Intimacy and Ecstasy
But if there are more than enough obstacles, there's also plenty of evidence that we crave a more spiritual sexuality. A survey that Ogden undertook in 1999, Integrating Sexuality and Spirituality, found that 67 percent of the 3,810 respondents (women and men) agreed that "a spiritual element is necessary for sexual satisfaction" and 78 percent said that "sex is much more than intercourse; it involves all of me—body, mind, heart, and soul." There's even measurable evidence that sex and spirit are linked, she notes: "Brain research shows that orgasmic response and even vaginal stimulation in women lights up the whole brain, including the parts associated with spiritual and religious ecstasy, not just the physical-sensation parts. We're hard-wired for multidimensional sex."
Fortunately, there's a venerable yogic tradition that teaches the connection of spirituality and sexuality. In Tantric yoga, for example, says Whitwell, the focus is on the merging of opposites—heaven and earth, male and female, inhale and exhale, yin and yang, above and below, front body and back body—to help us overcome our ego-driven sense of separateness and achieve union with the Divine. "In the yoga tradition of the nondual schools from which asana arose, God was feminine, or shakti, energy. So, pleasing the feminine is the point of Tantric philosophy," he explains. "When men surrender to receive feminine energy, both men and women are strengthened." Put more plainly, when a man's goal isn't just ejaculation but a true focus on his partner's pleasure, both have a better time in bed. When that happens, Whitwell says, a balancing of male and female energy takes place. We're all made up of both the masculine and feminine (which is why Whitwell's philosophy applies equally to homosexual couples), so when strength and softness are part of our sex lives, we're likely to feel more complete—and more completely accepted. And as anyone who's ever felt it knows, that is the essence of great sex. It's also the essence of spiritual experience.
So if spiritual sexuality is our birthright and even our responsibility to pursue as part of the "householders" path (as opposed to the path of monk or renunciate), most of us might ask: Where do I start? After all, we'd all be having better, more connected sex with our partner(s) if we knew how, right? "The best thing you can do for your intimacy is a nonobsessive asana practice designed appropriately for you," Whitwell asserts. Begin with a regular personal practice of poses and pPranayama (breathwork). As you become more sensitive in your body, cultivating the softness and receptivity that comes with asana practice, you are also readying yourself to offer that to someone else, he says. (Few of us Westerners need to cultivate more strength; it's the softness that makes the difference.)
Maril Crabtree, 63, an energy healer in Mission Kansas, Missouri, began a spiritually focused yoga practice in her 40s that become the catalyst, first, to a better self-image and then to better sex with her husband, Jim, to whom she's been married for 43 years. "I always tried to ignore my body, but yoga created an awareness of being present in my body that wasn't there before," she says. "My sex life got better all through my late 40s and into my 50s. Now the quality of my sexuality has changed, from whole-body orgasmic experiences to just feeling more present in my own body. There's an awareness of my connection—spiritually, physically, emotionally—to everything."