Healthy Sex with Ayurveda
The Ayurvedic tradition celebrates human sexuality not only because it enhances physical and sensual pleasure but also because it enhances emotional intimacy and mutual respect and can even, in the act of physical union, bring individuals to the experience of their own divinity.
One Sanskrit word for sexual intercourse is sambhoga, which brings together samyaka (a word that means maintaining a balance) and bhoga (pleasure or sensual enjoyment). Thus, in Ayurveda, sex and sexual intercourse means that activity by which one maintains equilibrium and also acquires sexual gratification.
From time immemorial, human sexuality has been celebrated in India and Ayurveda incorporates sex. The sages who gave us the holy Vedas were usually married and sexually active family men and women with spouses and children. The Hindu gods are likewise depicted to be enjoying conjugal bliss.
Sex and the Divine
Though India also has a strong monastic tradition, there is no requirement that, in order to know the Divine, a person must suppress natural, biologically rooted instincts. In ancient India, the souls who took a vow of sexual abstinence for spiritual purposes were few in number; they were the exception and not the rule. To be celibate was a voluntary choice and was never undertaken by the mainstream. The goal of the Vedas was certainly not to convert a human being into a sexless being in the name of spirituality. Rather, this tradition can help us appreciate the power of our inherent sexuality and—something much needed in today’s world—to temper this sexuality with wisdom and moderation.
One word that is often identified with celibacy in India is the Sanskrit term brahmacharya. Translated literally this means “quest for the Ultimate Reality, Brahman.” Within Vedic culture, brahmacharya represents chastity during a time of spiritual studentship. In this sense, it is celibacy but for a limited time and for a specific purpose. In an Ayurvedic sexual context, brahmacharya also connotes the voluntary regulation of sexual energy and desires. In this context, brahmacharya means fidelity in marriage or sexual partnership; it means the monogamous, balanced, and healthy expression of sexuality between committed partners and lovers.
Healthy Management of Sexual Energy
In Ayurveda, brahmacharya is often adopted as a way of life and refers to our acceptance of ourselves as more than just beasts under the control of a frenzied sex drive. Instead, we are asked to celebrate our sexuality and at the same time accept the responsibility to understand and regulate our sexual drive. We accept that our sexuality itself is God-given. Thus, the word brahmacharya beautifully brings together the opposites of sexual indulgence and sexual restraint. The Ashtanga Hridayam puts it this way: “From a disciplined indulgence in sex through brahmacharya, one gains memory, intelligence, health, nourishment, sharpness of sense organs, reputation, strength, and long life.”
The Vedic sages were farsighted, indeed, when they conceived of a society that holds its collective sexual energy with transparency, accountability, respect, sensitivity, and care. Human pleasures, such as singing, dancing, playing, enjoying material wealth, and sexual gratification, are seen by the sages as pursuits that play an important role in the overall health and wellbeing of an individual and a society. In fact, when speaking of sex, the Ayurvedic sages go so far as saying that if the sexual instinct is forcefully suppressed, it leads to mental perversions and countless physical diseases.
Sexuality (kama) is, thus, recognized as a valid and legitimate human goal by Ayurveda. To aid the realization of this goal, several texts called Kama Shastra were compiled that serve as manuals for engaging in fulfilling sex. The Kama Sutra written by Sage Vatsyayana is one such example.
In the context of Ayurveda, sexual desires—along with all of our other personal wants and desires—are seen in relation to the whole of dharma. This context and sexual education within a larger framework of values and ethics gives our sexual desires a healthy outlet and prevents sexual perversions, addictions, and compulsions. Our preferences are not needs; our wants are not gut-wrenching cravings. Established in the spiritual self, auspicious in its intent, universal in its character, abundant in its means, the embodied spirit is encouraged to play out its earthbound desires with its fellow beings and express itself through the joy of sex. Remember, cosmic ecstasy is a natural aspect of our divine nature.
Keeping Things Balanced and Healthy
To the one awakened to exercising choice, sex is like a magic tool, an inborn cosmic expectation of pleasure, a passion so pure, a permission to play with life and fondle and enjoy this world in which we have chosen to journey. It is, however, quite significant how we choose to indulge our sexuality.
According to ayurvedic sexual teachings, when kama, or desire, becomes a dominant force, hiding our own higher purpose from us, then the potential to suffer emotionally increases. Lurid craving, restlessness, emptiness, and bondage to obsessions can descend on us as if from nowhere. A simple sexual desire and its pursuit can take us literally to heaven or hell in a single moment, and all within the hallowed cave of the mind. In the end, it is we who have to decide if kama or sex rules us, or if we rule kama.
The Ayurvedic sage Vagabhata described sex as a pleasure of two kinds: instant and delayed. Instant gratification is the happiness that is changeable and is related to the material world. Here is the kind of sexual gratification associated with one-night stands and pleasure with no commitment. Such sex may feel deliciously indulgent, but it is riddled with risks.