Some say that all of philosophy is a way of coming to terms with death. It’s more than that. It’s also a way of coming to terms with sex.
Sex is associated with an entire range of emotion and experience. On one hand, we have ecstasy, orgasm, love, connection, and creation. On the other hand we have its darker aspects, including abuse. On one hand, sex seems to carry an almost divine ability—the ability create a living being. On the other hand, we vilify some types of sex. Masturbation, for example, was once considered pathological. And until 1972, homosexuality was considered a psychiatric disorder, going by the names of paraphilia and ego-dystonic disorder. Hypersexual Behavior Disorder narrowly missed becoming another official psychiatric diagnosis in 2010.
Religion seems to have a lot to say about sex as well. The popular version can basically be summed up as watch out! or be very careful! In general, the more official, public, and aged the religious figure, the more they have to say about how sex should be.
As a society, we seem to love and hate sex at the same. We embrace it with one hand and swat it away with the other. Why has sex confused us so much? It is because, contrary to popular messaging, sex is not only a physical act, and not only a way to intimately connect with someone else. Sex is a gateway to experiencing and activating the deeper potential within us in new ways.
When we harness our energy to play sports, our energy moves to the circulatory and musculoskeletal systems. When we harness our energy for digestion, our energy moves to the gastrointestinal system. And when we harness our energy for sex, our energy moves to the reproductive system.
The culmination of sex in orgasm releases a vault of concentrated energy through the reproductive system, and it is through the intensity of this release that we all realize the powerful potential sex has to give pleasure and create a new living being. Therefore, when we are talking about sex, ecstasy, orgasms, conception, abuse, and all such related matters, what we are really talking about is how we harness this power—how we manage (or mismanage) the fundamental, wild, intimate, creative power that brought us and everyone else into this world.
Sex is not primarily about the physical body. It is about our most intimate and powerful potential.
The afterglow of good sex, for example, is not due to the sex itself, but rather because this power with you has been unleashed. The unleashing happened through the vehicle of sex, but there are also other vehicles available and other routes for your power to travel. Learning about these can change your moment to moment experience of living. The mechanisms are generally not understood by science because the vision of science is largely limited to the foundations of materialism and naive realism, but they are well-described in yogic texts. They are also known by many people in all the religions and wisdom traditions of the world, and word of it is growing ever more common in our society.
The question is—what can be accomplished with this potential? We already know the obvious answers. The energy within us is used to execute the various functions of the body from birth to death, including reproduction. But some people have gone further. Independent of any physical action, they’ve redirected the energy fueling sex to open up new creative abilities, insights, and deeper experiences of themselves and the world. These experiences are then sometimes translated into philosophy. Usually, this is classified as spirituality, esotericism, and mysticism, but it’s actually much simpler than that. It’s an essential aspect of human development and maturation available to everyone—or simply put, it’s growing up.
Harnessing this power is the essential function of a lifetime. Everyone tries to do it, knowingly or unknowingly. This is the same power that is temporarily harnessed through psychedelics. It is the same power we harness when pushed to the brink in extreme sports. It is the same power harnessed in religious experiences described by saints. It is the same power harnessed by some when facing death. It is the same power that fuels our creativity, passion, and drive to achieve. It is the same power harnessed by the enlightened sage to see beyond the brackets of birth and death. And it is the same power that courses through us when we connect deeply with someone, feel a gush of love, and embrace exquisite tenderness.
Thus, the celibate monk, the seasoned philanderer, and the sexually inexperienced young adult are all doing one and the same thing—they are trying to manage their internal power through the gateway of sex, whether they realize it or not.
What makes the gateway of sex unique is that it is available to everyone. Because something so powerful is also so readily available, the gateway has become heavily guarded. This is where all the restrictions around sex come from. It seems that people in positions of power love to give advice on who we can have sex with, when we can have sex, and how we should have sex, even while (perhaps especially while) they themselves have not passed through the gateway and understood the realms beyond.
I’m not advocating carelessness or dissipation of your energy and power. This isn’t about having more or less sex, but rather about seeing its roots and operating from that powerful place with self-awareness regardless of the physical acts that may ensue. It’s about becoming independent of the dogma around sex that comes from all directions, while also valuing the kernel of truth contained within it.
It’s important to know that the power behind sex can stimulate both positive and negative developments, as all power can. Certain types of “mental illness,” for example, are in fact due to the dysregulation of this internal power. Opening up a fire hydrant can be a source of endless joy in the summertime when the kids are out and the street has been cleared, but doing so at the wrong time or in the wrong context will wreak havoc on the streets. It takes self-awareness, responsibility, and the willingness to face insecurities and fears to navigate your inner halls of power.
Whatever your relationship is with sex, know that it is a vehicle. If you learn to navigate responsibly, you will reach destinations previously unknown.
Anoop Kumar, MD, MM is board certified in Emergency Medicine and holds a Master’s degree in Management with a focus in Health Leadership. He practices in the Washington, DC metro area, where he also leads meditation gatherings for clinicians. He is the author of the upcoming book Is This a Dream? He tweets @DrAnoopKumar.