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Sex and spirituality

It’s fundamental to the rhythm of life, and yet few of us know how to elevate sex to that elusive, spiritual level. With new evidence claiming benefits for stress, perhaps it’s time we learnt how? Sharon Walker investigates.

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Photo by Irina Munteanu

“I hope you’re as bad as you sound”. It was a throwaway flirty line in a Tinder text trail that seemed to be leading somewhere delicious but it pulled me up short. BAD? Really? I didn’t feel too good about that. The cold rush of shame soon put the damper on desire and the Tinder trail turned cold. But it did get me thinking about attitudes to sex in our culture and the language we routinely use to describe it. Bad girls, dirty weekends, filthy talk. Even in our liberal sexualised society, where sex is used to sell everything from chocolate to cars, sex is still very much the grubby poor relation to the elevated angels and stardust of love.

“In our society we split sex and the heart,” says UK-based tantra teacher Jan Day, “Most of us have an idea that sex really isn’t ‘good’ or ‘nice”. We don’t believe it’s OK to really revel in it.” As a result, she says, we’re not just missing a trick, but a whole sexual universe. “Sex can be vastly bigger than a little bit of pleasure – there are all these levels – but most people don’t know what it feels like to be made love to, when there’s nothing held back. If you’re really in your body and tuning into your partner, you’ll reach a place that’s far more open, that creates a level of inner joy that most people call spirituality.”

Most of us never get to that place of “ravishing connection” as Day calls it, because we’re feeling a little tawdry, busy in our heads, or clenching our muscles in a race towards the finish line. Right from the earliest furtive teenage fumbling, there’s a culture of secrecy and shame around sex that does nothing to foster the open communication needed for off-the-charts, fully-connected, ecstatic bliss.

“Sexual energy is important on a very primal level, but the biggest issue is the judgement that’s placed on sex,” agrees Shaman Durek, a Los Angeles based spiritual guide and healer (and IIKIGAI Thought Leader) who believes “conscious sex” can help us grow spiritually. “Sexual energy can boost your creativity because it comes from the same chakra, the Swadishstana Chakra, which is also the centre for money, inner-balance and a sense of self. If you have a healthy sex life you’ll feel better about yourself and create more possibilities for wealth.”

It’s also, incidentally, the chakra of healing and rejuvenation. “The more sex you have the healthier you’ll be,” says Durek. “When women have an orgasm it’s anti-ageing.” One study, by Dr David Weeks, the former head of Old Age Psychology at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, appears to support this. It was found that people who look younger than their actual age, by five to seven years, claim to be having 50% more sex than their peers, (three times a week instead of twice in the 40-50 age group).

And yet, for too many of us sex is seen as an optional extra, the icing on the cake of a relationship. That’s a mistake, says Durek. “If you’re eating and sleeping you should be having sex, there are no excuses, it’s an essential.” What’s more you’ll quickly feel the benefits, as sex is a great way to deal with tension in the muscles, as well as releasing a cocktail of calming chemicals, the love hormone oxytocin, serotonin and feel-good endorphins. According to a study in 2000 by psychologist Dr Carol Rinkleib Ellison, a research fellow of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS) in which 2632 women between the ages of 23 and 90 were interviewed, sex is one of the best ways to unwind, with 39 per cent of the women who masturbated saying they did it to relax. Orgasms can also relieve all kinds of pain – according to a study by Beverly Ripple at Rutgers University, pain thresholds increase significantly following orgasm, by 74.5%.

All good stuff then, but what can we do if we want to take sex to the next level? First things first, get sweaty says Day. “Physical exercise will help you connect with your body.” There’s also a good deal of science that shows meditation could be the fast train to nirvana.

Research by Gemma O’Brien, reported in the Scientific American, found that people meditating and those experiencing orgasms both feel a “diminution of self-awareness, alteration in bodily perception and a reduction in pain.” In other words, meditation offers some relief from self-preoccupation and all those stories we tell to ourselves – usually about ourselves – which can only be good for sex.

US-based sex and relationship expert Pamela Madsen agrees that this ability to “stop the chatter” is key to falling into the gap of a trance-like state of sexual bliss. Madsen encourages women to take meditation one step further with her own brand of Lotus Lift Meditation (you can see how to do it on her Facebook page or on her Back to The Body: Sensuous Retreats For Women). “I’m bringing some sexual fire,” says Madsen. “Most women walk around disconnected from their genitals. They expect their lovers to do all the magic tricks but it’s very hard to turn on a corpse.” Arousal then, is your own responsibility and it’s not even necessary to use it for sex. Madsen says she teaches her clients “to access their life force energy”. Just five or ten minutes’ meditation every morning and “your day will be brighter,” she says.

But what about deepening the spiritual connection with our partners? It starts with a conversation, says Day. Sounds simple, but when was the last time you talked to your partner about sex? What you really like and what you don’t? For most people it never happens. “I’ve not met a single person who actually does that,” says Day. “The risk of offending is too big.” The best thing couples can do to open up sexually is to spend time exploring each other, says Durek. “Everyone has different pleasure zones, so play a game and touch them and ask them what feels good and make mental note of it. You’re learning about the other person and building on your spiritual journey.” And when you say what you don’t like as well as what you do, it is even more powerful. “There’s a vulnerability in saying it, which connects sex to the heart,” says Day, “and you can be more playful. You can try new things if your partner will confidently tell you what they like – and what they don’t.”

If you’ve only just met, you probably won’t want to dive in with a list of likes and dislikes, but an open flirtatious conversation will get things moving in the right direction, says Durek. Talking, he says, is the best way to rev up your sexual energy and get turned on because the throat chakra is connected to the sexual organs. And, while you’re getting down and spiritual, Durek suggests putting the connection to good use with a spot of “sex magic”. This is the tantric idea of setting intentions at the point of orgasm to manifest your heart’s desire.

“I tell people to think about what you want during sex and it will come to you.” Durek believes this kind of intention setting is far more powerful than intentions you might set during yoga, say, because “when we’re having sex we’re already tapping into the creative side of our personality, whereas in yoga you are pushing beyond your comfort zone.” You could ask for world peace, happiness, or even a new house, as one of Durek’s friends did. “She said, ‘Me and my husband, we love the sex magic thank you so much!’ They both thought about selling their house and it worked.” If that’s not a moving sexual encounter we don’t know what is.

Three take-away tips

Exercise

It will boost your body confidence and reduce self-awareness in bed. Exercise is a great way to build your body confidence (never a bad thing when it comes to getting naked), boost testosterone and put you in the mood, according to one study in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour, sedentary men who took part in vigorous exercise over a nine-month period reported having more sex and greater satisfaction.

Meditation

It will help you connect with your breath, slow down and stop thinking – all the things you need for well-connected sex. According to a study at Brown University Rhode Island, women who took a 12-week meditation course became aroused faster when looking at sexy images. Why does meditation boost arousal? Well, firstly because it helps us connect to our bodies and breath, but also because it reduces anxiety and fosters self-compassion. The women who took the longest to feel aroused were also the harshest self-judgers, according to the study’s leader, Gina Silverstone.

Play

Take turns in taking pleasure, which gives you a chance to go deeper into the sensations. We’re often too distracted by giving when we’re receiving pleasure, argues Day, who also encourages us to let go of goal-focused sex in favour of “opening and opening so you breathe your way through.” The place you get to will be “diffuse and ecstatic,” she promises.

Words: Sharon Walker

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