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If we have taken a vow of celibacy we should abstain from sex so long as the vow is on foot. If we have contracted into a monogamous relationship, we only have sex within that relationship. Anything else would be deceitful. But the precept's ambit, especially today, is obviously much wider and covers violating behaviours that the women's movement among others has rightly politicised.

An important example is sexual harassment, so prevalent these days when women and men share public space - workplaces, universities etc. Where power relations are prevalent, the power relations themselves have a gender component, and opportunities and cultural encouragement for abuse are ubiquitous. Among other things, sexual harassment is harming and involves taking the non-given, based on a deep-seated presumption - and delusion - in male conditioning about the constant sexual availability of women.

Rape in marriage is strikingly similar.


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Also violent and misogynist pornography which creates a hostile and unsafe environment for women and induces moronic and demonic mindstates in men, including delusions about the nature of women and what they want. So both sexes suffer harm. Publication or use of pornography which eroticises women's subordination thus plainly contravenes the third precept.

But by no mean all pornography does so, and other sexually explicit material might be equally innocent. Ethnic Religion and Social Engineering. So far in this account I don't think Buddhism in practice comes to startlingly different conclusions about sexual conduct from those of balanced versions of other major religions. But the other religions also have lists of no-no's, of forbidden sexual practices. Some object to partial or total nudity, or masturbation, or cross-dressing, or sado-masochism, or homosexuality, or fetishism, or premarital sex, or oral, anal or group sex, or contracepted sex.

Buddhism is notorious for its habit of putting points of practice and doctrine into lists.

Outline of sexual ethics - Wikipedia

So where is Buddhism's list of naughty sexual practices? The answer is short and sweet.

Raja Halwani

Buddhism doesn't for once! The reason it doesn't have a list is significant. There are two 'pure types' of religion - ethnic ones and universal ones.


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Ethnic religion seeks to regulate many civic aspects of a particular tribe or people, and especially to regulate the biological and cultural reproduction of the tribe. It thus stipulates all sorts of rules to do with marriage, family, sex roles, bringing up children, etc. Judaism could well stand as a sophisticated example of an ethnic religion. A universal religion, by contrast, is indifferent to ethnic civic life, transcends cultural particularism, and stands aloof from issues to do with the reproduction of the tribe.

One is born into an ethnic religion, but the only real way into a universal religion like Buddhism is by personal conversion.

You can convert to a universal religion from any ethnic starting point whatsoever. Any ethnic religion contains what we might call - in our secular modern mode - a social engineering element. Social engineers, both the religious and the secular ones, make it their business to regulate relations between the sexes so that plenty of babies are born to reproduce and even expand the tribe, and to see that the children are looked after and properly inducted into the folkways and traditional gender and other roles of the tribe.

Social engineers want to manipulate people so that their sexual energies are channelled into babymaking, and not frittered away on non-procreative sexual activity what today's media calls 'recreational sex'. A social engineering God or state tends to promulgate laws that criminalise, stigmatise and pathologise non-procreative sex.

Christianity, for instance, is a universal religion in the new testament, but has attached to it many of social engineering elements of an ethnic religion contained in the old testament, which abominates I gather such non-procreative activities as adultery, masturbation, sodomy and so on. So Christianity offers a split perspective. Some old testamentarians make careers as the scourges of all non-baby-making sex, its pleasures and its practitioners. At the same time other Christian leaders openly live in lesbian or gay relationships and courageously fly the flag of tolerance.

Buddhism is a pure case of universal religion, with no social engineering element. So much so that it does not even have a marriage service. Marriage is a civil matter in Buddhist countries, it has nothing to do with spiritual practice as such. Nor does the Buddhist canon contain a 'holy family' with prescribed sex roles that subordinate women.

If you want to get married in a Buddhist country, the civil authorities provide the appropriate official celebration. Afterwards the bridal couple can go, as many do, to a monastic and ask for her or his blessing, which usually consists in a relaxed word of advice about how to make the match actually work. Ajahn Chah, the great Buddhist meditation master of modern Thailand, had a stream of newly-weds come to his monastery for this purpose. He would tell them: 'You have given your hand in marriage.

Your hand has five fingers. Think of them as the five precepts. Practice the precepts in your marriage, and it will be a happy one. That is all you need.

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The Buddha was in fact a social engineer's worst nightmare. Not only did he not waste a word of condemnation on non-procreative sex hence no list of no-no's , but he inspired thousands to ordain into celibate monasticism and so leave babymaking behind altogether. This was not because he disapproved of sex or babies, but in an era when a non-celibate usually ended up with many children to feed, clothe and house and so had little freedom or time for spiritual pursuits, celibacy made a lot of practical sense for many people with a spiritual urge. Needless to say, the choice is not nearly as stark in developed countries today, where contraception is available and earning a living is a good deal easier.

Part III. Applied ethics

Buddhism and Tolerance. Buddhism has nothing against sex as such. Practised skilfully in the spirit of the precepts, it can bring a lot of happiness. As one of my favourite meditation teachers sums it up, there's nothing wrong with dancing lightly with your desires, so long as both can hear the music and all hearts are open. Indeed, I think Buddhism probably improves our sex life in meditation training, where we learn the core skill of mindfulness - of keeping our heart, mind and body in the same place at the same time.

So when your body is having a wonderful time with a cuddly friend, your mind is not having a miserable time obsessing about the details of your tax return, for instance - it is free to come to the party too. Over the years I have gained some familiarity with a number of English-speaking Dhamma centres in western countries, and I'm struck by the unproblematic presence of gays and lesbians in them. In keeping with tradition their sexuality is not an issue and this aspect of their identity is affirmed as straightforwardly as anyone else's.

Everyone's structure of sexual desire is unique, and when we leave social engineering considerations behind, there is no warrant for setting one structure of desire above the rest, so long as all can be lived out within the spirit of the precepts. The appropriate Buddhist attitude to other sexual minorities is just the same.

I tested this by visiting the website of Salon Kitty, a very fastidious local establishment which describes itself as 'one of the world's leading BDSM houses. On Salon Kitty's main menu is a statement of ethics, which the duty of care and overall responsibility ' the dominant' owes 'the submissive,' not least around the obviously crucial issue of consent. In part the statement of ethics says: Implied in consent is the responsibility of the dominant partner in any BDSM scene to monitor the wellbeing of the submissive to ensure that the submissive is stable and that the consent is still operative.

It is also the responsibility of the dominant to ensure that the submissive is not consenting to an act that is not in his or her best longterm interests. What would our lives be like, if there were always a neat correspondence between the moral quality of a sexual act and its nonmoral quality? I am not sure what such a human sexual world would be like.

Sexual Morality by C.S. Lewis Doodle (BBC Talk 14, Mere Christianity, Bk 3, Chapter 5)

But examples that violate such a neat correspondence are at the present time, in this world, easy to come by. A sexual act might be both morally and nonmorally good: consider the exciting and joyful sexual activity of a newly-married couple. But a sexual act might be morally good and nonmorally bad: consider the routine sexual acts of this couple after they have been married for ten years. A sexual act might be morally bad yet nonmorally good: one spouse in that couple, married for ten years, commits adultery with another married person and finds their sexual activity to be extraordinarily satisfying.

And, finally, a sexual act might be both morally and nonmorally bad: the adulterous couple get tired of each other, eventually no longer experiencing the excitement they once knew. A world in which there was little or no discrepancy between the moral and the nonmoral quality of sexual activity might be a better world than ours, or it might be worse. I would refrain from making such a judgment unless I were pretty sure what the moral goodness and badness of sexual activity amounted to in the first place, and until I knew a lot more about human psychology.

Sometimes that a sexual activity is acknowledged to be morally wrong contributes all by itself to its being nonmorally good. Whether a particular sexual act or a specific type of sexual act provides sexual pleasure is not the only factor in judging its nonmoral quality: pragmatic and prudential considerations also figure into whether a sexual act, all things considered, has a preponderance of nonmoral goodness. Many sexual activities can be physically or psychologically risky, dangerous, or harmful.

Anal coitus, for example, whether carried out by a heterosexual couple or by two gay males, can damage delicate tissues and is a mechanism for the potential transmission of various HIV viruses as is heterosexual genital intercourse. Thus in evaluating whether a sexual act will be overall nonmorally good or bad, not only its anticipated pleasure or satisfaction must be counted, but also all sorts of negative undesired side effects: whether the sexual act is likely to damage the body, as in some sadomasochistic acts, or transmit any one of a number of venereal diseases, or result in an unwanted pregnancy, or even whether one might feel regret, anger, or guilt afterwards as a result of having engaged in a sexual act with this person, or in this location, or under these conditions, or of a specific type.

Indeed, all these pragmatic and prudential factors also figure into the moral evaluation of sexual activity: intentionally causing unwanted pain or discomfort to one's partner, or not taking adequate precautions against the possibility of pregnancy, or not informing one's partner of a suspected case of genital infection but see David Mayo's provocative dissent, in "An Obligation to Warn of HIV Infection?

Thus, depending on what particular moral principles about sexuality one embraces, the various ingredients that constitute the nonmoral quality of sexual acts can influence one's moral judgments. In addition to inquiring about the moral and nonmoral quality of a given sexual act or a type of sexual activity, we can also ask whether the act or type is natural or unnatural that is, perverted. Natural sexual acts, to provide merely a broad definition, are those acts that either flow naturally from human sexual nature, or at least do not frustrate or counteract sexual tendencies that flow naturally from human sexual desire.

An account of what is natural in human sexual desire and activity is part of a philosophical account of human nature in general, what we might call philosophical anthropology, which is a rather large undertaking. Note that evaluating a particular sexual act or a specific type of sexual activity as being natural or unnatural can very well be distinct from evaluating the act or type either as being morally good or bad or as being nonmorally good or bad.