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Sacred Sexuality

Image © Copyright J.B. Hare 1999, All Rights Reserved

Tantra  Kama Sutra
Ancient Sacred Sexuality  Modern Rediscovery  General  Other Texts 

The dominant world religions treat sexuality as (at best) a distraction from the spiritual path. On the other hand, some spiritual traditions integrate sexuality into their spiritual practice. Some regard sexuality as an integral part of life, a gift to be honored and enjoyed. This section contains classic texts which discuss the sacred nature of sexuality and affirm the positive aspects of sex. Some of these texts (the Tantric) are esoteric and touch on the intersection of the spiritual and the physical. Others (such as the Kama Sutra material) are more rooted in the physical world.


Tantra now has its own category.



Kama Sutra

In addition to Tantra, which attributes a spritual dimension to sexuality, India has produced a rich literature of sophisticated sex manuals. In spite of their practical nature, they demonstrate how Indian culture integrated sexuality into everyday life, (including religion and spirituality). This knowledge was supposed to be part of the repetoire of any intelligent and well-educated adult. Several of these were translated in the Victorian Era by freethinking Orientalists.

 Kama Sutra of Vatsayayana
Translated by Sir Richard Burton [1883]
The earliest and best known of the Indian sex manuals. It has been variously dated from 300 B.C. to 400 A.D. This translation was published by the Kama Shastra Society in 1883.

 The Ananga Ranga
Translated by Sir Richard Burton [1885]
An important work of Indian erotology. This book was written by the Indian poet Kalyan Mall much later than the Kama Sutra, in the sixteenth century A.D. This translation was published by the Kama Shastra Society in 1885.

 The Perfumed Garden
by Shaykh Umar ibn Muhammed al-Nefzawi (16th cent. CE), tr. by Sir Richard Burton [1886]
The best-known work by an Islamic scholar on erotology. This translation was published by the Kama Shastra Society in 1886.

About these translations

These translations (as well as the Perfumed Garden and the Priapeia) were produced by Sir Richard Burton and Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot and published by the Kama Shastra Society (founded 1882).

Sir Richard Burton [1821-1890] (not to be confused with the screen actor) was an orientalist and daring explorer. Fluent in Arabic and Islamic culture, Burton was the first Westerner to enter Mecca (in disguise). He is also known for his unexpurgated translation of the Arabian Nights.

F.F. Arbuthnot did most of the actual work of the translations of the Indian works, while working for the Indian Civil Service in Bombay from 1868 to 1879. He was able to consult original texts of the Kama Sutra and Ananga Ranga and discuss their contents with Indian scholars.

The texts were printed ‘for private circulation only’ — a disclaimer required in the stifling atmosphere of Victorian England.

Sacred Sexuality in the Ancient World

In the late 18th century, classical scholars began to take note of a phenomena which they termed ‘Priapus worship’. This was a complex of religious ideas in antiquity including phallic votive objects, fertility ceremonies, sacred prostitution, female and hermaphroditic creator deities, and other heterodox aspects of ancient religion. Much of this information had been surpressed or ignored.

 The Royal Museum at Naples
Being Some Account of The Erotic Paintings, Bronzes, and Statues Contained in that Famous “Cabinet Secret”, by Stanislas Marie César Famin [1871]
Sixty lithographs of erotic Roman art and artifacts, many from Pompeii.

 Mimes of the Courtesans
By Lucian of Samosata, translated by A.L.H. [1928]
An unexpurgated version of Lucian’s comic sketches of the world of the Greek Hetaerae, the ‘working girls’ of the ancient world.

 A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus/Worship of the Generative Powers
This includes the following two works:

 A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus
By Richard Payne Knight [1786]
One of the first studies of ‘Phallic worship’.

 The Worship of the Generative Powers
By Thomas Wright [1866]
Of interest because it attempts to connect the dots between the ‘Witch cult’ and phallic worship.

 The Masculine Cross and Ancient Sex Worship
by Sha Rocco (pseud. of Hargrave Jennings) [1874]

 Influence of the Phallic Idea in the Religions of Antiquity
By C. Staniland Wake [1870]

 Phallic Worship
By Hodder M. Westropp [1870]

 The Priapeia
(Latin and English)
Translated by L.C. Smithers, notes by Sir Richard Burton [1890]
An anonymous collection of bawdy Roman epigrams to the phallic garden-god Priapus. This edition is notable for an extensive tour de force appendix by Sir Burton, which discusses in explicit detail the sexual practices of the classical Pagans, including a vocabulary of dozens of Latin terms for male and female genitalia and short essays about classical references to anal and oral sex, bestiality, exotic dancers, masturbation, sex positions, and the lascivious behavior of the Gods and Goddesses. These appendices were so shocking that Burton disavowed any connection with the book, in spite of obvious internal evidence that he is the co-author.


Modern Rediscovery

In the 19th century a number of pioneering sexologists started to independently rediscover the basic principles of sacred sexuality that were known in India many millenia ago.

 Male Continence
by John Humphrey Noyes [1872]
John Noyes was the founder of the Oneida colony, a group which somewhat successfully abolished marriage. They outlasted many of the other utopian experiments of the time. Oneidans used a technique called ‘Male Continence’ as a form of birth control, but has some interesting side-effects, as Tantric practitioners discovered long ago.

 Karezza, Ethics of Marriage
by Alice B. Stockham [1903]
Stockham addresses the wisdom of controlled intercourse for men as well as women, along with the spiritual implications.

 The Karezza Method
by J. William Lloyd [1931]
A practical manual of controlled intercourse.

General Works

 The Sacred Fire
by Ben Zion Goldberg [1930]
A comprehensive look at the intersection between religion and sexuality.

Other texts

 The Song of Songs
One of the most celebrated love poems of all time, the Song of Songs, usually attributed to King Solomon, is probably a traditional Lebanese wedding song.

 The Poems of Sappho
The famous poetess whose romantic and erotic love poetry transcended gender in the worship of the Goddess Aphrodite.

 The Love Books of Ovid
An English translation of the AmoresArs AmatoriaRemedia Amoris and Medicamina Faciei Femineae by J. Lewis MayEnglish and Latin. [1930]
Ovid discusses the fine points of the Art of Love.

 The Satyricon of Petronius
A satirical trip through the underbelly of Neros’ Rome, with many details of the classical pagan religious treatment of sexuality.

Red Thread Zen
The Buddhist perspective on sexuality.

 The Kojiki and Nihongi
These traditional Japanese creation myths have several episodes which have been cited as indicating a relaxed attitude about the role of sexuality in life.