is black or white. God is forgiving. You will not be damned to hell or addicted to a downward spiral of sexual promiscuity after your first sexual encounter outside of marriage. But there are consequences to our actions. You can get pregnant, catch diseases, and start habits after only one sexual experience. Every time we behave in an unhealthy manner, it makes it harder to respond in a healthier way the next time. So why start (or continue) in a direction that will take you somewhere you don’t want to go? What would you lose by doing it right to begin with?
Contrary to popular belief, getting to know someone sexually will not increase your chances of making the relationship work. Many studies have indicated that living together, for example, actually decreases a couple’s odds of having a successful marriage. Many couples remain married for a much shorter time than they managed to live together. While some would suggest that this means that marriage is bad for a relationship, it really means that people do not know how to make the transition from a relationship based on intensity to one based on intimacy. Is it not wiser, then, to begin where you want to end up—with loving, honest, committed, trustworthy, safe intimacy?
A “Sensational” Approach to Virtue
It is not enough to simply decide that this booklet is right, and that you will ignore the temptation of intensity while you seek intimacy with the perfect partner. The whole world is literally throwing pictures of intense sex at you virtually every minute of the day. It is both impractical and self-defeating to think that you can swim against the tide through an act of sheer will power. It is easier and more effective to use spiritual insights to re-channel your effort. How do you do that?
Well, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “nature abhors a vacuum.” In personal terms, this means that it is impossible to give up something you like unless you first find something even better to replace it with. Acquiring the emotional maturity to experience healthy intimacy takes time and effort. It will be hard to postpone sexual experimentation unless you can find a way to make the process of becoming emotionally mature exciting, rewarding and satisfying in its own right.
In its simplest form, sexual intensity is about physical sensations. Physical sensations are very important. They are the tools by which we prove to ourselves that we are physically alive and unique. Research has demonstrated that after living in a sensory deprivation tank for as little as two or three days, a person becomes disoriented, hallucinates, and actually begins to lose his or her sense of identity. It is very important, then, that we not associate delaying sexual interaction with any kind of sensory deprivation. I mean, who would want to delay doing something that makes them feel more alive and unique? If that is how you think of the trade-off between intensity and intimacy, then your subconscious mind will rightfully sabotage your best intentions at every opportunity.
So what is the alternative? The alternative is to explore a whole new world of sensations—sensations that are generated during the process of becoming emotionally mature—powerful spiritual sensations that most people are completely out of touch with. Now I am not talking about astral-projecting or anything. You have been experiencing spiritual sensations every day of your life, but have probably not had the vocabulary to identify them or the training to distinguish them.
At the beginning of this article, I talked about the sensations many people mistakenly identify as love, attraction, or excitement, and which lead to intensity rather than intimacy. The problem is not that we have these sensations. It is that we mislabel them. You see, when you meet a person, your eyes see their body, but your soul perceives their spiritual qualities, or virtues. We call the part of the soul that perceives virtues our “heart” and we experience its perceptions as sensations that we call “emotions.” In other words, your emotions tell you about your spiritual environment in a way that is remarkably similar to the way that touch, smell, sight and hearing tell you about your physical environment. Taste, smell, color, emotion, these can all be understood as the sensations generated by perceptual organs—physical or spiritual.
Just as our physical senses can perceive both light and the absence of light or heat and the absence of heat, our hearts can perceive love and the absence of love, justice and injustice, generosity and selfishness. Our hearts are then moved by these perceptions to generate the sensations we call emotion. We feel sadness, pain and anger in the absence of virtue, while we feel love, hope and joy when we encounter virtues such as kindness, faith and generosity.
Emotional maturity is the ability to both perceive and identify the virtues in our relationships accurately, and to respond appropriately. As we train ourselves to perceive, identify and practice a wide range of virtues, we become capable of experiencing a level of spiritual ecstasy that is deeper, richer, and more permanent than any mere physical pleasure we may have sought. This is the rapture of true love that poetry and great literature are talking about—the sensations that the heart generates when it perceives compassion, nobility, generosity and purity in another person’s soul.
So if spiritual sensations are so much more wonderful and satisfying than physical sensations, why aren’t we all saints? Why aren’t people spending as much energy learning to love God as they are trying to find a sexual partner? Well, to put it bluntly, because the world stinks—spiritually that is.
Spiritual pleasure is as natural—and should be as common—as physical pleasure. After all, humans are spiritual beings with spiritual senses that are as important for understanding our environment as our eyes and ears. The problem is that, just as physically there is both pain and pleasure, there are spiritual pain and pleasure. In the physical world, we are carefully taught the difference between dolphins and sharks, even though our chances of meeting either is fairly slim. But spiritually, we are introduced to sharks every day, and are expected to ignore any spiritual sensations that might indicate danger. Indeed, we are often told that these people are exciting, suave, or hard workers, thus associating positive virtues to the spiritual sensation of fear. But when we open our hearts to them, we find cruelty, deceit, and selfishness.
Because our hearts have been fooled so many times, we have trained ourselves not to respond too quickly or feel too deeply when they are touched by a passing virtue. Our fear of being hurt or overwhelmed by unpleasant sensations has caused us to shut down our spiritual sensors almost entirely. We are, spiritually speaking, holding our breath in order to avoid the stench of the moral swamp we are living in. This response is perfectly reasonable, but there is an alternative.
The Role of Religion— Training Our Hearts
What we need is a way to know when it is safe to let our guard down and respond to a virtue. In other words, we need to know how to identify a virtue with our minds before we open our hearts too wide. This is one of the special gifts that the religions of the world have to offer. The stories, lessons, prayers and examples that God offers us in the Holy Scriptures of the world’s religions provide helpful tools in identifying, naming, appreciating and practicing the virtues that God wants us to develop. When you read with an open heart and an open mind, your heart trains your mind to identify the virtues that move it emotionally. With practice, your mind can then help your heart identify when it is safe to open up in your personal relationships—which brings us full circle.
Combining Physical Sensations with Spiritual Sensations—the Complete Relationship
When you learn to identify virtues, then you can begin to choose friends with whom it is safe to be open. Relationships become more emotionally rewarding because your heart feels free to respond to a wide range of stimuli. You will attract more and more friends because your own behavior will naturally demonstrate the virtues you have come to appreciate in others. These relationships will not be artificially “romantic,” nor will they be sexual, but they will be spiritually “sensational.” They will, I assure you, involve more positive sensations than any dead-end series of one-night stands.
At some point, however, you will probably notice that one of your friends not only has an emotionally stimulating collection of virtues, but also has a number of practical qualities that would make a long-term family-type commitment possible, pleasant and productive.
When your mind is clear that this person has demonstrated a wide range of virtues such as responsibility, honesty, commitment, maturity and kindness, then your heart can be assured that it is safe to open wide and enjoy the spiritual sensations of love, joy, profound contentment, and even spiritual ecstasy. These spiritual sensations are not in conflict with physical sensations, but can, instead, reinforce and prolong their duration. Spiritual love really does improve physical love making.
Isn’t it amazing that even the spiritual sensations that we learned to appreciate as a way to distract us from our culture’s obsession with sex, ultimately complement sex when it is experienced in a safe, appropriate and spiritual context.
Of course, spiritual sensations also add to our experience of fine art, music, food, sports, and … well, that would be a whole new post.