In Buddhism there is a concept called the realm of the hungry ghosts. In this space as ghosts with tiny mouths and throats but enormous bellies. They are always hungry and can never be satiated. They are bound to their desire, constantly seeking more, trying to be full. These ghosts provide insight in to the pain of unsatisfied desire. Many of us have experienced the torment of feeling unsatisfied, longing, desperate to meet a need that remained unfulfilled. Sexuality may have caused us to feel like these ghosts trying to feed but never nourished.
So how can we avoid this frustrating existence? In this metaphor we need to expand our mouths and possible shrink our bellies, take in more while being full on less. I believe we can do this by being mindful and increasing our awareness of sensation and feelings. We take in more by experiencing everything more vividly, reducing distraction and focusing on really feeling what is happening. We increase pleasure by slowing down enough to taste it before rushing on to the next bite. We don’t think of an empty belly waiting to be filled, but think of each rush of flavor as it enters our mouth. Each touch, each breath on our skin, each shudder is appreciated. And so the experience becomes more satisfying.
We shrink our bellies, not by denying ourselves but, by being careful of what we label as “enough”. We are introduced to increasingly impossible and frankly, outlandish ideas of what we are supposed to be satisfied with, leading us to stay chasing an elusive finish line. Stay wary of temptations to always need more. The possibility of more is exciting, it is a gift, but if it becomes a distraction that takes you away from what you currently have to enjoy, be aware of that.
We live in a society that encourages constant dissatisfaction. This makes us good consumers as we desire the relief of the next thing to make us happy. We are trained to be hungry ghosts distracted by unrelenting stimulation, trying to ingest it all, but getting little nourishment from it. Our sexuality is affected by distractions too, of all kinds. It takes focus to really take in a sexual experience without minimizing it by rushing or performing or over-thinking.
Sometimes the most simple things are what satisfy – a fresh strawberry, a quiet moment to hear the breeze in the tree, a singular awareness of the softness of a tongue on your body. Feed yourself by paying attention to what you are taking in. Let yourself enjoy freely, without wondering is there supposed to be more? Change from ghost to flesh and blood.
The FDA is holding open meetings in October to obtain patient and doctor input on female sexual dysfunctions, specifically low desire. Now since it is the FDA, they are hoping to gain momentum on developing a medication that can treat lack of sexual desire. Which makes those of us who work with people struggling with sexual concerns sigh with frustration, “As though it is that simple.”
Sexual desire is complex. So much so that we can also say it is mysterious. Why we crave what we crave, why we crave it sometimes and not other times, why we are drawn to certain people, all questions without clear answers. And why we can’t just convince ourselves to want sex when it the person, place or time are convenient? That is a question that many people ask themselves. Low sexual desire is only a clinical issue when someone wants to want sex. But wanting to be sexual is not the same thing as desiring sex in that moment. And so many people are seeking their sexual desire spark to reignite.
There are physical issues that come into play with low desire, certainly. Hormones, brain chemistry, stress levels, exhaustion, side effects from drugs, general health and more should be considered. But so should emotional stressors, lifestyle, religious or spiritual conflicts, body awareness and acceptance, beliefs about sex and pleasure, traumas and fears, self image, lack of sex education, ability to enjoy sexual stimulation, and on and on. And I haven’t even started listing all the ways the relationship the person is in may affect their level of sexual desire. An issue that starts from one stimulus, say back pain, can lead to a pattern of saying no to sex, which leads to distance and resentment in a partner, which leads to less desire to be with them, which leads to less positive thoughts about sex…You can see how things interplay.
Even if the FDA can create a pill that motivates sexual desire would we want to take it? There is a creepy factor in feeling as though your sexual desire is manufactured. What invites us to ask ourselves, what is “real” desire. Desire is not just physical, nor just emotional, or relational. Our sexuality is interlaced with all aspects of our lives; that is one reason it is so potent. Sexual happiness can heal us on many levels and sexual unhappiness can trouble us on many levels. Desire draws on multiple aspects of Self, and my sense is that many of us want it that way.
There is a group specifically challenging the medicalization of sex, called the New View Campaign. Let’s keep our approach to sexual health diverse and multi-dimensional.
Philosopher Nietzsche had a term Lebensneid representing “life envy”. I think most of us are familiar to some degree with the nagging feeling that if only your life was more like that life over there, you would be so much more content. I wonder if we are feeling more and more life envy as we become more and more exposed to others lives, constantly bombarded with images and stories of how other people live. I mean we even have news stories about tiffs over who gets to claim the title of lifestyle guru, and who is just a faker. The power to feed our life envy in a job title.
Life envy does seem to be connected to the plethora of life choices we have available to us. In her wonderful book, Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about a Hmong community she visits in Vietnam and how few choices the people there have in how their life will unfold. The surprise is that because of this they actually seem to have less angst about the state of their life. Choice brings with it doubt. There is always another option not chosen. There is always a “what if?” Perhaps life envy is an externalized version of “what if?” turned into dull but distracting coveting.
What can we do when we are caught in Lebensneid, convinced that our life is lacking in comparison, that they are having better sex, better relationships, a better body, a better orgasm…? We can recognize that these things are incomparable. Trying to reduce the seductive call of all those things out there that we cannot actually do anything with or about will allow us to feel more empowered. Really Gwyneth Paltrow or Jay Cutler do not have something you want. What will make you happy is totally unique to you, shaped by interconnected elements of who you are. It will involve choices and sacrifices that only you can judge. It will also involve joys and satisfactions that are only for you.
We all have our moments of the grass looking greener over there out of reach. It seems to be human nature to feel longing. And we are invited by our consumer culture, where happiness is just one purchase away, to ask ourselves, “Am I fulfilled? Is this as good as it gets?” Look around you, not at what others have, but at what you have. Some of it may be pretty amazing as is. Some of what you have may be raw material to work with in creating something amazing. Don’t fall into the passive disengagement that goes hand in hand with life envy. Be inspired by what is possible but know that happiness will only be found in your own life, not in the imagined life of someone else.
Sex with another person can be a gift both given and received. It can nourish us and refill us in multiple ways. At its best partnered sex can be a dance of give and take, pleasure experienced and shared, so that the giving and receiving becomes blurred. Sometimes we stop noting the many ways we give and receive when we are sexual together. As we near the fall solstice when our days and nights are balanced, it is an appropriate time to ask ourselves – how am I doing with balancing giving and receiving for myself?
There is a graciousness in giving that many of us have been taught; we show love by giving. But we can also show love by receiving and there is a graciousness in receiving that may feel less familiar. How do you open yourself to receiving from another person freely? Each of us has our own relationships with these states, and our own limits. Sex is a great window for seeing into our abilities to give and receive and the ways we stop ourselves from doing so.
Everyone of us has probably had times when we gave but were actually being more controlling than generous. And times when we appeared to be receiving but didn’t feel nourished or open at all. In sex we can perform either of these states without taking in the benefits of them. Some of us have guilt about laying back and being pleasured. We may have been told it is degrading to focus on pleasuring your partner without getting something for yourself. We have shared myths about gender and how men are supposed to perform or how women are supposed to perform that get in the way of letting ourselves freely take in or give back. You get to do both, sometimes at the same time.
And that’s the thing, only you will know what giving or receiving looks like or feels like for you. One person may be strictly dominant, only enjoying the active role, not desiring their partner to touch them at all. And that person may still be very much receiving, while also giving to their partner. She may receive empowerment, vicarious joy, her partner’s trust, love, intense sexual excitement and satisfaction…and more. The acts of giving and receiving are not about what sexual behaviors you are participating in or whose mouth is on whom. It is an awareness of the gifts of both states. So check in with yourself. Are you allowing yourself to give in ways that feel good and satisfying to you? Are you allowing yourself to receive in ways that refresh and fulfill you?
Is sex only sacred if it is connected to a religious or spiritual practice? Do I have to believe in transcendent states to have sacred sex? Do I have to light candles and pray? What does God or Goddess have to do with it? Is sacred sex available to me?
The word sacred has most often been used in terms of religious or spiritual value. And forms of sacred sex are often taught in connection with a specific practice, such as Tantra which is from of Hinduism. But the definition of Sacred includes anything that is regarded with reverence and protected. It can also be defined as anything that is approached with dedication and intention. So anything can be made sacred. And anyone can have sex that is sacred to them, without religious or spiritual framework making it so.
How might you make sex sacred for you? *By treating sex as an important and valued part of your life and self *By dedicating time to have sex, excluding outside distractions and interferences and creating space to focus. *By clarifying your intentions for being sexual, whether with yourself or partnered. What is it you seek to offer? What is it you seek to receive? What do you want from sex today? *By keeping your intentions in mind so that you act from them *By being aware, of sensations, feelings, your partner, your desires and giving all of these reverence by allowing them to be fully experienced *By seeing sex as more than a physical act. Perhaps for you it is also a way to learn about yourself, a way to get grounded and relaxed, a way to solidify your bond or express love, a way to express yourself…
Sacred Sex is available to any of us, if that is what you desire. Some sacred sex is seen as a path to enlightenment. But perhaps any of us can be enlightened; the question is what do you want shed light on? What do you want to better understand? Experiencing any element of life in a sacred way is a mindset that has foundations in gratitude, awareness, curiosity, and open discovery. All great things to bring to sexual exploration. See it as sacred or as profane, sexuality has so much to offer us.