I am a single woman. Before I found Buddhism, sex used to be great. I really enjoyed it. Since I’ve gotten into my Buddhist practice, I have to say that I’m not really enjoying it anymore. And nothing else has changed. I’m just aware now that when I have sex, it’s usually because I’m not very happy with my life and am looking for something or someone to make it better or at least put some fun in my life. I guess I always knew it deep down, but now it’s in my face. Can a Buddhist have good sex, that is sex that is both good and makes you feel good?
Longing for Good Sex
Dear Longing for Good Sex,
The short answer is that, yes, it is definitely possible for a Buddhist to have good sex. The question is, what is good sex? Simply said, good sex is sex that is consistent with your spiritual practice, with walking the path.
The Third Precept teaches us to refrain from “sexual misconduct.” But depending on who you talk to, what that is varies greatly. One monk once told me that as long as it’s between two consenting adults, it’s ok. While Thich Nhat Hanh says that it must be part of a loving, long-term commitment.
I would offer a middle path. For me, the guiding principle is the overall Buddhist moral, “to treat others with respect, compassion, and loving kindness and do others and yourself no harm, psychologically or physically.” Casual sex, and often even sex in committed relationships, does not meet that standard.
You can be kind to someone in a way, say nice things, but if you’re basically using someone to gratify your lust or to escape a life that you’re dissatisfied with, your not approaching sex from a position of equanimity. And when you’re using someone, you can’t truly treat them with respect, compassion, and loving kindness, because that would entail thinking first and foremost about their needs, not yours. And there is always some psychological harm to both parties because both are aware that they are not just using, but they are being used. This same analysis can hold true even for sex within marriage.
So the key to having good sex is to come at it from a place of equanimity, of true acceptance of your life the way it is right now. Then your desire to have sex will not be a craving, it will be a healthy, natural urge. When you reach that state, or even approach it, you will find that you no longer have an interest in sex if there is no real connection with the other person. Even if you go long stretches without sex, you will feel fine. Your ego-mind may be jumping up and down saying that this is ridiculous, but your true Buddha nature will be fine.
Most sex that people have today is of a decidedly casual nature. So the question is, if you approach it with equanimity, can one have spiritually healthy casual sex, whether it’s with someone you just met or a “friend with benefits?”
The clincher here is “ do no harm.” You may approach the situation with great equanimity and be filled with compassion and loving kindness, but there can still be psychological harm done to the other person. If anything, you’re giving of yourself in this way, rather than being a user, may increase it.
Why? Because sex is very powerful, and good sex is even more powerful. If the other person experiences good sex because of the way in which you have approached it, it will be almost impossible for the person not to start thinking about repeating the experience, starting a relationship, etc. And if that’s not what you want, then the person will be disappointed or feel rejected and that does psychological harm. So I’m afraid the answer is that casual sex is not “good sex” regardless how you approach it.
Bottom line, for sex to be spiritually healthy, for it to be sex you feel good about, there needs to be a real connection between the two people, you need to think about the other person’s needs ... sexually and otherwise ... and there needs to be a desire to see where this connection leads. A long-term commitment, or really any commitment, is not needed.
Ideally, that means you meet someone and get to know them a bit, establish a connection and an interest in seeing where things might lead, before you have sex. I know that’s not how it’s done today. It’s the old-fashioned way. But spiritually, it’s the only way to have sex which is both good and that you feel good about.
The point is not to ensure that the other person cannot be hurt ... that’s not within your power ... it’s not to take unreasonable risks regarding that. Even if there is a commitment, nothing is forever, and in the end someone may feel hurt. There’s little you can do about that, other than treating someone with compassion and loving kindness. The fact that all things are impermanent and changeable cannot and should not prevent us from acting in the present.