One issue that occurs with both Western and Eastern sex magick is the polarization of the sexes. This kind of thinking about the sexes can be found in nineteenth century occultism (and even further back), “One calls the forces positive and negative, and one rediscovers them in good and bad, emission and reception, life and death, idea and action, man and woman (positive and negative magnetic poles) in the material plane and, conversely the woman (active pole) and man (negative pole) in the mental plane.”
The division into polarity is often used as a way of explaining the unity found in sex magick. In other words, it is the union of opposites. Intriguingly, love is often cited as a necessary ingredient of sex magick, in order to make it particularly effective. We are inclined to agree that love, in sex magick, can be very important as an energizer. Whether the polarity is necessary is another case, as the union of opposites is by it’s nature a negation of polarity and the need for it. We feel polarity is an unnecessary approach to sex in general, that has caused far more harm and misunderstanding precisely because it is cultural, as opposed to biological.
Yet, incorporation of polarity occurs all too often even in modern texts. In Shaping Formless Fire, Stephen Mace states that “The difference between men and women—in both anatomy and quality of energy—is conspicuous. Men eject the quickening jolt, the surge of power, that animates the enterprise. Women provide the form that can thus be stirred to life.” Unfortunately for Mace, this statement reveals his ignorance of female anatomy. The majority of men are ignorant of the fact that women can actually ejaculate fluid as well, and as such, by his criteria, are capable of that same “quickening jolt.”
Beyond that, it’s not unknown for a woman to be the active magical worker. A female magician may also use her vagina to draw in a male magician’s energy and work the necessary magic with it, rather than simply being a vessel for the magic he works. In this way, the man could simply be a generator of energy, while the woman is the one who shapes it and creates the magic. In one case, a woman has actively vamped sexual energy from men, without them knowing it, and then directed that energy toward her own purposes. While we don’t condone her ethics (as we think using a person’s energy without hir permission is harmful to the person) it does illustrate that a woman can be the active principle.
Polarity automatically buys into an attitude common in both Western and Eastern sex magick texts, the idea that having a vagina makes a person automatically passive or receptive, whereas the penis endows one with active/projective energy. The stereotypical polarity not only thrusts people into limiting roles, but it also often relegates the biological woman to being a convenience rather than a participant in magick, a mere cauldron in which the male magician stirs the elixir of life. But in sex magick, polarity is not a biological fact, “Our physical gender does not determine the type or amount of energy we have access to, and does not determine the roles we must play in sex magic workings.” It’s important to remember that we are not defined by our sex when it comes to magick. Instead if sex is something which must be defined, let it be defined in a way that is helpful as opposed to harmful.
Western sex magick generally involves heterosexual intercourse, with the focus being primarily on coitus. It is assumed that the climax of the magick will occur when the man ejaculates, regardless of whether the woman has an orgasm or not. (And we don’t care how good your magic is—there’s no way to guarantee simultaneous orgasm!) The magick is not considered complete until there’s sperm floating around in the mix. In addition, on an energetic level, the focus is on the energy raised when the man orgasms, while the woman is the container for this energy. In short, the woman serves no purpose that could not also be filled by another man, a blow-up doll, or the male magician’s own hand.
Part of the problem is misunderstanding or downplay of the female orgasm. In Lupa’s experience, at least, a clitoral orgasm is much stronger than a vaginal orgasm. This is a common trait among biological females, though not universal. The difficulty for many women to have a clitoral orgasm during coitus can be seen as a distraction not worth bothering with until the real ritual is over—if even then. We wonder how many women have never had a chance to discover the clitoral orgasm exists simply because they end up with partners who can’t give decent face or hand (or who are too focused on their own pleasure to try).
The vaginal or uterine emphasis bolsters an unhealthy attitude—the idea that the highest function of a woman is to give birth, whether figuratively or literally. This bolsters the idea that effective sex magick can only come about through coitus, and that anything else is less effective because only coitus involves reproduction. While symbolic reproduction can be useful in creating effective magick, it is not the do-all and end-all of sex magick. Otherwise why would so many magicians of all sexes use masturbation to cast sigils? Yet from Cerridwen’s Cauldron to the Holy Grail to the ceremonial Cup, women are limited in symbolism only to their uteruses. The clitoris is left out in the cold.
This emphasis also puts lots of pressure on men. The need to perform, to be hard in an instant, and ready to have sex (whether you want to or not) is something that men experience, but which is also frequently goes unnoticed, because of the supposed male privilege. And yet even as not all men are ripped and buff (an image which is portrayed as the ideal man), nor do all men have a high sex drive, or for that matter an overwhelming need to have sex all the time. Nor is sex the only thing that is on a man’s mind. And yet inevitably men will be accused of “thinking with their dicks,” or be portrayed as sex crazy idiots. This stereotype is very harmful to men, putting pressure on them to conform to these images and yet also shaming them for having a perfectly natural desire for sex.
The secret to breaking this dichotomy starts at the very source of our genitalia. Every human fetus starts out as female. It is only after three months that some fetuses change over to being male. This means that everyone’s genitals start out from the same basic little buds of developing flesh. The penis and the clitoris are analogous to each other anatomically speaking, as are the testes and ovaries.
There is no biological truth to polarity, because polarity is a cultural concept, with meanings associated with it that are used to define it. It’s true that the bio-males and bio-females have different physiological functions. The man can produce sperm and the woman can produce an ovum, but these functions still are focused on the same end goal and are rather similar in terms of what occurs, i.e. the sperm is produced by the man’s body as part of the procreation function, just as the ovum is produced by the woman’s body for procreation. The difference is that a woman can actually carry a baby to term in her body, and a man cannot…but the woman still needs a man in order to produce the baby. Even with that difference noted there is no definitive polarity about it. The reason is because that difference is related to a biological function as opposed to something more meaningful.
Also if we associate polarity with biology we leave out (in just the human race) the intersex people, the androgynous, the gay and lesbian community, the transgender community, and the people who don’t have the biological capacity to produce sperm or ovum…needless to say polarity becomes a confining system that tries to ignore the inconvenient truth that biology is capable of more diversity than just the dualistic male and female ends of the spectrum. Other species can also be pointed to as an example of the fact that polarity is not a biological constant. That people associate it with biology is a result of cultural beliefs about biology. It’s also a rather limited human-centric perspective on biology, one which tends to focus only on the human experience as opposed to trying to understand the variety of biological diversity that exists.
Polarity is a cultural concept precisely because it is an attempt to define biology outside of its functions and in ignorance of what those functions are. So we define certain “values” with polarity. Men are the active principle and women are the passive principle in sex for instance…but is that a biological reality? It is not. It is a cultural definition and a shoddy one at that. It focuses on assigning attributes to biological roles without providing any biological basis for these attributes. Unfortunately, this role assignment is cultural and has ultimately been harmful to women precisely because it has tried to minimize them and control their capacity to enjoy sex. It harms men because it’s helped to create a stereotype where men are sex hungry creatures who think only about having sex. It’s also harmed any person who’s gender falls outside the traditional cissexual heterosexual sex roles. We’ve noted with some dismay that the majority of books on sex magick don’t, for instance, offer much that’s applicable to the gay and lesbian community.
Now some people might point to energy work as part of biology and say that is where this concept of polarity and men being active and women being passive comes from. And yet while energy is an intrinsic part of the human organism and part of the biology of a person, any associations/meanings made about it are cultural. We need to examine those cultural assumptions and ask why they have been emphasized and who it benefits to emphasize those assumptions about sex, energy work, and polarity.
In our own work with energy, we’ve yet to find it true that women are passive and men active. We think it’s a case of associating the biological functions of the body with energy work. But can we prove that the biological functions make a man active and a women passive? Just because a penis thrusts into a vagina does not make it active. If anything we’ve found that such “polarities” are switchable in sex magic and that women can be the active principle while men are passive. Indeed, at least in Taylor’s case, he prefers for the woman to be the active principle, directing the energy and focusing it as she sees fit. That preference is both a personal turn-on, and a recognition that a woman is just as able to do magic the way he does it (regardless of the difference in biology). In other words, there is no difference (beyond the biological level) unless people make a distinction of difference. Any difference on the biological level is a difference of function, but not a difference of polarity.
It would ultimately be better to do away with polarity and the duality it inspires. Sex can be active for both participants or passive, but as long as it’s good sex does it really matter who is active or passive? By overthrowing the reliance on polarity we undo the cultural harm it can cause to people of any gender. That harm is manifold as is witnessed by the murder of transgendered people, people who refuse to fit into the sex role of their genitals, and instead choose their own gender. They are murdered for simply making that choice and this is because the cultural memeage of polarity only allows two genders, as opposed to any others. As magicians, we owe it to ourselves and to other people to not use this kind of cultural meme in our magical workings as we only reinforce the kind of hatred that can destroy so many people. And of course limiting yourself to polarity leaves out a lot of potential fun to be had with other people!
With that recognition about the cultural values that have infiltrated our notions of sex and sex magick, we can free ourselves of them and recognize that polarity is entirely a cultural meme, infecting us with values that are oppressive, restricted, and ultimately useless to the process of sex magick. Indeed we can then accept as well that whether it’s hetero, homo, or pan sexuality being explored what meanings we make of what occurs is entirely our own responsibility and a way of making the sex act more meaningful and intimate…more a celebration and less a reinforcement of stale cultural norms.
Taylor Ellwood and Lupa
The Green Wolf
The above is an excerpt from their forthcoming book on kink magick. Copyright 2006, used with permission.
Image credit: H Koppdelaney Footnotes:
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