Like on Star Trek when they get into the transporter and
they sort of dissolve, I have that feeling of light going
through me and a fire that goes down, the feeling that my body
has been burned away to ash and there's nothing left, but I've
been transported elsewhere. -- Lucky
I've felt my cells literally get lit up...like those little
fiber-optic things. It's pervasive, not just on the surface of
me, but through my whole system...and that would sometimes
last for days. -- Shaka
It's like liquid fireworks. It's like sparks that come out
in liquid form. -- Adele
I met Suzette, a vivacious, petite redhead, when she was in
her fifties. She is a pragmatic, no-nonsense woman whose career
had been spent in nursing and public health administration. She
had been brought up in a conventional Midwestern home without
knowledge of spiritual traditions outside the mainstream
Christianity and Judaism of 1950s Middle America. She had never
considered herself religious, but she came to me with a story
that represents how transcendent sex transforms. She is the
"everyman" and "everywoman" we all are. As we settled down to
coffee in my office, she began to tell me about something that
had happened many years ago with a man she'd only dated a few
times. "I guess we've known each other more than twenty-five
years now. We've had an on-and-off relationship because we live
far apart," she explained. "When we've gotten together, many
times we've had sex, and many times we've not. He's been a good
They were business acquaintances living in different states
whose professional activities brought them together
periodically. They were just beginning to explore a more
romantic connection when they had an opportunity to go to San
Francisco together. "This trip was our first time to have sex,"
she confided, adding that it was enjoyable, that she was a
little more nervous and excited than usual, but that nothing
unusual had happened, until:
I had my eyes closed, and I began to see light, and light
moving. It was just so incredibly powerful. It could even have
been a different dimension. It felt very unusual.
The light was just going through me. I didn't know what it
was part of, but it was definitely a physical feeling going
through me and shooting out of the top of my head. I had
feelings of white lights shooting out of the top of my head.
The lights were really brilliant. The brightness of the lights
was incredible. You think of sunlight or lightning, but
nothing like this! It was radiant white light brighter than
anything I'd seen in nature.
And then it also affected me emotionally in a way, and I
started crying because it was overwhelming, an emotional
effect like "Oh, my God, I'm coming home. I got home." A
feeling that I'd been separated for a long time, like coming
together, and finally being home.
I'm mainly a thinker, not emotional, but it was as if
someone had taken a finger and pushed that incredible emotion
button, and I really didn't know what hit me. I was so happy.
It was a wonderful, peaceful feeling. Total peace, a feeling
of great love and connection, and of going home.
Suzette was stunned. Nothing remotely like this had ever
happened in her practical, down-to-earth life. Furthermore, such
happenings did not mesh with her scientific knowledge or
beliefs. She made some attempt to communicate what had occurred
to her partner, but said, smiling ruefully, "I don't think he
was aware of what was going on. I remember trying to tell him,
and I think he laughed. He was a real stud, and we were in our
early twenties, so it wasn't like he took it really seriously."
Suzette and her lover continued to see each other. Sex was
always good, but it never reached those heights again for her.
The liaison drifted into a friendship, and she eventually
married someone else. Her marriage didn't work out, something
she attributes to her ineptitude in the bedroom.
"I was just so naïve about sex," she commented, shaking her
head. "My sex life with my husband was so bad. He was
into black fringe and nudity, and I was into my flannel
nightgown. The poor guy! I feel sorry for him now when I think
They eventually divorced. Weary of prolonged celibacy during
the years raising her son alone and wanting to "get some
experience," Suzette began to date the relative of a good
friend. There was some affection but no real chemistry between
them. To her surprise, after having sex with him on a few
occasions, she had another experience of transcendence.
I had the lights again, the brilliant lights. It was all so
amazing, that way of shooting lights out of my head. The only
difference was that it was not as emotional as the first time.
Still, it was intense.
I was sad when it was over because it was really an
exciting, thrilling experience. I wasn't aware of anything
else when the lights were going. I wasn't seeing anything
else, had no sense of time....The whole world was gone away,
so I wouldn't have had a clue.
And then it just kind of eased off. I felt a little shaky
afterward. The first time, I cried more, probably because the
chemistry seemed better so that I felt more melded to [the
first lover], but not enough that I picked him and decided to
be his partner.
This time, I was surprised, especially since I didn't
really like him....I've had wonderful sex since then with
other people, but it happened just those two times. It was
such a beautiful, wonderful experience. What would it be like
to have it with someone you were really loving and wanting to
have a relationship with?
As moving as these two incidents were, they had little impact
on her life at the time. She mused, "I'd have thought that after
having that experience, I'd have been more interested in
spirituality and sexuality, but no. I was struggling to have my
career and raise my child."
Still the seed took root. When I met her, her son was grown
and Suzette had laid aside her health-care career to undertake
several years of spiritual exploration, a quest she attributed
to those two episodes. She had become a practitioner of
Transcendental Meditation and yoga. Both gave Suzette a way to
understand her experiences, though she was never able to
replicate them nor have comparable experiences through
meditation or yoga. Groping for words to describe how she
understood the sexual episodes, she said, "[They] seemed
spiritual because there was a feeling of unity and because of
the brilliance of the lights. I don't know if it was God or
Buddha or something like that, but it was such a positive
feeling that it had to be a higher power of some kind." She
continued, moving to discuss how these events had changed her:
It made me have more confidence in myself....I do feel like a
special person now. It gave me hope. It made me curious...I'm
starting to look back at my life, and there's a part of my
life I've really neglected. I'm working on spirituality now.
Having this kind of experience makes me believe that there
is so much more than I ever realized there could be...more
than I was seeing in the world. And it amuses me that it
happened through a sexual experience. That wouldn't have been
a predictable thing for me to guess!
So when I could, I started looking at other ways of living
and thinking. I would have bet you money that I wouldn't be
here [in the religious community where I interviewed her], but
now look at me.
To have an experience like this gave me hope that there's
guidance in my life, and in other peoples' lives. That there's
more of a plan. It's like you're being pulled by Spirit, which
-- I don't know -- but that experience gave me hope that such
a thing might be possible.
Suzette's story, in a way, is like all the other stories in
this book. The experiences follow a clear pattern:
- Individuals are surprised and dazzled by bedroom events
that reveal a reality entirely foreign to their usual way of
thinking. The events confound a religious person's beliefs or
the disbelief of agnostics and atheists.
- The experience can occur regardless of how much "in love"
or sexually skillful a person is.
- Most often, but not always, the experience involves only
one member of the couple. The other party is frequently
unaware that something earth-shattering is happening to the
lover. Sadly, most people are reluctant to share these sacred,
unsettling moments with partners because they fear a response
that will be skeptical, mocking, or belittling. Over 80
percent of the people I talked to had never told another
person what had happened to them.
- Depending on the nature of the episode -- and Suzette's
experience is actually one of the most "normal" or least
strange -- the person may feel euphoric, omniscient, dazed,
disturbed, or frightened. Their foundations are shaken in ways
that may seem life-affirming or threatening.
- The events may be hidden, but they are never forgotten.
Like the near-death experiences that people kept secret before
they became an acceptable part of public discourse,
transcendent sexual episodes were recalled with
extraordinarily vivid detail, even if they occurred long ago.
Participants were relieved to be able to tell someone who was
appreciative and nonjudgmental about some of the most
significant things that had ever happened to them.
- Like more recognized spiritual openings, these experiences
were life-changing events. The most skeptical agnostics and
atheists were reluctant to ascribe a spiritual meaning to what
had happened, but even they admitted that their understanding
of the world had been radically altered and that they could
not explain what had happened to them (the sample includes
physicists, physicians, and other "hard" scientists). However
the vast majority, regardless of their former religious
beliefs or disbelief, eventually went on to take up some form
of spiritual quest in an attempt to understand what had
transpired. Of those, many began an active spiritual practice
or vocation, attributing their interest to the "awakening"
they had had during sex.
Transcendent episodes during sex, however bizarre, resemble
those recognized in the world's major spiritual traditions. In
fact, except for the context (making love as opposed to
meditating, praying, ingesting sacred medicine, or participating
in ritual ceremonies), transcendent sexual experiences have
exact counterparts in the shamanism of indigenous religions as
well as in the mysticism of Christianity, Judaism, Islam,
Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism. The chapters in this section
cross many different spiritual traditions, but they all include
recognized altered states in which people access greater
dimensions of the natural world than are part of "normal,
Heat and Light
Even when a person's sense of self and reality remain "normal,"
some people report strange energies coursing through the body.
Sometimes it starts with a sense that the sexual charge normally
rooted in the genitals is spreading throughout the entire body,
lighting it up with crackling power and fireworks, shooting
arcs, sparks, flashes of light and color. Two very different
descriptions of what can happen come from Jorge, a professor,
author, and lecturer, and Nell, a housewife and accomplished
Jorge's experience began while just caressing his partner;
actual intercourse never occurred. Despite the fact that he had
neither an erection nor an orgasm, he described it as a "very
sexual experience." "I'm not that familiar with [Tantra]," he
began, "but the movement of energy was very clear...from the
genital area, spreading through the body, through the arms and
legs, reaching the areas of the hands and mouth that were
extremely charged and then moving them to my partner...energy
going through my arms, my legs, her arms, her legs, our mouths."
As his body vibrated with sexual electricity, it seemed to break
free of its usual constraints:
I felt a tremendous openness, and at some point, almost the
emergence of a different body coming out, with a different
breathing pattern, almost a different vibrational pattern, and
more energy to it. I can't relate it to an astral body -- who
knows? But it was a very clear, tangible experience of this
emerging body....That body was very sexual, very sexual. I was
still in my own body, but there was still this other body
coming out....It's extremely exhilarating -- Beethoven's Ninth
Symphony comes to mind, one of those big crescendos.
Nell, in contrast, began to dislike climaxing because her
transcendent experiences were so much more thrilling. "Ordinary
sex isn't interesting anymore," she said. "It's kind of boring
and stupid to have this little spasm. [A] genital orgasm is a
distraction now because it foreshortens or throws the switch on
what can happen otherwise." She described the "otherwise" this
There's a very strong genital aspect to it, but it's more a
sort of dance that brings one into a kind of luminous state
where nectars are flowing and everything is light both
internally and externally.
It is totally circulating, totally energizing. I never feel
more totally awake, more totally alive than then. It's
electric, really light-oriented, very much upwardly oriented.
It enlightens the whole body. You have the subjective
experience of all the molecules of your body, all the cells of
your body lightening and separating so that each one becomes
like a lightbulb. You become a light being totally embodied.
Still other people have experiences that clearly involve
sexual energy but in ways that are much less direct. Some report
being immersed in brilliant emerald, purple, blue, or golden
light. Whether involving strong charges of heat and light, or
quieter, more melting sensations, these experiences produce an
amazing range of energetic perceptions. The strange perceptions
and sensations are not merely odd, like a mild electric shock or
an optical illusion, rather they are always accompanied by
blissful emotions that seemed to elevate the participants to
sublime realizations, especially a sense of heightened love and
peace. Here are a few examples.
Austin, a social services professional, describes a night of
love while he was in graduate school:
I started noticing what I would call a field of energy around
our bodies, what in my mind's eye I would have called "red,"
and a sense that I was expanding outward. My sense of self
extended five or six feet all around us and outward. My body
was tingling all over, and there was a feeling of heat that
went with the energy and the redness. The tingling was as
intense as when your foot falls asleep but there wasn't the
It was completely pleasurable, blissful. I was filled with
an amazing sense of love for my wife, myself, and for us as a
unity, a whole. Definitely above and beyond the normal
feelings of love. It was as much generated by her as by me or
our situation. We filled the room with this red energy and
heat...so that I felt I could reach out and touch all the
Gloria, an agnostic who owns a retail business, talks about
her connection with her lover:
The warmth and tingling starts in my toes, an electrical
feeling that moves up my body and just goes out my eyes. When
it's intense, it's almost blinding. There is an element of
heat, but it's more the brightness of the light that's
But always this great sense of peace. I feel like it's the
Universe's way of reassuring me that everything is right, as
if I were a dog lying in front of a fireplace, and this giant,
gentle hand is patting me, it just feels so good and
comfortable. I'm connected with an energy level we don't
usually connect to the everyday experience. I wouldn't
necessarily say it's God, but maybe whatever the life force
is. One day I may call it God.
Reginald, a self-employed businessman who lives on the East
Coast describes an almost psychedelic experience:
I'm aware of energy, patterns, and electric colors, golden,
white, or blue....It's like there's pure crackling, surging,
grinding, burning energy.
Boundaries will tend to expand, and as the energy gets up
into the head, it's like the top of the head gets blasted off.
The farther the energy goes up the spine, the more intense it
Opal, a former Roman Catholic and business manager of a
computer company, thought the house was on fire:
When we were making love it seemed as though there was almost
a ribbon of yellow, golden light streaming between us and
around us in the room. I could see it visually but feel it as
well. Afterward, we had fallen asleep, and I got up to go to
the bathroom and saw this fire. I thought the loft was truly
on fire, it was that vivid. There was a lot of golden light
and fire shooting up. It was as though the whole downstairs
was filled with these huge, gigantic flames.
But when I got downstairs, it wasn't there, even though I
could see it from the loft. I realized then it wasn't actually
a physical fire, but an essential one that was golden and
quite beautiful. It didn't feel erratic, but calm, steady, not
hot. Even as I'm talking about it to you, I can feel the
flames in my heart like some passionate quality that was
manifesting. I can feel it in the cells of my body, just this
relaxation everywhere, this sweet love.
I can always come back to that place with my husband in one
way or another even when we go through difficult things, I'm
critical of him, he's driving me crazy or even when I hate
him...this heart opening...never really closes back, as though
the golden fire is always burning there to some degree.
The Snake Lady and the Divine Hermaphrodite
Every one of the lovers above described experiences that are
typical of Tantra, a centuries-old spiritual path. Yet none of
them knew anything about Tantra, except Nell, who said her
Vajrayana Buddhist community leaders had forbidden it as too
powerful a practice for all but the most advanced initiates. So
what is going on here?
Tantra is a Hindu and Buddhist tradition that cultivates
sexual energy as a path to enlightenment (Taoism does, as well).
Yogic Tantra is based on the premise that Spirit exists even in
the profane and can be accessed through the most forbidden acts.
It was a revolutionary movement originally aimed at breaking the
class system and violating taboos by using "reverse"
spirituality, in other words, achieving enlightenment by doing
the very things most forbidden by religious authorities.
(Classic Tantra includes the ritual eating of meat, for
instance, and other taboo substances, as well as glorifying
In Tantra, enlightenment is achieved through increasingly
subtle participation in the mantrum, Om mani padme om
(popularly translated as "the jewel is in the lotus"), a sexual
metaphor that encodes the route for dissolution of the
individual's soul into the World Soul (Atman). Although the
World Soul is inexpressible, it is symbolized by the god Shiva
and the goddess Shakti, whose eternal sexual embrace sustains
reality. Shiva is all-powerful but passive. Shakti's sexual
energy is the enlivening spiritual force of the cosmos. The
World Soul arises from their interpenetrating union. Tantric
aspirants are taught to emulate this divine union in their own
bodies by becoming one with the Goddess and at the same time
uniting with the God. In other words, they must become both male
and female themselves.
Classic Tantric training involved actual sexual intercourse.
Over time, though, physical lovemaking between men and women was
gradually eliminated. Soon men were the only acceptable
initiates, and women were invited primarily as Goddess
surrogates to assist the initiates' spiritual advancement until
the men could activate their sexual arousal just by meditating
on Shakti. The men would learn to move genital excitement, a
form of holy energy, into other parts of the body without
This holy energy is thought to reside in every human body. It
is symbolized by a female snake named Kundalini coiled at the
base of the spine. Spiritual practices involve "awakening" the
Snake Lady, and learning to move her sacred life force upward
from the sexual organs and anus to higher levels in the body.
Kundalini awakenings in historic and contemporary records
describe exactly the same altered perceptions reported by people
having spontaneous transcendent sex experiences. Kundalini
normally ascends through the body's primary energy centers
(chakras) until it bursts from the top of the head (the crown
chakra) -- as Suzette's did. This energetic phenomenon is widely
recognized as a sign of spirituality. In fact, in Eastern and
Western sacred art, saints and sages are shown with luminosity
streaming from the crown chakra in the form of halos or tongues
of fire surrounding the head.
When fully activated, the Snake Lady is said to course
through two channels identified as the male and female meridians
in the human body. She first makes a complete circuit linking
the masculine and feminine meridians within the person's body
(and in contemporary Tantric practice, connecting with the male
and female meridians in the lover's body to complete a circuit).
Then, when the aspirant can move this energy from both male and
female meridians up through the crown chakra, she completes the
circuit with the male and female aspects of the World Soul.
Adepts, regardless of their biological sex, are said to have
transcended the polarities of male and female to achieve
nonduality, the bliss of nirvana. In a spiritual sense reflected
in their energetic transcendence of masculine and feminine, they
are a microcosm of the Divine Hermaphrodite that is the World
Soul, the One from which all sexual duality in creation
The Divine Hermaphrodite may be the most universally
recognized symbol of Spirit. Virtually every theistic religion
starts with an Original Being who embodies both male and female
principles. These deities -- and other holy avatars, when they
appear to mortals -- are incandescent. They are represented as
having energetic forms of blinding radiance. They are Beings of
Light, variously portrayed in Tibetan tankas, described
in the Bible in the afterglow of Moses' face from his encounter
with God and in the transfiguration of Jesus, and repeatedly
mentioned in contemporary near-death experiences, sightings of
the Virgin Mary and other spiritual visitations. They reside in
celestial realms of jeweled light, the land of eternal day.
Jorge, Nell, Austin, Gloria, Reginald and Opal all seem to
have glimpsed these glorious possibilities. Perhaps they somehow
jostled the Snake Lady, shifting her coils and unleashing enough
of her powerful force within their bodies to pierce the veil.
Since Tantra (and Taoist sex, too) involves controlling and
redirecting genital excitement as well as withholding male
ejaculation for the longest possible period of interpenetration,
it's not surprising that some lovers discover the gifts of these
practices on their own, without any formal tutoring in erotic
technique. Some of the gifts can be startling, though,
especially to the unprepared.
Sexual energy is nothing to play with, and in fact, many
Westerners who write books and lead workshops purporting to be
Tantric actually focus more on relationship issues and achieving
more and better orgasms, than on activating powerful and
unpredictable forces for spiritual purposes. It's safer. Indeed,
some individuals, seeking to enhance their sexual performance,
have been discomfited by forces that can be difficult to channel
without expert guidance. For example, a man I know who began to
experiment with prolonged penetration after reading a book on
Tantra developed such a tingling, buzzing sensation in his hands
and feet that he was unable to sleep or be comfortable for weeks
until it finally wore off. A woman, attempting to channel her
sexual energy into her partner unbeknownst to him, caused him to
have mild hallucinations for several hours.
It's good to have an idea of what can occur even when
there is no deliberate attempt to manipulate or increase sexual
energy. A number of people I interviewed wished they had had
some way to understand what was happening to them because the
effects were sometimes disturbing, especially those physical
effects that seemed out of their control. But no matter how
strange or out of place the behaviors they reported might be in
an American bedroom, in every case these behaviors have been
recognized as signs of spiritual attainment in different
For instance, some respondents reported generating great heat
in their bodies far in excess of regular sexual flushing. They
were hot to the touch and sweating copiously. One man's body
temperature rose to about 105 degrees for several hours, yet he
was certain he was not ill. As it happens, the ability to
control the body's temperature at will, especially to elevate
it, is a sign of spiritual mastery in yogic and Buddhist
traditions. Tibetan monks may swathe themselves in wet clothing
and then spend the night in the snow in tumo, an exercise
to demonstrate their powers. Their ability not only to survive
but also dry their clothing and melt the snow around them with
their body heat is a sign of their spiritual attainment.
Other participants found that the energy streaming through
their bodies caused them to move in unaccustomed and
uncontrollable ways. According to one woman, "I could really
distinguish between my voluntary movements and this energy that
would move me. My lover could tell that it was different, too.
It would be almost a convulsive energy. He called it flopping
like a fish out of water, which kind of took the beauty out of
it." She laughed, but went on to say, "This happened almost
every time I made love for a year."
Such motions aren't laughing matters in most religions.
Spontaneous gestures and postures (known respectively as
kriyas and mudras) are standard features of yogic and
other contemplative traditions, where they are considered signs
of sublime realization. In sacred art, many of these distinctive
gestures are used to distinguish divinities from other beings,
for example, through the way the fingers are displayed in the
sign of blessing.
In my study, one woman was startled when she and her lover
began speaking in tongues (glossolalia), a phenomenon associated
with a visitation by the Holy Spirit and fairly common in
charismatic Christian circles, but definitely not part of her
Midwestern High-Church Episcopalian background.
We would spontaneously start speaking in tongues. At first I
felt kind of embarrassed about that, like, "What is
this?"...It sometimes felt like I was just praising him [her
lover]. It came out in these series of sounds, but they
sounded like language, and sometimes they were the same sounds
repeated again and again and again. I don't know if they're
language or not, but sometimes they sound a little bit Asian
or African to me.
Either he would start speaking in tongues, or I would, and
it was another signal that this wave of energy is coming over
us, through the different movements of my tongue or different
Another couple was surprised by an event virtually unknown
outside esoteric sexual practice. Lilah, a cosmopolitan
jet-setter, and her lover were shocked when so much watery fluid
gushed from them during lovemaking that their first thought was
of lost bladder control:
And at first, it was like, "Oh, my God, did you pee?" We both
asked each other that. Eventually we realized I was
ejaculating, and it would happen every time I was in orgasm.
At first we were just freaked out at the massive quantities
of it. One time it shot four feet into the air, and since I'd
have forty orgasms or so, we had a soaking-wet bed, through
and through and through. We had to laugh, it was so funny. We
learned to get towels and blankets to put around us when we
What was happening to Lilah is actually a commonplace
occurrence in Tantric sex known as amrita, the profuse
production of female ejaculate.
As odd -- or even grotesque -- as such manifestations may
sound, when they occur they are accompanied by such intense
bliss and insight that lovers are unconcerned about appearances,
and totally convinced that these signs are beatific
manifestations of Spirit. Lilah spoke for virtually all of the
people I interviewed, when she said: "Even though these things
would have looked strange to an observer...nothing was too way
out there. The only thing you're really aware of is the
intensity of this Divine Love and what's happening with this
energy in your body....We just had this experience of God and
love that was like nothing anybody had ever seen."
Yet despite the fact that almost all the individuals in this
study were positively transformed by events they ascribed to
grace, such powerful openings can be destabilizing in the short
term. The hazards associated with the deliberate pursuit of
altered states along the spiritual path have been long
recognized, one reason some practices are forbidden to aspirants
until they have demonstrated certain levels of mastery.
Accidental openings can happen to anyone, and those
characterized by strong physical symptoms can sometimes convince
experiencers and the people around them that they are going
crazy or have become very ill. The relatively large number of
accidental openings in the United States in the 1970s spawned a
crisis service for "spiritual emergencies" as an alternative to
institutionalization. Chapter 10 discusses some of the dangers
associated with transcendent sex and ways to guard against them.
The Laughter of God
Yet no matter how strange, or even insignificant, changes in
bodily sensation may seem to us -- especially ones that happen
during sex, of all things -- the people who experience them
regard them as profoundly moving events, an evaluation supported
by the esteemed status these signs have in different spiritual
traditions. Something as "simple" as seeing the light may, in
fact, mean literally seeing the Light, as one woman
attests: "The only thing in my life that equaled the feeling of
seeing those lights was giving birth. Yes. It felt that
significant and that emotional and that
all-encompassing, and that creative and that
For Lilah, who was moved to tears while she was recounting
what had happened to her, there is no question that she had a
spiritual experience of the greatest magnitude, "because at some
level it's only the Energy so that your body is not quite
present. I'm aware of the heart chakra being as big as the
universe -- huge and infinitely loving. I equate that with
Christ-consciousness, with Buddha-consciousness. It's one with
And even for Jorge, whose liaison, like Suzette's, didn't
occur within the venue of a meaningful relationship, there is no
question that the events had a joyfully sacred quality that
eventually changed the entire orientation of his professional
You have this sense of being present, of an openness to life
energies that are sacred, like an ecstasy that my mind
associates with spirituality. You're in the middle of it, and
the sense of Divinity becomes very playful. You're filled with
emotions, but you're not taking yourself so seriously. There's
something about it, almost of humor, like the laughter of God.
Another participant voiced the universal response to such
openings: "There were times where there was somebody inside me
shouting yes, yes, yes. Not just my little voice, but much
bigger than me. That whole cosmic YES, YES, YES."
In the next chapter, the presence of God -- and the gods --
is not confined to subtle or even dramatic sensations, but
manifests as outward visitations in the bedroom.
Copyright © 2004 by Jenny Wade