Sex and Spirituality

Sex is still a taboo in many societies. This isn’t discussed openly and freely even among close friends. Yes, it is personal and one would like to maintain privacy in such intimate matters. But the lack of a healthy open discussion on sex can be detrimental, especially to young adults. Teens usually make their early impressions on how to channel their sexual energies from the adult industry. This is unfortunate because porn can be very degrading, especially to women. But more importantly, porn teaches us how not to have sex. That is, it completely misses out on the main reason why we engage in sex – intimacy. The relationship between sex and intimacy needs to be explored, discussed, and shared with our young adults.

When we have sex, there are two important aspects or psycho-physiological movements. The act of giving and the act of receiving. This can be experienced both in males and females*. Often, we think that the male is the giver and the woman the receiver. But this description is a strict biological one. Giving and receiving can be a deep emotional and mental experience, which is the cornerstone of intimacy. In order to give and receive, one must be open.

When a flower opens up, it receives the pollinator. This is the movement of ‘opening to receive‘. When a seed opens during dispersion, this is the movement of ‘opening to give’. In humans, the male has to open himself to giving himself and pleasure to the woman. And in return, he opens himself to accept pleasure from the other. The woman has to open herself to receive the man and pleasure, and in turn, give herself completely to the man. Giving and receiving are intrinsically linked. Thus the giving and receiving must pan out on both sides. This is when we experience intimacy. Intimacy is the experience of a deep merger with the other. In intimacy, one experiences the other as oneself. In fact, there is no “I” and the “other”, just one common experience. We come fully into the present moment and divest ourselves from our worries, our problems that stem from our identity. This is why we are attracted to sex. In those minutes (or longer for some lucky people), there is a temporary loss of the identity that I am somebody separate. We yearn and long for the dissolution of the sense of separateness. This is why sex can be spiritual.

Sex without giving is transactional. One-night stands and other casual sexual encounters fall into this category. It is not that these are bad. However, it does not help us achieve what we are so desperately yearning for – intimacy. Why? Such encounters are only comprised of taking. You engage “to have fun”. That is, the sole purpose is to get pleasure. This is why, after the act, there is awkwardness. And the first thing that one does is to get dressed and run away or feel the need to be alone. Why does this happen? When we exploit others (that is, only take), we become thieves. When thieves break into a house and take what they want, their immediate focus after getting what they want is to escape. When we take without giving, our conscience pricks us. We know deep down this isn’t right. And it is this feeling that makes us not want to be with the person whom we just exploited. This is why people get tired of casual sex even though it could be “fun”. It just doesn’t give us what we seek.

The other category is sex where one partner only takes. This is the worst possible type – very prevalent in many marriages and relationships. Usually, the woman is the giver and the man the receiver (or taker). This is exploitative and debases the other being. Prostitution also falls into this category. You know that the other is just giving you without any emotional involvement. And therefore it doesn’t fulfill you, since deep down you know you are exploiting the other.

This is where we need to be able to give and receive. How do we go about doing this?

In order to give or receive in a healthy manner, we need to open ourselves up – just like the flower or the seed. Opening ourselves up means, dealing with those emotions we have been bottling up for ages. An honest, deep acceptance of our emotional state opens us to all kinds of experiences – including painful emotions. When we make peace with the darkest emotions within us, we feel liberated, free. This freedom is expressed as creativity and the desire to give and share this beautiful emotion with others. And in sex, this takes a beautiful expression of giving pleasure to the other. We enjoy it, even more, when the other enjoys themselves. In a sense this is altruistic (or in Yogic parlance – Sattvik). And when we open up to our emotions, we also gain the ability to receive. We can accept the other coming close to us emotionally because we do not fear our emotions. There is nothing to hide. We are naked in the fullest sense – and not just the body. This is true emotional vulnerability.

This is why in most ancient cultures, sex was never a taboo. They understood that sex can be a stairway to understanding that we are not separate beings; that we can experience the oneness of all life. Sex was seen as something healthy, which when channelized in the right manner, can help us in our mental, emotional and spiritual journey. This attitude urgently needs to be brought back, first into our lives and then into our societies and communities. This can perhaps, stem the sexual violence against women, children, and even some men that is so prevalent but hardly discussed.

*Note: I use the terms male and female in the form of mental archetypes. This dynamic could play out in all gender relationships.


Sexual Motifs carved into the walls of the Sun Temple at Modhera, Gujarat. 2015, 2017.

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