sex (or the lack thereof) and the single gaijin

Posted on: Tue, 04/24/2007 - 08:52 By: Tom Swiss

Back out to Kyoto today, on the Hankyu train now...

So Friday, after I got back home from Kyoto I decided to bike down to Shinsaibashi and go out for the evening (it being Friday night and all). Ended up at Cinquecento. Randomly met another one of Eric's co-workers - on Wednesday a new guy from Australia, Rob, had turned up at the dojo, he's a teacher at KIS, now Friday I met Kendel, another KIS teacher, from New Zealand.

A Japanese girl a few stools down decided to introduce herself. Introduce herself rather vigorously, one might say. She was nice to talk to, seemed an outsider in her own country, a hardcore punk rock fan, lonely, and I was happy to talk to her (even as, I must admit, I was eying other women). But I just wasn't interested in taking her home, as she quite clearly suggested. (Two warning signs that, IMHO, one should be very careful about getting involved with someone are the name or logo of a band tattooed on their body, and cutting scars. While neither of these are absolute deal-killers - people do change, after all, and get left with regrettable tattoos and scars after the fact - the presence of both warrants extreme caution.)

"Do you like Japanese girls?" she asked.

"Sure. I like all kinds of girls - Japanese girls, American girls, whatever." In my life I've gone from a hamburger-lover to a vegan, from a Catholic to a Zen Pagan, but I had it figured out real early that I liked girls. It was certainly never a matter of "choice", as some homophobes would have it - I was born heterosexual and seem stuck that way, even if logic suggests we'd all be better off bi (and thus maximize our chances of a date).

When I said she was cute (which she was, in a punk sort of way) but I didn't think it would be a good idea to take her home, she asked, "So are you gay?" Obviously the only reason a gaijin guy wouldn't want to bed any available Nihonjin girl would be that he preferred guys (presumably Nihonjin guys), right?

"No, no, I'm not gay." (I thought the last question would have covered that.)

"Oh, do you have a girlfriend?"

"Well, yes, back in America. We have an open relationship, though...."

"Well then, we should go back to your place..."

So let us pause to consider why a fellow with a healthy libido and no exclusive relationship, might still choose to not jump in bed with a willing lady.

One of the precepts of Buddhism, the basic ethical guidelines, is not to misuse sexuality. The question of just what it means to misuse it, is somewhat vague.

(I'm back at Daitokuji, in Ryogen-in, now; Ikkyu's old haunt seems a good place to consider this.)

No question that sex has its hazards on the whole attachment-forming, suffering-causing thing. Love and sex cause a lot of misery. We fall for someone, then pine when they don't return our affection. Or we do manage to get a date, and are disappointed when the reality doesn't live up to the fantasy. Or the thing works out and you have a relationship - and suffer when it ends. The best you can hope for is that it ends when one of you dies! And in between are all the opportunities of jealousy, disappointment, fear, and obsession.

What a minefield! What shall we do?

(I write that, look up, and a kimono-ed cutie walks around the corner away from me. Even here in a Zen garden, writing about the problem of it all, my heart jumps.)

Certainly celibacy is one approach. Not having sex does mean that one is unable to use sex harmfully. Assuming that one can keep the vow - not-doing it doesn't take away the desire. As recent revelations about Catholic priests show, celibacy has its pitfalls.

Also it misses an opportunity to use that energy. A well-known koan tells of a lay woman who supported a monk for many years. One day she sent her lovely young niece to test him. The girl visited the monk in his hut, climbed up on his lap, and said, "How is it now, oh monk?"

The monk replied, "Cold ashes. No fire."

When the girl returned and told her aunt what had transpired, the woman was outraged, called the monk a fraud, and chased him out! He had failed to use the moment to work toward the liberation of all beings.

(Does that mean it would have been appropriate for him to screw her? Maybe; my favorite Zen lunatic, Ikkyu, might have. Maybe not, if it would have been just for his own pleasure, without affection or even respect for the girl. But "cold ashes" wasn't right when there was someone bringing energy, heat that could be used to power the liberation of sentient beings.)

We ought to keep in mind that the teachings of old wisdom schools were given in an age before reliable birth control. For a man to have sex meant having kids and taking up the responsibilities of a householder. (Or abandoning your kid and your pregnant girlfriend, which is definitely not the best karma to go generating.) So teachings about celibacy and marriage should be considered in that light.

Celibacy for clergy and monks was also a tool used in some cultures to control the power of organized religion. A powerful priest with kids was sometimes tempted to use his power for his family's benefit.

Marriage is the option put forth by most mainstream religions for laypeople, and in many for clergy too. Find one person and agree to exclusive sexual relations.

But marriage doesn't remove jealousy, disappointment, fear, and obsession. The statistics on infidelity and divorce show that.

More than that, marriage is based on a lie: that one can make a promise about emotion.

Our feelings, like everything else, are impermanent. We may love someone greatly today, but we cannot promise to still love them in five, ten, or twenty years. It's no wonder that more and more marriages are ending in divorce now that the law allows it - it's not a failure of people, it's a basic flaw in the model.

That's not to say there are not successful marriages, people who do make it work. Just because we can't promise that love will last, doesn't mean it doesn't sometimes happen. And that's a fine thing. But to put it forth as a general solution is deficient; to put it forth as the only solution, is cruel and ignorant.

So if we don't go down the celibacy route, and if marriage is out, how do we deal with sexuality and the misuse thereof? Just screw anyone who's willing? That's just jumping into middle of the minefield. You at least need a guideline for spotting the mines.

The advice columnist Dan Savage has suggested that the rule for getting involved with a much younger lover is the same as for campsites: leave them better than you found them. I would suggest that the same rule applies regardless of age - and not just for your lover, but for you. If both you and your potential lover aren't going to be improved by your encounter - whether it be a single hour or a lifetime - I suggest that it's best to let it go and redirect that energy.

So the question is, is going to bed with this person going to hasten - or at least not delay - the day when all sentient beings become enlightened? Is this something that at least has a chance of leaving us both slightly better people? Is getting with them going to get us closer to that ancient heavenly connection in the starry dynamo in the machinery of night?

I didn't think taking this girl home was going to do that; it just seemed like a tangle with little benefit (past the temporary and obvious). And so I was actually glad (though a little wistful) when she turned her sights on the guy sitting next to me.

unrelated haiku-esque poem:

zen garden
lizard runs across pebbles
not knowing

Hi Tom,

enjoyed reading this. I particularly liked: "If both you and your potential lover aren't going to be improved by your encounter - whether it be a single hour or a lifetime - I suggest that it's best to let it go and redirect that energy." Mind, it does rather depend on what you consider improvement.

Somebody recently pointed out to me that "till death us do part" might have been a fine concept when the average life expectancy was under 40... LOL.


Hi Tom,

enjoyed reading this. This sentence particularly struck me: "If both you and your potential lover aren't going to be improved by your encounter - whether it be a single hour or a lifetime - I suggest that it's best to let it go and redirect that energy." What would you consider improvement?

Someone recently commented to me that "till death us do part" might have been a fine concept when the average life expectancy was under 40. LOL!


In reply to by Maria (not verified)

A fair question!

This is all in the context of spiritual growth. So, for example, while I might be in some sense better off, "improved", by having a lover shower me with expensive gifts :-), that's not what I'm talking about here.

By "spiritual", I mean that aspect of our lives that deals with our relationships with ourselves, our fellow sentient beings, and with the Universe.

The thing that most gets in the way of spiritual development is our ego, our sense of ourself as a separate existence, disconnected.

So a romantic or sexual experience that improves us, is one that improves our connection, helps us feel less separate from the rest of the world.

Any human relationship can help with this by giving us the support we need for growth, but a sexual relationship can do more.

Human beings - indeed, all animals - have a tremendous amount of energy tied up with sex. It's evolution in action; if your ancestors didn't have sex, well, they wouldn't have gotten to be ancestors.

So how can we use that energy for spiritual development?

There are schools of "tantric" sex in some forms of Hinduism and Buddhism, specific techniques that are supposed to help move energy around the body. That's all well and good, but IMHO not really the point. (And in Tantric Buddhism, the underlying assumption about sex is often negative, but that we live in a "degraded" age in which ok to fight fire with fire.)

The point is that sharing this energy, this experience of joy, is a way to develop selflessness, of being in the moment, of letting go of our own selfish desire in order to share joy.

Tom Swiss - proprietor,

In reply to by Tom Swiss

Sorry about the double post above. I had got an error message after hitting send on the first one, so I thought I had lost it and re-wrote...

Yes, I did assume that you meant this in a context of personal or spiritual growth. I am fascinated - and often somewhat frustrated - by the debates within the poly community about what does or doesn't constitute polyamory, and when it is polyamory, polysexuality, polyfuckery or promiscuity. There is a lot of judgementalism floating about and an underlying assumption that sexual encounters that are not embedded in a long-term, on-going relationship are by necessity bad.

Your definitions appeal to me, because they do not make these assumptions. Rather, it is the "quality" of the sexual encounter itself that determines whether it was a good or a bad idea. As it happens, I myself don't generally do "casual" sex well, but the reasons for that are not, I believe, inherent. Casual is probably not a good term to use anyway because it has implications of "cavalier", "careless" or "disrespectful". Sex, if done right, is for me - and I assume for many people - a profoundly connecting experience in itself .

So, one could argue that even a brief sexual encounter, if done in a spirit of intent and commitment, could well create an experience of connection, being in the moment and shared energy and joy.

That's the theory, anyway. In practice... ???


In reply to by Maria (not verified)

Yes, "casual" is a tricky word.

Using the cheap trick of consulting the dictionary, we see:

  • marked by blithe unconcern
  • without or seeming to be without plan or method; offhand
  • occurring or appearing or singled out by chance
  • hasty and without attention to detail; not thorough
  • occurring from time to time
  • characterized by a feeling of irresponsibility
  • natural and unstudied
  • not showing effort or strain
(from WordNet)

Sexual relationships that are unconcerned, inattentive, irresponsible? Bad idea, I think.

But without plan, happening by "chance"? I think many of our relationships are started by "chance" encounters (putting aside for the moment the question of what's random and what's forces and influences we don't understand).

Occurring from time to time? I think it's perfectly fine to have relationships, romantic or otherwise, that are now and then. A friend or a lover who you only see on occasion - perhaps you live in different cities, even different countries, but why should you not connect with them the best you can?

And natural, unstudied, effortless - those sound like fine ways to make love.

Tom Swiss - proprietor,

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.