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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