A funny thing happened on the way to orgasm. The bedroom I was in began dissolving. Without having imbibed even a glass of wine at lunch, I watched in amazement as the white walls and ceiling of the familiar room transformed into those of a round pink chamber with a silver Greek key border near the ceiling. Was this just some weird fantasy or daydream?
Suddenly I was no longer in any room with my lover at all, no longer sheltered in his house from the snow blanketing the wintry northeast but standing on the sun-bright shores of a sandy beach, squinting at the glittering waves come rushing toward me. I was surrounded by vivid sea creatures, fish and octopi. Bemused, I wondered if I had somehow been swept into the water from the beach, but gradually I realized the sea creatures were not real, but images. Images painted in the unmistakable style of frescoes from the ancient civilization of Crete, a culture about which I knew nothing. It didn’t matter. I was filled with the most exquisite rapture and bliss I had ever experienced.
Eventually I found myself back in the familiar bedroom, still making love. My lover had apparently noticed nothing. Had I lost my mind? How long had I been “away?” I had never slipped out of reality before. I didn’t say anything about it, rather ashamed to let my lover know I had strayed so far from his attentions and feeling pretty crazy about it to boot. But I never forgot it either.
Later, on other occasions during sex, more strange things happened. Always I was filled with ecstasies a thousand times larger and more compelling than even the most intense orgasm. One day, I couldn’t contain it any more and began laughing and excitedly, embracing and talking to my lover what had happened.
He looked at me oddly, and then confessed that he, too, after a lifetime of sex, had been having some strange things happen when he was in bed with me. His experiences were nothing like mine. We both had been afraid we were losing our minds, but if so, it was the most glorious experience in all the world, one that opened each of us to ecstatic and spiritual realms we had never dreamed existed, experiences beyond those offered by psychedelics or a meditation practice.
Both of us were experienced in other types of altered states, and in fact, both of us research different states of consciousness. My own career is based on understanding and applying research on normal and non ordinary consciousness for personal growth. I work in business, helping leaders and organizations be more effective in designing systems that accommodate differences in adult awareness, and I conduct research into more unusual areas for the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto. I decided to investigate what was going on in a more serious way. The results were so amazing, that after publishing a series of articles, I wrote a book, Transcendent Sex: When Lovemaking Opens the Veil.
The great news is you don’t have to study Tantric lovemaking or special esoteric arts to be carried into other realms during sex. You certainly don’t have to be a sex god or goddess. The fact is, the ordinary act of lovemaking can be the most widely available path to higher consciousness for most people. People who have experienced a transcendent episode during sex usually believe they have tapped into divine forces, even if they are atheists or agnostics. These experiences are so extreme they change people’s views of sex and spirituality. They have literally changed people’s lives.
This research provides an explanation for the sexual-spiritual basis of most ancient religions by showing that mystical experiences happen every day in the bedroom to a significant proportion of the population. Sacred sex is still going on. In fact, it seems to be irrepressible. The act of lovemaking can trigger intense episodes that feature the identical characteristics found in the highest spiritual states documented in such diverse religions as Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as well as those cited in the annals of yoga and recent research on shamanism. The controversy surrounding the combination of sex and spirit has kept one of the most powerful forces for ecstasy and personal transformation in the closet for centuries.
Most large studies of sex turn up spiritual experiences, and most large studies of spirituality turn up sex. But this linkage has been hidden from the public eye, just as near-death experiences happened but were not talked about until they were “discovered” recently. It seems likely that one in every eight to twelve people will have at least one transcendent experience during sex in a lifetime, but most people are reluctant to talk about them for the same reasons my partner and I were. Most of the people I interviewed said they had never told anyone else about what happened to them in the bedroom—not even their lovers—because they were afraid of being called crazy or of having a deeply meaningful spiritual experience mocked or made fun of by others. That was what kept a lot of people from talking about near-death experiences, too, before they became part of the public conversation.
What about Tantric Yoga and Taoism, spiritual traditions that have been adapted to Western culture as a way of working with sexual energy? Of course those paths have always acknowledged the sacredness and transformational power of sex, but they usually involve special techniques and training, and the modern versions often just focus on more and better orgasms or relating to your partner better. In reality, you don’t need to believe or practice anything special to have a mystical experience during sex. It can happen to anyone at any time, and the experiences aren’t necessarily what you’d think. They don’t have anything to do with your conscious beliefs about religion, sex, or anything else!
Transcendent Sexpresents fascinating, funny, and strange cases from 91 people—ordinary people, the kind we pass on the street every day—hairdressers, lawyers, sales people, shop owners who had grown up in average American homes, most of them with some kind of fairly traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs. Some were very conflicted about sex, and a lot of them didn’t believe in God any more. And then boom! One day they got ambushed in the bedroom by something they never expected, just like I did. Baptists had Zen experiences of nirvana during sex. Catholics went on shamanic journeys to other worlds. Jews felt the presence of the Holy Ghost. Atheists were possessed by ancient fertility gods or sucked into past lives. You never know what’s going to happen, but it can change your life and change your attitude about sex and spirituality for good.
Transcendent sex is distinguishable from ordinary sex because people’s normal sense of reality changes: they no longer feel like themselves, or their lovers may no longer be recognizable; the “rules” of how the world works may be changed, or they are no longer in the here-and-now, but in another time and place. Sometimes all of these categories break down. Transcendent episodes during sex resemble the altered states associated with high levels of attainment in various spiritual traditions, including:
Feeling transported to other locations
Experiencing waves of heat, energy, and light
Participating directly in the animal and plant life of the earth or in other natural forces
Re-living past lives
Being visited by gods and other avatars
Being possessed by spirits
Embodying spiritual forces, such as speaking in tongues
Dissolving into the primordial Void, such as nirvana or Samadhi
Dissolving into God or the great I AM
A good example is Chester, a student who had taken a graduate class on my research into sex, gender, and spirituality, and who called me up one day demanding to talk. I was afraid he wanted to dispute his grade because he hadn’t seemed particularly receptive to the material in class, but he wanted me to talk with his girlfriend Alice who needed help. She had had a frightening transcendent episode while they were making love, which he was able to recognize and facilitate, although he had never experienced such a thing himself.
Alice had begun trembling violently in his arms as her soul seemed to leave her body, accelerating faster and faster the farther away it became. She had never had an out-of-body experience, and she thought she was dying.
Chester, unaware of exactly what she was experiencing, remembered what he had learned from the class, and had the presence of mind to encourage her to relax within the safety of his arms and to trust herself to the experience rather than to fight it. He watched her trembling subside and then saw her go into a “superdreaming” state in which her eyes were moving extremely rapidly behind her closed lids. As he stroked her soothingly, Chester felt what he described as waves of energy radiating from her body, discernible even when his hand was suspended a few inches above her skin.
Once she had calmed down, Alice said that she had permitted herself to go back into the experience, as if she had been willing to “go through a doorway.” This time, instead of rushing through space away from her body, she found herself surrounded by the presence of God. At once she could feel throughout her entire being how totally precious and beloved she was—and that everyone is—and that all the things she regretted in her life made absolutely no difference in this flood of unconditional love and light. God was nothing like she expected. Instead of learning how she didn’t measure up or being given an assignment for what she was to accomplish in life, she realized that she was perfectly loved just as she was, regardless of what she had done or ever would do.
When she came back to the ordinary world, Alice was euphoric—and violently ill for some hours. The terrible nausea did nothing to dampen her ecstasy. She and Chester had eaten exactly the same meal, so they knew there was no physical reason for her sickness, and that was part of why they were frightened and sought my counsel.
Alice and Chester wanted to know if anyone else had ever gotten sick after a transcendent episode during sex, but this was a first. However, Alice gave me some important clues when she was telling me her story. The expression she used for feeling remorse and shame was that she always “swallowed her guilt,” and “pushed the guilt down into her stomach.” Recently that guilt had been overwhelming since Alice felt she had failed in God-given missions to work with orphaned refugees overseas and had had to come back to the United States.
Now with her new understanding, there was no reason to retain the guilt any more. Alice said she recovered completely in a few hours and was still ecstatic when I met her weeks later. Of course I had no expertise she needed beyond the truth of her own experience, but I could tell her that her experience was not unique. Chester’s knowing what to do had provided the ground for her transformative episode to occur, and it deepened their love and faith so that both of them were changed.
Alice’s and Chester’s story illustrates another point in Transcendent Sex: since otherworldly sexual experiences can come upon people unawares, lovers may be far more vulnerable than meditators or others who are deliberately cultivating altered states. People who are unprepared—especially whose world views do not include spiritual or supernatural events—can be frightened and even destabilized by such a “break” in their normal reality. Some underwent several years of psychotherapy or other professional intervention to come to terms with their experience. It’s important to understand how powerful these sexual events can be. Their dark side can lead to an addictive need to be in a relationship, delusions concerning the partner and ‘rightness’ of the relationship, and have a negative effect on the person’s ability to function. There are steps people can take to prepare themselves for this eventuality and to avoid putting themselves in harm’s way in potentially dangerous liaisons.
For the most part, though, people I met reported very positive impacts from these sexual episodes, like those of other spiritual openings. Former atheists and agnostics became spiritual seekers; people developed more loving relationships, not only for their partners, but for others; still others determined to change dysfunctional life patterns and let go of self-limiting beliefs. Remarkably, a number of participants who had been suffered childhood sexual abuse became able to remain present and enjoy sex, even become orgasmic. I think it is ultimately the words of people who have had these experiences that are the most convincing of how powerful they are, how to invite them into your life, and how transformative they can be.
For instance, a participant called “Richard” says: “Having been a Catholic seminarian, sex was very taboo, and I’d grown up in a home with parents who were forbidding and repressed. These experiences have really helped me rehabilitate sex from this cesspool of moral judgment. I realized for the first time that sex really could be a vehicle for transcendence. That seemed to be the whole point of my experience. It’s really deepened [my relationship]. The problems don’t matter because all that matters is our closeness. It has that feeling of a Spirit-guided state, where the point of power is in the present. It’s a physical manifestation of my spiritual practice, and I see it as one of the highest forms.”
A woman, speaking for many, mentions how much easier it is for her to act with compassion, “It transformed my life, my outlook. I have these feelings for my partner now, seeing the hairs in his ears or something that would maybe be ugly or whatever, and I just feel so good for him. It’s wonderful. And it translates to other people. It does translate.”
And Elaine, a woman who lives in a spiritual community and has been a practicing Buddhist for decades, says of her sexual spiritual openings, “I suppose when I describe it, it will sound like a form of psychosis….Of course you know this is not a psychotic experience by its results. Once time is no longer still…and normal life resumes, you are changed, but in a good way. Your other relationships are enhanced by the experience also because you have changed. Somehow a string of that love experience is woven throughout your other relationships, career, etc. [You gain] tolerance for others who are not so knowing…and a great compassion for them as well as others….The impact of such an experience is immense.”
Transcendent Sex: When Lovemaking Opens the Veil is available from Simon & Schuster’s Paraview/Pocket Books Division, book stores, and through Amazon.com. For more information, or to contribute your own story, see http://www.transcendentsex.org.