A common theme linking together many different traditions of spiritual development is the concept of sexual abstinence. From the solemn ashrams of the meditative East to the psychedelic jungle fever of the Amazon, the spiritual seeker is continuously reminded to keep his or her pants on.

The only times in my life when I have made a concerted effort to avoid all sexual activity—including masturbation—was for a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat as well as for a couple of Ayahuasca medicine retreats, the most recent of which was a month long stay at a Shipibo healing centre in Peru. The latter event suggested that I abstain for at least a week before the retreat and for at least a week afterwards. Aside from the occasional flood of sexual imagery that would invade my consciousness during a ceremony (something I’ve also experienced with meditation), I was almost completely successful. However, the night after I had left the centre I was staying in a dormitory room at a hostel in the jungle city of Iquitos when I was awoken in the middle of the night by the force of my own orgasm. I laid there, damp and uncomfortable, wondering whether this unconsciously-willed ejaculation counted as a failure to abide by the time honoured guidelines of the Ayahuasca tradition.

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