With the Sexual Revolution, a la “Playboy,” now behind us, as well as the Victorian attitudes which it rejected, perhaps we are ready for a new conception of sexuality, one not dividing, but embracing of both body and spirit. For centuries, both Eastern and Western religious leaders have warned of the dangers of the flesh (with a few exceptions, such as the Tantric tradition), and exhorted abstinence and restraint in the furtherance of spiritual ideals.(1) Particularly in the West, the separation of body and spirit, and of matter and energy, permeates not only our theology, but Cartesian philosophy, medicine and science, as well. It is only in recent decades that medicine has become more holistic, and physics has acknowledged the interchangeability of matter and energy.
A holistic attitude towards sex would incorporate the body and spirit, as well as the physical and the divine. It so happens that both the path and the experience of mystical bliss parallel that of lovers’ sexual ecstasy. It is not surprising that many saints refer to their relationship with Jesus as if he were a lover. I’m suggesting that the spiritual experience is neither exclusive, nor preferable, to the sexual, but that it is merely an individual’s choice as to whether one finds the divine alone or shares the experience with another. In fact, each such experience only enhances the other.
Freud was revolutionary in proposing that healthy sexual expression is necessary for healthy psychological and emotional functioning. Wilhelm Reich realized the opposite was equally true; if a person is emotionally healthy, he will be able to express himself openly and spontaneously, and this will generate a fulfilling, ecstatic orgasm. He postulates that surrender is the necessary prerequisite for total orgasm, as opposed to a mere release of muscular tension. “Orgiastic potency is the capacity for surrender to the flow of biological energy without any inhibition…”(2) In order to achieve this, sex therapists began recommending non-demand pleasuring in the late sixties, warning that too much focus on orgasm only leads to performance anxiety and the loss of spontaneity. Starting with the premise that the sexual response cannot be willed, Masters & Johnson introduced the “sensate focus” method in treatment of sexual problems. This therapeutic technique of mutual touch was developed “…expressly without pressure to `make something happen’ sexually.”(3) In fact, they discovered that removal of a goal-oriented concept in any form is pivotal for recovery. Thus, this method teaches the participants to “`think and feel’ sensuously and at leisure without intrusion upon the experience by the demand for end-point release (own or partner’s), …without the demand for personal reassurance, or without a sense of need to rush to `return the favor’.”(4)