Medusa (Glyptothek, Munich)

“Surely the reason humans were designed with so much sex energy was to ensure that the species would be propagated. I mean, other animals have a mating season; we mate all year round. It’s ridiculous how much time we spend obsessing over sex.”

This theory was put forth one humid summer morning by one of the psych techs at the clinic where I worked. He was one of the more bizarre members of our staff. He was a small, owlish, young man, who wore wire-rimmed glasses, and parted his short, black hair in the middle of his head. He had a BA in Psychology and was planning to study for his MA and then his doctorate. He enjoyed bad movies and sometimes spoke of them as if he were a connoisseur of mediocrity. Once I was invited to his house for a party and he rented a projector and an eight-millimeter copy—this was before videos and DVDs—of a movie called The Bed-Sitting Room, an English film about the aftermath of a nuclear war where people turn into pieces of furniture.

“Of course it’s a joke,” he went on to say, “that people here talk to me, or any of us, about their sexual problems. What do we know? We went to school and read the books, but most of us have our own sexual issues to deal with.”

Probably about a third of our patients talked to us about their sexual problems, and we, in turn, discussed their sexual problems at our morning staff meetings. The other two-thirds never talked about sex with any of us, but that didn’t keep the psychiatrist, and some of the other staff members, from occasionally making comments about what their sexual problems might be.

In the two years I spent working on the ward the picture I formed about sex and mental and emotional problems was something like this: if sexual problems weren’t at the root of mental and emotional problems, then they, at least, went hand and hand with many disorders. The disorders I’m talking about are problems like depression, paranoia, manic-depression, obsessive behavior, and emotional trauma.

Of course you don’t have to work on a psychiatric ward to see that we as a society are obsessed with sex. Our TV shows and our movies, particularly our comedies, paint a picture of a culture that is preoccupied not only with sex but also with young beautiful people. All you have to do go to a popular concert, or a department store, or a sporting event, or even a political debate to observe our society’s preoccupation with sex.

I think it is fair to say that we expect a lot from our romantic relationships; we expect our relationships to provide us with life goals like happiness, identity, security, and a sense of empowerment. But, as important as sexual relationships are, it’s my belief that we expect too much from them.

Still it has to be said that there are good reasons why we expect so much. For instance, there is a great promise—an anticipation of something higher—in the energy of sex. Sex is meant to empower us, but only in the sense that it gives us a taste of greater possibilities.

There is saying in medieval alchemy that states: ‘In order to make gold, you need to have gold.’ This saying is actually about our inner alchemy—the production of higher energies in the body—and it refers to sex or, more correctly, to sex energy. The theory is that if we didn’t have some experience of higher energy automatically programmed into human activity, it would be impossible, or at least very difficult, for us to know anything about the workings of higher centers. So in this case sex energy can be seen as the gold that we need to have to make gold, and higher centers can be seen as the gold that we create from the gold that we already have.

In order to understand this saying, you first have to be able to distinguish sex energy from sex. Sex is a natural result of sex energy, but sex energy can be used for almost any activity.  The sex center is a separate and independent function—separate from the instinctive, the emotional, and the intellectual centers—but its energy can manifest through all the lower centers. So the energy from sex can be used for activities that have nothing to do with sex. It can be used, for instance, to write a song or a poem, to climb a mountain, to sell a car, to debate a political theory, or to preach a religious sermon. It can be used, or expended, in the expression of negative emotions, or to feed a weakness, or to commit a crime. When sex energy gets into activities besides sex, the resulting behavior is characterized by extremes and by an excitement that isn’t justified by the activity.

Sex energy has the same level of vibration as the energy produced by the higher emotional center. But there are three important differences. The first is place. Sex energy is produced in a different place in the body and in a different place within the energy production process. The second major difference is that sex energy is coarser. The difference can be felt. Think about it this way: sex energy is an unconscious representation of higher energy. Because sex energy is unconscious it can easily attach itself to any number of weaknesses, identifications, and perversions that exist in the mind, the body, and the emotions. This is what Gurdjieff called ‘abuse of sex.’ The third difference is the most important: sex energy is mechanical. It is produced in the machine without conscious effort.

Because sex energy is just energy, it means that it can be used for anything, including conscious evolution.

The role of the sex center in creating a general equilibrium and a permanent center of gravity (in the work) can be very big. ~ G. I. Gurdjieff

The problem in using the sex center for self-remembering is that the lower functions regularly rob the sex center of its energy. The results can be disastrous. When the mind tries to use sex energy, it becomes obsessed; it can’t stop thinking about a person or a subject. When the body tries to utilize sex energy, it becomes tense and overwrought or it runs around in a panic for no reason. And when negative emotions become connected to sex, you end up with emotional dysfunction, impotency, irrational fears, and almost any other psychological problems that can be imagined.

Abnormality, or perversion, in relation to sex is probably best understood as connecting pain, anger, violence, fear, or anything that is negative or repulsive to sex. One of the most important things to understand about sex is that it should have no negative side. Either there are pleasurable and joyful sensations, or there are no sensations at all. Any negativity connected to sex means that the energy from the sex function is being robbed by the lower centers.

The weaknesses, identifications, and perversions that can become attached to sex need, to a large extent, to be overcome before any kind of semi-permanent connection to higher centers is possible. There are a number of reasons for this. In the first place there is the question of energy. The same energy that is expended in weakness and perversion is needed for higher centers to manifest. (It must never be forgotten that consciousness has an energetic side.) We produce a large amount of energy, both through sleep at night and through the process of transforming impressions, air, and food, and if we are serious about connecting to higher centers, a certain amount of that energy needs to go into practices like self-remembering and transformation. The second issue here is transparency. To become more conscious necessarily means that your inner world becomes more transparent and unified, which means that you cannot hide things so easily from yourself. And you cannot connect to higher centers without awakening the emotional center, which means a kind of emotional awareness of yourself and others, and people who live surrounded by negativity and perversion need to stifle their emotions in order to survive the humiliation of their vices.

Sex is often seen in terms of control or liberation, both of which become problematic when taken to an extreme. Trying too much to repress sexual desire will lead to sex energy unduly affecting the rest of your life. This in turn tends to result in extreme behaviors like overeating, rushing, impatience, chattering without thinking, and, in general, a volatility or a certainty in relation to subjects that require, not passion, but balance, generosity, and considered thought. Sexual promiscuity on the other hand tends to lead to a kind of emotional apathy in relation to other important aspects of your life. The passion for conscious evolution—as well as for other pursuits like art, friendship, family, and work—are used up in the pursuit of pleasure.

Both the road to indulgence and the path of repression can lead to abnormalities in sex. In indulgence there is a greater and greater need for stimulation, so there is a tendency to seek energy from negativity and violence, which are the most common expressions of energy in modern culture. In repression the stress of non-expression often connects the stimulation of sex to emotions like panic or fear, or, if they exist, past memories of sexual trauma.

Sex and sex energy play a large part in our sense of who we are. This is so because our feeling of identity is largely dictated to us, not by our daily, commonplace moments, but by our most intense experiences. Intense experiences, sexual or otherwise, force us into ourselves in ways that other, more humdrum experiences cannot. They force us to think and feel at a level that either exhilarates or frightens us. Eventually it becomes possible to have intense experiences without identifying with them, but only by first learning to not identify with ordinary experiences, and that, like so much in the work of conscious evolution, takes practice and time.