[You can ask your own question here.]
I am very fortunate to have a committed, spiritual relationship in which my partner and I are devoted to God first and to serving and loving one another and all in Him. We are a young couple and physically very attracted to each other, so we recognize enjoying intimacy and great sex is natural. It becomes very difficult however for us to"set" an appropriate frequency for sex when our spiritual aspirations of moderation and self-control seemingly conflict with our sexual drive and day-to-day preferences. How do we find balance between indulgence and self-control, high spiritual ideals and natural, loving intimacy?
I’ve been thinking about this question for some time. I have written, unfortunately even sent to you, several replies I have now rejected. I don’t think there is any other area of life where there is such a wide difference between what the masters say and what the average person experiences. Sex, the masters declare, is one of life’s great delusions. Sex, most people believe, is one of life’s great joys. Not easy to bridge that gulf.
Modern society for the most part has simply turned its back on the teachings of the masters and committed itself to sex. We swim in a sea of constant sexual stimulation. Like fish in water, we no longer even notice. To say that women’s fashions are immodest is putting it mildly. That which used to be considered pornographic is now commonly seen on television, movies, and billboards.
Even little girls dress like grown women in what would be a sexually provocative way, except that they are years away from puberty. People think it is cute, not realizing -- or perhaps not caring -- that we are raising generations of girls who believe ideal feminine beauty is sexual and ideal love is erotic.
I mention this only to say that to live even a sexually moderate life, what to speak of a celibate one, is not easy these days. In such a restless age, to focus your energy in a committed loving relationship is a big step forward. When that relationship includes spiritual dedication and devotion to God, you have the potential for a happy and fulfilling life.
Whether or not your relationship is pleasing to God is not determined by the frequency of your sexual relations but by the overall direction of your energy. To be God centered and of service to others, that’s what matters, and that is how you describe yourselves. If you weren’t so attracted to each other you probably wouldn’t even be together. Then all the other positives of your relationship would not be there either.
Swamiji said that one of the greatest sources of tension in devotee marriages is sex. My response was, “That makes us pretty much like everyone else in the world!” He remained serious in the face of my quip. With devotees there is a twist. One or the other, as Swamiji explained, decides to renounce sex or develops a complex about it. Sometimes it is because of a spiritually inspired disinclination for it, but more often it is because he feels guilty about his attraction to sex, and can’t reconcile his actual spiritual state with the ideal described in the teachings. I use the male pronoun here for convenience but women are just as likely to feel this way. He begins then to look upon his partner not as a friend, but as a temptress. Things go rapidly downhill from there.
On another occasion I remember a monk who left the monastery to marry then decided he would continue to live a celibate life even within the marriage. Unfortunately, this was not what his wife had signed on for. When Swamiji heard about the tension between them over this issue, he responded, “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t take on the responsibility of a wife and not take her reality into account.”
Fortunately, both of you agree about your sexual relations. Whatever you do from now on has to be a shared understanding. There is no point in forcing yourselves to meet some external standard if it is not a sincere expression of your own consciousness. To do so would be suppression, not transcendence.
Transcendence comes when self-restraint is not the result of guilt, fear, or a desire to “look good,” but arises naturally from the understanding that restraining the desire is more fulfilling than indulging it.
At first, of course, for one who seeks to transcend there may be a middle ground to cross when the desire is still strong and discipline is needed to restrain it. In time, however, restraining that energy with a wholesome attitude opens up an entirely new reality. As Swamiji put it, “Once the desire for sex is overcome you can’t imagine why you were ever attracted to it in the first place.”
For you now, sex is a great pleasure. Neither suppression nor transcendence is the issue. Swamiji’s comment is probably incomprehensible in terms of your actual experience. To give up sex would feel to you like a loss. Still, the teachings say that in time you will transcend it. That time, however, has not yet come. This is nothing to be proud of, nor is there any reason to be ashamed. It is just a fact.
Mahatma Gandhi, famous for his asceticism, said one should never seek to renounce a pleasure until you have replaced it with a higher pleasure. On the path of Self-realization you have to be guided by your own experience.
In the meantime, keep in mind the reasons why sex can work against your spiritual aspirations. If you know what the pitfalls are, you are less likely to fall into them.
To begin with, sex is inherently ego-affirming, the opposite of where you want to go spiritually. Ego is the soul identified with the body. Sex is not only dependent upon that self-definition it constantly reinforces it. “I am a woman. You are a man.” That is the underlying premise of your attraction to each other.
The starting point for sex is a compelling personal desire. In a refined relationship, of course, sex is based on mutual giving. Still, the extent to which you have a personal need, to that extent you cannot be entirely selfless. The purpose of marriage, like all relationships, is to learn selfless love.
A sexual relationship emphasizes the unique personal connection between two people. Most people, of course, would not consider this to be a downside. But as the Bhagavad-Gita tells us, “What is day to the worldly man is night to the yogi. What is night to the worldly man is day to the yogi.”
To become too infatuated with each other, too defined by being a “couple,” is not, in the long run, all that helpful. Love grows from the personal to the impersonal, from the individual to the universal.
Be sincere and utterly open with Master. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed by your sexuality. At the same time, don’t make a dogma of it. Meditate often on these words from the Ananda wedding ceremony, “May our love grow ever deeper, purer, more expansive, until, in our perfected love, we find the perfect love of God.”
Trust that Master has brought you together and together he will lead you to God.
[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]