Religious and spiritual paths throughout the world have recognised the need to gain control over the sex impulse. Similarly societies have recognised that in many cases the sex impulse can create disruption in the orderly processes of the society. Traditionally, certain mores or rules of conduct have arisen around the expression of sexual energy. In some cases, sex is considered ‘sinful’ and is a cause for guilt and shame to arise. In other cases, society uses subtle manipulation to increase the focus on the sexual energy and thereby distract people from other and higher pursuits. Some groups try to control the sexual expression through separation of genders, through dress codes or even through chemical intervention, such as the use of saltpetre in boarding schools, which tends to lessen the action of the libido. Yet all of these approaches, one way or the other, not only tend to focus and fixate the attention on the sexual energy, but in many instances lead to deleterious effects on the psychology of the members of that society, or to outbreaks of sexual aggression as needs are not met.
Sex, in and by itself, is not sinful. It is a process of Nature and has its true role in life as we see it on earth at this time. It is essential for procreation, as we always hear when the question of abstinence is raised. It is a powerful energy at the base of the physical being, and as with any energy, it can be used, or misused, or abused.
For spiritual seekers, the historical injunction against sexual expression arises from several causes. First, there has been a recognition that this powerful energy can be redirected and used for higher purposes if it is not simply squandered constantly in the act or focus on sex itself. Second, there is a concern about the atmosphere in the group or society if sexual energies are aroused and active and influencing the interactions among the members of the group. Third, there is a natural instinct of dominance related to control of sexual activity in a group which secretly acts behind the scenes and can thereby disrupt and distort the coherence of the group.
Sri Aurobindo’s position is very clear on this subject. For those who have dedicated themselves to the practice of the integral Yoga and its focus on shifting the standpoint from the ego-individuality to the divine standpoint, there is a need to tune the energetic receptivity to forces that are beyond those of the ordinary human life as we know it at this time. It is a matter of focus and tuning that requires the sadhak to shift attention away from the first chakra energy to that of the divine energies that are above the mental level, through bringing forward the action of the psychic being which orients itself automatically toward the divine, and through refocusing the attention and receptivity to energies above the mind. Sexual energy becomes in this sense a serious distraction and at the same time allows the kind of distortions to the atmosphere in a collective environment such as an Ashram that are not helpful to the entire community.
Sri Aurobindo notes: “To master the sex-impulse, — to become so much master of the sex-centre that the sexual energy would be drawn upwards, not thrown outwards and wasted — it is so indeed that the force in the seed can be turned into a primal physical energy supporting all the others, retas into ojas. But no error can be more perilous than to accept the immixture of the sexual desire and some kind of subtle satisfaction of it and look on this as a part of the sadhana. It would be the most effective way to head straight towards spiritual downfall and throw into the atmosphere forces that would block the supramental descent, bringing instead the descent of adverse vital powers to disseminate disturbance and disaster. This deviation must be absolutely thrown away, should it try to occur and expunged from the consciousness, if the Truth is to be brought down and the work is to be done.”
“It is an error too to imagine that, although the physical sexual action is to be abandoned, yet some inward reproduction of it is part of the transformation of the sex-centre. The action of the animal sex-energy in Nature is a device for a particular purpose in the economy of the material creation in the Ignorance. But the vital excitement that accompanies it makes the most favourable opportunity and vibration in the atmosphere for the inrush of those very vital forces and beings whose whole business is to prevent the descent of the supramental Light. The pleasure attached to it is a degradation and not a true form of the divine Ananda. The true divine Ananda in the physical has a different quality and movement and substance; self-existent in its essence, its manifestation is dependent only on an inner union with the Divine. You have spoken of Divine Love; but Divine Love, when it touches the physical, does not awaken the gross lower vital propensities; indulgence of them would only repel it and make it withdraw again to the heights from which it is already difficult enough to draw it down into the coarseness of the material creation which it alone can transform. Seek the Divine Love through the only gate through which it will consent to enter, the gate of the psychic being, and cast away the lower vital error.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Sex, pp 299-308