Common steps and sub-activities
"HeQi" ("Joining Energy") was a spiritual practise used by Taoists during the Han dynasty that used sexual intercourse and ejaculation control as the means of achieving enlightenment. Thus the practise is another name for Sex Magick as well as Sexual stimulation and Peaking.
An important concept used in these practises was Jing - "The Joining of the Essences". Jing has its equivalent in the Hindu Shaktiput. In effect, the union of a man and a woman would result in the creation of Jing, a type of sexual energy. When in the act of lovemaking, Jing would form, the man could transform some of this Jing into Qi, and replenish his life force or transfer it to the woman or vice versa. By having as much sex as possible, men had the opportunity to transform more and more Jing, and as a result would see many health benefits.
Taoist practitioners link the loss of ejaculatory fluids to the loss of vital life force. They link the fluid loss to premature ageing, disease, and general fatigue. Interestingly enough scientists have proved that semen contains a whole host of minerals such as zinc, essential to the immune system, as such the belief has been proved physically in this sense.
According to Ge Hong, a 4th-century Taoist alchemist, "those seeking 'immortality' must perfect the absolute essentials. These consist of treasuring the Jing, circulating the qi and consuming the great medicine."
The first sexual texts that survive today are those found at the Mawangdui tombs. While Taoism had not yet fully evolved as a philosophy at this time, these texts shared some remarkable similarities with later Tang dynasty texts, such as the Ishinpō. The sexual arts arguably reached their climax [if you will excuse the pun] between the end of the Han dynasty and the end of the Tang dynasty. After 1000 A.D. [CE], Confucian puritanism became stronger and stronger, so that by the advent of the Qing dynasty, sex was a taboo topic in public life. Interestingly Confucianism had degenerated by this time into a political as opposed to ethical movement and the suppression had little to do with Confucius himself, much as Christianity had little to do with Jesus at this time.
The Confucians suppressed the sexual arts and because of the taboo surrounding sex, there was much censoring done during the Qing in literature, so that the sexual arts disappeared in public life. As a result, some of the texts survived only in Japan, and most scholars had no idea that such a different concept of sex existed in early China.
But the practise survived via coded poems and via paintings [erotic] as well as via Chinese alchemy and the Martial arts.
There appears to have been a group of women – the High Priestesses – who just like the Geisha, specialised in these in older practises. These women, just like the Geisha were beautiful, well paid and had not had any children – although clearly she may well have had intercourse with numerous men! In effect, it was her job to help men with this activity, she was training them and helping them at the same time. The man had to please the woman sexually otherwise he would not be helped, and as High Priestess, the woman clearly had a lot of power. As far as can be ascertained, there were no equivalents to the Troubadors, but in this we cannot be sure.
Some Ming dynasty Taoist sects believed that one way for men to achieve longevity or 'towards immortality' was by having intercourse with virgins, particularly young virgins. Taoist sexual books, such as the Hsuan wei Hshin ("Mental Images of the Mysteries and Subtleties of Sexual Techniques") and San Feng Tan Cheueh ("Zhang Sanfeng's Instructions in the Physiological Alchemy"), written, respectively, by Zhao Liangpi and Zhang Sanfeng (not to be confused with semi-mythical Zhang Sanfeng who lived in an earlier period), call the woman sexual partner ding (鼎). It is not surprising this practise suffered a setback after these instructions – as Richard Branson said when he described the failure of his company Virgin Brides – 'no customers'. For this to work you need a good deal more women in the population than men – a good deal more, as there are going to be a high proportion of young girls whose Mums and Dads will want nothing to do with this practise.
One of the most comical aspects of the ancient texts is that due to the persecution, the practises are clouded in martial arts language. Thus in the Ishinpō, the woman is referred to as the "enemy"; and of course we have the use of the long sword and the short sword. Helmets and manoevers, aprons and caps all take on a whole new meaning once you know that they may not be all they seem. Some Taoists called the act of sex “The battle of stealing and strengthening.” These sexual methods could be correlated with Taoist military methods. Instead of 'storming the gates', the battle was a series of feints and maneuvers that would sap the enemy's resistance. And indeed this is exactly how foreplay – when done well – works.
There is considerable alchemical symbolism also built into later sexual texts from the Ming, women were referred to as the "crucible", or "stove" from which to cultivate vitality.
While some Taoists contend that one should never ejaculate, others provide a specific formula to determine the maximum amount of regular ejaculations in order to maintain health. From this we can see that both Sex Magick and Sexual stimulation were used. The general idea is to limit the loss of fluids as much as possible to the level of your desired practice. The "retention of the semen" is one of the foundational tenets of Taoist sexual practice.
There are different methods to control ejaculation prescribed by the Taoists. In order to avoid ejaculation, the man could do one of several things. He could pull out immediately before orgasm, a method which Joseph Needham termed "coitus conservatus".
A second method involved the man applying pressure on the perineum, thus retaining the sperm.
Although this can, if done incorrectly, cause a retrograde ejaculation, if done correctly the Taoists believed that the Jing travelled up into the head and "nourished the brain." In effect it provided a spiritual experience – usually a positive one – such as invisible input like wisdom and inspiration. It is worth adding that done wrongly it could provoke an uncontrolled kundalini experience.
Ge Hong [mentioned above] also states, however, that it is folly to believe that performing the sexual arts only can achieve immortality. Indeed, the sexual arts had to be practiced alongside alchemy to attain longevity – alchemy in this context also includes ‘mind exercises’ – the purification stage of the spiritual path. Ge Hong also warned it could be dangerous if practiced incorrectly.
The woman’s role
As we have seen, for Taoists, sex was not just about pleasing the man. The woman also had to be stimulated and pleased in order to benefit from the act of sex. Sex should not happen if one or the other partners desire it more. If sex were performed in this manner, the woman would create more jing, and the man could more easily absorb the jing to increase his own qi.
Women were also given a prominent place in the Ishinpō, with the tutor being a woman. One of the reasons women had a great deal of strength in the act of sex was that they walked away undiminished from the act. The woman had the power to bring forth life, and did not have to worry about ejaculation or refractory period. We can see that the woman here as ‘High priestess’ was key to this activity – as the Geisha were in Japan.
Where and when
Another text, Health Benefits of the Bedchamber, indicates that certain times were better for intercourse than others. A person had to avoid having intercourse on quarter or full moons and on days when there were 'great winds, rain, fog, cold or heat, thunder, lightning, darkness over heaven and earth, solar and lunar eclipses, rainbows and earthquakes'. Having intercourse at these times would 'harm a man's spirit and would cause women to become ill.'
There may be a symbolic connection here with the times of menstruation. In effect, one had to time when one had intercourse with a woman’s period. If you read the section on menstruation you will see that there was a belief – which appears to have some basis in fact – that during menstruation a woman’s energy is depleted and can be even ‘negative’ in its effect. The reference to the weather may also be symbolic – women during their periods are – shall we say – a little tetchy at times!
Also important was selecting the right day for intercourse if a person desired children.
After the woman's period, the first, third or fifth days were the best.
If on these days the man ejaculated after midnight, the child would likely be male.
If a female child was desired, the man needed to ejaculate on the second, fourth or sixth days after the cessation of the woman's period.
The location of sex was also important. People had to avoid the glare of the sun, moon or stars, the interior of shrines, proximity to temples, wells, stoves and privies, and the vicinity of graves or coffins!
If these suggestions were followed the family's offspring would be good, wise and virtuous. If they were not followed, the offspring would be evil and the family would eventually die off!