I grew up in the church. That probably tells you a lot about how I’ve been conditioned to think about sex and pleasure, especially as it relates to me as a spiritual being. I hadn’t always internalised the shameful messaging I was taught about sexuality. I remember being 10 or 11 years old and starting to notice things about myself and my body. I enjoyed the tingling feeling I got when I peed and then wiped myself afterwards. My growing breasts made my nipples sore sometimes, but when I rubbed and squeezed them, it felt really good. I developed a knack for writing quite early. Teachers, peers and adjudicators at competitions said I was good at it, so I wrote more. I enjoyed writing about my naughty daydreams and every time I did, I could feel an ache between my legs, and sometimes, I felt a wetness on my panties. I really enjoyed church and I was deeply in love with God. My creative, sexual and spiritual expression were by far my favourite ways of experiencing myself. They made me feel… alive.
My favourite time to write these erotic stories was in church during a sermon. When I eventually left the church much later, I had collected so many journals that had biblical notes on one side of the page, and an erotic lesbian story on the other. I still have these journals. Yes, a part of me did know or feel like I was doing something I shouldn’t be, but I honestly felt most inspired, and most sensual, in church. It felt more satisfying writing about pleasure when my spirit was already heightened, compared to if I was sitting in a quiet classroom at school. The guilt and self-judgement weren’t because I was writing about lesbian sex in the house of the Lord. I didn’t feel inherently bad, and that is what made me feel guilty.
The more I enjoyed discovering and exploring these parts of myself, the harder it became to hide them because I found everything about figuring myself out genuinely beautiful and fascinating. I would give a sermon at a youth group meeting and minutes later tell my friends about the first kiss I had with the girl I’ve been crushing on. I found an article about discovering the g-spot during art class once, and when I went home to go find it, that Sunday morning I was elated to tell my friends at church how I’d spent the whole weekend fingering myself. It was only after, that one of these friends at church sent me a gut-wrenching message on Mxit, telling me how disgusting I was for the audacity to touch people’s lives with the word of God in one moment, then boast about ‘sexually defiling’ myself in the next. I think that was the first time I actually internalised the shame or judgement – these friends were my safe space and them being my church mates meant they encompassed a big part of my belonging. If that space was judging me, then there certainly was nowhere else in the world I would be accepted. I realised then that, maybe, my experience of my sexuality cannot coexist with my spirituality in the way that felt so natural and okay for me. Before then, I ebbed very easily between the two. I didn’t feel like I was ‘sinning’. I didn’t hide this part of me away from God in shame. They were both an integral part of my identity and how I was experiencing myself, and I enjoyed and loved both so very much. The judgement affected me so much, I officially came out to my mother when I was 15 and found myself agreeing to a deliverance program that would help me overcome my sexual deviance.
I spent another year after that devoting myself even more to serving God, and serving the church. I influenced a lot of my peers and stimulated their spiritual appetite. I was the classic ‘fisher of men’ and I felt honoured and humbled at how I could facilitate the beginning of people’s relationship with God.
Then one day (I was sixteen that year), I was lying in my hostel bed in boarding school. I had done my evening readings and I was about to pray and go to sleep. I was not crushing on anyone or feeling sexually attracted to anybody. I was probably at my purest and holiest without a single temptation in sight and no forbidden thoughts in my mind. I was just lying there, listening to my body, and then simply just said:
“God, I really want to masturbate tonight.”
And so I did.
And that is how I “fell from grace”. I touched myself. I let myself think of girls I’d been with before and I made myself cum, slow and hard. It was nothing dramatic; no excruciating feelings of conflict, no guilt, or any highly charged emotions. Even the orgasm itself, the first one in ages, didn’t feel like I had done anything extraordinary or exciting. I was just…ok. Indifferent maybe. I unconsciously accepted myself that day without having seen it coming. I accepted myself while deep in my deliverance journey and doing so well being a ‘good Christian’. I always find this part ironic.
And there began my long and difficult journey away from organised religion into spirituality instead. I slowly stopped showing up for my duties at church, I survived a surprise exorcism and eventually, I left the church before they could reject me. It was painful. At first, I thought I’d have to reject God in Their entirety. I must admit, I tried. But I knew God was real. I had had an experience of this higher power, this force and this energy. I still wanted to be able to relate with it. But I knew in that single bed in the hostel that fateful night, that going back to how I denied myself before was not an option. I knew that, and God knew that.
It’s been more than ten years since all of that happened and I am back where I was when I was about 10 or 11 years old. My creativity, sexuality and spirituality are deeply connected and still remain my favourite ways of experiencing myself. When I started practising BDSM in my adult years, it was the spiritual stimulation I experienced from it that really drew me in. It felt very much like the religious space I grew up in. The training. The discipline. The submission. Being punished for not acting accordingly. Being forgiven, affirmed, and loved again after repentance. Getting favour from your Master and being rewarded when you do well. The rituals and routines. The community and roles. Learning the rules and guidelines and even adopting the appropriate language. It just felt so familiar. The only difference was, I wasn’t being judged by anyone, and I wanted to be a better person, just because I wanted to be a better person. I wasn’t motivated by fear of judgment or damnation. If things went my way, I also got to get off at the end.
My absolute favourite part about it though, was how similar subspace felt to being ‘in the spirit’. The older I grow the more my orgasms feel like the Holy Spirit paying me a visit. I remember a sangoma (traditional healer) likening the trance they get into when they evoke the spirit of the ancestors to ‘catching the spirit’: the moaning and groaning. Speaking incoherently or talking in tongues. The heavy breathing. The spasming or gyrating body. Potentially passing out afterwards. Until I saw that post, I thought I was the only one who thought these things felt so similar. It was so affirming that a person speaking of a spiritual experience outside of Christianity or organised religion was also attesting to this. I know personally, my spirit feels most expansive, open and permeable after an orgasm, especially if it is with a partner I am deeply and intimately connected with. It’s a similar feeling I get after a rehearsal or during a performance where I was really aligned and in tune with my body, my spirit, my craft and the audience. Surely these things must all be connected – it’s hard to believe they are separate, or worse, that one influences the other negatively.
There is a plethora of information and readings on sex and spirituality. In my research, I’ve noticed that most scholars like to put different forms of sexual expression on either extreme of a spiritual spectrum: tantric sex and energy work is on the one side and represent the light, and BDSM and kink are on the other side, and represent our dark and deviant sides. I see why it’s easy to adopt this type of comparison, but I don’t agree with it. If you grew up in Christianity or other religions that demonise sexuality, then you’ll know that any time sex and spirituality were used in one sentence the assumption was always witchcraft, satanism, devil worshipping and demonic spirits. I think that is perhaps why, even after we accept ourselves as sexual beings, the thought of enjoying our spirituality and sexuality simultaneously is outrageous because of all these subliminal messages we have.
I think, no matter what the sexual expression or pleasure act is, if you intend to or hope to have a spiritual experience with it, you certainly can. Yes, we can interrogate and try to understand why we have the desires or kinks we do. But judging something as light or dark, good or bad, when you have one good intention (and here, I am speaking to and of people who only have good intentions), which is to have a spiritual experience in your pleasure, means you’re only inviting judgement where judgement is not necessary. Especially from a spiritual lens, your intention when you start until you conclude surely matters more than the actual act. The physical act then only becomes a channel, and a window.
Combining sex or pleasure with our spirituality doesn’t only look like tantric sex, or sacred BDSM and kink. It’s a lover chanting words of affirmation (or you could call it prayer) while they’re tribbing you, and the combination may or may not bring you to orgasm, and you could feel a spiritual shift in you afterwards. It’s blessing the hot oil you use and speaking healing energy over it before you rub yourself or someone else with it. It’s sitting with your legs wrapped around each other and talking intimately and softly about your dreams and future plans, saying them out loud and sealing that pseudo prayer with a kiss or a hot love making session afterwards. It’s the intention. It’s inviting God, your guides, the universe or whatever you call this energy and higher power, into the moment and experience. It’s asking Them to divinely align any and everything you do, and to conspire in your favour. It’s you saying, yes, even here, in this moment, I want to experience You.
Pleasure and sex are already healing in their own right. A positive experience of the two has the ability to change a person’s life or perception forever. I can only imagine how powerful sex and pleasure are, and can be, when you add a little magic, a little spirit, to the mix.
When I was deeply religious, my life’s mission was to be a good person. Now, all I really want is to be an unapologetic hedonist who is authentic and well-balanced. And being well-balanced means that my sexual expression matters just as much as my spirituality. It means both need just as much effort and time in maintaining their health. Both these parts of me deserve to be celebrated and loved. The two can influence each other and they can even work together. Both these parts of me can coexist and thrive quite comfortably in me.