How does marriage change sex from wrong to right?
How does marriage change sex from wrong to right?
Question: How does the act of marriage, the ritual of marriage change sex from bad to good, from wrong to right? Why is premarital sex considered wrong and marital sex not? What does marriage do to transform the attitude towards sex like this?
Answer: It’s a matter of seeing all activities in life in the context of the ultimate purpose of life. When sex is seen primarily or exclusively as an act of pleasure and then pleasure is the purpose of life and there is no higher purpose, as is considered by most materialistic societies today, then the question come: what is the difference between pre- marital, marital or even extra-marital sex? We want pleasure and if there are consenting people, what wrong with it? That is the question that comes up.
Such a question and every question comes from a particular world view. And imposing the idea of one world view on another world view doesn’t work.
So, yes, within this world view, if sex is for pleasure and there’s nothing wrong with the pursuit of pleasure, weather it is in marriage or not in marriage, then we have to see what is the consequence.
Harvard Medical School did a survey, there are several surveys that have been done like this, there’s a book, “American Paradox” by Dr David Myers and there he also talks about this, that people who have casual sexual relationships although they get some titillation, they actually feel very lonely, because they don’t develop a deep relationship with anyone and they also feel guilty, not because they have some religious sense tormenting their conscience, but they’re simply feeling that I’m using others and others are using me. And it’s a very dehumanising form of relationship where one is just using another person to gratify one’s desire, to fulfil one’s itch.
Basically when sex is only seen as a tool for pleasure, then, leave alone being harmonious with one’s spiritual purpose in life, even with the purpose of having a lasting relationship, it becomes disharmonious and it leaves one lonely. But at the same time, because there is some pleasure over there, it becomes infatuating and addicting and a person becomes entangled in it completely. Quite often that happens when there’s no sense of regulation.
The purpose of marriage is to be seen in the context of the purpose of life. Materialistic world view tells us that there’s no purpose at all. We are just born, we live for some time, we die and that’s the end of it.
When we are asking what is it that makes marital sex ok and premarital or extramarital sex wrong, that means that we are asking what I the meaning? So within our life we look for meaning. Whatever happens, why did this person do like this? What is the meaning of this? We all try to have a sense of meaning and we believe that life is meaningful at least in the way we deal with events and we try to respond to events. And yet materialism leaves us with an ocean of meaninglessness in which we try to find out some … small … of meaning when we get, ok, this event may be meaningful, this event may be meaningful, like this, but our life is left meaningless. And it doesn’t bring any fulfilment to the heart also.
The Bhagavad-Gita and the Gita wisdom tradition offers us a spiritual world view which tells us that we are at our core souls and as souls we have an eternal relationship with God and that relationship is the source of lasting happiness. So we have a vertical relationship with God and we have horizontal relationships with people around us. The purpose and perfection of life is to develop out eternal relationship with God and to attain eternal life with him, in our identity, in our nature as spiritual beings, as souls. And everything that we do in life is meant to ultimately promote that purpose.
The activity of sex is one of the activities that induces spiritual forgetfulness the most. Because sex is primarily a bodily activity and the desire for sex, the activity of sex, the memory of sex, it all brings bodily consciousness. We become aware of our body, we become aware of others bodies, and we’re not just aware, but we stay obsessed with those. And thus we can’t stay spiritually conscious. To the extent we are caught in pursuing bodily pleasures, sexual pleasure especially, to that extent our consciousness becomes locked towards the perception of spiritual happiness.
Just as a person who is caught watching a movie is not much aware of what is happening around in the room. He’s completely caught in the movie. Like that, we get caught in bodily consciousness and we become oblivious to spiritual realities.
From the spiritual perspective, sex is so materially entangling for our consciousness. That’s why there is regulation that is required. And this regulation is not a matter of deprivation of pleasure, because, what the scriptures explain, as souls we can have far greater happiness at the spiritual level. No matter how glamourized the pleasure of sex may be in movies and novels, that pleasure is limited. The body’s capacity to enjoy is limited, the body’s capacity to have pleasurable sensations around sex is all very limited. It just lasts for a few moments. The craving lasts for hours and years, but the actual experience ends in a few moments.
So rather than saying that by regulating sex we are depriving of ourselves of pleasure, the reality is that by obsessing with sex we are depriving ourselves of pleasure. Because by obsessing with sex, we get only a few moments of pleasure, whatever is there in sex, but by obsessing with sex we deprive ourselves of the spiritual happiness that would be possible for us constantly, if our consciousness is not so caught in sex, but pure and spiritual, where we could perceive God, perceive Krishna and relish his bhakti. The purpose of regulation of sex is so that our consciousness can be gradually spiritualised and we can relish spiritual happiness eternally, more and more even in this life and thereafter also.
Now, with this broad understanding of the related values of the material and spiritual happiness, we can understand the purpose of marriage. The purpose of marriage is that it brings about a regulation. Srila Prabhupada writes in the 18th chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita, in one of his purports, that the purpose of marriage is to make the mind peaceful, so that one can pursue spiritual life peacefully. That means that the mind has a hyperactive imagination, especially with respect to sex.
So when a regulated way, when the opportunity for gratification is provided the mind says ok. One realises the mind is getting so excited about this, but there’s nothing to be so wildly agitated about it. When there is an avenue for gratification and at the same time there’s regulation, then the mind starts thinking: ok, is there any higher happiness? So instead of material happiness we start looking for spiritual happiness.
If there’s no regulation, then from this material pleasure we go to the next material pleasure, to the next material pleasure, to the next material pleasure. Ok, with this person my relationship did not work out, then maybe I will try with some other person. This person was not all that good looking, but that person is more good looking.
In that way, when there’s no regulation, then there is never any realisation. There’s no realisation that the problem is not the relationship with this person, the problem is not this particular form of gratification, the problem is that material pleasure itself is unfulfilling.
If there’s no regulation then we think that: ok, it didn’t work out with this person, maybe it will work out with this. It didn’t work out in this way, maybe it will work out in that way. And in that way we get caught in material alternatives and that how we stay endlessly trapped. Regulation is helps us get to the realisation that we need to look for pleasure other than material. And thus opens us towards seeking spiritual happiness.
And further, even from the point of view of this world, actually the purpose of sex is procreation. There may be pleasure in it, but the pleasure is not the only purpose of sex, as is thought of in today’s world. The primary purpose of sex is procreation. And when there is marriage, then for the children that are born, there is a stable environment within they can be taken care of.
Krishna says: dharmāviruddho bhūteṣu kāmo ’smi bharatarṣabha, that I am sex life that is not contrary to the principles of dharma. This means that it is not sex itself that is taboo, it is sex that is divorced from the purpose of life and the purpose of sex. That is undesirable. The purpose of life is ultimately to develop our eternal relationship with God and have eternal happiness. So when sex is divorced from that and sex itself is made into a purpose, into an obsession, then that is definitely undesirable.
While we are living in this world, we as humans, in fact all living beings procreate, and humans also procreate. And that’s how the human race goes on. That purpose is there. Human beings, infants especially, nature has made them in such a way that they need a lot of care. In some species the infant is just born and the infant just starts taking care of itself. In humans it doesn’t work like that. Infants need a lot of support and that support is offered through a family.
So if marriage is merely seen as a tool for getting gratification, then there’s nothing dharmic about that marriage. That simply is a legal marriage. When the marriage is seen as a spiritual partnership where two souls come together and together they try to develop their love for Krishna and they also consider they have an opportunity to get further souls into this world and to give them an opportunity to develop their spiritual relationship with Krishna, then that becomes sanctified and spiritualized.
So premarital sex and extramarital sex, this is all divorced from the purpose of life and even from the purpose of sex. Generally in premarital sex people want to do abortion or people want to avoid children, in extramarital sex also. There’s no available facility for taking care of children. Taking care of them becomes difficult. Those children don’t get a proper home environment and even if they grow up they’re often stigmatised in society as illegitimate children. A whole lot of problems come up.
Therefore the purpose of marriage is to harmonize the activity of sex with the purpose of life. When sex is divorced from marriage and it leads to increasing illusion, increasing complication. Even at a material level, premarital affairs, extramarital affairs lead to a lot of agitation and complication. From the spiritual perspective they increase illusion, they increase bondage. And even from a human perspective, there’s no deep relationship that develops. And that’s why spiritually and materially they are undesirable.
Thank you. Hare Krishna.