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Casual Sex on the Buddhist Path?

posted by idpguestblog

I was hanging out with a friend recently and she saw David R. Loy’s book, Money, Sex, War, Karma, on my coffee table and picked it up and excitedly turned to the chapter on sex. She told me she HAD to read that part…immediately. I said sure and asked why. She informed me that her and her girlfriend were considering going to a sex party and she wanted to know what Buddhism had to say about that. I said that I didn’t think Loy specifically addressed the issue of sex parties, but that maybe she would find something useful. This led to the larger discussion of casual sex in general. Is there some kind of Buddhist ethics to provide guidance on this issue?

It’s my understanding that “sexual misconduct” includes infidelity (your own or being involved in someone else’s) and obviously, anything non-consensual. But I’ve also heard this precept interpreted to include sex without commitment. Loy explains it by saying, “Since the crucial concern for Buddhism is always dukkha, the most important thing is avoiding sex that harms others or causes them pain.” This gets a bit dicier. In the case of my friend, I said that while it might all be consensual, she would have no idea what would happen to the other people involved. Might a sex party bring up jealousy and cause fights for other couples after…even if she was confident that her and her partner had an understanding? Or even in her own case, people often feel differently about things when they shift from fantasy to reality.
I think the issue with casual sex is that if you don’t know the person that well (and even if you do), you have no idea how they’re really feeling. Someone might say they’re ok with things being “casual”, but sex often brings up unexpected feelings- it’s an intense experience that involves all of the senses. And I’d also like to think that sexual energy can be kind of sacred, so if you’re just expending it anywhere, are you being disrespectful of or wasting that energy? I suppose it comes down to being mindful and honest with ourselves. It might be easier in some situations to tell ourselves that it doesn’t mean anything for the other person either- it kind of lets us off the hook. But do we ever know that for sure? And then there’s the whole other question of why. What are we looking for in these situations? Obviously it’s about feeling good, feeding a biological urge, etc.- but it can also be about filling some sense of lack that has nothing to do with sex or about our need for some sort of instant gratification or validation. And on the other hand, I completely support people understanding and exploring their sexual desire- I think it’s really important for people to feel some freedom around that. But I’d like to think that this can be done mindfully, and that it’s ultimately better for everyone involved if that’s the case.
Anyway- this is a huge topic and I’m trying to get out of my apartment to go swimming- so, just throwing it out there. What do you guys think?



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Steven

posted August 31, 2008 at 10:46 am


One of the problems I’ve found when looking for guidance on this subject in Buddhist literature is that the great writers and teachers are usually ascetics or, if not, they lead rarified, sheltered, and conservative lives. So their recommendations are abstract and the examples they use don’t often come from the world I live in. Do you think the Dalai Lama even knows what a sex party is?
The precepts are vague for a reason: morality is fluid and relative, just like all concepts. When I do come across Buddhist teachers being specific about sexual behavior, I’m very skeptical — there are usually strong cultural biases influencing their opinions.
I think the issue with casual sex is that if you don’t know the person that well (and even if you do), you have no idea how they’re really feeling.
But isn’t this the issue with everything? All you have to work with is what’s in your own mind. What I try to do is be aware and honest with myself about my intentions in any sexual encounter, whether it’s a sex party, an anonymous encounter, or a long-term commitment. I try to bring kindness and affection and keep my heart open.
I’m not saying I have it figured out AT ALL. But I’ve been bushwacking through this thicket for a few decades so I have lots of opinions.
I’m guessing from your nom de blog that you’re homosexual? Me too. Which complicates these issues further because we start the game as sexual outlaws who, to some extent, are forced to make up the rules as we go along.



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resetmind

posted August 31, 2008 at 2:12 pm


Well, though the Buddha was known to be an orgy loving prince, as he past through asceticism into enlightenment, he could be a little stern on this matter. Passages like this make a strong call for finding your own truth and taking Orthodox Buddhism with a seriously large grain of salt:
“Worthless man, haven’t I taught the Dhamma in many ways for the fading of passion, the sobering of intoxication, the subduing of thirst, the destruction of attachment, the severing of the round, the ending of craving, dispassion, cessation, unbinding? Haven’t I in many ways advocated abandoning sensual pleasures, comprehending sensual perceptions, subduing sensual thirst, destroying sensual thoughts, calming sensual fevers? Worthless man, it would be better that your penis be stuck into the mouth of a poisonous snake than into a woman’s vagina. It would be better that your penis be stuck into the mouth of a black viper than into a woman’s vagina. It would be better that your penis be stuck into a pit of burning embers, blazing and glowing, than into a woman’s vagina. Why is that? For that reason you would undergo death or death-like suffering, but you would not on that account, at the break-up of the body, after death, fall into deprivation, the bad destination, the abyss, hell. But for this reason you would, at the break-up of the body, after death, fall into deprivation, the bad destination, the abyss, hell…”



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buddhistfemme

posted August 31, 2008 at 4:47 pm


I’m not looking for answers in Buddhist texts, just wondering how people who are on this path and attempting to live mindfully think about this issue. I think it’s an interesting one.
And yes Steven, I’m a homo.



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Greg Zwahlen

posted August 31, 2008 at 6:42 pm


It’s a great question femme. Is there something distasteful about promiscuity, aside from concerns about disease and pregnancy? I’m rather unsure what to think, myself.



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resetmind

posted August 31, 2008 at 9:45 pm


buddhistfemme Says:
August 31, 2008 at 4:47 pm
I’m not looking for answers in Buddhist texts, just wondering how people who are on this path and attempting to live mindfully think about this issue.
And what is “this path” based on? Um, maybe, what the Buddha actually said? Maybe it would be appropriate to know what those actual teachings are when referencing them to your own experience?



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buddhistfemme

posted August 31, 2008 at 10:49 pm


Resetmind- I agree that it’s important to know the actual teachings, but it’s also about adapting them to the present time, which is quite differnt from when the Buddha was teaching, and making them useful in our own lives. I think this was kind of the point of Loy’s book. And these, of course, are very personal decisions. Just wondering how living mindfully and practicing right intention impacts the chocies we make around sex.



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resetmind

posted August 31, 2008 at 11:50 pm


buddhistfemme- That was my point. Of course your own attitudes and outlooks are going to be different than those of the Buddha. Ancient teachings blend with contemporary culture and our own experiences, and in that intersection, we find our way.
Of course Buddhism is going to change. However, I feel the only way we can have integrity with the evolution of Buddhism is to be conscious of, and responsible for, just how we are changing Buddhism, and the only way we can do that is if we define what the Buddha actually taught. I was pointing to one extreme of those teachings.
It may not be the most appropriate wisdom, and it may not prove to be helpful in your own experience, but just as a debate can help solidify your own beliefs, contrasting your own experience with the teachings you don’t agree with can help you find your own answers and increase self awareness. If that doesn’t process doesn’t seem relevant to you, why are you even inquiring about the relationship between Buddhism and sex?



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buddhistfemme

posted September 1, 2008 at 10:41 am


Resetmind- I appreciate you quoting the text and the point you’re making. Of course that part of the process is relevant- I didn’t say that it wasn’t. I was just attempting to move the conversation to the point of people’s own experience. I don’t mean to imply that the teachings aren’t important- just that around the topic of sex and relationships especially, the actual texts can only be of so much help…assuming people have read them. And I’m also thinking about the larger context of mindfulness and intention applied to sex.



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 2, 2008 at 7:08 am


Fellow homo chiming in and I also loved the Loy book. One of the things appealing to me about Buddhist philosophy is the freedom it gives us to make intelligent moral choices in every area of our lives. Sex can be sacred, and intense and intimate, but it can also be fun and adventureous and sometimes it can be all of those things at the same time. How can we start trying to get into other people’s heads (what if they end up liking me and I can’t reciprocate? what if they are using sex to escape something else? what if they feel ashamed?) when we are all already working so hard to get into our own? I never understood why we put up so many fences and qualifiers around sex, a fun (and sometimes productive) activity, that we don’t seem to apply to so many other issues in our lives. When I go to a restaurant, I don’t worry about why the person waiting on my table is doing it – to do so would make it impossible to enjoy my meal. But if that person seems to be experiencing some sort of pain or “having a bad day” I would definitely take the time to talk to them. Likewise, I wouldn’t have sex with someone who appears to have an unhealthy relationship to the experience.
Sex is good, and fun, and yeah, as homos we get to rewrite the rules a little – and it’s worth considering why our society piles SO MANY rules and regulations on sex that it doesn’t pile on so many other things that are frankly more important (energy, consumption, food, education, war, etc). We need only consider how easily Clinton was impeached for lying about sexual misconduct, and how impossible it would be to impeach Bush for lying about reasons for war, for a glaring example of how adolescent we as a country are about sex.
I am new to Buddhist philosophy, and so I don’t yet know all the history and references that sometimes get made here. But I do know that I have about as much interest in the religion of Buddhism as I do in the religion of Catholicism, Hindu or Judaism – that is to say there are interesting ideas in all those religions and historical references that can be illuminating. But ultimately it all must be considered through the unavoidable fact that all written history is influenced by cultural, sexual, political, and historical bias.
Particularly as members of the LGBT (OR TBGL? hah!) we are blessed with being rejected by the “books” of EVERY major religion and so don’t have to play by those rules – we can trailblaze what works for us. And if what works looks an awful like the married straight couple next door, so be it – but aren’t we lucky that we get to define our relationships with a greater degree of freedom than those who are essentially locked into a path that leads to the legal/financial institution of marriage?



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Greg Zwahlen

posted September 2, 2008 at 8:53 am


Resetmind, I fully agree that there is a need to be aware of the textual tradition so that if we choose to set it aside, we do so consciously. However, it is also important to have a little context. For instance, in the quote you introduced, the Buddha is almost certainly talking to a monk for whom sex would represent a major breach of vinaya, a “root downfall.” And the karmic consequences from the action would be based much more on the breach of vinaya than on the sex itself.



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jmay

posted September 5, 2008 at 12:04 pm


My favorite topic.
I just read an article that describes one woman’s experience with this … I don’t agree with everything she says, but it’s more to think about in regard to a complicated question:
http://tricycle.com/web-exclusive/personal-heaven-personal-hell?page=0%2C0



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buddhistfemme

posted September 5, 2008 at 12:42 pm


Thanks jmay- I’ll check it out.



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Greg Zwahlen

posted September 5, 2008 at 2:08 pm


That was a interesting article jmay. I was a little frustrated with this part
In the aftermath of my most recent heartbreak, which put an end to a two-year emotional roller coaster, I realized that all of my (extremely flawed) relationships so far had been driven by sex. With this revelation came a sudden sense of calm, the ticker tape of my self-censuring thoughts snipped mid-spin. “Oh, that’s what’s causing this pain,” I thought. “This is behavior I can change.”
What is she going to change, exactly?



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jmay

posted September 5, 2008 at 2:46 pm


I guess she’s not going to do it with people until she feels like a relationship already exists.
I found her talking about sexual encounters giving her anxiety to be the part I disagreed with most. That part seemed more based on cultural conditioning than authentic experience. But maybe that’s impossible to parse out.



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Greg Zwahlen

posted September 5, 2008 at 3:04 pm


I guess that’s why the whole thing is perplexing.



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damaris

posted September 5, 2008 at 4:19 pm


I think what she’s talking about is not just using sexual attraction as the primary/sole motivator for having sex.
She’s willing to wait to see if there is something else that is connecting her to the other person.
Her anxiety that occurs after the act of sex; happens because she has realized that the moment was purely just her own physical desire; rather than the desire for the specific person.
jmay this is a great article.



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qbrvafse wjfb

posted November 11, 2008 at 5:49 pm


ktgrlhy qjwkxarpi qlvao cefo cukj zdsqbhjat gpuh



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