The Rite of First Love: Purity Conquering Lust
The pioneering anthropologist Margaret Mead caused a sensation in 1928 when she published Coming of Age in Samoa. The book documented how young Samoan women postponed marriage for many years while enjoying casual sex with various partners and yet eventually settled down, had children, and lived normal lives. This revelation was upsetting to many Westerners, who didn’t realize that uncensored premarital sex was common in most cultures that hadn’t had contact with Christian missionaries. Mead documented a practice in a society where the rite of passage of first sexual experience is not considered taboo and where young men and women can grow up with healthy attitudes toward their sexuality. Mead’s work has been the subject of much controversy, including contradictions by native Samoans and a contentious book by Derek Freeman.
Ideally, the first sexual experience would bring the joy of mutual intimacy and pleasure as you share yourself with another. Yet so few people have a wonderful “first time” story that we assume that everyone must suffer a disastrous initiation into love. In reality, our initial sexual encounters are painful because so many of us have not completed our earlier initiations and aren’t ready to undergo this passage. Although we are biologically ready for sex as teenagers, and many adolescents today are sexually active, the initiation of first love requires a certain emotional maturity facilitated by a tolerant society and a successful initiation into manhood or womanhood.
After this initiation, you have the power to call forth both the masculine and feminine aspects within yourself as you and your partner alternate in giving and receiving, acting and being acted upon. The masculine energy of the conquest and the feminine
energy of seduction are played out sexually, and two partners complement each other’s feelings and physical longings. These two energies interact to produce passion, creativity, and a delicious tension.
Because so many of us have missed out on the first two spiritual rites of birth and puberty, sex often ends up being a poor imitation of genuine intimacy. Our relationships may become about conquering and manipulating rather than connecting and surrendering to passion. Sleeping with someone before we even know how to spell their last name has become a common practice as we crave connection yet fear intimacy.
Humans are the only animals that make the logical association between mating and reproduction. Animals are driven by instinct to breed, yet many species seem to mate for the sheer pleasure and sensation of the act. For example, the females of some bird species will invite males to mate with them even though they have already laid their eggs. Biologists have read a lot into this behavior, believing it is a trick to fool males into caring for hatchlings that they did not father. But this may be simply humans reading meaning into animal behavior. Masturbation, another sexual behavior that is divorced from reproduction, is also observed throughout the animal world. Even horses that have been castrated engage in regular self-stimulation. Scientists have yet to fully understand the mysteries of sex in its origins in the animal world.
Humans, though, appear to be the only species that can be easily sexually traumatized. Being the object of someone’s lust can cause a fear of intimacy. People who were sexually abused at a young age will sometimes “act out” sexually later on, in an unconscious effort to reclaim their power. For example, they might pride themselves on being excellent at giving oral sex, secretly cheat on their partners, or engage in behaviors that are sadomasochistic-all to regain a sense of control over their sexuality.
No matter what kind of “first time” we’ve had, we can have a rewarding sexual encounter with our present beloved as if for the first time. Without fearing rejection or being embarrassed by our lack of skills, we can practice simply staring into each other’s
eyes and gently touching and kissing, focusing on intimacy rather than intercourse. And by all means avoid “make-up” sex after an argument, which may reconnect two people but can also be an excuse to avoid resolving a major conflict. .
Chimpanzees show amazing displays of intimacy toward each other, but seldom when they’re copulating. Humans have taken on the task of bringing intimacy, caring, vulnerability, and surrender to our mating. Our brain is programmed to crave the
intense experience of orgasm because it’s a fail-safe mechanism designed to ensure our species’ survival. Shamans believe that the energies of love can help them enter higher states of consciousness, as do tantric practitioners who focus on directing the current of sexual ecstasy up the spine, through the chakras, and into the head, in the process awakening the higher brain. In the ecstasy of sex, shamans believe, lies a transcendence that is the closest experience to death one can have in life. After this symbolic death of the individual as a separate self, one discovers a “we” that is greater than the sum of its parts. As the poet Rumi says to his beloved, “For I have ceased to exist, only you are here.” You cease to exist as a separate, disconnected individual and surrender to the bliss of communion.
An orgasm involves a dissolution of “me” and a merging into “us” as the ego steps aside. In fact, the French term for orgasm, Ie petit mort, translates as “the little death.” In that blissful moment of climax, we die to our personal stories and surrender to our
partner and to Spirit.
When we achieve a rapport with a sexual partner that is based on the desire to share pleasure and exploration, we can carry that dynamic of sharing into our experiences outside of the bedroom. The experience of mutual pleasure awakens the bliss centers in the brain, and open us up to joy, love, and mystical experiences. Among the brain regions activated during orgasm are the amygdala and the hypothalamus, which produces oxytocin, the so-called love and bonding hormone. Oxytocin levels jump fourfold during orgasm.
When we feel a certain chemistry with a partner, we are convinced that he or she is “the one.” However, usually the person we’re deeply attracted to is holding a mirror to the emotional dramas we’ve yet to work out. Often when we’re strongly attracted to someone, it’s not just a play of hormones; we are intuitively drawn to partners who we believe will help us work out emotional issues we may not be aware of yet. A soulmate provides us with an excellent opportunity to resolve these issues at last; but while our mates can help us heal, they cannot do the actual healing for us. If we choose to grow through our initiation, and learn our lessons, we won’t remain stuck in the wrong relationship, one that simply repeats the same old emotional dramas. Our relationship becomes the right one, and we become the right partner, instead of continually searching for the right person.
In a culture dominated by masculine values, both men and women have been ignoring the feminine energies required by this rite of passage. The feminine principle honors communion instead of domination. We no longer focus on concerns such as: “What can I get from this person? Is he useful to me? Does he fit into my scheme of how to create a family or a home?” Our relationships no longer become like business transactions. We yield to mutual giving, exploration, and discovery, so our interactions become fluid, like the movements of dancers undulating around a holy fire. We must be willing to welcome the “little death,” knowing that it releases us into true life. You can’t have a great orgasm without a little part of you dying to the greater whole. From my counseling work I’ve come to believe that many men are terrified of the loss of control that orgasm represents, so that they will ejaculate simply to avoid orgasm. For a long time we have equated these two functions, but ejaculation is a physiological release localized in the male genital area, whereas the orgasm, according to neurologist Martin Portner, requires a letting go of inhibition in which the brain center associated with control and vigilance shuts down
The rite of the first sexual experience has implications that extend beyond sex. It is about approaching other people with trust, and a willingness to stretch the imagination beyond its ordinary limits. But with the experience of merging and orgasm comes the acute awareness of mortality. In that moment of surrender to your partner, you may become aware, perhaps for the first time, that you can die to your limited, separate self.