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From Daniel Pinchbeck: The Sexual Revolution, Take Two

August 12, 2007

From the August 2007 Whole Life Times Prophet Motive Column:

For the last few years, I have been exploring the nature of sexuality, love, and relationships, both personally and philosophically. When I separated from my last partner, I realized that I did not feel that monogamy was working for me as a model. Yet I also knew that I craved long-lasting, deep, and sustainable relationships. Since then, I have sought to reconcile my conflicting yearnings, and wondered if other models of relationships are possible or desirable.

Just as we are undergoing a second stage of the process of shamanic initiation that was curtailed at the end of the 1960s, we have entered a wiser and more integrated phase of the Sexual Revolution that crested thirty-five years ago. A more conscious approach to erotic relationships requires a sympathetic awareness of the differences between men and women, and an acceptance of individual distinctions as well. In the 1950s, the scandalous Kinsey Report on human sexuality revealed the vast variety of human sexual experience, and showed that a huge number of people sought intimate contact outside of the confines of their marital relationships. The opening of sexuality in the 1960s led to deflationary decadence in the disco culture of the 1970s, and a pop cultural ambience of constant stimulation and insatiation that the philosopher Herbert Marcuse called “repressive desublimation.”

We are still struggling with millennia of negative conditioning — Judeo-Christian guilt, shame, and original sin — around the subject of sexuality. We also belong to a culture that denigrates bodily pleasure and intimacy. In our culture, infants are separated from their parents as soon as they are born and placed in hospital nurseries. In tribal and aboriginal cultures, infants tend to be almost inseparable from their mothers’ bodies for the first years of their life. As Robert Lawlor notes in his book Earth Honoring, absence of touch in early life may have long-lasting psychological consequences: For aboriginal peoples, happiness is a natural state of being. For denizens of the modern industrialized world, happiness tends to be a distant and almost unattainable goal.

We may not be able to make meaningful progress in the world without a new paradigm for understanding, and embodying, eroticism in its many forms — our dominating attitude toward nature and the Earth is the result of an age-old schism between masculine and feminine energies that requires rebalancing, in the bedroom and the boardroom and the individual psyche. In the twentieth century, psychoanalysts such as Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Reich realized that misdirection of sexual energy led to build-ups of frustration and aggression, both individually and collectively.

Wars and other mass psychoses such as fascism can be linked to sexually repressive or abusive practices in childrearing. The unnatural desire for power over others and control of other people’s reproductive functions by fundamentalists and leaders of the radical right could be the result of psychological complexes caused by distortions of sex energy in early childhood, leaving permanent wounds.

Beyond the use of sex for procreation, many spiritual disciplines — including Tantra, Taoism, and Western alchemy – employ sexual energy for spiritual self-creation, channeling the life-force inward and upward through practices involving breath control, vaginal muscular control, semen retention, and visualizations. A disciplined approach to sexual liberation that applies such practices — a ritualized and resacralized realization of Eros — could become an essential aspect of future human development. In an increasingly overpopulated world, a revisioning of sexuality as one pathway to higher consciousness and the Sacred — and of pleasure and happiness as natural aspects of being — could lead to a profound paradigm shift.

For men and women, a transformation of consciousness around sexuality takes different forms. Young men in our culture are conditioned to avoid emotion and intuition and reared on violent video games and horror films that give them a predatory and alienated sense of self, and an aggressive orientation toward sexuality. Young women learn to use their sexual attractiveness as a form of power that can bring them material rewards — and to see their “value” as attached to their desirability. The only way to overcome these deeply ingrained and highly toxic cultural stereotypes is through inner work, warrior determination, and the lived expression of new cultural archetypes.

In a culture that allows for and encourages individual variety in relationship and sexual preferences, some people will remain happily monogamous, but some will prefer to create new models combining personal liberation, self-discipline, and commitment. A deeper integration of masculine and feminine energies could only happen through a compact based on trust, cooperation, acceptance of difference, and a willingness to collaborate in exploration.

Historically, cultural change starts with the few and moves to the many. If a small group — an alternative culture defined by self-awareness and acceptance of difference — makes a real shift in their expression of sexual polarity, love, and relationship dynamics, this new model could quickly become available to a much larger population. Lately, I see many signs of this change happening in the communities that I visit, as if some ancient wall of silence, judgment, and accumulated mistrust between men and women is finally crumbling, allowing for new levels of communion.

Daniel Pinchbeck is the author of Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism (Broadway Books, 2002) and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl (Tarcher/Penguin, 2006). His features have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Wired and many other publications.

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