Before some great societal tragedies, namely capitalism, colonisation, and the patriarchy, ideas about sex were completely different. It was seen as an act for liberation, well being, and spiritual expansion, as opposed to something at times taboo, degrading, and superficial. Taoists were some of the first sexologists, often referring to it as an art form and having developed a multitude of practices to expand the physical, mental, and spiritual self.
Taoism can be described as a mystical philosophy, originating in 142 C.E in China, usually recognised by the famous yin and yang symbol. “Tao” translates as “the way”, describing the flow of all natural processes and the innate balance of the world. The classic Taoist text; ‘Tao Te Ching’, describes the yin and yang as interdependent, inseparable, polar opposites, present in everything - for example, hot and cold, tall and short, empty and full - and the Tao is the source of it all. Just like the environment, humans also have yin and yang forces within them; taoists see living beings as microcosms (miniature representations) of the universe. Further, the universe itself was seen as a living organism. Yin (black) is associated with the feminine, and yang (white) the masculine. Everyone- regardless of sex or gender, holds both yin and yang, perhaps at differing levels. Yin also represents softness, emptiness, creativity, intuition, and the Tao itself was said to be yin. As we can see in the symbol, yin contains yang in it and yang contains yin, representing interdependence, and the symbol is also said to be in constant motion, with polar opposites ever-flowing into each other.
The idea of “life energy” is present in almost all religions and philosophies, and even has a place in Western medicine, describing the primordial energy of the universe; present in everything and the foundation of all. Taoists call this “Chi” or “Qi”, and have studied it intricately, developing techniques to cultivate and work with it. Taoists saw Chi in everything; rain, sunshine, flowers... My Tai chi teacher described Chi as similar to the concept of chakras, flowing through our body through specific points; it begins in a point inside our bellies, three fingers below the belly button, then drops down to the sexual organs, travelling up the spine, over the head into the third eye, through the tongue and back to the belly.
Taoists paid close attention to what was going into their bodies, due to the belief that Chi was in everything. For example, eating fresh fruits and vegetables in their prime seasons was crucial because they would provide higher levels of life force. They seemed to view themselves as part of nature- not separate, and hence everything they did was in unity with it.
View of Women
An article published in Herstory interviewing Máire Ní G states that women, or individuals thought to possess more yin, were highly respected during taoist times and were regarded as beings with strong spiritual inclinations, compared to men or those possessing more yang.
View of Sex
Sex was also viewed as a microcosm; an act mirroring natural processes making use of the unity of two opposing energies to create totality. Take day and night, or summer and winter: polar opposites but interdependent and necessary for the formation of a complete whole. This image of a fractal triangle design is a geometric representation of microcosms; self-repeating patterns in different dimensions, containing each other. Sex was about finding a balance between yin and yang, meditating on Chi, and reaching states of higher consciousness.
Tantric Sex and the East vs the West
Unlike current Western ideology, orgasm was not the purpose of sex and it would go on for longer periods of time. This is often referred to as tantric sex. Male orgasms were especially avoided so as not to release Chi, which was thought to be very beneficial in the body during sexual intercourse. This belief was not held about females, who could orgasm without losing life energy. Even more, female orgasms were considered sacred and partners could absorb yin energy from them which was highly spiritually beneficial, due to the way yin and yang work interconnectedly and yin representing creation. Acts like sucking of the breasts were also thought to have the same effect due to the movement of Chi in the body; yin being released from a female’s nipples. In a more meditative style of sex, the breath guides everything- not the other way around. Any physical movement and rhythm follows the breath, helping the people involved connect through breath, being in a harmonious rhythm with one another. This slow, meticulous, and present way of thinking contrasts the norm in colonial societies today which can be rushed and about the destination rather than the journey. Additionally, being guided by the breath and natural inner flow promotes listening to one’s body which is not practised in a lot of aspects of our lives today.
Language Another thing that Máire Ní G mentioned that struck me as highly interesting was the poetic and loving language used to talk about sex- particularly female anatomy. The vagina was called the ‘Jade Fountain’, breasts were called ‘Bells of Love’, and the clitoris was called the ‘Yin Bean’. Cute and slightly humorous, it doesn’t compare to the language we are used to.
Incorporating Taoist Ideas in Our Lives
Firstly, I think we can learn from the taoist view of sex on a societal level which regards it as a normal part of our lives benefiting our physical, mental, and spiritual health, rather than a matter of morality and taboo. Furthermore, dropping the constraints of gender roles and performance, approaching sex in a gender inclusive and feminist way. For example, one may immediately take on the submissive or dominant role because of their gender’s stereotype, but things don’t have to be as binary. The idea of balance being emphasised in sexual intercourse is also very valuable and can be incorporated in our practice to ensure that everyone taking part is enjoying themselves. Balance opposite forces, for example activity and passivity, bluntness and subtlety, giving and receiving, the list goes on. Ask yourself, what do I need? What does the other person need? Are there signs of imbalance or inequality?
Practices such as meditation, Tai chi, yoga, and breathing exercises are helpful in developing one’s ability to create balance within, cultivating Chi, and learning to be dictated by the breath and natural rhythms. More specifically, one can meditate on and imagine their own flow of Chi through the body, whilst integrating the breath. For example, in Tai chi classes- a Chinese martial art, one gathers yin from the ground and yang from the sky, inhaling to feel Chi going up the spine, exhaling feeling it go down. On a broader scale, recurrent meditation may bring to light characteristics of one’s self, helping us get to know ourselves better and in turn cultivate easy and authentic relationships.
Taoism is about letting go; surrendering to the natural flow of life; about simplicity. Just like trees don’t have to force their leaves to grow, neither do we have to force anything. Surrender, dance, play, and have wonderful, mindful sex.
Edited by Natalie Cheung, Essays Editor