The Motivation for Sexual Behavior
The main point to look at in Buddhist ethics concerning sexuality, then, is the motivation for our sexual behavior. Sexual activity is not terribly different, as an act, from eating, in the sense that it is a biological function that comes from having this type of body. If we have this type of body, it’s going to get hungry. We have to feed it. Likewise, when we have this type of body, there are going to be sexual hormones. There’s going to be a biological function regarding sex that we somehow have to deal with. There’s a big difference, however, between satisfying sexual hunger and satisfying hunger for food. We can live without sex, but we can’t live without food.
Sexual activity, like eating, can be motivated by a disturbing emotion or attitude, a constructive one, or a neutral one. Based on the motivation, the act of having sex or eating likewise becomes destructive, constructive, or neutral. For instance, if we eat out of tremendous greed and attachment – just stuff ourselves like a pig – it’s self-destructive. If we eat because we need to be strong in order to take care of our families – in order to have the strength and energy to work, and so on – that’s a positive motivation; the eating is constructive. If we eat just because it’s time to eat and everybody else is eating, it’s ethically neutral.
The same thing is true with sex. If we have sex because we have tremendous attachment and desire, or because of anger like when soldiers rape their enemy’s wives and daughters, it’s destructive. If we’re having sex in order to show affection and help somebody – an appropriate person – with the hope that this will make the person feel a little better, it’s constructive. If we have sex just because we can’t fall asleep and it’ll make us tired so that we can fall asleep faster, then it’s neutral.
The result of what we experience from the same act is different according to the motivation. “Destructive” means that it’s going to produce problems for us in the future. For most people, the negative motivation for sex that would make it destructive and cause problems for them in the future is usually attachment and longing desire. What we need to work on, in the context of renunciation, is not the sexual act itself, but rather this attachment and longing desire.