The Art of Conscious Sex
Recently, a friend of mine was telling me about an encounter he had with a woman he met on a business trip. They met at a conference and, apparently, there were some sparks. When he asked her what she was doing later that evening, she suggested he pick up some condoms and chardonnay. Thrilled that he could pick up both at a drugstore in California (we are not afforded that convenience here in Massachusetts and he is nothing if not efficient), he proceeded to his liaison that evening. He followed up by telling me that she later sent him a photo of her “hot” friend and that she wanted to get together for a threesome. “She was so much younger than me. Isn’t that awesome?” he gloated. “Gross,” I replied.
Later, I felt perplexed, “Why am I being so judgmental?” I wondered silently. I try not to judge others, and as long as the sex was consensual, why should I have an opinion at all? Then I considered my own sexual journey and how meaningful the practice has become to me. I wanted to explain to my friend that there was so much more to be gained from our sexual encounters than provocative texts and funny stories. It’s like going to the Museum of Fine Arts and raving about the muffin you purchased at the café.
Think back to a blissful day (or night) of lovemaking. Hopefully, you experienced physical pleasure and emotional connection. Those are generally the reasons we desire sex. However, you might have also experienced a sense of timelessness, unification of body, mind, and spirit, and at the time of orgasm, a loss of self. In fact, the French word for orgasm translates to “little death.” We can consider it the death of the ego because, in that moment, you are no longer focused on “I.” You weren’t worried about the bills that need to be paid, the dishes that need to be cleaned, or how you look naked. You got to experience pure consciousness. After, you may have basked in the afterglow as bliss and love permeated your entire being, feeling at one with yourself, your lover, and maybe even the universe.
Did that description remind you of anything else? To me, it makes me think about how it might feel to be spiritually awakened. Though sometimes these feelings may be brief, we can think of our sexual encounters as mini-enlightenment experiences. These glimpses of loving awareness give us an idea of how it feels to be fully embodied and connected to the universe.
I’ve come to consider sex with my partner a spiritual practice, rather than a physical interaction. It’s when I feel most connected to him, and it’s the most effective way of expressing my feelings when I don’t have the words. When I find that I’m spending too much time in my head fretting about the future or lamenting the past, sex puts me back into my body and the present moment — where nothing is wrong. It also reminds me that bliss is found right here in this lifetime and in this human form.
However, when I consider my sexual journey, I hadn’t always thought this way. When I was much younger and first started to have sex, I did it to please others. I thought it was something I was supposed to do as a girlfriend, or because I wanted to become the girlfriend (btw — this doesn’t work). These early encounters were less about me experiencing pleasure and connection, and more about me providing pleasure and hoping for connection. I’m glad those days are over.
As I became older and teeny bit wiser, I understood that sex was not something I needed to provide others. I could choose to have sex for my own benefit. However, even as I learned more about my body and what turned me on, the idea of having sex purely for physical pleasure was never my thing. I craved the intimacy and connection that came from having sex with someone I cared about.
Now, I realize that in addition to connecting meaningfully with another human, sex is also about reconnecting with myself and the divine (god, goddess, the universe, your higher self — fill in the blank). With intention, sex is not just a physical activity, it’s a spiritual practice, a sacred ritual. It allows us to experience the beauty and pleasure of life.
The difference as to whether sex is a physical activity or a spiritual practice is whether it is casual or conscious sex. One is like hearing your favorite band on a tinny radio. The other is hearing the band live with someone whom you care deeply for at a small, intimate venue. It seems people gravitate to the first because it is more accessible. However, after experiencing the latter, your perspective shifts. Casual sex, like listening to music on an old radio, is no longer as appealing.
I would define casual sex as an encounter that is based purely on getting your individual needs met. It could be a physical need but it could also be an emotional need, like wanting to feel desirable or successful. Or maybe it’s about conquest. Whatever the case, casual sex is less about connection and more about filling a void. In contrast, conscious sex can be a path to establish intimacy with another, reintegrate mind, body, and spirit, and get closer to the divine.
In a video Q&A, author and spiritual guru Deepak Chopra states that sexual energy and spiritual energy are the same. Sexual energy is the merging of pure consciousness or the divine with our physical form. Through our sexual experiences, we get to see our true nature. We become vulnerable, intimate, and spontaneous. We are no longer focused on the self. We connect not just with another individual, but with universal consciousness. Sort of puts sex into a whole new perspective, right?
With that said, our sexual energy should be used wisely and lovingly. If we consistently squander it or engage with people who don’t have our best interest in mind, we’ll feel depleted and crummy. Just like if we always spend money on things we don’t need, we’ll be broke. However, when we use sex wisely, we create an energy that helps to strengthen our life force and connection with another. When we have conscious sex, we come together with another person to not only experience pleasure but to practice connection, devotion, and presence.
Ready to start moving from casual to conscious sex? Consider the following:
Are you ready to merge with another human? Are you comfortable with your partner to communicate your desires and needs, as well as hear their desires?
Like the friend I described earlier, I’ve heard many speak about sex as a purely physical experience, with minimal emotional connection needed. I don’t buy that — sex is all about connection. It’s a practice that can allow you to reconnect yourself, the divine, and another human being in the most intimate of ways. If you are in it for purely physical gratification, self-love would be easier and a lot less physically or emotionally risky.
Are you committed to making this a pleasurable experience for your partner? Is your partner dedicated to making this a pleasurable experience for you?
Since you’ve opted to engage with another human being, your focus should be on maximizing their comfort, experience, and pleasure. Similarly, that should be your partner’s focus as well. If you’re not ready for that, or sense that you aren’t going to get the care that you need, it likely will not be worth the effort. Imagine how great sex would be if everyone was committed to making sure their partner was well cared for?
In her book, Healthy, Happy, Sexy, Katie Silcox suggests we consider sex a sacred act that is a “portal into divinity.” She also encourages us to view our lover as the “Divine Manifestation of God or Goddess.” This might make you want to consider who you choose as a bed partner.
Can you stay focused and present in the body, observing the sensations as they arise?
Consider sex a mediation — an awareness of pleasure meditation. Rather than focusing on achieving orgasm, can you focus on giving and receiving pleasure with presence? Experiment with touches. Communicate with your partner about what turns you on. Look into each other’s eyes. If your mind starts to wander to kids, work, or bills, gently bring the focus back to the body. While experiencing pleasure in a particular spot in the body, see if you can grow it throughout your body — all the way to the crown of your head.
Casual and conscious sex is not about the amount of time you’ve known someone (though I would posit that it’s easier to have conscious sex with someone you trust, since you’ll be focused on the experience and not the consequences). However, you may have had conscious sex with a sexy individual you met getting your coffee and rote, uninspiring sex with a long-term significant other. There’s no external metric that defines which is which — it comes down to intent. Do you want this to be a spiritual experience?
However, if you are not in a relationship or with a trusted partner, you’ll also need to consider:
What are your motives? Are they the same as your partner’s?
Motives between partners need to be aligned. If one person is engaging for the fun of it and the other is engaging because they’re hoping it will lead to something more, there will be some suffering. For many, sex leads to attachment that doesn’t disappear once the act is complete. As conscious individuals, we don’t want to cause unnecessary harm. While we can’t control other’s feelings, we can be clear on our intentions and give the space for others to voice their feelings. Also, if you’re the one looking for something more, remember: sex is not an exchange for commitment. As Anais Nin has written, “Whenever you do something that is not aligned with the yearning or your soul — you create suffering.” Let’s not do that.
How would you like this encounter to end? Do you and your partner share the same expectations for how this will wrap up?
If you’re worried about how it will end or if you plan on stealthily sneaking out once your partner has fallen asleep, that is a clue that it is more casual than conscious. Chögyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Buddhist spiritual master, had said in his book Work, Sex, Money, “Better not to begin. Once you begin, better to finish.” He was talking about projects and relationships, but it applies here too. Make sure the ending is as good as the beginning.
When we engage in conscious sex, we get the opportunity to reconnect with our body, mind, and spirit. We create a connection with another that builds trust and intimacy, and lastly, we get closer to the divine. This helps to raise our energy, elevate our mood, and give us a more positive outlook on life. I wish you plenty of earth-shattering, toe-curling sex in your life. I hope you consider treating it as a spiritual practice with your partner to get closer to the divine and catch a glimpse of your truly awesome, vulnerable, ecstatic nature.
My church offers no absolutes
She tells me, “Worship in the bedroom”
The only Heaven I’ll be sent to
Is when I’m alone with you
Take Me to Church, Hozier
This story is part of The Art Of, an ongoing series that supplies you with instructions for living.