Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Spanking the Monkey-Mind: Autoeroticism and Religious Guilt Tripping

[Disclaimer:  This post contains adult subject matter, so if you are under 18 please do not read it without your parents' permission.]

To my surprise and delight, I have somehow become the "Dear Abby of Tantric Sex."  People from all over the world, including a large fan following in India (a country I have always loved, the birthplace of yoga!) contact me with their questions about yoga, spirituality and especially, sex.  I am honored and humbled that these strangers trust me with their most intimate personal concerns, and I take all such questions seriously.  Being a bhakti-tantrika, I regard sex as sacred and to be treated with reverence, but at the same time, it's ok to laugh, and my regular readers are already well aware of my tendency to sarcastic humor.  To my new readers, I apologize in advance.

This blog post is in response to questions that continually come up about masturbation.  I have had so many inquiries on the topic that I decided to go ahead and write this, rather than having to constantly repeat myself.  Many young men have shared with me their concerns about this matter.  In addition, based on the messages, others have taken liberties with my Facebook photos.  I choose to regard it as a compliment and sincerely thank God that my photos can still be so "inspiring," given my advanced age and increasing decrepitude.  At the same time, however, it also demonstrates how very desperate they are, to be using photos of a 51-year-old, especially since my "raciest" ones involve a bikini or relatively conservative Vulcan underwear.  Apparently young men in those countries do not have access to any decent porn, such as Playboy, and must settle for seeing an aging yogini on FB, much as in the olden days when boys in the U.S. had only the Sears catalog underwear ads.

Their desperation also, of course, speaks of the societal dysfunction which has led to these questions, with or without the associated behavior related to my photos.  There is a great deal of loneliness and frustration in the world, compounded by repressive socio-cultural traditions which give a person no way out of their dilemma.  Many young men have difficulty finding a suitable partner, especially in societies where women are expected to wait until marriage and "good girls" don't have premarital sex for fear of damaging their reputation.  Meanwhile people are waiting longer to get married, until they have finished their education and are established in their career.  This is actually a good thing in terms of economics, because marrying and having babies before completing education is a significant cause of poverty among women and children worldwide.  However, the situation leaves young people with no sexual recourse at a time in their life when hormones are raging.

Fortunately here in the West we had a "sexual revolution" in the 1960s and 70s, thanks in part to Hugh Hefner's promotion of the Playboy philosophy, "Nice girls like sex too -- it's a natural part of life. Don't be ashamed of it," hence the wholesome "girl next door" look of his models.  Now, one could argue that the Bunny costume was silly and/or degrading, but be that as it may, Hef's philosophy was a breath of fresh air in our formerly stuffy, repressed society.  As a result, my American and European friends struggle less with their sexuality, and I don't get as many of these questions from them.  The women ask me about sex and relationships, but not about masturbation per se, either because they aren't doing it, or they are doing it and it's working out fine and not a problem.  It seems to be more of an urgent, pressing concern for men, which perhaps is understandable; certainly if I had one of those remarkable organs I would want to play with it, too!

My younger brothers in India and the Middle East write to me in great distress with their concerns about masturbation.  One sincere young man, a member of a fundamentalist Christian church, contacted me quite worried about the impending Rapture/Tribulation, which is the doctrine that Jesus will come back and whisk His followers away to heaven before the world basically goes through 7 years of hell under the Antichrist.  I assured him not to worry, because according to that doctrine, if one believes such things, Christians will be taken away before the bad stuff happens.  This nice young man then confessed to me that he feared Jesus would leave him behind because he had masturbated!  And he is not alone.  Many other young men have likewise told me they actually believe that God will send them to hell, or perhaps a bad reincarnation, for this grievous sin.  And BTW, contrary to popular belief, Christianity has no monopoly on sexual repression!  It is common to the fundamentalist branches of all religious traditions including Hinduism and Islam.

Now of course, my atheist friends will say, "Well, that's what happens when you believe this kind of bullsh*t in the first place!  Get rid of religion and everybody will be fine."  Indeed, many people have lost their faith specifically because of the sexual repression enforced by fundie religions.  My worried young friends will be relieved to know that according to modern science, masturbation is perfectly normal and healthy, perhaps several times a day for most young men, the frequency decreasing with age, depending on opportunity and circumstances.

But, it is not necessary to throw out the Babe with the bathwater, and as a minister of reconciliation, I am here to help religious people embrace their sexuality as the sacred gift that it is and be thankful, rather than fearful of damnation.  In all of our religious mythologies, God made matter, including our body and sexuality, and called it Good.  Moreover, in Christianity and Hinduism, God saw fit to incarnate as a man in a human body at least once, or perhaps many times.  Somewhere along the line, the insidious gnostic dualism "Spirit is good, matter is bad" contaminated our religions, leading to the doctrine that sex and physical pleasure is a sin.  And the specific Christian prohibition of masturbation is actually based on a misinterpretation of scripture.

Now, what parent among you would give your child the most wonderful, excellent toy and then forbid him or her to play with it, or even to touch it?!  God would have to be either stupid or cruel to have created us with this powerful, pleasurable sex drive and then forbid us to enjoy it, even privately with our own bodies!  As an Episcopalian, I believe that God is neither stupid nor cruel.  But, as a yogini it's really not a question of "belief" at all; I speak rather from experience.  God is way more Fun than He/She is given credit for, more Fun, in fact, than literally anything.  You can trust me on this, but you don't have to take my word for it.  Other yogis like Steve Ross, Yogani and Ramakrishna have said so, too.  That is why, when your yoga practice reaches a certain point, you don't have all these concerns anymore, and how I was able to be happily celibate for 14 years until I met my husband 9 years ago.

The yogic philosophy is that sexual energy is also spiritual energy, and sex serves two basic functions:  The biological purpose of sex is procreation and stress relief, while the spiritual purpose is Love and Ecstasy.  For many people, orgasm is the closest they will ever come (pun intended!) to meditation.  In tantric yoga we have techniques to send that energy up the spine and prolong the orgasmic state for hours, or indefinitely.  Needless to say, this is incredibly satisfying.  However, unfortunately, the same fundie religions which forbid premarital sex and masturbation nearly always forbid yoga as well, and I would not recommend celibacy to anyone who does not have a serious yoga practice.

Here's the thing:  At the base of the spine is incredible sexual/ spiritual energy coiled up waiting to be expressed, the powerful creative energy of Life itself.  If you try to repress it, it's eventually going to come out one way or another, and maybe not in a polite manner.  If you are a yogi, you can channel that energy and offer it up in ecstatic prayer.  I can teach you how to do that, but it requires a lot of discipline and practice.  Otherwise, you are left with very few options according to the fundie religious dogma with which you have been brainwashed.  You can attempt to be celibate using "sublimation," which is where you try like hell not to think about sex, while basically exhausting yourself doing other things such as sports, intense physical exercise, housecleaning, digging ditches, building houses for the poor, etc.  In all likelihood you will still end up having wet dreams, which is your body's way of releasing sexual tension and some believe, is also a reason to feel guilty.  Or you can get married too young, for the wrong reasons.  Or you can just suffer and moan about it to Dear Tantric Abby.

I would recommend, my young friends, that you make peace with your body and God who created it.  Ideally, I would like to see you find a good sympathetic friend with whom you have mutual respect and trust, in order to practice safe sex (please, use birth control!) until you are ready to settle down and start a family.  If that is not possible then you will inevitably take matters into your own hands - which is perfectly normal!  Do not allow the religious dogma of repressed, bitter old men to ruin your spiritual life.  Are they wiser than the Creator?  There is no need to feel guilty about a natural biological function.  Stop beating yourself up over beating off.









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