Transcendent Sex: When Lovemaking Opens the Veil. By Jenny Wade. New York: Paraview Pocket Books, 2004, 322 pages. Paper, $14.00.
"It's not just that sex can be 'mind-blowing'; it's that sex can show you the face of God, the smile of the Goddess, the radiance of Spirit--and more unnerving still, not as a force or presence out there, but as your own deepest self and nature." So writes philosopher and mystic Ken Wilber in his forward to Jenny Wade's Transcendent Sex.
Wade contends that subtle sexual phenomena such as Wilber describes are among the best-kept secrets in human history. Indeed, they are only recently being acknowledged in the scientific study of sexuality, most often under the rubric of Tantra. However, Transcendent Sex goes well beyond Tantric traditions to chart the altered states that can occur suddenly and unbidden in the course of lovemaking, and to almost anyone, posits Wade. She argues that these states open the veil between the world of physical reality and the realms beyond; they produce revelations identical to those sought through the centuries by spiritual adepts, including Tantrikas, shamans, and saints.
For this book, Wade, a developmental psychologist and faculty member of California's Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, interviewed 53 women and 38 men ranging in age from 26 to 70 (more than one third were in their 40s). Wade recruited these respondents from her personal and professional contacts and states that she made no attempt to seek a representative sample, reasoning that it was necessary to interview only "articulate participants who could verbalize the subtle dynamics of altered-state experiences." To map new territory it makes sense to query those who have traversed the territory; but Wade should have included her interview questions. Her line of inquiry would have strengthened this book by allowing readers to ask those questions of their personal and professional contacts, and of themselves.
Most of the book focuses on the narratives from Wade's interviews. These narratives are engaging glimpses into typically unexplored erotic landscapes. Wade's interpretation of them is not only intelligent, but highly literate, with frequent references to the texts of the major religions and other works. (Did you know that the world's oldest document, The Epic of Gilgamesh, describes a lusty and miraculous transformation through sacred sex?) What is especially interesting from a critical standpoint is how Wade views her narratives: not as a sex researcher might, through a lens of physical performance or relational consequence, but through the lens of consciousness studies, whose realities are recognized by the philosopher, the ecologist, the mystic, and the poet. Thus, she is able to parse these sexual anecdotes through the language of noetics, the science of time, space, and extraordinary agency.
Chapter headings include "The Spirit of Gaia: Supernatural Connections with Early Life," "By Love Possessed: Shapeshifting, Channeling, and Possession," "Breaking Away: Cosmic Journeys that Leave the Body Behind," "Time Travel and Revealed Truths: Falling into Past Lives," "Being in Nothingness: Sex and Nirvana," and "Divine Union: One with God." The resulting discussions introduce a way of thinking about sexual experience that bypasses some of sexology's most sacred cows, such as survey data and the debates about gender, orientation, morality, and medical intervention. They focus on the notion that throughout human history, sex has been a path to divine revelation.
Two themes weave through the book's narratives. The first is a sense of non-ordinary or altered states, which Wade defines as the disruption of left-hemisphere awareness, and the consequent transformation of ordinary noetic experience (the perception of who does what with whom, and where and when) into non-ordinary experience. The second is a sense of "cosmic force," of entering an unseen world--a brightly colored Oz inhabited by supernatural beings including deities--God, Goddess, and more.
Some of the most useful content is found in the appendix, where Wade describes her study and its findings. Here she lays the groundwork for a definitive guide to the characteristics of transcendent sex by outlining the varieties of experience voiced by her participants. Some of these varieties, such as merging with a partner, magnetism between lovers, oneness with nature, the rise of kundalini energy, and the sudden emission of female ejaculate, are already well-documented (Bonheim, 1997; Francoeur, Cornog, & Perper, 1999; d, 1989; Ladas, Whipple, & Perry, 1982; Moore, 1998; Nelson, 1992; Ogden, 1999; Savage, 1999; Scantling & Browder, 1993). Other varieties of experience explored by Wade appear in diverse spiritual traditions but are not yet generally acknowledged as part of sexual response. It is important to mention them (below in italics), both for information about the energetic principles they embody and also as a baseline for further research and clinical application.
Some of the experiences Wade enumerates initiated episodes of extraordinary movement and altered location. Nearly one fourth of her participants reported experiencing past lives during transcendent sex--finding themselves in scenarios of prior lifetimes and often returning with complex biographical details. About an equal number reported out-of-body experiences in which they found themselves, mid-lovemaking, viewing the scene from outside and above their bodies (for the men this most often occurred after coitus). Others, mostly women, reported a sense of weightlessness, floating, and bliss during lovemaking, that Wade calls the phenomenon of transport. Visions, the extraordinary appearance of human or supernatural beings during lovemaking, were reported primarily by women. Closely related is clairsentience, the sudden, preternatural knowledge of "the truth," reported equally by women and men.
Fascinating, if somewhat startling, is a phenomenon called trespasso, the ability to see spirits "trespassing" into a partner's body, via another head or heads superimposed on the partner's. Another experience mentioned often by Wade's interviewees is the sense of oneness with the infinite. In Western mysticism this is called unio mystica, awareness of the mystical All, typically in a suffusion of light and ecstatic bliss. Other interviewees described experiencing the infinite as the void, the primordial emptiness that is a frequent construct of Eastern mystical traditions. Other of Wade's categories involve various forms of possession, in which a lover's ego and being seems to have been taken over by an outside force, as in shapeshifting, where lovers suddenly became an animal or a plant, or deity possession, where they were inhabited by Kali, Pan, and other supernatural beings. Still other categories involve extraordinary abilities activated by sexual connection. These include telepathy, the ability to access the unspoken thoughts and feelings of others, and channeling, the ability to access the consciousness of a whole group. They also include magical connections with nature, the ability to empathize and communicate with plants, animals, and the rhythms of the Earth itself.
Finally, Wade lists six outcomes of transcendent sex: spiritual awakening, personal growth, enhanced relationships, an enlarged sense of reality, a sense that physical sex is holy, and sexual healing, by which she means increased openness to pleasure and orgasm and absence of vaginismus, dissociation, and numbness. Along with these outcomes she includes advice about inviting transcendent sexual experiences into one's life and also some caveats about the dark side of transcendent sex, such as dangerous liaisons and intrusive intimacy.
Some sexologists will welcome Wade's research, and others will want to dismiss it as too unrepresentative, too un-Kinsey, too Californian, too, well, "woo-woo." But from my perspective, her research tings true and clear. It not only corroborates (and helps classify) the sorts of descriptions I have heard from countless clients over my 30-year clinical practice, but it also parallels reports of the 3,810 respondents to a nationwide survey I conducted on sexuality and spirituality (Ogden, 2002), the full "report" of which is in press.
Moreover, it corroborates the brain research made possible by today's optical scanning technology, which will convince even some nay-sayers that sexual response is far more than a closed-circuit cycle from desire to orgasm. Functional magnetic resonance images (fMRIs) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans now reveal that sexual experience engages a multiplicity of the brain's systems--physiological, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual (Whipple & Komiksaruk, 2002)--and provide an organic basis for including non-ordinary and cosmic dimensions as a valid part of the sexual lexicon.
Transcendent Sex offers research that broadens current clinical notions of sexual function and dysfunction. "Transcendence" may not make its way into the DSM as an indicator of sexual health. But understanding the concept, or at least acknowledging its existence, may prompt us to ask questions beyond physiology and performance and imagine interventions beyond behavior modification and pharmaceuticals. Wade's interviewees speak of floating beyond their bodies or hearing the voice of God. Are they dissociating---or are they tapping into the divine mysteries of the universe? In other words, is this dysfunction or is it discovery; voyaging over the edge of the known world to bring back evidence of riches beyond?
Wade's study begins to limn the outer reaches of sexual experience and the deepest meanings attached to sexual relationship. I urge sex researchers, educators, and clinicians to take notice of this book, however far it seems to steer from sexological center.
Bonheim, J. (1997). Aphrodite's daughters: Women 'S sexual stories and the journey of the soul. New York: Fireside.
Francoeur, R. T., Cornog, M., & Perper, T. (Eds.) (1999). Sex, love, and marriage in the 21st century: The next sexual revolution. Lincoln, NB: iUniverse.com, Inc.
Heyward, C. (1989). Touching our strength: The erotic as power and the love of God. New York: HarperCollins.
Ladas, A., Whipple, B., & Perry, J. (1982). The G spot. New York: Holt.
Moore, T. (1998). The soul of sex: Cultivating life as an act of love. New York: Harper-Collins.
Nelson, J. B. (1992). Body theology. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press.
Ogden, G. (1999). Women who love sex: An inquiry into the expanding spirit of women's erotic experience. (Rev. Ed.). Cambridge, MA: Womanspirit Press.
Ogden, G. (2002). Sexuality and spirituality in women's relationships: Preliminary results of an exploratory survey. Working Paper 405. Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, Wellesley, MA.
Savage, L. E. (1999). Reclaiming goddess sexuality: The power of the feminine way. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.
Scantling, S. R., & Browder, S. (1993). Ordinary women, extraordinary sex. New York: Dutton.
Whipple, B., & Komisaruk, B. R. (2002). Brain (PET) responses to vaginal-cervical self-stimulation in women with complete spinal cord injury: Preliminary findings. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 28, 79-86.
Reviewed by Gina Ogden, Ph.D., 36 Shepard St., Cambridge, MA, 02138; e-mail: email@example.com.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group