Everywhere I go these days people are struggling with questions about the right use of their erotic energy and how this energy can express in ways that are at once personally satisfying, supporting sustainable relating, and serving spiritual evolution. While there is more to sexual ethics than deciding when and with whom to engage sexually, clarity on this piece can go a long way so that's my focus here. For a larger scope, check out the discussion of sexual ethics in my book Polyamory in the 21st Century.
There is no simple formula which can address all these concerns for one person all of the time, or for all people some of the time, for the simple reason that people come in many different flavors of physical, emotional, and spiritual development, not to mention that these levels can and do change throughout life. At the level of essence we are all equal, but in our individual development some are more mature than others. Difficulties and misunderstandings almost always arise when two - or more - people come together who are at different levels of development and different stages of life especially when these differences are not openly acknowledged and clearly understood by all involved.
Different levels are likely to be present when there are large age differences between partners. Levels are not reliably related to age, although experience usually is. This is one of many reasons that in the past, people often looked to elders, sages, or astrologers for help in making sexual decisions. Another reason is the ease with which we can all be blinded by lust, infatuation, and egoic agendas. We learn through all our experiences. Perhaps we learn even more from the challenging ones than the harmonious ones, but in the end, most of us lean toward choices that create synergy and pleasure rather than drama and chaos.
Recently I stumbled upon a tattered paperback book called The Teachers of Gurdjieff by Rafael Lefort. The book, published in 1966 when I was just a teenager, recounts the author's journey across the Middle East, Turkey, and Afghanistan in search of the source of Gurdjieff's teachings. G.I. Gurdjieff, for those not familiar with this enigmatic man of Armenian Greek ancestry, brought a Westernized version of Sufi teachings to Russia and then Western Europe, in years between the first and second world wars. Gurdjieff's teachings found their way to America where I first encountered them in the early 1970's. By then, they'd had a profound influence world-wide and attracted a large following though Gurdjieff himself had long since left this world.
My own spiritual journey soon took me on to other schools, but not before learning a practice presented as "The Sensation Exercise" which eventually revealed itself as a major foundation for many further developments and which I still share in many of my groups.This practice, like the Taoist Deer Exercise and the Pelvic Heart Breath Cycle, which I also share widely, has a cumulative effect. Doing them once is unlikely to effect any lasting change but doing them daily for months or years can be transformational.
One memorable bit of Gurdjieff lore that remains in my memory is that Gurdjieff once said that his quest for enlightenment definitely would have been derailed if there had been a second obstacle as big as sex. I can't say for sure what he meant by this, but I am sure he didn't mean that there was anything sinful about sex. I can't even remember where I heard it. And it doesn't matter because it's been food for thought over many decades.
Back to the book which is available free online and is a fascinating read - partly because many of the places described are no longer accessible because of war - the main message is that living teachers and teachings grounded in your home culture are more relevant than any dead guru however charismatic he may be. (I consciously say "he" because dead female gurus are a rarity. I challenge you to name more than one!).
Some would say that the whole paradigm of the "teacher" or "guru" is old paradigm and better replaced with the concept of "spiritual friend" which resonates with me so long as we acknowledge the existence of different levels of development. Until you have the discernment to accurately gauge your own development and that of others, you are at risk in both the old and the new paradigms. In the old paradigm you're at risk because you may end up following a charlatan whose spiritual ego, consciously or unconsciously is intent upon using you for his own ends. In the new paradigm you're at risk because you may fail to recognize and value the pearls of wisdom humbly offered to you by one with no agenda and no marketing plan.
Some early spiritual friends of mine who went by the name UV Family when I encountered them in the early 1980's focused my attention on the need for a new sexual ethic. Their self imposed standard was "no sex before marriage." Before you tune out, let me clarify that they did not mean legal marriage which they had absolutely no use for. Nor was their concept of marriage limited to one person at a time or implying any kind of financial dependency. Rather, they were pointing to the reality that engaging sexually creates a lasting bond energetically. They were suggesting that we not share sexually with anyone we were not willing to be permanently connected with. The purpose of this standard was not to limit the number of partners - they had many - but to put forward some selection criteria. And to formalize the sexual sacrament with a simple, private ritual acknowledging a conscious choice to create a bond. If you don't think this makes a difference, try it and report back please.
The most important selection criteria for the UV's was Shared Purpose. That is, rather than depending upon and identifying with visual stimulation, fantasy, conditioning, emotional desires, acquired information, or hormones to shape our erotic experience, they were suggesting that we chose others who are aligned with our values and intentions for being here. Of course this implies that you know your own purpose, and that it be more specific than simply to love and be loved (because that would include everyone and put you right back where you started - confused!).
In this way relating becomes a foundation for giving your gifts to the world. Committed sexual relationship serves to nurture, empower, and enlighten lovers as well as all those coming into contact with lovers who stay present and embodied while strongly activated erotically. When high voltage sex is approached with presence and merging of both physical and energy bodies, direct contact with the Divine becomes possible. Now the erotic energy - whose function is connecting heaven and earth - is truly serving our spiritual evolution!