Taoist Sexual Practices
Taoist sexual practices (房中术; 房中術; fángzhōngshù; ‘arts of the bedchamber’) are the ways Taoists may practice sexual activity. These practices are also known as “Joining Energy” or “The Joining of the Essences”. Practitioners believe that by performing these sexual arts, one can stay in good health, and attain longevity or spiritual advancement.
Some Taoist sects during the Han dynasty performed sexual intercourse as a spiritual practice, called “Héqì” (合氣, “Joining Energy”). The first sexual texts that survive today are those found at the Mawangdui. While Taoism had not yet fully evolved as a philosophy at this time, these texts shared some remarkable similarities with later Tang dynasty texts, such as the Ishinpō (醫心方). The sexual arts arguably reached their climax between the end of the Han dynasty and the end of the Tang dynasty.
After 1000 AD, Confucian restraining attitudes towards sexuality became stronger, so that by the beginning of the Qing dynasty in 1644, sex was a taboo topic in public life. These Confucians alleged that the separation of genders in most social activities existed 2,000 years ago and suppressed the sexual arts. Because of the taboo surrounding sex, there was much censoring done during the Qing in literature, and the sexual arts disappeared in public life. As a result, some of the texts survived only in Japan, and most scholars had no idea that such a different concept of sex existed in early China.
Ancient and medieval practices
Qi (lifeforce) and Jing (essence)
The basis of all Taoist thinking is that qi (氣) is part of everything in existence. Qi is related to another energetic substance contained in the human body known as jing (精), and once all this has been expended the body dies. Jing can be lost in many ways, but most notably through the loss of body fluids. Taoists may use practices to stimulate/increase and conserve their bodily fluids to great extents. The fluid believed to contain the most Jing is semen. Therefore, Taoists believe in decreasing the frequency of, or totally avoiding, ejaculation in order to conserve life essence.
Male control of ejaculation
Many Taoist practitioners link the loss of ejaculatory fluids to the loss of vital life force: where excessive fluid loss results in premature aging, disease, and general fatigue. While some Taoists contend that one should never ejaculate, others provide a specific formula to determine the maximum amount of regular ejaculations in order to maintain health.
The general idea is to limit the loss of fluids as much as possible to the level of your desired practice. As these sexual practices were passed down over the centuries, some practitioners have given less importance to the limiting of ejaculation. Nevertheless, the “retention of the semen” is one of the foundational tenets of Taoist sexual practice.
There are different methods to control ejaculation prescribed by the Taoists. In order to avoid ejaculation, the man could do one of several things. He could pull out immediately before orgasm, a method also more recently termed as “coitus conservatus.” A second method involved the man applying pressure on the perineum, thus retaining the sperm. While if done incorrectly this can cause retrograde ejaculation, the Taoists believed that the jing traveled up into the head and “nourished the brain.”
Another important concept of “The Joining of the Essences” was that the union of a man and a woman would result in the creation of jing (精), a type of sexual energy. When in the act of lovemaking, jing would form, and the man could transform some of this jing into qi, and replenish his lifeforce. By having as much sex as possible, men had the opportunity to transform more and more jing, and as a result would see many health benefits.
The concept of Yin and yang is important in Taoism and consequently also holds special importance in sex. Yang usually referred to the male sex, whereas Yin could refer to the female sex. Man and Woman were the equivalent of heaven and earth, but became disconnected. Therefore, while heaven and earth are eternal, man and woman suffer a premature death. Every interaction between Yin and Yang had significance. Because of this significance, every position and action in lovemaking had importance. Taoist texts described a large number of special sexual positions that served to cure or prevent illness, similar to the Kama Sutra.
For Taoists, sex was not just about pleasing a man. The woman also had to be stimulated and pleased in order to benefit from the act of sex. Su Nu, female advisor to the “Yellow Emperor” (Huang Di, 黄帝), noted 10 important indications of female satisfaction. If sex were performed in this manner, the woman would create more jing, and the man could more easily absorb the jing to increase his own qi. According to Jolan Chang, in early Chinese history women played a significant role in the Dao (道) of loving, and that the degeneration into subordinate roles came much later in Chinese history. Women were also given a prominent place in the Ishinpō, with the tutor being a woman. One of the reasons women had a great deal of strength in the act of sex was that they walked away undiminished from the act. The woman had the power to bring forth life, and did not have to worry about ejaculation or refractory period. To quote Laozi from the Dao De Jing: “The Spirit of the Valley is inexhaustible…Draw on it as you will, it never runs dry.”
Women also helped men extend their lives. Many of the ancient texts were dedicated explanations of how a man could use sex to extend his own life. But, his life was extended only through the absorption of the woman’s vital energies (jing and qi). Some Daoists came to call the act of sex “the battle of stealing and strengthening.” These sexual methods could be correlated with Daoist military methods. Instead of storming the gates, the battle was a series of feints and maneuvers that would sap the enemy’s resistance. Jolan points out that it was after the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-906) that “the Dao of Loving” was “steadily corrupted,” and that it was these later corruptions that reflected battle imagery and elements of a “vampire” mindset. Other research into early Daoism found more harmonious attitudes of Yin Yang communion.
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- Health Benefits of the Bedchamber
- Ishinpō (醫心方)
- “Priceless Recipe” by Sun S’su-Mo (Tang)
- “Hsiu Chen Yen I” by Wu Hsien (Han)
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- History of Taoist Sexual Development in China
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Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia