The Sacredness of Sex

Image courtesy of Jeferson Gomes at Unsplash

I. Introduction

One of the key characteristics found across many of the various sects of Paganism is a deep reverence for nature. Whether for its own sake or because of its link with the gods, spirits, and ancestors, Pagans view the natural world as sacred and seek to establish a deep connection with the Earth, its cycles, and the forces of nature. This can manifest through rituals, ceremonies, and practices that honor the changing seasons, the cycles of the moon, or specific elements of nature such as trees, rivers, or animals. Often, fundamental necessities of life are given sacred status within holidays or ritual contexts, such as the sharing of a meal, birth and death, and, of course, sex.

In Paganism, sexuality is often viewed as a natural and integral part of life, reflecting the divine creative force present in the universe. Rather than seeing sex as sinful or solely for procreation, these various traditions recognize its potential as a tool for spiritual exploration, personal transformation, and ecstatic experiences.. Sacred sex work emerges from this perspective, acknowledging that sexual energy can be harnessed and channeled in ways that are meaningful, transformative, and in alignment with spiritual beliefs. This work can be undertaken either by and for one’s self, or as a service to the greater community.

The individuals who engage in sacred sex work within Paganism may be referred to as sacred sexual practitioners, sacred prostitutes, or temple priest/esses, among other terms. They approach their work with a deep reverence for sexuality and the well-being of their clients or participants. The aim is to create a safe and sacred space where individuals can explore their sexuality, heal emotional wounds, experience personal growth, or engage in rituals that honor the divine through intimate connections.

It is essential to emphasize that sacred sex work within Paganism is based on the principles of consent, autonomy, and ethical practices. Just as with any other form of sacred service, this is a calling that should not be forced, demands respect, and should be undertaken by consenting adults who are educated on all aspects of the service (whether they are performing it or receiving it). Boundaries, clear communication, and the well-being of all involved parties are paramount. This is not meant to be a degrading or purely transactional experience in the manner familiar to most Western people. It is also not meant to be an experience in which a client merely seeking a thrill approaches a prostitute for a their own gratification (though sex work in this later manner certainly has its place and is no less respectable or necessary for society than the position of a restaurant chef or nurse). In a sacred sex work context, the focus is on the spiritual and transformative aspects of the experience as well as the provision of physical pleasure or gratification. Like sharing a meal in the context of a sacred ritual, the act of meeting a basic human need is elevated and made profound in context.

Understanding these things, it is important to note that sacred sex work in Paganism is not universally accepted or practiced by all Pagans or Pagan communities. The viewpoints and attitudes towards this practice can vary significantly, and there may be diverse opinions within Paganism itself regarding the appropriateness, ethics, and boundaries of sacred sex work. As with any aspect of spirituality or sexuality, individuals and communities may hold differing perspectives based on their cultural, religious, and personal beliefs.

II. Sex in Our Sacred Stories and Practices

In order to begin to approach sacred sex work as an important inclusion in modern Paganism, it is important to first appreciate the cultures from which modern Pagans draw their practices, including the sacred stories and rediscovered traditions that help to form the basis for modern paths. Throughout history, various Pagan cultures held reverence for sexuality, perceiving it as a natural and sacred aspect of human existence. These cultures recognized the profound role that sexuality played in the realms of spirituality, fertility, and personal empowerment. While it is important to note that specific practices and beliefs varied across different societies and time periods, several examples highlight the diverse ways in which Pagan cultures revered sex:

  1. Ancient Mesopotamia: In Mesopotamia, the ancient civilizations of Sumer, Babylon, and Assyria had rich mythologies and religious practices that incorporated sexuality. The goddess Inanna, for example, was associated with love, beauty, and fertility, and was known for having many lovers, apart from her primary husband. Sacred temples in Her honor existed where priestesses engaged in sexual rites as a means to honor and invoke the divine. A sacred prostitute, Shamhat, was also instrumental in “taming” the wild man, Enkidu.
  2. Ancient Egypt: Ancient Egyptian culture revered sex as an integral part of fertility and the cycles of life. The goddess Hathor represented love, beauty, and sexuality, and priests and priestesses in Her service frequently offered sex to temple visitors. Numerous stories that celebrated sexual desire and union, such as the myth of Osiris and Isis, were important to the Egyptian’s understanding of everything from the ways of the Nile to the destiny of each person in the afterlife.
  3. Ancient Greece: Ancient Greek culture had a complex and multifaceted approach to sexuality. Deities could be linked to male or female lovers, or lovers who were neither.. The city of Corinth was particularly known for its temple of Aphrodite, where sacred prostitution took place as a form of worship. Worshippers of Dionysos were the subject of both holy veneration and abject terror as their devotions could range from suckling wildlife and engaging in drunken orgies, to violently dismembering animals and men in ecstatic fits.
  4. Ancient Norse and Germanic Cultures: The Norse and Germanic Pagan cultures viewed sexuality as an essential part of life and celebrated its fertility aspects. Freyja, the Norse goddess of sex, war, and fertility, was particularly honored. Transgressing normal societal views (whatever they happened to be during the time) regarding the roles of people and sex were also seen as powerful and usually the province of the gods, such as Odin’s use of magic or Loki breeding with a stallion and bearing a foal.

III. What Differentiates Sex Work from Sacred Sex Work?

Sacred sex work encompasses a range of practices that involve the intentional and consensual use of sexuality within a spiritual or sacred context. It goes beyond the conventional understanding of sex work as purely transactional or focused on physical pleasure, instead incorporating elements of spirituality, healing, personal growth, and the exploration of the divine. The scope of sacred sex work can vary depending on individual practitioners, traditions, and cultural contexts. However, for it to be considered sacred sex work, it generally involves the following elements:

  1. Intention: Sacred sex work is guided by a conscious intention to create a sacred or spiritual experience through sexual encounters. It aims to go beyond the physical act of sex and taps into the transformative and transcendent aspects of sexuality.
  2. Sacred Context: Sacred sex work typically takes place within a ritualistic or ceremonial setting that is designed to honor and invoke the divine. These contexts may include sacred spaces, altars, symbols, or specific rituals and practices that imbue the sexual encounter with deeper meaning and spiritual significance.
  3. Consent and Boundaries: Consent and clear boundaries are integral to sacred sex work. All participants have the agency to communicate their desires, limits, and expectations, and their consent is obtained through open and ongoing dialogue. The establishment of boundaries ensures that everyone involved feels safe, respected, and empowered throughout the experience.
  4. Spiritual Connection: Sacred sex work aims to foster a connection with the divine or spiritual realms through sexual energy and intimate union. It may involve invoking specific deities, exploring the archetypal energies of the divine masculine, feminine, and other, or seeking union with the higher self or universal consciousness.
  5. Healing and Transformation: Sacred sex work often incorporates elements of healing and personal growth. It can be utilized as a tool for addressing past traumas, releasing emotional blockages, or accessing deeper levels of self-awareness and self-empowerment. It may involve practices such as energetic healing, tantra, breathwork, or mindfulness techniques to facilitate the integration of body, mind, and spirit.
  6. Education and Ethics: Sacred sex work practitioners often undergo extensive training, education, and personal development to ensure they have the necessary knowledge, skills, and ethical understanding to engage in these practices responsibly. They may adhere to codes of conduct and ethical guidelines that prioritize the well-being, safety, and autonomy of all participants involved.

It is important to note that sacred sex work is a diverse and nuanced field, and practices can vary significantly among different traditions and individuals. Additionally, modern Paganism is not a static religion trapped in the past, but is growing and evolving. Open dialogue, respect, and ongoing consent practices are essential to ensure the ethical and consensual nature of these practices.

IV. Ensuring the Safety of Sacred Sex Workers

As with anything, be it sacred or mundane, safety is paramount. Ensuring the safety and supporting the well-being of sex workers is essential, especially given the way most sex workers are treated as criminals and pariahs by Western society. Here are several considerations and strategies for promoting the safety and support of sex workers:

  1. Legal Protection and Decriminalization: Advocating for the decriminalization or legal recognition of sex work can help create a safer environment for sex workers. Removing legal barriers can empower sex workers to report abuse, access essential services, and seek support without fear of legal repercussions. Legal frameworks that prioritize the rights, safety, and autonomy of sex workers can facilitate the development of policies and resources that better protect them.
  2. Non-Judgmental Stance and Reducing Stigma: Challenging the stigmatization and discrimination faced by sex workers is crucial. Creating an environment free from judgment, where sex work is viewed as a legitimate profession, helps combat social marginalization and facilitates open communication. By challenging stereotypes and negative attitudes, we can work towards fostering understanding and empathy, ultimately supporting the dignity and well-being of sex workers.
  3. Access to Healthcare and Support Services: Ensuring that sex workers have access to comprehensive healthcare, including sexual and reproductive health services, HIV/STI testing, and harm reduction programs, is essential. Collaborating with healthcare providers and community organizations to develop tailored services that address the specific needs of sex workers helps promote their overall well-being. Access to mental health support, substance abuse programs, and legal assistance can also be beneficial.
  4. Peer Support Networks and Community Engagement: Establishing peer support networks within the sex work community can provide crucial emotional support, information sharing, and safety advice. Peer-led organizations and initiatives play a vital role in advocating for the rights and welfare of sex workers. Engaging with these communities, listening to their experiences, and amplifying their voices can help shape policies and services that meet their specific needs.
  5. Training and Education: Offering comprehensive training and education to sex workers is essential for their safety. This can include workshops on negotiation skills, boundary setting, self-defense, and risk reduction strategies. Sex workers can be provided with information on their rights, legal resources, and strategies for dealing with potentially dangerous situations. Accessible information on sexual health, substance use, and mental well-being can empower sex workers to make informed choices about their work and their overall health.
  6. Collaborative Efforts and Partnerships: Collaboration between sex workers, community organizations, healthcare providers, law enforcement, and policymakers is crucial for creating holistic support systems. Engaging in dialogue and forming partnerships based on mutual respect and shared goals helps ensure that initiatives are inclusive, comprehensive, and responsive to the specific needs and perspectives of sex workers.

Sacred sex work is both incredibly ancient and painfully new within the context of Paganism. Efforts are still young to see more growth in this type of service within our community, and depending upon the laws under which a group is operating, it can be dangerous and sensitive. It is important to approach these efforts with cultural sensitivity, acknowledging the diversity of experiences within the sex work community and actively seeking input and feedback from sex workers themselves. By prioritizing the safety, well-being, and agency of sex workers, we can work towards creating a more supportive and healthy Pagan umbrella under which we may all celebrate one of the fundamentals of human life.

[Written by Ashley Nicole Hunter.]

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