Karma-Free Sex

Sex. What a compelling topic! As a spiritual teacher, whether I’m giving a lecture or leading a retreat, whenever the subject comes up, a very particular form of focused attention immediately takes over the room. Suddenly everyone is listening very closely, hanging on my every word! Why? Because everybody wants to know the secret. What secret? The secret to how to handle the sexual impulse–the wild beast of our evolutionary heritage that is alive and kicking within us all.

I always find this so ironic, because we’re supposed to be the most sexually liberated generation ever. Since the cultural revolution almost half a century ago, most of us have experienced unprecedented freedom in relation to our own sexuality. I know I did. It has been a sex-positive, go-for-it, don’t-worry-be-happy, if-it-feels-good-do-it world for all of postmodernity’s children. But what’s so ironic is that all the freedom and sex-positive morals haven’t, for the most part, made us much wiser as to how to handle the beast. Why is it that with more freedom to experiment and more actual experience we still tend to be so confused, insecure, and victimized when it comes to sexuality? Why is it that when the wild one awakens, so few of us are deeply trustworthy?

Oops! . . . I have to be careful here, or I’ll sound like a square. Sex, among the spiritual crowd, is definitely a sacred cow. If anyone dares to question whether sex is all it’s cracked up to be or to suggest that it may be dangerous and complex terrain to navigate, they are almost automatically labeled as being an unenlightened, sex-negative moralist. It’s almost like daring to question whether God exists when talking to a religious fundamentalist.

Well, I’m definitely not sex-negative–I’ve been happily married for more than twenty years. But as a spiritual teacher and cultural critic who looks deeply into the nature of the human experience with unwavering idealism and uncompromising realism, I can say one thing with enormous confidence: Few areas of life are more of a source of karma, confusion, and mistrust than sex. So whenever I hear ordinary people or spiritual authorities speak in a cavalier way about this most complex and confusing topic, it’s obvious to me that either they don’t know what they are talking about or they haven’t looked very deeply into their own experience or anyone else’s.

We can look at this subject in different ways. Habitually, we tend to look at sex from the inside, so to speak, to see it purely from the perspective of the subjective experience–biological, emotional, psychological, and spiritual–of the individual. To put it simply, we see it through the lens of how it makes us feel. But there’s another way to look at sex, which in postmodern culture is much less familiar: We can look at it from the outside, which means we look at the long- and short-term consequences of sexual engagement for real people, in real time.

What we will find, if we take this perspective, is that sexual pleasure, emotional intimacy, and spiritual thrills never come for free. Even as much as I, being a healthy, virile male, would like it to be otherwise, the simple truth is that if we’re not extremely careful about how we engage with the beast, we will probably create karma in the long run. No matter how much short-term happiness, pleasure, or freedom we may taste, when the fireworks are over, the complex realities of our emotional and psychological selves have to absorb the multidimensional consequences of sexual intimacy, both positive and negative.

The traditional definition of enlightenment means coming to the end of karma. I have always defined karma in a particular way, as the suffering we cause to self or other when we act out of ignorance or selfishness. Ideally, therefore, the enlightened individual would no longer be creating karma, and to not create karma in the sexual arena is nothing less than a supreme spiritual attainment in our day and age!

As a teacher, I’ve always preferred to look at this particular subject from the outside. If we have spiritual aspirations, if our goal is enlightenment–emotional, psychological, and spiritual freedom–we have to look beyond the immediate promise of thrills, ecstasy, and intimacy.

Once again, don’t get me wrong. I think sex is wonderful. I love to awaken the wild one within. I just don’t want to get burned by it, and neither do I want anyone else to. I have high ideals–I want sex to be karma-free. I want its ecstasy to be experienced in a way that strengthens rather than weakens our fundamental confidence and trust in life itself. Deep and profound trust between human beings, especially now, is nothing less than sacred. In fact, I believe it’s the currency that a truly spiritual life depends on. For God–or whatever name we use to define that which is most sacred–to enter into this world through us, we must learn how to be deeply trustworthy. And in order to do that, it’s important that our experience of sex is karma-free.

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by Andrew Cohen, EnlightenNext


Frank Lornitzo
Frank Lornitzo7 years ago

Thanking John for his comment. My mother also grew up in a Catholic school central Europe bur raised by an iconoclastic uncle. I am a natural born citizen of U.S.A. of course. But she told or read stories to me and what I learned from that is the difference between the real and the imaginary.. I had a companion I talked to but I knew he was imaginary. When God was mentioned on the radio or sometimes in school I considered that as an imaginary being and didn't relate to me as I took it that everyone has a right to their own imaginary beings. My mother presented me with a book of myths, confirming to me the existence of a myriad of beings that people made up. So the only fear I had is someone killing me because i didn't subscribe to their imaginary being. But there is a Buddhist advice to act a if there is a God. which means there is cause, effect and consequences. Now, considering
the role of passion in procreation It cannot be that passion is only for the purpose of procreation or why would there be so much of it. and even so much left after the procreative years.
Mammals can procreate until they are close to death.. But
the most intense of all emotions keeps us all emotionally alive, even though the actual events are short and infrequent in relation to the passage of hours and days. The events include memories that last a lifetime, But that is why abusing someone is so wrong and such a crime.

John D.
Past Member 7 years ago

It is my impression that the Church taught that even thinking about sex is a sin. My mother grew up in a Catholic country but an iconoclastic uncle helped raise her So I learned some ins and outs. One is suppose to confess to the priest one's 'bad thoughts" One is given a penance to do and he grants absolution for so-called venial sins. The mortal sin is not going to confession. Also in part of the Anglican (Anglo-Catholic)service of marriage the priest reads or recites a part that says God would have preferred that the desire is not acted upon but granted the institution of marriage to indulge the failings of mortal humans. Some of this is taken from comments in the Gospels attributed to Jesus. The New Testament writings all were on the subject of the Messiah and the imminence of the coming of Heaven. To better prepare for this one should put mind to leaving the mortal body for the better thing coming. As time went on perhaps the burning of Rome inspired the doctrine of Hell as retribution. The idea of
"thought crime" has never died in spite of the Enlightenment.
Orwell deals so well with this issue.
Event Planner Bay Area

Frank Lornitzo
Frank Lornitzo8 years ago

I just finished reading the posting by Carey Purcell on today's Alternet about Vulvodynia,
an idiopathic condition that is so painful that it makes sex about impossible. I will not attempt a metaphysical interpretation of this affliction.

Frank Lornitzo
Frank Lornitzo8 years ago

Pardon my cynicism both there is nothing like a fountain of wisdom ending with an advertisement for another magazine subscription.
But looking back on two marriages the one marriage might have been saved if I knew then what is being learned now, even if she had a crush on her lady college professor. But the other one was a matter of early onset dementia: organic brain disease. In the vow the couple is committed to take care of each other. In both cases they were really lovable people. All I can say to the happy couples, the Karma is, don't let the opportunity to have fun with each other slip away. What would the world be without these happy couples?

Iron Steel
Iron Steel8 years ago

I wonder how to do the Karma-free Sex?

Frank Lornitzo
Frank Lornitzo8 years ago

Nancy W. cites "The transforming brain with as very crucial comment: When we engage our senses with pleasure we are transforming ourselves, if we experience pain then reward that pain (emotional or physical) with pleasure it catalyses a negative pattern.
The idea that pleasure and pain must adjoin each other could be the basis of much abuse.

Frank Lornitzo
Frank Lornitzo8 years ago

The real point is intimacy. There is no point in sex without intimacy. Even masturbation is part of getting to know oneself.

janine k.
janine k8 years ago

What is karma but moral causation? Morality is defined per culture. What I believe is consensual sex between two consenting individuals in one culture may not be the same in another. To be morally at peace with yourself is not only important in karma but for yourself.
Kings and Queens of certain cultures married their heirs to other children. Morally fine in that culture. Who makes these rules? Are they moral? The church perhaps? An entity that many times has morality issues?
I'm listening to people talk about sex these days. They aren't talking about love anymore. They talk about "responsibility" for "paying" for women. That's not love. Love is when you would just die for somebody. You wouldn't think twice about "being responsible for those you tame" Exupery
ps My illusion of your experience and what I love and your illusion of my experience and what you love are never connecting. There is no perfection in sex, love or humanity, just miracles.

Ken G.
Ken G8 years ago

I liked the article and agreed and disagreed with many of the comments. I especially picked up on "act out of ignorance and selfishness." 'Ignorance' is lack of knowledge which in my life seemed to be the unintentional problem I struggled with concerning the sex issue. In some posts the word 'sin' is brought up. I think it was 'Course in Miracles,' that described 'sin' as lack of 'love.' Lack of 'love' would be 'selfishness,' to me.
I sort of think 'karma' is going back to basics like self-esteem, self-love and self-confidence. I've formed the opinion that if sexual partners have the basics they earn each others trust and respect so they both have become persons that have personalities that can be shared equally.
To me females are looking for security especially after having children so when our sexual encounters are entered into ignorantly there is a good chance she controls and manipulates the male. That's normal but the male allowing himself to be controlled and manipulated offers the female his weakness instead of strength she sought. In my own life I figure life moved so fast that the karma part got lost that way most of the time.
Young people aren't taught about relating and choosing who to form relationships with now days so sex seems to have lost it's purpose of intimacy. I appreciate aging where sex lost its importance for me. Life offered a better form of 'karma' at this time.

Nancy W.
Nancy W8 years ago

Funny I have been contemplating this ironically in the last 2 days. The book "the brain that changes itself" discusses this, in short: When we engage our senses with pleasure we are transforming ourselves, if we experience pain then reward that pain (emotional or physical) with pleasure it catalyses a negative pattern.

On a personal level Its important for me to remember that it may not be at my best advantage to hold a space for a partner to engage in "bang bang sex" . It carries with it energies of anger and contempt. Its very important for me to have a heart connection and to get the anger out of the way and move to a another level where real merging of senses and bodies can continue so that higher levels of orgasm and energies can occur.

I also want to say and wonder that maybe "bang bang sex" needs to happen it has a lot of passion and sometimes needs to be released in order to heal the friction, but to stay there and continue in that place is not really going to be beneficial in the long term. Its also dangerous now in these times to be in the gender war mentality creating separation between partners or genders, guilt blame and shame does no one any service society included. Where one benefits at the others expense needs to be avoided to stop this cycle. Men and Women have incredible gifts to offer and its been a loss to have these sacrificed in the name of self serving power and an incredible loss of precious energy.