Taoist sexual practices (Simplified Chinese: ??, Traditional Chinese: ??, pinyin: heqi)literally "Joining Energy" or "The Joining of the Essences", is the way some Taoists practised sex. Practitioners believed that by performing these sexual arts, one could stay in good health, and eventually attain immortality.
The first sexual texts that survive today are those found at the Mawangdui tombs. While Taoism had not yet fully evolved as a philosophy at this time, these texts share some remarkable similarities with later Tang dynasty texts, such as the Ishinp?. The sexual arts arguably reached their peak between the end of the Han dynasty and the end of the Tang dynasty. After 1000 CE, Confucian puritanism became stronger and stronger, so that by the advent of the Qing dynasty, sex was a taboo topic. These Confucians alleged that the separation of sexes existed two thousand 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 died off. As a result, many of the texts survived only in Japan, and scholars had no idea that such a different concept of sex existed in early China.
The basis of all Taoist thinking is that qi is part of everything that exists. It is related to another energetic substance contained in the human body known as jing, and once all this has been expended, you will die. Jing could be lost from the body in a variety of ways, most notably the bodily fluids. Taoists would use practices to conserve their bodily fluids to great extents, and some reportedly recycled and composted their own fecal matter (night soil). The fluid that contained the most jing was male semen. Therefore the Taoists believed that men should avoid ejaculation in order to conserve their life essence.
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 Daoists 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 Daoist sexual practice.
There are different methods to control ejaculation prescribed by the Taoists. In order to avoid ejaculation, the man could do one of two things. He could pull out immediately before orgasm, a method which Joseph Needham termed "coitus conservatus". The second method involved the man applying pressure on an area between the scrotum and the anus, and cause a retrograde ejaculation into the bladder. While it is now known that this method causes a retrograde ejaculation, the Daoists believed that the semen travelled up into the head and "nourished the brain." Needham called this method "coitus thesauratus".
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, 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/yang is important in Taoism, and consequently also holds special importance in sex. Yang usually referred to the male gender, whereas Yin could refer to the female gender. 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.
For Taoists, sex was not just about pleasing the man. The woman also had to be pleased in order to benefit from the act of sex. Sex could only happen if both partners desired it. 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. Women were also given a prominent place in the Ishinp?, 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.
Yet, women were still given a position of inferiority in sexual practice. Many of the texts discuss sex from a male point of view, and avoid discussing how sex could benefit women. Men were encouraged to not limit themselves to one woman, and were advised to have sex only with a woman who was beautiful and had not had children. While the man had to please the woman sexually, she was still just an object. At numerous points during the Ishinp?, the woman is referred to as the "enemy." This was because part of the act of intercourse was an assumption by the male of dominance of the woman's sexual prowess. In later sexual texts from the Ming, women had lost all semblance of being human and were referred to as the "other," "crucible" or "stove." The importance of pleasing the woman also diminished in later texts.
Women were also considered to be a means for men to extend men's lives. Many of the ancient texts were dedicated explanation 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). Taoists called 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.
Another text, Health Benefits of the Bedchamber, indicates that certain times were better for intercourse than others. A person had to avoid having intercourse on quarter or full moons and on days when there were great winds, rain, fog, cold or heat, thunder, lightning, darkness over heaven and earth, solar and lunar eclipses, rainbows and earthquakes. Having intercourse at these times would harm a man's spirit and would cause women to become ill. Children conceived at these times would be mad, stupid, perverse or foolish; mute, deaf, crippled or blind; unfilial and violent.
Also important was selecting the right day for intercourse if a person desired children. After the woman's period, the first, third or fifth days were the best. If on these days the man ejaculated after midnight, the child would likely be male. If a female child was desired, the man needed to ejaculate on the second, fourth or sixth days after the cessation of the woman's period.
The location of sex was also important. People had to avoid the glare of the sun, moon or stars, the interior of shrines, proximity to Buddhist temples, wells, stoves and privies, and the vicinity of graves or coffins.
If these suggestions were followed the family's offspring would be good, wise and virtuous. If they were not followed, the offspring would be evil and the family would eventually die off.
All of these various precepts about sex served to help people attain immortality. According to Ge Hong, a 4th century Daoist alchemist, "those seeking immortality must perfect the absolute essentials. These consist of treasuring the jing, circulating the qi and consuming the great medicine." The sexual arts concerned the first precept, treasuring the jing. This is partially because treasuring the jing involved sending it up into the brain. In order to send the jing into the brain, the male had to refrain from ejaculation during sex. According to Daoists, if this was done, the semen would travel up the spine and nourish the brain instead of leaving the body. A man also had to have sex frequently; any abstension would result in yin and yang not interacting. If a person performed sex in the correct manner, he could eventually achieve immortality. Ge Hong also states, however, that performing the sexual arts only to achieve immortality was folly. Indeed, the sexual arts had to be practised alongside alchemy to attain immortality.
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