Sex and Energy, East and West

Excerpted from Subtle Energy: Awakening to the Unseen Forces in Our Lives by William Collinge, Ph.D., Warner Books, Inc., 1998  

Christine and Alan, both in their mid-forties, had been seeing their enjoyment of their sexual relationship decline gradually for several years. Each had been feeling more and more fatigued at the end of the work day, and on those increasingly rare occasions when they did make love they both tended to be preoccupied with their "performance," usually defined as making sure that their partner had an orgasm.  

After reaching a mutual agreement that they needed to overhaul their relationship, they decided to go to Maui and participate in a workshop on tantra. In that one week their entire relationship was transformed. "We now make love almost every morning, and we both have more energy than ever," states Christine. "I feel like Superman," says Alan, "and I also feel that we are much closer emotionally."  

This may sound too good to be true, but it's actually becoming a very common experience as more couples discover some simple teachings from oriental tantric sexual practices. There are three very basic teachings that seem to be most impactful for Western couples. First is for men to learn to not ejaculate every time, which results in a tremendous turn-around in their vital energy in daily living. Second is for both partners to learn to breathe together and circulate their energy together, as one energetic whole. And third is to view lovemaking as a shared meditative experience, letting go of any goal or performance orientation.  

In Western culture it is a relatively novel concept to think of sex as a form of meditation or spiritual attunement, and any notion that it could be used for building vital energy would also be considered quite unusual. Yet these concerns are precisely the focus of many Eastern teachings about sex.  

While westerners tend to associate the term "tantra" with exotic lovemaking practices taught in the Orient, its more accurate meaning is simply the "transformation of energy." Tantric teachings of Eastern spiritual traditions are concerned with the transformation of our vital energy in all its permutations, ultimately toward the goal of spiritual attunement and enlightenment. In this context, sexual relationships and the energy that they arouse are considered resources for fueling and supporting spiritual unfoldment, not just for sex or pleasure as an end in itself.  

The essence of these teachings is that when lovemaking is not goal-directed (as in seeking to achieve orgasm or other pleasures), but rather takes on a more calm, relaxed, meditative quality, there is a subtle building of a charge of energy in the body. The Eastern tantric traditions teach that when this powerful energy is then drawn upward to our higher energy centers with the guidance of our conscious intention and visualization, it can unite us with Spirit as well as with our beloved. Another use of this energy is to direct it into specific organs or parts of the body for healing purposes. Thus, a loving partnership can directly contribute to both our spiritual unfoldment and our physical health.

In tantric lovemaking couples learn to synchronize their breathing and circulate their sexual energy through the heart. This leads naturally to coherence and entrainment with each other, and the popular metaphor "two hearts beating as one" is an allusion to this experience of "oneness." A natural outcome of this intense form of intimacy is that all the other biological oscillators involved may become entrained, both within each partner and between partners.  

In effect, Christine and Alan have learned to come into entrainment and coherence with themselves and each other, in a sense forming a greater spiritual/energetic whole. Sex has become a means of energetic and spiritual communion. The ultimate coherence or entrainment to which tantra practitioners aspire, of course, is with Spirit or Universal energy. Tantric practices are steps to create the conditions for this to occur, and the benefits to intimacy, health and greater energy are a welcome bonus.  

The Electricity of Sex

The tantric teachings are based on the circulation and merging of vital energy (chi or prana) between two people. However, it is implicit that in the grand scheme of our energetic anatomy, our electromagnetic energy plays a role as well. While it may be thought of as being of a lower or denser nature than our vital energy, during intimate contact with another the two are transferred and circulated simultaneously.  

In keeping with the discovery that the electromagnetic field of the heart is transmitted through touch, it's easy to see how acts of physical intimacy also allow a strong exchange of electromagnetic energy. Both kissing and sexual intercourse involve contact of moist mucous membranes, and moisture facilitates particularly strong and efficient electrical conductivity.  

It is inevitable that the communion of sex engages all aspects of our energetic nature simultaneously. It is no surprise that people sometimes even refer to their sexual experiences or feelings as "electric" or "electrifying."  
  

***  

In Chapter 4 I discussed how Christine and Alan discovered the joys of tantric lovemaking. As they found, the relationship between our sexual behavior and our vital energy is very important for those who seek to cultivate their energy and promote health. In taoist energy theory, sex can serve to either enhance or deplete our vital energy, and sexual vitality is also considered a good indicator of overall health and immunity to disease.  

To understand this more fully we need to recall that there are two aspects to our vital energy: congenital chi, also called jing, and acquired chi. As I stated earlier, we are born with a limited reservoir of congenital chi or jing which cannot be replaced.  

In addition to the general wearing down of our reserves through life, there are  two specific means through which we lose jing. Women lose it through menstruation, and men through ejaculation. These two experiences are analogous in terms of the felt impact on one's energy, although for men, ejaculation brings a more acute and instantaneous experience of loss, compared to the more drawn out experience of menstruation.  

Why Men Fall Asleep

The male orgasm involves an outward explosion and release of jing whereas the female orgasm is an inward explosion. When a man ejaculates he is releasing vital essence or energy which is carried out of his body by the ejaculatory fluids. In the taoist perspective, the sperm carry the man's jing or sexual essence. As explained by Daniel Reid, semen forms "a functional bridge between organic matter and pure energy... Vitality is thus a functional fusion of biochemicals and bioenergies..."  

The temporary feeling of depletion that men have after ejaculation is thus a true representation of what has happened. As men age and their natural reservoir of jing diminishes, their recovery period after ejaculation -- before they are capable of another erection and ejaculation -- increases.  

Men who use tantric sexual practices that involve semen retention -- that is, intercourse without ejaculation -- do not experience this depletion of vital essence, and in fact feel more energized afterward. It is like having their batteries recharged or receiving an infusion of vital energy, rather than the feeling of depletion. Plus, they are able to have intercourse more often, for longer periods, and enjoy more potency in the process.  

The experience of greater potency is attributable to three things. First, the sexual glands and organs are not being depleted of vital essence during ejaculation. Second. they are being strengthened and tonified by the muscular exercise involved in intercourse. Third, a great deal of vital energy is being aroused and stirred up, and then, since it is not being discharged, it is circulated and re-absorbed throughout the body.  

Why Women Don't

Women do not lose vital essence during orgasm because it is not  being expelled out of the body, as is the case for the male. The female orgasm is more of an implosion than an explosion. However, as I mentioned above, women do lose jing during menstruation through the loss of blood -- like semen, another vital fluid and bridge between organic matter and vital energy.  

There are esoteric teachings in taoist energy theory for how women, like men, can dramatically reduce the depletion of jing. The female counterpart to male semen retention in the reduction and cessation of menstruation, which can be attained through learning specific techniques of circulation and cultivation of energy. (This is described in Mantak Chia's Taoist Secrets of Love: Cultivating Female Sexual Energy and his other writings.)  

It is important to point out here that the cessation of menstruation in these cases is not due to any pathological condition, as we would assume in the West, but rather to an exceptionally high level of cultivation of vital energy and the ability to conserve it and channel it to higher centers in the body's energetic anatomy. This will not make sense to Western-trained physicians who, without an understanding of its energetic aspects, can only see cessation of periods as a disease state.  

Taoist and tantric sexual practices teach how to move and circulate the energy throughout the body, rather than simply stagnating in the sexual organs, so this energy can be absorbed and transformed into health-giving chi. This latter point is particularly important. If the charge of sexual energy is aroused and then just left "unmoved," so to speak, congestion in the sex organs will naturally develop. However, by simply learning to draw the aroused energy upward and circulate it through the body's various energetic pathways, and then using the breath and visualization to help direct this, the energy is easily circulated.  

A Cure for Impotence

In the Taoist tradition, male impotence is considered a result of depletion of jing through excess release of semen. One of the most effective therapies for impotence is frequent serial intercourse with the same woman, without any emission of semen, several times a day for ten days. The recommended position for intercourse is the female-superior position so the man can rest passively below, quietly allowing the stimulation and secretion of vital hormones to restore the health and potency of his sexual organs. Thereafter, according to taoist teachings he should adopt a sexual lifestyle of minimal or no ejaculation in order to maintain potency, a gratifying sexual life and optimal health.

By understanding these issues women can ultimately improve their own sexual enjoyment and at the same time help their men become better lovers, be happier, and be healthier.  

Prostate Health

It is noteworthy that we are facing epidemic rates of prostate cancer at this time in history. Ordinarily we explain such trends in terms of bad diet, lack of exercise, environmental toxins, and perhaps genetic vulnerability. However, no studies have looked at whether there might be a relationship between sexual activity and prostate cancer.  

While this may seem far-fetched at first, it seems plausible that as our average life span has lengthened and our culture has become less preoccupied with the demands of physical survival in daily life, there have been more opportunities for sexual expression over a lifetime than prior generations. Since our culture is obsessed with the notion that orgasm and ejaculation are the "logical" outcome of every sexual encounter, it is possible that Western men living at the end of the twentieth century have "burned out" or depleted their vital essence more than their forebears, weakening the prostate in the process.  

Prostate health is poorly understood in Western medical circles -- so much so that some conventional physicians recommend more frequent ejaculations for men who are experiencing prostate disorders. In the Eastern perspectives, of course, this advice will only serve to weaken  and deplete the very resources that are needed for health and healing. What would be recommended instead would be either no sexual activity or the cultivation of techniques for circulating sexual energy through the body rather than discharging it. In addition, tonifying herbs would be used for strengthening the sexual organs and specifically the prostate.