Only a few weeks in, my D/s experience with my husband is now hitting me with all the power of a religious conversion. I have that ‘born again’ feeling of being a new person in thrall to a new understanding of God. I lie over Michael’s lap for a spanking and it feels like a spiritual exercise. I make myself vulnerable, allow him to whatever he wants to me, and somehow the more painful and invasive, the more my body feels opened and my soul feels saved. This fascinates me. Why is it impacting me this way? Am I simply drunk on all the chemicals released from the intense sexual stimulation? Or is it possible there is real salvation in sex?
Conventional wisdom says no. In our puritanical culture, sexuality is relegated to the base urges of “the body,” the temporary house for the soul. Judeo-Christian religion especially considers the sexual urges of the body to be a troublesome impediment to soulful concerns. To have sex outside of procreation is to wallow in sin and forsake one’s soul. This unnatural separation of body and spirit has caused all manner of misery and shame for centuries.
Fortunately, “sex is bad” has not been the view of many Eastern cultures. Taoism boasts a millennia-old tradition of cultivating sexual energy for the good of the spirit. I once attended a talk by Taoist teacher name Mantak Chia, and he described the importance of honoring one’s sexuality. “Sexual energy is the commander in chief of all the cells of the body,” he said. “All cells in body and brain respond to the energy of sex, the commands of sex. It is our original pattern. Sexual energy creates us. When you forget sexual energy, you get crazy, you get sick, you get lost.”
Michael and I spent some time exploring the philosophy of Tantra, and learning how to heal the false divide between body and soul. (The word Tantra literally means “woven together.”) Traditional Tantra is not merely about sex, but how to get into a right relationship with all things material. However, the popular version of modern Tantra that shows up in the New Age-y seminars these days focuses almost exclusively on sexual union as the path to God. Workshop Tantra has introduced Americans to the idea that sex, undertaken consciously, can be a holy act which weaves together not just man and woman, but body and spirit, humanity to the divine.
So Tantra at least offers a way to embrace sex as a path to spiritual salvation. But I have to say, the few Tantric workshops Michael and I attended, despite overtly inviting spirit into the sexual arena, did not give me any great bursts of either sexual energy or spiritual insight. Mostly I felt uncomfortable with the loud histrionics of it. Making noise is highly encouraged while doing Tantric exercises to “raise sexual energy.” Pelvic tilting, and mirroring movements, with lots of loud breathing and moaning and, for me, giggling. Of course, many attendees are empowered by such activities, but it struck me as inauthentic. Each experience left me unsettled, like hearing people speak in tongues in church.
Looking back, perhaps another reason Tantric workshops didn’t open any spiritual-sexual doors for me is because of a heavy emphasis on elevating the power of the feminine. The workshops are all very egalitarian, with women encouraged to go after their pleasure and voice their wants in what strikes me as a nice, respectful 50/50 way. It all pointed to more of the same of what we were already doing – just slower. And louder.
Now I know from our BDSM explorations that what seems to raise my sexual energy – make that explode my sexual energy – is to turn over my power to my husband. To become to the opposite of noisy, to become still and quiet and yielding. I gain my sexual power by relinquishing it. Interestingly, David Deida’s theory on sexual polarity between the masculine and feminine – which has been so helpful to me in understanding the power of BDSM – is supposedly drawn from Tantric philosophy.
I wonder what Deida would make of workshop Tantra failing me, but the practice of D/s liberating me. Would he be surprised? Of course, Deida does not explicitly talk about D/s, although it seems to me he is speaking code for it when he uses terms like “ravishment.” When he talks about a woman submitting to her lover, he explains that the woman is submitting to the force of love rather than the individual man. He also talks about our drive to break out of 50/50 ways of relating, and “embrace the taboo.”
After living in a 50/50 relationship for awhile, Deida writes, one begins to “long for the next stage,” where you are no longer equal, no longer serving your own preferences, no longer even serving each other’s preferences. “All you want is to let go and serve love’s preferences, do whatever love demands of you, go wherever it takes you.” You no longer care about your self anymore, he says, or your self’s so-called needs, because you don’t even need a self at all anymore at all. You are only interested in “being lived” by something bigger than you, only interested in dissolving into the ecstasy of big love.
I think of where Michael and I were a few months ago, wandering from one Tantric workshop to another, seeking a doorway to transcendental sex, and not finding it. Then we stumble into D/s, almost by accident, and whoosh! We catch fire, serious fire, and boundaries are dropping away. I am being ravished, he is being worshipped and adored, and we are being lived by this wild force, just as Deida describes.
I am convinced there was no other way for us to get to where we are now, get to unguarded all-consuming and life-transforming love without D/s. Without embracing that taboo. What a surprise to discover that BDSM in general, and D/s in particular, is the doorway, providing us entry to the dynamic of sexual polarity. The abstract idea of surrender to love becomes a concrete action I can experience viscerally. And it gives me the feeling of a Tantric-like joining of body and spirit like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.
I imagine most people look at BDSM a curious fetish, or odd perversion. So I suppose it sounds a little crazy to assert that sexual submission to my husband is a spiritual path. But I don’t feel that Michael and I indulge in this only in order to get off (although it clearly leads to more and deeper getting off). I believe it is our way of getting past the normal 50/50 barriers that have been instilled in us, a way of opening to the mysterious power exchange of love. By serving him, I am serving love. True, it often feels all about him. Each day I am becoming more and more unguarded with him, more and more trusting of him. But in the process, I feel more and more open to love, trusting of love. I am offering up my will to him, but it is the love rushing so madly between us that is consuming my will, taking me out of myself.
I do, however, remember my Buddhist lessons not to confuse the “finger that points at the moon with the moon.” I will endeavor not to confuse the means with the end, not confuse the doorway to getting there (D/s) with the actual there (the love). But I also think it right to acknowledge that the doorway – the way in – is important and necessary and marvelous.