The Nature of the Sexual Impulse

The sexual impulse and energy is one of the basic primary drives in Nature and is widespread in the animal kingdom, although there are instances of asexual reproduction. The drive is so powerful that it can drive beings to extreme lengths, even killing off rivals, or fighting to maintain dominance to control the access to breeding and the sexual activity that goes along with it. Sex is a powerful motivation that permeates virtually all aspects of human relationships, has been the subject of both scientific study, and is central to much of human creativity and imagination, including art, literature, poetry, drama and sculpture. Sex is so far involved in the society that it governs almost every access including habits, customs , dress, and relationship rituals. There are mating rituals and dating rituals that try to govern or at least direct the method of sexual expression, and yet, humanity has found that it is not so easy to govern this impulse.

For the spiritual practitioner, then, the issue of sex becomes one of importance, if only because he is tasked with finding a way to redirect the focus and direction of energies away from the action of the lower forces of Nature toward a higher evolutionary force in the development of the spiritual nature, which by its very nature, is an asexual level of consciousness.

Spiritual traditions have taken a diverse approach to the sexual energy. Some ask the aspirant to renounce sex entirely by what seems to be an act of will, or at least suppress its expression. Others take the approach that the sexual energy can in fact be utilized and turned into a mode of realisation, as in the tantric tradition. Still others acknowledge the role of sex, find ways to channel it so that it is minimized as a distraction, such as encouraging marriage and controlled sexual liaisons within the framework of the spiritual development. There are also those who believe that the sexual energy can and should be sublimated to create new powers of action at higher energetic levels of the being, the conversion of the base energy of the lowest chakras into the expressions of the higher chakras in action. There are many variations on these themes and the experience generally has been that one way or the other, the sexual impulse has won out, and found a way to focus the attention and in some cases, finds unapproved or illicit forms of expression even in the traditions that are most extreme in trying to deny sex by act of will-power.

Sri Aurobindo’s approach first starts with an understanding that the sexual impulse, as with other vital energies, is one that arises from universal Nature and is not something that belongs to or is generated solely within an individual. Thus, it is a matter of observing the impulse, changing the “channel”, and refocusing the attention away. This is not simply a matter of sublimation as others have tried, but a wholesale change of consciousness that moves beyond sex. Note that this is related to the practitioners who aspire to the realisations of the integral yoga, and has not been intended as a general prescription for humanity in its normal interactions, and thus the objections raised by those who claim that sex is a natural impulse and is needed for perpetuation of the species, are not central to this review. At the same time, a more complete understanding of the sexual impulse and how it works and how to manage it could be extremely useful within the framework of society as a whole. And it is not to be denied that with the advent of a next evolutionary principle, that sex as an instrument of procreation and propagation of the species may itself give way with changes to the physical body that would arise over time. Thus, this impulse may find its own eventual reduction and demise in the course of time.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “All movements are in the mass movements of Nature’s cosmic forces, they are movements of universal Nature. The individual receives something of them, a wave or pressure of some cosmic force, and is driven by it; he thinks it is his own, generated in himself separately, but it is not so, it is part of a general movement which works just in the same way in others. Sex, for instance, is a movement of general Nature seeking for its play and it uses this or that one — a man vitally or physically ‘in love’ as it is called with a woman is simply repeating and satisfying the world-movement of sex; if it had not been that woman, it would have been another; he is simply an instrument in Nature’s machinery, it is not an independent movement. So it is with anger and other Nature-motives.”

“In most men the sexual is the strongest of all the impulses of Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Sex, pp 299-308

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