First off, please understand that I am not a monk, an evangelist, otherwise religious, old and washed up, or a lonely person who can’t get any action. Nor am I a condemner of sex as inherently sinful or bad for any other reason.
Rather, my perspectives are practical, based on what brings me and others I know (whom I consider wise, soulful, empowered, and compassionate people) the most enduring joy, vitality, and fulfillment, while simultaneously helping the world be a better place. I have to qualify myself with these caveats because what I am going to say is probably going to make little sense to you at first blush and you may want to shoot the messenger rather than hear the message. But here goes . . .
This article discusses sex primarily in the context of excessive sex. How much is “excess”? It’s the amount that refraining from and channeling into other passionate creativity for right action would ultimately do you, and the world you touch, more good. It’s also the amount for which sex becomes central in your life. Often we need perspective to determine what amount is excess. This is why taking a break from our compulsions, addictions, and immediate desire-fulfillment can be so helpful, if not utterly liberating — not only with sex but with lots of things like distractions, “fun,” foods, and other drugs and distractions.
So, what about having sex in moderation? The answer is “sure.” Whatever moderate means to you. It’s whatever works for you, really. This is about getting real and honest with yourself, for which there is only you as the judge and the change-maker. The purpose of this writing is to offer perspective for a deeper contemplation for how to expend your vital energy and to inspire any shifts that would improve your quality of life. All I ask is for your honesty with yourself; what you end up doing is up to you.
Much of the literature on “excessive” sex is in the context of physical health. I haven’t read much on the soulful, implications of curbing sex, which soulfulness I define here as a function of our passionate service to the world. So, I decided to write about it, for which this is the first installment.
Holistic Medicine Perspective
I googled the subject to read some of what others had to say about sex, and excess sex, in the context of holistic health. One article, written by an Oriental medicine physician like myself, discusses sex and a lack of it in terms of Qi stagnation, which amounts to blocked vital energy (Qi) in the body. In the article Dr. Wiley claims that a lack of sex for men causes Qi stagnation due to “choked up emotions,” which basically equates the stagnation of Liver energy. In Chinese medicine the Liver organ network governs creativity, influences our sex drive, and harmonizes the nervous system and our emotions. Liver Qi stagnation causes the feeling of stress and emotional stagnation.
While Wiley’s assertion about choked up emotions can be true, it’s not necessarily true — at all. If a guy can’t manage his emotions except by having sex, then I think he needs other help. It’s also true that bowling can reduce stress, but this doesn’t mean that we need to go bowling to relax, anymore than we need to have sex to manage our emotions.
In fact, when we channel energy into meaningful, passionate, creative work, this not only “moves congested Liver Qi,” but ultimately is more fulfilling than having sex to feel impassioned and activated, to which I can attest. As someone who has suffered Liver Qi stagnation and treated patients for it, I agree sex can help, but it is by no means the best, is far from the only, and by no means a sustainable answer for Liver Qi stagnation and its stress. There are lots of ways to move Liver Qi, for which creativity is a prime example, even according to traditional Chinese medicine. So is exercise, so is good old-fashioned work, honesty (which is how you are reading this essay, right?), and pursing a meaningful life. Now if you don’t have a creative, passionate purpose for being alive, or relieving stress, and you don’t exercise, then you might need sex to do the primary work of moving your Liver Qi, which scenario has its own problems. So, I’d consider getting a life instead.
A life that revolves around sex, or whose primary interest is sex, is a life of unnecessary suffering. What, sex as suffering? Yes. This suffering includes living a small life, even a comfortable and insular one, one too small for our deeper desires, callings, and purpose, for which sex and other distractions and pleasures make us lazy. Such suffering derives from dissipating too much vital energy that easy pleasure brings, and the consequent missing out on the more enduringly fulfilling, remunerative gifts that come from using this vitality for more rewarding endeavors.
Another article I read about sex in the context of Chinese medicine said that if you’re a woman you don’t have to worry about the loss of “essence” through sex, like a man does by ejaculating. This is also untrue and a common misconception among many in Chinese medicine. “Essence” refers to the root source of energy in men and women and pertains to the Kidney organ system, which also governs sexuality. While a woman is less susceptible than a man to loss of essence, the very secretions of vaginal fluids and orgasm are a loss of essence. While it’s normal and not a big concern to lose some essence (we do each day just being alive), sex especially expends it (even if you’re a tantra master). Besides, the focus of this essay is more about the soulful implications of sex in relation to our creativity, meaning, and purpose for our lives.
Anything as easy and ecstatic as sex and orgasm is sure to be limited and unsupportive of a more sustainable creative expression, no matter how much we try to lift sex up on a pedestal.
Sex and Love
Now, you might be holding out for sex as a way to express love. But I don’t think sex has much at all to do with true love, and in fact gets in the way most of the time. Obviously, true love involves more than carnal attraction. But if you truly love someone, would you want to have sex with them if you weren’t physically attracted? How many people do you know that would? Infrequently we become attracted to someone we otherwise weren’t attracted to until we came to know and really like them. This is perhaps one of the few instances where sex assists true love, but otherwise I’m pretty convinced that sex doesn’t cause us to love what we sexually desire. And the euphemism “making love” is more about the nature of the emotional connection between two people — the truer love that’s already there — nothing inherent to the sex itself. And if it looks like it is, it’s probably the thrall of lust, or simple biological attraction.
In other words, sex doesn’t make love.
Personally, I enjoy sex and desire it, but I just don’t act on it too often because I find it ultimately less rewarding and less fulfilling than my other creative callings and sensual desires. But in great moderation, it can be uplifting if in the right context. I find this reality for myself liberating and invigorating, not to mention a relief to not have to deal with the many pitfalls, dramas, and repercussions that (regular) sex and inappropriate attachment brings. For casual sex is rarely truly casual, if you’ve noticed. And, I don’t suffer any of Dr. Wiley’s consequences for my style. In fact, I experience just the opposite. I suppose too that I feel I can never give my creative pursuits, especially writing, enough of myself, so I have less soul-level leniency in how I spend my energy.
A subconscious meme that runs through our supposedly sexually liberated culture is that if we don’t get our desires met, we’ll suffer greatly and that the only way to feel sexual desire and not act on it is to repress it, which will do us harm. This is nonsense. It’s as silly as believing that breaking our addiction to sugar or drugs will cause us harm. Sure, we’ll still crave it once in a while, but so what. Not every moment of desire need be met with pursuit, attainment, and release. Nothing terrible will result from refraining; rather, more good stands to be gained. These mistaken notions more than likely stem from our being uncomfortable with any empty space inside us that is not filled with action, pleasure, and stimulation. Worse, if we consciously refrain from filling this empty space, on some level we seem to perceive our longing for what has been denied as non-reconcilable frustration, punishment, and self-deprecation. This is old story stuff, not our truer, greater selves. Ironically, by remaining a slave to our easy desires we more readily embody all these negative states.
Life is not as easy as simply following what feels good in the moment. There are plenty of examples for why not. And true love requires compromise and being okay with not having our needs met all the time. We have to moderate our desires if we want to live a more fulfilling life. This is because we have more complex needs than animals. We have a sense of meaning, purpose, and service through meaningful work and calling, all of which compete with sexual desire for our creative energy which we can piss away quite readily with easy pleasure. The measure of our loving the world — if we care about such things beyond our selfish interests — is a measure of how robustly we engage this creative service, which a preoccupation wit sex diminishes.
So, while sex feels good, and in moderation can be a reasonable pursuit when engaged honestly, if we give ourselves to it too much, it easily depletes our creative vitality and creates other attachments (yeah, even without orgasm). Sexual attachment, which is unavoidable unless we are sociopathic, shut down, or cold and cruel to begin with, can create more headaches if engaged in the wrong context. In fact, to grow in truer love requires us to develop the inner resources that a reliance on sex for fulfillment distracts and even precludes.
Sex, Sugar and Freedom
Admittedly, at first it can be tough to turn down superficial pleasures like sex, just like it is to give up sugar, or cigarettes. But after a time of too much disappointment and living through the costs of sex, honestly acknowledging time and energy not so well spent from what deep-down in me is voicing, I’ve taken the “higher” path for my deeper purpose. And I’m happy to report the good news. Honestly, if I didn’t have a fulfilling inner life, I’d probably be more interested in sexing it up. Many of my friends seem to stay hooked on sex because they don’t seem have something more worthwhile and they report being creatively stuck. Sex is the easy way to unblock creative “stuckness,” but when it doesn’t take us to the next level of creative service, it can leave us even more stuck. The temporary high of sex, like drugs, temporarily fills the void of emptiness, or even depression. I’ve been there too, and realizing the trap, I decided that I wanted more.
If sex were as uncomplicated and free as we wish it were, it might be a surer bet. But, for anyone with an open heart, and given the emotional attachments and the drain on our vitality when pursued in excess (excess being whatever amount drains us at any given time), it’s a good idea to mind our sex. Sex and orgasm relax us and in general disinterest us from acting outside the box of our comfort zones. Moreover, in committed relationships sex can be the go-to in order to deny painful circumstances and underlying problems we’d like to keep ignoring. So, it’s not just casual sex that is problematic, but committed sex too. This is especially the case when used to deny and stay small, which sex does anyway to a degree for the vitality it takes from us, especially with orgasm.
Sex serves lots of functions, many of which can reasonably be met by other means other than the sex, which act seems to also carry an unreasonable amount of negative consequences. I think we we’ve all endured at least some of these pitfalls, and there are others less obvious, as shared in this writing. For these reasons, many wisdom traditions have attributed to sex a “lower” status. For our purposes, it’s not necessarily “lower” or less spiritual (indeed some people make sex in all its guises and special powers a religion), just ultimately not as rewarding or helpful as creative passions that make the world a better place by helping ourselves and others step out of a pervasive taking, easy pleasure, small-pleasure, consumer model. It’s also why we have so many schools of practice to elevate sex into something exalted and holy, which I think sex is it is if used to conceive a child. But if sex is your only primary way to feel high, excited, impassioned, creative, intimate, sensual, and turned on, then it’ll be tough to deny it.
While ancient wisdom traditions have some wise advice around sex, generally speaking I think they also have failed by repressing the urge and stigmatizing it, which has created a world of other problems. That denigrating and stigmatizing has fueled the backlash and sexual revolution of our day, which swings to the opposite extreme, replete with just as many problems. Getting moral about sex is almost always met with the knee-jerk reactions fueled by the generations of repressed sexuality seemingly backlogged in our genes. So, I don’t propose a moral imperative here, even though I do think we have a very reasonable moral imperative to use sex and any other self-serving pleasures in (great) moderation, given the need of the world for our undiluted passion to create justice and save our species from potential near-term extinction.
The most productive means, therefore, to mediate the issues put forth in this essay is self-honesty, gut-intuition, and calling. So, where the pros and cons of sexuality have for millennia revolved around morality and religious condemnation, and exaltation and reactive, if not addictive, indulgence, this is not the thrust of my message here. Yet, if you are able to hear the moral imperative without childish reactivity (don’t take a way my lollipop!), then all the power to you. Otherwise, my message is simply to get in touch with whatever of this message is deep-down honest for you, if any.
In our postmodern times we have rebelled against the suppression and deprecation of sex, for good reason. Repressing the desire is not sustainable either. Yet, like we have with much of ancient wisdom that advocates restraint, we have thrown the baby of wisdom out with the bathwater of revolt and reactivity. Sex needs to be regulated to make room for our other passions, especially this day and age, when the world needs our vitality and service just to keep the hope of our survival into the coming decades. This perilous precipice upon which we stand as a species has been exacerbated precisely because of our collective consumerism and failure to sustain a rich inner life in place of easy pleasures of all kinds.
We can do better than piss away our passions in sex. While it’s enjoyable, it’s also a joy that easily depletes a vital part of us that other activities do not. In fact, some Chinese medicine texts have charts for one’s age and general state of health with recommendations for how many times a week one should have sex. Such charts, to my knowledge, don’t exist for gardening, listening to or playing music, or cleaning the house. At this point, it’s also worth mentioning that any kind of chronic illness condition is usually exacerbated by orgasm, even infrequently. And during acute illness, like a common cold or flu, or when fatigued, sex and orgasm are generally not a good idea. This is for the consumption of Qi, and especially of what is called “essence,” that nourishes all aspects of us in body, mind, and “spirit.”
So, here’s a chart for general guidelines, which, mind you, pertains to general holistic health parameters, not necessarily the creative, soulful considerations expressed in this essay.
Creativity that mobilizes our vitality to help others is less selfish than sex, and in my experience, ultimately more rewarding. But so many seem to cower at selflessness because it requires that we be serious and forego using pleasure to fill deeper soul voids. Sex is a pleasure of the soul, but when we cultivate the soul’s other desires, sex can take up much less room in our lives, and with positive results. When we fill these voids with the self-love derived from emotional work, fulfill our callings to purpose and meaning, we might find that the compulsion to have sex every day diminishes. We might find too that we pursued sex as a way to self-medicate what we couldn’t face emotionally. I dated a woman once who was scarcely in a good mood unless she had sex. I wasn’t comfortable feeding her addiction or denial. Indeed, sex is as much an opiate as any other activity used as unsustainable medication.
When we tend to our core emotional issues, our void of creativity and passion is less, so we don’t need the pleasure of sex to fulfill what we fulfill by more wholesome means via a rich inner life. In this sense, a life that revolves around sex is a lazy, if not an excessively selfish one. Get creatively active with the deeper purpose you were born for and sex fades into the background of newfound passion. In other words, sex — like any other activity that brings elation, connection, intimacy, and release, along with the dark side of all these temporary boons-for-a-cost — can be a great way to band-aid our awareness and deeper participation in life.
To graduate from sexual consumerism to creative giving is liberating beyond what we can know while inside the box of using sex for a full gamut of soul-activation.
Stuffing vs. Channeling
Stuffing our sexual desires with stigma and shame, as so common in religious circles, stagnates our insides. The cure for this isn’t merely to choose sex to avoid stigmatizing and shaming ourselves, but to be more mindful with how we hold our desires and the stories we believe about our desire! Stuffing emotions and desire leads to the kind of Qi stagnation Dr. Wiley discussed. But I nonetheless find his argument is bogus for all the reasons already mentioned.
With a little skill and wisdom, we don’t have to stuff the desires of sex into frustration as the default response to not acting on desire. Instead I propose we walk the fine line of not repressing our sexual desire, nor act on it as much as we like. Part of the problem with accepting this position with sex is that we have come to expect that what we want we should have, and act on, as if we come from a heritage of deprivation, which we do in a sense. But the lasting cure for deprivation is not indulgence. It might seem to be at first, but ultimately, we get to experience the difficult consequences at the other extreme of repression. In addition to a lack of purpose, meaning, and heartfelt creative service, part of sexual frustration is based in expectation and not thinking outside the box of immediate gratification. Wanting pleasure and claiming it, however, we fail to discern whether it’s truly serving our best, or better, selves.
When we harness creative passion for other passions, which provides resources more enduring than orgasm and fleeting pleasure, then we arrive at a sustainable win-win. Living a life of creative service channels a lot of the passionate drive we otherwise are tempted to invest in easy sex. I suppose for some of us it depends on how much we really care about the welfare of others that determines how we use our “extra” energy. Expending our energy in service of soulful callings that directly benefit others and the natural world is true empowerment. If a life of small pleasures is enough for us, then we don’t have reason to change our sex schedule. For myself, it’s just not enough.
In a sense, sex is like any other pleasure, such as dessert. Too much sugar isn’t a good thing. In moderation we’re usually okay. But moderation is a personal balance, influenced by our overall state of health and how creatively active we are in the rest of life. Blocked creative energy can both diminish or increase our sexual desire. “Too much” sex affects our wellbeing and the deeper, more sustainable pleasures of being human. Instead, we can boost our vitality through moderation in sex by which we cultivate the creative force dissipated by our sex drive. We can find more sustainable ways to reduce stress, so we don’t piss away our creative vitality in the decadence of over-indulgent personal pleasure. All of this is compassion-for-the-world in action.
Decreasing any pleasure is going to leave a void. Being able to endure the uncomfortableness of this vacancy while we cultivate more enduring and meaningful pleasure is required to find deeper meaning in life. This way, we invest in long-term fulfillment over temporal happiness (and the many dark-side backlashes of sex such as unwanted pregnancy, STDs, inappropriate attachment, in addition to the others mentioned already), and generosity over diminishing, pleasurable consumerism. And we might even be surprised and feel better for it, once we adjust our minds and let the physiology of our sex habits, or addictions, loosen.
The ways to this new level of purpose and passion are:
1) cultivate a rich inner life.
2) take care of your body and eat well (to decrease addictive, uncentered and unwise cravings.
3) take care of your emotions.
3) find your deeper purpose for living.
4) engage your creativity.
5) embrace the world as self.
6) serve the world your finest self.
To make room for all this, you might have to let go of the ways that you use sex to distract, deny, numb, expend, and otherwise deny yourself a more fulfilling life, whether you are a swinger, single, partnered, engaged, or married.
Don’t take my word for any of this, of course, not that you would. See for yourself; think about it; watch your own life and listen to your own gut. Or maybe in five or ten or twenty years down the road, this strange advice might make more sense. It’s certainly not a popular perspective, and it’s challenging trying to express just what I mean without being condemned or labeled an acetic, a religious fanatic, or someone in denial. I am none of these, and if I deny sex it’s for the same reason I at times consciously deny dessert, or partying, or dancing, or going to the movies. They are simply not as enjoyable or fulfilling to me, except in great moderation.
Truth and Dare
While reading this, what did you overhear yourself saying to yourself? What did your gut say? What is your truth, and might you dare consider a deeper one?
The Nourish Practice
Jack Adam Weber’s “The Nourish Practice” is an easy, guided meditation-Qi Gong practice in radical gratitude and self-love. It is an Earth-based, body-centered practice — at once physiological and mythological — that is deeply relaxing and replenishing, especially for modern-day burn-out syndrome, and requires little physical effort.
The Nourish Practice “resets your nervous system” and fosters a rich inner life.
Previous articles by Jack Adam Weber:
- Relationships: The Costs of Staying When We Should Leave
- Emotional Work
- Choosing a Partner – How to Avoid Relationship Suicide
- Re-Thinking Love: Why Our Hearts Must Also Be Minded
- Spirituality – Reality Check
- 11 Crucial Tips for Better Digestive Health
- Shadow Work: Becoming a Sustainable Light Worker (Part 1)
- Oneness in Action: The GMO Eradication Movement
- After the Hurricane: Lessons from the Heart of Nature
- Relationships: How They Can Make Us Happier
- Heartbreak – Loving Ourselves Through Difficult Times
About the author:
Jack Adam Weber, L.Ac. is a Chinese medicine physician, author, celebrated poet, organic farmer, and activist for body-centered spirituality. He is also the creator of The Nourish Practice, an Earth-based rejuvenation meditation. Weber is available by phone for medical consultations and life-coaching. His books, artwork, and provocative poems can be found at his website PoeticHealing.com.