When we move on to a new partner, or add lover on the side, we increase the genetic variety of our children and improve our genes’ chances of sailing into the future. As individuals and families, however, we suffer. Spiritual teachers of the past describe this painful phenomenon separating couples, and hint at a way around it: making love differently, without the emphasis on orgasm. In this article we’re going to look at three such sexologists of the past: Lao Tzu, Jesus, and Alice Bunker Stockham, MD.
Lao Tzu was a Chinese Taoist master who lived approximately 2300 years ago. Many know him as the author of the Tao Te Ching, but he also passed onto his disciples oral teachings, which have been codified in another, lesser-known book, the Hua Hu Ching. Part of it is about sex.
Lao Tzu believed that a person’s approach to sexuality is a sign of this level of evolution. According to him, unevolved persons practice ordinary sexual intercourse. They place all of their attention on the sexual organs, and whatever energy is accumulated is summarily discharged. Lao Tzu taught that the result of following biology’s command is that our subtle energies become "dissipated and disordered." Orgasm is, in his words, "a great backward leap."
Lao Tzu’s language about disturbances in the subtle energies is about as close to the concept of neurochemical shifts as a person could get over two thousand years ago. Those who are familiar with esoteric sexual advice know that most of it focuses on loss of semen as the issue. Yet Lao Tzu understood that there was something less obvious affecting us - and nowhere does he say the problem is limited to men.
Unfortunately by the time I read his book I had already found out the hard way that orgasm causes a hangover for women, too. The hangover can show up as pronounced mood swings and irritability - days after an encounter. Above all it creates a sense of "lack," in both men and women. It feels like our needs are not being met, or like our relationship is a burden.
Projection of this subtle sense of lack, or uneasiness, is what separates lovers. And the way around it - as Lao Tzu stated - is to avoid triggering it. He advises us to go beyond our "obsession with seeds and eggs," and make love differently. He says that, "Where ordinary intercourse is effortful, angelic cultivation is calm, relaxed, quiet and natural."
The result of this practice is improved health, harmonized emotions, the cessation of desires and impulses, and, at the highest level, the transcendent integration of the entire energy body.
My husband and I have experienced most of these improvements for ourselves (unfortunately, no transcendence just yet…). We find it very exciting that recent findings about the brain reveal how this ancient approach to lovemaking could indeed yield these benefits.
Notice that Lao Tzu specifically mentions that this way of making love heals cravings. In fact, it does, and it’s one of the reasons that you can stay with this approach…because it also decreases the cravings of sexual frustration. Another unexpected benefit is that your willpower increases in all areas of your life…so if you have an addiction, you may find it fades away.
The most pleasant surprise is that you stay attracted to each other - perhaps because you never finish making love. And that flirtiness translates into harmony. Bumps in the road don’t seem so bumpy. You laugh more. And forgive more easily.
So much for Lao Tzu; over 2000 years ago he saw sex as a way to mutually transform each other, and enter the realm of bliss and wholeness. Article on Lao Tzu
Lao Tzu isn’t the only source that recommends making love without conventional orgasm. The same advice about controlled indulgence, or lust-free intercourse, appears in Tibetan Buddhist lore and the discourses of various Tantra teachers. Hints of this practice also show up in the scrolls of the earliest Christians - the Gnostic Gospels.
About 60 years ago some ancient texts turned up in a cave in Upper Egypt at Nag Hammadi. The mother of the Egyptian man who found them put some of them to immediate use, starting cooking fires. But the rest found their way to scholars, who translated them. Based on their content, scholars lumped them together with the few similar fragments that had survived the centuries. Collectively they’re known as The Gnostic Gospels. They describe Christ’s mission far differently from the more familiar gospels. Yet they are distinctly Christian.
Religious scholar, Dennis MacDonald believes that these fragments reveal that soon after the time of Jesus, before the Gospels that we know were even written, there was a pervasive oral tradition to the effect that Jesus had taught that "You enter the Kingdom of Heaven when male and female become one."
Evidence suggesting this possibility turned up by way of Syria (The Gospel of Thomas), Greece (2 Clement), and Egypt (The Gospel of the Egyptians). The language of these fragments is strikingly similar, yet not so similar as to be derived from one another - hence MacDonald's conclusion that they all came from the same widespread oral tradition.
He says that by the time Saint Paul wrote (the letters to the) Galatians, in the New Testament, in about 55 CE, he was attempting to rebut the authenticity of that earlier tradition by forcibly recasting it in terms Paul was comfortable with. At that time Paul represented a small offshoot of Christianity. It appears likely that the other - now forgotten - tradition about joining male and female was far more widely known.
Paul wrote (or was quoted has having written) that Jesus didn’t really mean "male and female." He really meant everyone - that everyone: Jews, Greeks, males and females would all be united under one Christian umbrella. However, the umbrella concept didn’t show up in any other interpretations of those fragments from Greece, Egypt, or Syria about male and female becoming one, so it was clearly Paul’s invention - or the invention of later editors.
Paul came to a bad end, but a few centuries later Paul’s followers converted Roman emperor Constantine and began to dominate Christianity. The first thing they did was to stamp out anyone who believed Jesus had taught the union of male and female (and other unpopular ideas) and destroy their sacred writings. The Nag Hammadi cache of texts is therefore extremely important.
Let’s look at the teachings Paul's purported words helped to bury. The Gnostic Gospels maintain that God is both male and female, and created man in God's image, that is, immortal, androgynous (whole), and not in a physical body. They say that Adam and Eve, who were originally profoundly, energetically connected, gave in to temptation and engaged in…physical reproduction [with fertilization-driven sex]. That led to a "separation" between them that started our collective tumble into mortality.
As you will find explained elsewhere on this site, fertilization-driven sex does indeed lead to emotional separation between the sexes, thanks to the reward mechanism deep in the primitive part of the brain. That part of the brain could equally well be labeled the "temptation" mechanism, since its biological job is to drive us to behave impulsively regardless of the consequences. In effect, it rewards us for giving into temptation - whether it’s hot sex, or just a super size of fries that we don’t need, but which would have served our distant ancestors.
The Gnostic Gospels say that Jesus came to reverse this deterioration between the sexes, and show us how to re-establish true union. Such union is a way of shifting our perception, experiencing our primordial androgyny - and bringing us into alignment with the wholeness of the Divine. Jesus accomplished this, by correcting Adam’s error, and so returned to Christhood, in the Sacrament of the Bridal Chamber. (You may remember that a misguided "fertilization rite" version of this rite was portrayed in "The DaVinci Code.")
The Gnostic gospel known as the Exegesis on the Soul describes this Sacrament of the Bridal Chamber:
Those who are to have intercourse with one another will be satisfied with the intercourse. And as if it were a burden, they leave behind them the annoyance of physical desire and they do not separate from each other. They become a single life….For they were originally joined to one another when they were with God. This marriage brings them back together again.
Another of these Gospels, the Gospel of Philip, explains that there were various sacraments, such as the holy baptism, the holier atonement, and the "holy of the holies," the Sacrament of the Bridal Chamber, in which participants "put on the light" or "chrism" and return to oneness with each other and with God. Procreation was not the goal.
You may be wondering how a celibate like Jesus could have managed this Sacrament of the Bridal Chamber. The Gospel of Philip also says that Jesus had a consort named Mary, "He kissed her often upon the mouth." Mary Magdalen was not the "prostitute" Mary, as the Church long portrayed her. Incidentally, some now suggest that the sacred union between Jesus and Mary was immortalized in DaVinci’s painting of "The Last Supper" - which, on close inspection - seems to show Jesus sitting next to a woman.
So much for "Jesus as sexologist;" the key point is that he may well have taught a lust-free intercourse that heals the separation impulse between intimate partners - for a higher end than procreation (quite a contrast from the mainstream Christian dogma). See Open Letter to Gnostic Scholars and Articles on Nag Hammadi texts.
Alice Bunker Stockham, MD
Alice Bunker Stockham was a Quaker, born in 1833. She was one of the earliest women medical doctors graduated in the United States. While not as famous as Jesus, or even Lao Tzu, she was the author of a highly-regarded, forward-thinking book on women’s reproductive health called Tokology. It was translated into numerous European languages, including Russian. Tolstoy was a fan of hers, and wrote the forward for the Russian edition.
Years later, in a subsequent book, Karezza, Dr. Stockham advised making love without "crisis or emission" - for either partner. She describes the health benefits from this practice in her quaint 19th-century language:
Men who are borne down with sorrow because their wives are nervous, feeble and irritable, have it in their power, through Karezza, to restore the radiant hue of health to the faces of their loved ones, strength and elasticity to their steps, and harmonious action to every part of their bodies.
There’s a scientific basis for her claims, because irritability and a sense of depletion can follow from the neurochemical roller coaster of conventional sex. Oxytocin naturally soothes those symptoms. Stockham, who was married to another doctor and had two children, believed that the sexual urge - far from being tainted - emanates from spirit. She advised that when we feel the urge we have only to listen to our "intuition or Higher Self in the silence of the soul" in order to discover how to use this energy. When we seek spiritual companionship, sexual expression leads to the peace of increased internal strength and power. She wrote:
These powers are given through the act of copulation when it is the outgrowth of the expressions of love, and is at the same time completely under the control of the will. [By contrast, she says that,] the ordinary hasty spasmodic method of cohabitation is deleterious both physically and spiritually, and is frequently a cause of estrangement and separation.
With Karezza, she says,
satiety is never known, and the married are never less than lovers; each day reveals new delights….The common daily sarcasms of married people are at an end, the unseemly quarrels have no beginnings and the divorce courts are cheated of their records.
This describes our experience. There’s a magnetism that stays alive between partners practicing this - and once you make the shift, that exhausting work on your relationship lessens. Her book reproduces letters written by people who used controlled intercourse. All are well worth reading. Here are excerpts from one of them:
I am a young man, 24 years of age, enjoying the most vigorous health. … The ideas contained in this discovery were so different from all my preconceived ideas of what constituted marital happiness, that I was inclined to reject them as utterly impracticable and absurd. …
With some misgivings, … I determined to [try this approach in my] marriage [It was clear that he was looking for birth control], and it has been completely successful. I have had a continuous honeymoon for four years. I have never been conscious of any irksome restraint or asceticism in my sexual experience; and my self-control and strength, mental and physical, have greatly increased since my marriage. …
Dr. Stockham didn’t just see patients and write books. She also traveled to India where she visited India’s West Coast and stayed with members of the matrilineal Nayar culture, known as India’s "free women." Although she never mentions Tantra in her book, it is likely that this tradition influenced her thinking. To be sure, her views differ from much Tantric lore, because she recognized that both men and women benefit from avoiding orgasm. In some schools, only the man concerned himself with enlightenment. His partner was immaterial, except as a means to raise his energy higher. It was fine if she orgasmed; the experience was not shared between equal partners.
Stockham’s Karezza is also quite different from most commercial Tantra as it is taught in the West today. Neo-tantra, as it is sometimes called, is generally billed as a way to fewer (perhaps), but better, orgasms. At its roots, though, authentic Tantra is not about self-indulgence, or bigger orgasms. It is about self-discipline and the careful cultivation of sexual energy for a higher, spiritual end. Fuller discussion of Stockham's Karezza
So there you have them, three sexologists of the past - each patiently explaining that there are unsuspected benefits from controlled intercourse. All emphasize the power of this practice to:
- ease cravings,
- strengthen us from within,
- raise our spiritual perception, and
- increase harmony between partners, that is, to pre-empt the separation trigger - buried like a fishhook - in conventional, fertilization-driven sex.
All of these benefits may be related to balanced dopamine levels and increased oxytocin levels.
In short, if we want to sustain the greatest benefits of union - and explore those we haven’t tapped yet - wisdom of the past suggests that the bedroom may hold the key.