Sexual Misconduct

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Training of Sila, the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).

Sexual Misconduct

Postby VeganLiz » Thu Feb 24, 2011 1:01 am

The Five Precepts speak against sexual misconduct.

But what exactly does that imply? Just terrible things such as molestation / rape? Or does it imply that sex is between lovers in a committed relationship only? Is casual sex advised against?

I am curious. Sex is a new thing in my life.
"My actions are my only true belongings." Thich Nhat Hanh
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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby bodom » Thu Feb 24, 2011 1:07 am

You might find this short article helpful:

(3) Abstaining from sexual misconduct (kamesu miccha-cara veramani)

He avoids sexual misconduct and abstains from it. He has no intercourse with such persons as are still under the protection of father, mother, brother, sister or relatives, nor with married women, nor with female convicts, nor lastly, with betrothed girls.[32]

The guiding purposes of this precept, from the ethical standpoint, are to protect marital relations from outside disruption and to promote trust and fidelity within the marital union. From the spiritual standpoint it helps curb the expansive tendency of sexual desire and thus is a step in the direction of renunciation, which reaches its consummation in the observance of celibacy (brahmacariya) binding on monks and nuns. But for laypeople the precept enjoins abstaining from sexual relations with an illicit partner. The primary transgression is entering into full sexual union, but all other sexual involvements of a less complete kind may be considered secondary infringements.

The main question raised by the precept concerns who is to count as an illicit partner. The Buddha's statement defines the illicit partner from the perspective of the man, but later treatises elaborate the matter for both sexes.[33]

For a man, three kinds of women are considered illicit partners:

(1) A woman who is married to another man. This includes, besides a woman already married to a man, a woman who is not his legal wife but is generally recognized as his consort, who lives with him or is kept by him or is in some way acknowledged as his partner. All these women are illicit partners for men other than their own husbands. This class would also include a woman engaged to another man. But a widow or divorced woman is not out of bounds, provided she is not excluded for other reasons.

(2) A woman still under protection. This is a girl or woman who is under the protection of her mother, father, relatives, or others rightfully entitled to be her guardians. This provision rules out elopements or secret marriages contrary to the wishes of the protecting party.

(3) A woman prohibited by convention. This includes close female relatives forbidden as partners by social tradition, nuns and other women under a vow of celibacy, and those prohibited as partners by the law of the land.

From the standpoint of a woman, two kinds of men are considered illicit partners:

(1) For a married woman any man other than her husband is out of bounds. Thus a married woman violates the precept if she breaks her vow of fidelity to her husband. But a widow or divorcee is free to remarry.

(2) For any woman any man forbidden by convention, such as close relatives and those under a vow of celibacy, is an illicit partner.

Besides these, any case of forced, violent, or coercive sexual union constitutes a transgression. But in such a case the violation falls only on the offender, not on the one compelled to submit.

The positive virtue corresponding to the abstinence is, for laypeople, marital fidelity. Husband and wife should each be faithful and devoted to the other, content with the relationship, and should not risk a breakup to the union by seeking outside partners. The principle does not, however, confine sexual relations to the marital union. It is flexible enough to allow for variations depending on social convention. The essential purpose, as was said, is to prevent sexual relations which are hurtful to others. When mature independent people, though unmarried, enter into a sexual relationship through free consent, so long as no other person is intentionally harmed, no breach of the training factor is involved.

Ordained monks and nuns, including men and women who have undertaken the eight or ten precepts, are obliged to observe celibacy. They must abstain not only from sexual misconduct, but from all sexual involvements, at least during the period of their vows. The holy life at its highest aims at complete purity in thought, word, and deed, and this requires turning back the tide of sexual desire.


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... toend.html

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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby Ben » Thu Feb 24, 2011 1:26 am

Nice one Bodom, I was about to link to that article.
In answer to your question, Liz, the answer is a little dependent on context.
Sexual misconduct for a lay-person does include everything from rape right through to engaging in sex with people who are already married/relationship, ordained members of the sangha and people under the protection of another (children), the mentally infirm & etc. In one discourse the Buddha lists nineteen(?) types of prohibited types of encounters. Sex within the context of a relationship is ok.
As far as sexual misconduct for a renunciate or a lay-person who has taken eight (uposotha) precepts, sexual misconduct means anything short of complete celebacy. And that is interpreted by many teachers to mean that masturbation within that context is sexual misconduct.
I haven't seen anything proscribing casual sex. But then I think one needs to use their judgement and ask whether indulging in casual sex the sort of thing that will help or hinder efforts in eradicating craving?
I hope that helps

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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby phil » Thu Feb 24, 2011 3:09 am

This is probably my own personal code, but I also include any dishonesty involved in getting sex. For example, if we find a partner who is not illicit according to the usual definition, but if we know that we are only having sex with them out of convenience, it is a kind of dishonesty and in my book at least consitutes sexual misconduct. For example, if we continue to have sex with them when we are planning secretly to get out of the relationship. Or if we have so called NSA sex with someone we suspect may be a sex addict. Again, not listed amoung the illicit partners, but we can have our own understanding of what is harmful to ourselves and others. Bhikkhu Bodhi talks in an interesting way about the precepts, not only avoiding breaking them outright, but also ...and I forget the word he used....staining, tarnishing them by behaviour that does not constitute a black and white breaking of them, but which we know by our increasingly sensitivity re morality to be wrong.
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(The fool is characterized by his/her actions/the wise one is characterized by his/her actions/Wisdom shines forth in behaviour.)
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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby Ben » Thu Feb 24, 2011 3:14 am

phil wrote:This is probably my own personal code, but I also include any dishonesty involved in getting sex. For example, if we find a partner who is not illicit according to the usual definition, but if we know that we are only having sex with them out of convenience, it is a kind of dishonesty and in my book at least consitutes sexual misconduct. For example, if we continue to have sex with them when we are planning secretly to get out of the relationship. Or if we have so called NSA sex with someone we suspect may be a sex addict. Again, not listed amoung the illicit partners, but we can have our own understanding of what is harmful to ourselves and others. Bhikkhu Bodhi talks in an interesting way about the precepts, not only avoiding breaking them outright, but also ...and I forget the word he used....staining, tarnishing them by behaviour that does not constitute a black and white breaking of them, but which we know by our increasingly sensitivity re morality to be wrong.


Yes, that is a good point, phil. My own experience has been that as I have progressed on the path, I have developed an increased sensitivity of unwholesome mindstates as they arise and a desire for more perfect sila.
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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby phil » Thu Feb 24, 2011 4:16 am

Ben wrote: Yes, that is a good point, phil. My own experience has been that as I have progressed on the path, I have developed an increased sensitivity of unwholesome mindstates as they arise and a desire for more perfect sila.


Hi Ben, yes it can be troublesome at times! :smile:

On the flip side, there is the danger that an increased sensitivity to mindstates in general, both wholesome and unwholesome, can give us a kind of confidence to play with the precepts. For example, I remember when I was still occasionally breaking the intoxicants precept because it was so hard to go to parties etc after work when I was tired without having a drink, there was a kind of confidence, there was such heightened awareness of the impact of the one drink, a careful watching of behaviour under its influence etc. That was playing with fire, and it eventually led to me getting burned because when we break the precepts we are putting ourselves at the mercy of some very dangerous worldly conditions. The same could apply to sexual misconduct, one could perhaps have awareness of the drive to have sex as conditioned, anatta, and perhaps that awareness of the conditioned nature of the desire could lead one to engage in sexual misconduct mindfully, watchfully, in a "let's just confirm how empty and unsatisfying this sort of behaviour really is, just this once, after all it is an accumulated tendency, it's just playing out...." sort of thing. So probably at some point along the path there is a tendency to think our sensitivity to mind states somehow trumps the precepts, which seem so uncool and kinda like some other religion when compared to sati, panna etc. Possibly.
Kammalakkhano , bhikkhave, bālo, kammalakkhano pandito, apadānasobhanī paññāti
(The fool is characterized by his/her actions/the wise one is characterized by his/her actions/Wisdom shines forth in behaviour.)
(AN 3.2 Lakkhana Sutta)
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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby Ben » Thu Feb 24, 2011 4:23 am

Indeed, indeed.
During my last retreat, part of the instructions that were given were in relation to the seductiveness of pleasant vedana and the subtlety of craving that can only be discerned, as a bone-head putthujjana, when one misses the sensation after it has gone, otherwise the subtle craving is mistaken as equanimity. You could say it was a bit of an eye-opener.
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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby Vossaga (Element) » Thu Feb 24, 2011 10:41 am

phil wrote:For example, if we continue to have sex with them when we are planning secretly to get out of the relationship. Or if we have so called NSA sex with someone we suspect may be a sex addict. Again, not listed amoung the illicit partners, but we can have our own understanding of what is harmful to ourselves and others.

hello Phil

for me, your post points to a possible redundancy in the Buddha's teaching about 'illicit partners'. one matter we can consider is our social world is far different than the social world of the Buddha. for example, in the Sigalovada Sutta, the Buddha's teaching about the responsibility of parents conforms to the Indian custom of parents arranging marriages for their children, which often occurred when a child was around sixteen years old

contrary to our society, in the Buddha's society, there was often no 'gap' between the child living under the protection of their parents and married life

in philosophy, the subject of 'freedom & responsibility' often arises, where it is often argued any growth in freedom need be balanced by equal growth in responsibility. in the sphere of sexual conduct, i think this philosophical question about balancing freedom with responsibility can be considered

of course, as Buddhists, what we regard as responsibility are our undertakings to prevent or mitigate suffering

with metta

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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby PeterB » Thu Feb 24, 2011 10:55 am

My own view , which is unlikely to be popular, is that the only sex that we can be sure is not in contradiction to the precept is that between people who are married or in in a civil partnership, and even then it has to be fully consensual on each occasion.
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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby Vossaga (Element) » Thu Feb 24, 2011 11:15 am

VeganLiz wrote:But what exactly does that imply? Just terrible things such as molestation / rape? Or does it imply that sex is between lovers in a committed relationship only? Is casual sex advised against?

hello Liz

As i mentioned out in my previous post, my opinion is our world is far different from the world of the Buddha. When it comes to the matter of sexual conduct, i think it is safe to say we face many more challenges than those living in the Buddha's world or, for some of us, we face more challenges than the world of our parents. That divorce rates are so high in our world i think is testament to the challenges we face when in comes to sex & relationships

This change & the challenges, in my opinion, is why we will receive a diversity of answers from Buddhists on your questions

If we think or reflect beyond the mere rules, the Buddha was primarily concerned with human beings living their lives with as much freedom from suffering as possible. Sex is included in the five precepts because it is an action that has the potential to cause suffering. For example, i trust you have met or know people who have suffered pain, heartbreak, anger, bitterness, even suicidal tendencies as a result of their sexual/relationship experiences

So to give you my answer to your questions, the Buddha advised action primarily motivated by lust is an unskilful action. Where as an action, such as a relationship, which includes lust but is primarily motivated by love & compassion (that is, regard for another's welfare) is skilful action

What is called skilful action sides with non-harming, where as what is called unskilful action sides with potential harming

My personal view is in today's world, with all of its challenges, following the "black & white rules" may not be sufficient to support our welfare & well-being

About casual sex, my opinion is the Buddhist teaching would not generally support such behaviour. The reasons are many, such as: (1) the motivation is primarily lust; at times loneliness; (2) virtues, such as love, compassion, relationship skills, etc, are not developed; and (3) insecurity or ungroundedness & associated craving can develop, in short, addiction qualities, what in Buddhism is called 'hungry ghost'

One more cautious Buddhist viewpoint is that of Thich Nhat Hanh, which can be read here:

With kindness

:smile:
Last edited by Vossaga (Element) on Thu Feb 24, 2011 7:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby Jason » Thu Feb 24, 2011 5:13 pm

VeganLiz wrote:The Five Precepts speak against sexual misconduct.

But what exactly does that imply? Just terrible things such as molestation / rape? Or does it imply that sex is between lovers in a committed relationship only? Is casual sex advised against?

I am curious. Sex is a new thing in my life.


My understanding is that sexual misconduct includes any sexual activity that leads to self-affliction, to the affliction of others or to both, or that involves any person who's already in a committed relationship (e.g., engaged, married, etc.), protected by law (e.g., under age, etc.) or under religious vows entailing celibacy (e.g., monks, nuns, etc.). Hence in Theravada, sex between consenting persons of legal age who aren't already in committed relationships and haven't taken vows of celibacy isn't considered misconduct. Therefore, in my opinion, casual sex in and of itself isn't sexual misconduct.
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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby PeterB » Thu Feb 24, 2011 5:19 pm

I dont think we can assume that an absence of a specific prohibition amounts to a condoning.
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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby Jason » Thu Feb 24, 2011 5:42 pm

PeterB wrote:I dont think we can assume that an absence of a specific prohibition amounts to a condoning.


I don't think anyone's said anything of the sort. For my own part, I've simply come to the conclusion that sex between two consenting adults isn't 'misconduct.' That in and of itself doesn't mean that I think the precept condones or encourages casual sex between two consenting adults, but it certainly doesn't prohibit it, which is the question at hand. Therefore, in my opinion, casual sex in and of itself isn't sexual misconduct, and I don't see anything inherently wrong with it.
Last edited by Jason on Thu Feb 24, 2011 6:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Feb 24, 2011 6:17 pm

Always becomes a ticklish, if not downright touchy, subject when Buddhists start talking about sex, and gawd forbid if it slides into such a sticky subject as masturbation.
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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby Aloka » Thu Feb 24, 2011 6:37 pm

tiltbillings wrote:....a sticky subject....


Indeed !

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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby VeganLiz » Thu Feb 24, 2011 7:37 pm

Vossaga wrote:About casual sex, my opinion is the Buddhist teaching would not generally support such behaviour. The reasons are many, such as: (1) the motivation is primarily lust; at times loneliness; (2) virtues, such as love, compassion, relationship skills, etc, are not developed; and (3) insecurity or ungroundedness & associated craving can develop, in short, addiction qualities, what in Buddhism is called 'hungry ghost'




I hadn't looked at it like that, thanks- that makes a lot of sense to me.
"My actions are my only true belongings." Thich Nhat Hanh
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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby VeganLiz » Thu Feb 24, 2011 7:38 pm

Thanks for all the posts.
:namaste:
"My actions are my only true belongings." Thich Nhat Hanh
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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby Annapurna » Thu Feb 24, 2011 7:59 pm

PeterB wrote:My own view , which is unlikely to be popular, is that the only sex that we can be sure is not in contradiction to the precept is that between people who are married or in in a civil partnership, and even then it has to be fully consensual on each occasion.


my opinon as well
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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby Jason » Thu Feb 24, 2011 8:17 pm

VeganLiz wrote:
Vossaga wrote:About casual sex, my opinion is the Buddhist teaching would not generally support such behaviour. The reasons are many, such as: (1) the motivation is primarily lust; at times loneliness; (2) virtues, such as love, compassion, relationship skills, etc, are not developed; and (3) insecurity or ungroundedness & associated craving can develop, in short, addiction qualities, what in Buddhism is called 'hungry ghost'




I hadn't looked at it like that, thanks- that makes a lot of sense to me.


Hm, I'd argue that the motivation for sex in most circumstances is lust. Even if you're having sex with someone you deeply love, you're most likely having sex with them out of lust. I know just from personal experience, for example, that I generally don't have sex out of a desire to be compassionate or virtuous, even though it's with a partner that I deeply love and have been with for seven years. Just some food for thought.
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Re: Sexual Misconduct

Postby VeganLiz » Fri Feb 25, 2011 2:59 am

That is true....sex involves lust.

But I do agree that it's important to re-examine feelings behind sex. Like she/he said, if you're having sex out of fear of being alone it is not entirely sincere or honest to the person you're with.
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