How sex can generate higher states of consciousness.
Posted January 29, 2012 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
Because of its allegedly pornographic content, D.H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover wasn't published until 1963, 33 years after his death. But far from being pornographic, the book is about the spiritual power of sex, how it can free us from our usual sense of separateness and bring us a heightened awareness and sense of connection to the world.
Lawrence spoke of "the strange, soothing flood of peace, the sense that all is well, which goes with true sex." And in the novel, he describes how Lady Chatterley's vision of the world is completely transformed when she's walking home after making love to her gamekeeper:
"The trees seemed to be bulging and surging, at anchor on a tide, and the heave of the slope of the park was alive...The universe ceased to be the vast clock-work of circling planets and pivotal suns which she had known. The stars opened like eyes, with a consciousness in them, and the sky was filled with a soft, yearning stress of consolation. It was not mere atmosphere. It had its own feeling, its own anima. Everything had its own anima."
Probably most of you have experienced something like this during or after sex: a feeling of well-being which goes beyond sensual pleasure and is caused by a change of consciousness. Perhaps earlier you felt stressed and worried, as if your life was full of problems—but often after sex, everything seems miraculously different. Your problems seem to have disappeared and you seem to be glowing inwardly, as if a kind of dynamo has been switched on inside you, filling you with a feeling of completeness and serenity. You might feel tired physically, in terms of muscular energy, but in terms of "life energy" you feel fantastically alive. And if you look outside, you may sense the harmony and aliveness which Lady Chatterley saw.
For my book, Waking From Sleep, I collected several examples of "higher states of consciousness" induced by sex. Here, for example, a woman described how she feels after she has orgasms:
"I feel as if I haven't got any weight. There's a warm feeling running all through my body...Nothing else seems to matter, problems cease to exist, as if the feeling takes you over so much that there's no room for anything else. I feel capable of doing anything...I also look at things more clearly, look beyond what I usually look at. The colours seem more distinct; if you look at, say, a tree, you see it for what it really is, not just as a tree. You see it as nature, not just as an object."
In her book, Transcendent Sex, the transpersonal psychologist Jenny Wade gives many more examples of such experiences. Some people talked about seeing a blindingly brilliant light, having feelings of intense well-being and euphoria, of expanding and becoming one with the universe, and feeling the presence of the divine. One person told her that when she has sex with her lover she always feels "a sense of great peace...like it's the Universe's way of reassuring me that everything is right, as if I were a dog in front of a fireplace, and this giant, gentle hand is patting me, it just feels so good and comfortable."
There's no doubt that the ecstatic feelings that sex can induce are partly connected to chemical changes, such as the release of endorphins. But I believe these transcendent effects are mainly due to the fact that sex has a similar—but often stronger—psychological effect to other "spiritual" activities like meditation or contemplating nature. It empties our minds and intensifies our inner energy. The sheer pleasure of sex creates a state of intense absorption. Our attention is taken away from the normal thought-chatter of our minds, which quickly begins to subside.
This is why we may feel that we don't have any problems—because the worrying thoughts which created the problems are no longer there. When we have sex there's usually silence, stillness, and darkness around us, and our attention is effectively closed to everything beyond the desire and pleasure we feel. As a result, we become quiet and still inside, and our psychic energy—which is normally used up in concentration and perception—intensifies, generating a sense of wholeness and well-being.
Like physical exercise and yoga—although again in a more powerful way—sex also appears to generate new energy inside our bodies or at least unblock the flow of energy. People who have transcendent sexual experiences often report feeling that they have awakened new energies inside them.
As Wade describes it, "Some people report strange energies coursing through the body. Sometimes it starts with a sense that the sexual charge normally rooted in the genitals is spreading throughout the entire body, lighting it up with crackling power and fireworks." One person told her that "The movement of energy was very clear, spreading through the body, through the arms and legs, reaching the areas of the hand and mouth that were extremely charged."
Religions tend to see sex as something to be slightly ashamed of, a "weakness of the flesh," a part of the lower, instinctive being which we shouldn't pay much attention to or should even try to overcome. But perhaps not surprisingly, some esoteric religious groups had a more spiritual view of sex. The Tantric sects of Hinduism and Buddhism (which developed in India in the middle ages) see sex as a symbolic expression of the unity of the universe and believe that sexual partners can directly experience the bliss which is the nature of the absolute reality of the universe.
According to Tantra, the whole of the body is filled with divine energy which becomes aroused during sex, and which we can learn to control. And even within Christianity, the heretical medieval sect, the Brethern of the Free Spirit, had a similar attitude: to them a controlled form of sex was as acceptable as a spiritual practice of prayer or meditation.
Since we know that sex is a gateway to higher states of consciousness, perhaps we should place more emphasis on its spiritual side, rather than thinking of it in purely physical or emotional terms. It's one of the most sacred activities of our lives, and it has a transformational power even greater than meditation, yoga, or any other spiritual practice.
Steve Taylor is the author of Waking From Sleep, from which this article is an edited extract.