Please note that this essay contains verbal material that is sexually explicit and those of an anxious or mildly neurotic disposition or who have an aesthetic distaste for such matters should not read on.
The problem with sexual magic or magick is its history - its practice has derived from the eclectic acquisition of many traditions under conditions where nothing might be said or broadcast to the world for fear of shame or, in certain societies, persecution.
But perhaps a future shift in Western consciousness about sexual autonomy (only one element in the debate about autonomy) does not lie in the appropriation of these traditions or the maintenance of the idea that, somehow, sexuality is so different and dangerous that it has to be surrounded by ritual and performance.
Perhaps sexuality is far more 'normal' than we think even if it contains risks that must be accounted for.
Doubts About Traditionalism
Take the tradition of the retention of semen. This is a Taoist convention apparently linked to longevity but it also emerges as karezza, almost certainly independently, in the modern West.
It links to 'coitus reservatus' (the standard use of Latin is often a clue to a neurotic refusal to face up to what is going on as 'normal') and there are Tantric equivalents.
Magical import has been placed on this practice with an elaborate ritualistic language of spirituality despite it largely being a) an attempt to accommodate high sexual energy with poor contraceptive methods and b) often emphasises the ability to extend male pleasure to a level believed to be spiritual without real regard for the 'vessel' (the woman).
Modern technology can now largely sweep away the fear of pregnancy (with a bit of common sense) even if, ironically, fear of disease now returns us to the condom quite quickly, so the central issue is b) - do such techniques really improve matters or are they based on 'false consciousness'.
We are reminded here that our Taoist friends were not scientifically well informed and, indeed, that they poisoned themselves with mercury intake. Their insights were 'a priori'.
Science seems to be telling us much that casts doubt on the Taoist model - orgasm is in itself a 'good' in terms of health and welfare and we do not now have to rely on Wilhelm Reich for some understanding that it also has positive socio-psychological effects.
For a great deal of humanity, joyful sexual engagement is a major factor in relieving stress and tension but I will leave you to study the links and come to a view, assuming God has not told you not to do so.
Keeping the Baby, Throwing Out the Bath Water
The spiritualisation of the orgasm (incomprehensible to many people but a fact of the matter to others) is merely the extension of the orgasm from 'coping' with reality to a process that, insofar as reality is constructed by perception, radically transforms reality through transforming a person's perception of reality.
The struggle between a given and socially constructed reality and the inner reality of a person, which is at the heart of a great deal of human misery, is not necessarily a sexual matter by any means but sexual repression and transformation through sexual engagement provides a resolution of that struggle for many people.
From this perspective, the effect on longevity (the Taoists' main purpose) of failing to orgasm is not merely unproven but looks to be as precisely as wrong as the imbibing of mercury while the length of the act may indeed have excellent effects on the self-trained male but requires a level of tolerance from most women beyond reason.
Of course both Taoism and and Tantra were quite blunt about the receptacle and submissive nature of the woman. Sincere devotees of their techniques have had to do a fair number of somersaults in the last century to introduce some notion of gender equality and take account of homosexual and 'third sex' aspirations.
The key issues here are the recognition that sacral sex is a personal development strategy and not couple therapy (as in neo-tantra) and the insight that sacral-sexual techniques mobilise the chemical interplay behind mind and body to create transformative states that can be legitimately interpreted as 'divine' (even if there is no divine objectively speaking).
Honesty & Difference
The obvious problem is that male and female body chemistries have requirements that are so different that the transformative techniques are not likely to be identical.
One school of thought is blunt about what this may mean - the 'other' is abstracted as a vessel and receptacle, albeit one that is treated with respect. There is a whole ethical debate that is inconclusive about whether a 'magical practitioner' actually informs their partner about what they are up to in this respect.
Some of this debate descends into a matter of angels dancing on the head of a pin because all sexual activity involves both a deep inwardness (including unshared fantasy) and a sense of bonding that, at its best, is felt as a merging of persons. Our Tantra series will explore this further at a much later date.
It is only convention that has Westerners speaking of the bonding in romantic terms without recognising the existence of the former self-absorbed inwardness.
It is not just that the inwardness is often transgressional or incommunicable but the other party is, bluntly, probably not interested in yours because it cuts across their own experience and their transgressive thoughts.
Part of the sheer pleasure of a loving sexual relationship is the right to be yourself in your own head and that is not in the slightest bit incompatible with radical differences in actual experiences (inevitable anyway given male and female body chemistry in any serious heterosexual play) and of different fantasy imagery.
The Mind-Body Relationship in Sacral Sexuality
The baby that we might wish to save in the traditions, alongside a pragmatic approach to technique, is the 'allegorical' role of their modelling of how the body works as perceived by the mind rather than as described objectively by scientists. In essence, we are speaking of different truths for different purposes.
As our biochemistry shifts in response to sensory stimulation, we 'sense' changes in our body that are not the same as emotions. They are physical concomitants of emotions - such as a fluttering in the chest or a dullness in the forehead - and much of the art of 'magic' directed at the body is about the mastery of these sensations and their redirection.
The entire infrastructure of the chakhras, like the circulation of energies in Taoist thought, is a pre-scientific but perfectly realistic attempt to describe actual phenomena that exhibit themselves in different ways in different persons.
Some of these sensations will never be present in some people. In others, they can be awakened.
If these sensations are observed and cultivated, they match the felt sense of an energy that can be guided in a way that appears to be observable in terms of cause and effect through the body until something takes place that can easily be interpreted as of the highest spiritual nature, a transformative moment of devastating effect.
Such descriptions are pre-scientific but science has still not be able to produce its own adequate description of the 'felt' management of the body by the mind, in part because the experience is unique to the individual and incommunicable. The framework for its description is more poetic and analogical than anything science can cope with.
Given that pre-scientific traditional thinking identified some real felt phenomena, we can draw a distinction between the analysis of meaning and working (which resulted in errors over mercury and semen retention) and the actual skill and success of the techniques in making a cause have an effect that could lead to an explosion of new meanings.
In other words, if we can identify the phenomena in ourselves and assuming we will ourselves to a meaning and do not decide, rather than have decided for us, that we would prefer a socialised to an individuated meaning, then these techniques can be learned and improved upon, the better (I contend) if they are stripped of the cultural accretions of the past.
The Ethics of Sex
One of these techniques is the managed use of sexual stimulation ... and, the modern would add, the full body or extended orgasm (of special value to the female who can reach heights in this respect undreamt of by any male tantrik adept or taoist priest).
Ethically, one person could reasonably use another as a magical vessel so long as the process was not a betrayal of private trust in regard to bonding (or involved a conscious decision not to bond on both sides which is perfectly possible) and showed a balance of respect over time.
What do I mean by balance of respect over time? This is that, assuming a bonding beyond one event, and unlike the use of the deliberate use of a 'lower caste' vessel in Tantric or, implicitly, some Taoist lore, a sort of unspoken magical balance is provided between the needs of the partners, with no prejudice intended here against polyamory.
In this context, inwardness is best served by a degree of communication not as to detail but as to attitude, an openness about preferred technique and fantasy, no matter how radical in content, that permits the one to give to the other in Situation A in order that they may be given in Situation B.
This deals with the problem of equality because, at Situation A, the female (we stick to the heterosexual for the argument here) permits the male to lose themselves in adapted techniques for his biochemistry but, in Situation B, the male responds to her biochemical needs in order to get the appropriate level of orgasmic energy for her.
It has to be said immediately that all human beings are on a massively variable continuum of libidinous energy and that this waxes and wanes with perception and with external conditions so there are no laws as such to love-making. Each moment is its own moment so we are left with an attitude, a form of will or a sense of an individuated self.
A Caveat to Criticism
Before we leave the subject, we should not be too negative about the 'retention of semen' model because it does represent a very specific technique that does have its particular use.
There is a biochemical kick-back from certain techniques that halt male orgasm at the very moment before fulfilment. These clearly do have effects that are dramatic.
The mental modelling is based on the idea (that somehow feels right even if it is not right) that the fluids in our body are all closely connected - this idea is very much at the root of the Taoist and alchemical concepts of a furnace in the bowels circulating fluids so that mental and physical acts can purify and drive these fluids towards 'gnosis'.
Not to expend a fluid but to kick it back at the moment of highest felt pressure into the body reverses the orgasmic sensation as a shudder that shifts perception of the body in radical ways - and, with body integrated to mind, changes the mind from one state of excitation to another state altogether.
So, while I have been critical of the Taoist approach or that of Karezza at the macro-sexual level, at the micro-sexual level, it is something that 'works' as a technique. To run one's sexuality on it as a law strikes me as inappropriate but to experience the situation with a willing partner may have individual benefits.
Taking Things Forward
Tradition and past 'teachers' can get in the way of something much more normal that our society allows. It is not just that we have to cope with an historic Judaeo-Christian mythos of repression but also with a trivial public presentation of sexuality for commercial reasons which masquerades as liberation.
Our culture has developed an increasingly untenable situation where we live in a huge shopping window of theoretical sexual possibilities at which we stare like podgy armchair viewers of sporting events, observers and not participants.
Meanwhile, no one dare discuss such matters because the shame culture still subsists at the provincial and daily level, in the home and in the work-place. Desire is massively displaced into an inactive voyeurism - impotence being the equivalent of the sports fan's obesity.
If we shift our perceptions dramatically back to ourselves as individuals who sit at a natural place in the continuum of libidinal energies where it is good for ourselves (including the choice of a-sexuality as well as hyper-sexuality), we can negotiate and calibrate our attitude to sexuality more precisely, ideally making it less an obsessive interest and more a tool for self development and long-lasting relationships.