The path of Yoga demands the difficult task of transmuting the sexual energy(Retas) into spiritual vigor(Ojas) as discussed in a previous post. Sex is a natural urge implanted in human beings for the procreation of the species but when indulged in excess, it leads to the degradation of the soul. The spiritual solution lies neither in forced suppression nor licentious expression but moderation through the application of progressive self-control. There is usually a period of struggle, which varies depending on past-life development, before the individual consciousness evolves to a stage where the sexual urge drops off naturally. How you pace yourself in this conversion is upto you. This post brings together some observations on the sublimation of sexual energy derived from the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
The power of the sexual impulse
Love is not sexual intercourse. Love is not vital attraction and interchange. Love is not the heart’s hunger for affection. Love is a mighty vibration coming straight from the One. And only the very pure and very strong are capable of receiving and manifesting it.
The Mother, Mother’s Agenda: September 25, 1963
The Rig Veda say that the phenomenal world is crooked (Vrjina) because every Divine vibration is distorted by the human ego into some selfish desire. Due to the limitations of our consciousness, everything on earth becomes a shadow of the original delight and puissance.
- The aspiration for Delight (Ananda) gets distorted into the desire for Satiety expressed through food (over-eating) and sex.
- The aspiration for Intensity (Chit–Shakti) can deform into acts of Cruelty.
- The aspiration for Expansion of Consciousness morphs into the desire for Aggression and Domination.
- The aspiration for Love deforms into the desire for Possession and even Hatred.
The following is an observation by Sri Aurobindo on the nature of the sexual impulse.
Question: Why has the sex-impulse so powerful a grip over human nature? Why is it difficult to get free of its hold even when its indulgence brings a reaction of disgust?
Sri Aurobindo: It is because the sex-impulse is the greatest force on the vital plane. The thrill which accompanies it is a very gross distortion and degradation of the divine Ananda(Bliss). The pleasure attached to it is the lure by which Nature makes the vital consent to this otherwise unpleasing process. There are quite a number of persons who experience a recoil of disgust after the sexual act and repulsion from the partner in it because of the disgust, but they return to it when the disgust has worn off for the sake of the lure. 
Sri Anirvan in his book Inner Yoga offers some illumination on why the sexual urge is so powerful.
We discover that every thought and movement gives rise in the nervous current in the spinal channel to a vibration which is subtle and deep, yet full of ecstatic power. At present the spinal channel in us is insensitive and unfelt, and as a rule human beings are seldom ever aware of it except at the climax of the sexual experience; the spinal channel opens briefly at that time, which is why the sexual hunger in human beings is so strong. When the spinal channel is open and awake, our inner consciousness is flooded with samarasya, an equal delight in all things. 
An ecstasy of the infinite is her cause.
It turns in us to finite loves and lusts,
The will to conquer and have, to seize and keep,
To enlarge life’s room and scope and pleasure’s range,
To battle and overcome and make one’s own,
The hope to mix one’s joy with others’ joy,
A yearning to possess and be possessed,
To enjoy and be enjoyed, to feel, to live.
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri – I: The Kingdoms of the Little Life
What factors drive the sexual impulse?
The first step in changing anything within us is to become self-aware. If we analyze ourselves, we will see that a combination of all the following factors in varying degrees contributes to the sexual impulse:
- Mind: There is the intellectual preference for an ideal companion, someone who is like-minded and shares similar tastes.
- Vital: There is the vital’s desire to possess someone or be possessed by someone.
- Physical: At the physical level, there are the hormonal triggers implanted in us by virtue of a human birth. These fade away gradually with the inflow of light, peace and power into the consciousness that occurs through the practice of Yoga.
- Subconscious: In the subconscient, there exists an idealized body image of the partner one desires. This is the image which rises up and occupies the imaginations of the idle mind.
- External: There is also the action of the universal forces and occult spirits which, unknown to us, are always influencing us. (See Occult spirits which influence our actions). In the following passage, the Mother Mirra Alfassa elucidates on the swarm of occult entities which surround people who are obsessed with sex.
You have perhaps read the books of Maurice Magre(1877–1941); there are some in the library. He describes this; he had come here, Maurice Magre, and we spoke and he told me that he had always noticed – he was highly sensitive – he had always noticed that people who have sexual desires are surrounded by a kind of small swarm of entities who are somewhat viscous and rather ugly and which torment them constantly, awakening desire in them. He said he had seen this around certain people. It was like being surrounded by a swarm of mosquitoes, yes! But it is more gross, and much uglier still, and it is viscous, it is horrible, and it turns round and round the person and gives him no peace, and it awake in him the desire that has formed these entities and they batten on it. It is their food. This is absolutely true. His observation was quite correct. His vision was very true. It is like that. [Questions and Answers (1954): 11 August 1954]
Negative consequences of the sexual act
In the path of Yoga, the sexual act carries certain negative consequences which need to be understood.
- Vital exchange with the other: Human beings feed off each other’s vitality in every social interaction ranging from conversation to sex (as an aside, that is why we sometimes find ourselves depleted after conversing with blabbermouths). The exchange of the vital energy during the sexual act can lead to immixture and depletion of vitality. Going within during meditation requires some free energy and this effort can be hindered by every social act which depletes vitality.
- Subconscient gets polluted: Every sexual act weighs down the individual subconscient with additional deposits of images, making it more tamasic. This leads to two problems. During sleep, this can invite attacks from occult beings of the vital worlds which is mentally translated and experienced as nightmares of being attacked by serpents and other animals. Secondly, during the waking state, these images can rise up during idle moments to captivate the mind and drain energy.
- Loss of spiritual force: The sexual act disrupts the conversion of sexual energy(Retas) into spiritual force(Ojas) which is occurring due to the circulation of the Kundalini within the body through Yoga. For more on this, see a previous post – The transmutation of sexual energy
- Period of unconsciousness: There usually occurs a period of unguarded laxity after the sexual act as outlined in the following passage by the Mother Mirra Alfassa
One’s entire physical activity should be organised to help the body to grow in balance and strength and beauty. For this purpose, one must abstain from all pleasure-seeking, including sexual pleasure. For every sexual act is a step towards death. That is why from the most ancient times, in the most sacred and secret schools, this act was prohibited to every aspirant towards immortality. The sexual act is always followed by a longer or shorter period of unconsciousness that opens the door to all kinds of influences and causes a fall in consciousness. But if one wants to prepare oneself for the supramental life, one must never allow one’s consciousness to slip into laxity and inconscience under the pretext of pleasure or even of rest and relaxation. One should find relaxation in force and light, not in darkness and weakness. [On Education: The Four Austerities and the Four Liberations]
Steps towards sublimation
It requires a period of rigorous awareness and endurance, demanding the utmost psychological resilience, to rise above the sensual passions. There will be many setbacks before the consciousness is fully transformed. These are a few techniques which may help along the way.
- Sleep in a hard bed: When you sleep in a soft bed, the senses get lulled and the consciousness sinks into the subsconscient leading to unpleasant dreams. To keep the senses alert, use a hard bed. Sri Aurobindo used to sleep on a hard bed, according to an account from his life in Baroda:
He never slept on a soft cotton-bed, as most of us do, but on a bed made of coir (coconut fibres) on which was spread a Malbar grassmat which served as a bed-sheet. Once I asked him why he used such a coarse hard bed and he said with his characteristic laugh, “My boy, don’t you know that I am a Brahmachari (celibate) ? Our shastras (scriptures) enjoin that a Brahmachari should not use a soft bed, which may induce him to sleep.”
- Mula Bandha : The Hatha Yogis are known to practice Mula Bandha. See the Yoga Journal page on Mula Bandha.
- Develop the Witness Consciousness: One must be able to hold thoughts outside the mind and thwart the imagination process before it creates a runaway train of thought. This calls for ceaseless self-awareness of every thought and mood that may take hold of the consciousness. This is Sri Aurobindo’s elucidation on this issue : “As for the method of mastery, it cannot be done by physical abstinence alone —it proceeds by a process of combined detachment and rejection. The consciousness stands back from the sex-impulse, feels it as not its own, as something alien thrown on it by Nature-force to which it refuses assent or identification – each time a certain movement of rejection throws it more and more outward. The mind remains unaffected; after a time the vital being which is the chief support withdraws from it in the same way, finally the physical consciousness no longer supports it. This process continues until even the subconscient can no longer rouse it up in dream and no further movement comes from the outer Nature-force to rekindle this lower fire. This is the course when the sex-propensity sticks obstinately; but there are some who can eliminate it decisively by a swift radical dropping away from the nature. That, however, is more rare.” [Letters on Yoga – III: Transformation of the Physical – VIII]
- Aspiration and devotion: One of the unfortunate consequences of silencing the mind through Yoga is that mental control over the desires, AKA our cloak of morality, suddenly disappears! Then one discovers that one is capable of engaging in all kinds of things! One finds dormant hungers rising up unexpected and unchecked, as if one has become the passive instrument for their operation. The best way to ward off such influences is to practice surrender and remembrance of one’s chosen Guru or deity to gain protection.
- Impede new images from entering the mind: One must be cautious in watching television shows, reading popular magazines and browsing the Internet. The subconscious registers every image seen by the eyes even though the mind is unaware of the ill-effects. These images later rise up in incoherent dreams.
- Meditate before falling sleep: When you fall asleep, mental control is lost and your consciousness can travel along two paths : it can either sink into the subconscient and produce incoherent dreams or it can rise into the superconscient and have a restful sleep. If you meditate before falling asleep, it increases the chances of a restful period of sleep.
- Eat food which is bland and nutritious: Spicy food excites the senses and stimulates the imagination while food that is bland and nutritious uplifts the mind.
- Transmute vital love to psychic love: Purify your emotions towards your partner. Move the relationship to a higher sphere. As the Upanishad says, ” The wife is not to be loved for the sake of the wife, but for the sake of the Self which resides in the wife.” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.5)
- Impose your will on the subconscious: This was the advice given by Sri Aurobindo to a disciple .
“As for asserting one’s will in sleep it is simply a matter of accustoming the subconscient to obey the will laid upon it by the waking mind before sleeping. It very often happens for instance that if you fix upon the subconscient your will to wake up at a particular hour in the morning, the subconscient will obey and you wake up automatically at that hour. This can be extended to other matters. Many have found that by putting a will against sexual dreams or emission on the subconscient before sleeping, there comes after a time (it does not always succeed at the beginning) an automatic action causing one to awake before the dream concludes or before it begins or in some way preventing the thing forbidden from happening. Also one can develop a more conscious sleep in which there is a sort of inner consciousness which can intervene.” [Mother’s Agenda: June 15, 1968]
Sexual desire drops off when the Kundalini rises out of the Muladhara through the various Chakras, activating the subtle body, transforming the consciousness and creating an atmosphere of alertness, purity and rejuvenation within. As Sri Aurobindo told a disciple, “there is a force of purity, not the purity of the moralist, but an essential purity of spirit, in the very substance of the being. When that comes, then sex-waves either cannot approach or they pass without imparting any impulse, without touching anywhere.” [Letters on Yoga – III: Transformation of the Physical – VIII]
Pandit Gopi Krishna describes the vivid difference between sexual ecstasy and spiritual ecstasy that he experienced:
It is not possible to describe the intensity of orgasmic sensation that occurs in the spinal cord and the brain on the arousal of kundalini. Except for the related character of the transport experienced, there is no comparison between the climax of conjugal union and the rapture caused by the flow of the kundalini force from the base of the spine to the head. The duration of the former may be only of a few moments, followed by a sense of relief and lassitude on the part of the individual. The latter can last for several minutes, creating almost a swooning condition of the mind at the intensity of the rapture experienced. It seems to the individual as if one has been in an ocean of incomparable bliss to taste the rapture as long as one likes or as long as there is sufficient vitality in the body to cause it. On returning back to normal, there is usually no sense of lassitude or satiation. On the contrary, the experiencer feels mentally more fresh and invigorated than before. 
- Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on the “Sex urge in Nature”
- Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on “Yoga and the conquest of sex”
- Kishore Gandhi. Light on Life Problems, p 23 (online at Google Books and the Internet Archive)
- Sri Anirvan. Inner Yoga, p 15 (amazon)
- Sri Aurobindo in Baroda, p 30; A.B. Purani, Life of Sri Aurobindo 4th edition, p 62.
- Gopi Krishna, Living with Kundalini (Shambhala, 1993), pp 362-363