Mindfulness and sexual activity

Hi all,

I find there are many views on how to practice (Right) Mindfulness. Being aware, impartially, in everything we do throughout the day is practicing mindfulness.

But lay people do not live celibate life. Is it right to keep the mindfulness when someone is engaging in sexual activity/gratification of sexual activity? Some people consider this as wrong attention.

It’s said that from mindfulness arises understanding but at the same time wrong attention will only make the defilements grow stronger.

What does practicing right mindfulness mean? Thanks.

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Just like with any other sensual pleasure, the engagement in eightfold path should allow for gradual understanding and comprehension of the suffering inherent triggering a gradual letting go of the root cause of craving for these very pleasures.

In my case since I came to study and practice it I can share that the delight in any of the sensual pleasures always has a very short life and brings about a sense of shame with it.

That in turn serves to refuel my practice of right effort and of course the commitment to go “deeper” into the blameless pleasure of stillness and convergence of mind (samadhi).

Suttas like the MN117 seem to support this model of how the factors of the path can operate in a feedback loop based virtuous cycle. And right mindfulness together with right effort seem to have a role of wildcards in the fulfillment of the noble task of cultivating the path that brings about the end of suffering.

Ultimately, one should always keep in mind at least the lower fetters as reference of things which should be gradually weakened and given up as the cultivation path takes place in one’s heart:

a) self-identification views (sakkāya-diṭṭhi)
b) doubt/uncertainty (vicikiccha)
c) wrong grasping at precepts and practices (sīlabbata-parāmāsa)
d) sensual passion/desire (kāma-rāga)
e) ill will/resistance (vyāpāda)

Hence, if one’s mindfulness during the delight in such pleasures helps in any way the fulfillment of the noble tasks of fully comprehending suffering and abandoning of its causes, I don’t see why not consider close enough to be called right mindfulness.


At the very beginning of Buddhism, when the Buddha taught hist 1st sermon (SN 56.11) about the Four Noble Truths, which included the Noble Eightfold Path, it was taught the Noble Eightfold Path or Middle Way is for those who have left the household life. To quote:

Bhikkhus, these two extremes should not be followed by one who has gone forth into homelessness. What two? The pursuit of sensual happiness in sensual pleasures, which is low, the way of worldlings, ignoble, unbeneficial; and the pursuit of self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, unbeneficial. Without veering towards either of these extremes, the Tathagata has awakened to the middle way, which gives rise to vision, which gives rise to knowledge, which leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.

And what, bhikkhus, is that middle way awakened to by the Tathagata, which gives rise to vision … which leads to Nibbāna? It is this Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This, bhikkhus, is that middle way awakened to by the Tathagata, which gives rise to vision, which gives rise to knowledge, which leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.

SN 56.11

Therefore, it seems obvious that Right Mindfulness was never originally intended to be practised with sexual activity because the core essence of Right Mindfulness, as defined (say in SN 45.8), is :

He/she dwells… mindful, having removed covetousness (liking) and displeasure (disliking) in regard to the world. This is called right mindfulness. SN 45.8

At a later time, the sutta MN 117 was introduced, which seems to include a (mundane) eigthfold path for householders (non-monks). MN 117 seems to state right mindfulness can be practised with sexual activity, which means to not practise sexual misconduct when engaging is sex. To quote:

And what, bhikkhus, is right action that is affected by taints (defilements), partaking of merit (morality), ripening in the acquisitions (attachment)? Abstinence from killing living beings, abstinence from taking what is not given, abstinence from misconduct in sensual pleasures: this is right action that is affected by taints…ripening in the acquisitions.

Mindfully one abandons wrong action, mindfully one enters upon and dwells in right action: this is one’s right mindfulness.

MN 117

In summary, right mindfulness in relation to sexual activity seems to mean to remember to not engage in sexual misconduct.



‘Mindfulness’ is defined as ‘to remember’ or ‘recollection’ (e.g. SN 48.10).

‘Sexual misconduct’ is most basically defined (in AN 10.176) as having sex with people in existing relationships, such as another person’s husband, wife, fiancee, partner; a child/teenager that lives with their parents (particularly if the parents disapprove of the sexual activity); a person that lives in the care of an institution; a person that is under the protection of the law (e.g. a minor under the age of sexual consent or a person protected by rape laws).



but obviously the immediate goal of the ‘mundane’ right mindfulness is not nibbana or freedom from fetters but fortunate rebirth through acquisition of good kamma

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The terms ‘worldly’ or ‘mundane’ (i.e., the opposite to ‘lokuttara’) are the usual terms here rather than ‘secular’. MN 117 uses the term ‘lokuttara’ (‘beyond the world; supramundane; transcendent’) for the Nibbanic right view. Since the mundane view leads to ‘another world’ (‘paraloka’) rather than ‘beyond the world’ (‘lokuttara’), the term ‘worldly’ is probably more accurate than ‘secular’.

The term ‘secular’ is used today to describe rebirth non-believers :seedling:


sure, ‘mundane’ is a better choice of word

Thanks for your reply and sorry for the late reply.
So, lay people should just be aware their sexual activity is not breaching the third precept, not let it go wild and have no limit or boundary, so to speak. This is the practice of Right mindfulness not the gratification of the sexual activity. Is this correct?

In my opinion, if you are a layperson engaged in sexual activity, then yes; mindfulness means not transgressing the precepts.

Personally, unless one is practising some kind of ‘tantric sexual yoga’, I cannot imagine how one can engage in sexual activity without gratification, particularly if one is a man (since a man’s sexual organ needs stimulation to be able to engage in sexual activity). That being said, I do not personally know much about sex.

As for ‘tantric sexual yoga’, this falls outside the scope of early Buddhism & my knowledge.

Kind regards :seedling:

inducing pleasant sensations through having sex in itself means sensual gratification

but in this particular case sensual gratification and mindfulness aren’t mutually exclusive as this kind of mindfulness isn’t supposed to facilitate sense restraint

I was thinking of this:

And how, monastics, does a monastic meditate by observing an aspect of the mind?
Here, a monastic clearly knows mind with lust as ‘mind with lust’.

and this:

Ariṭṭha: “As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, those things called obstructions by the Blessed One are not able to obstruct one who engages in them.”

Buddha: “Bhikkhus, that one can engage in sensual pleasures without sensual desires, without perceptions of sensual desire, without thoughts of sensual desire—that is impossible.”

So, one can surely be mindful re: sexual activity. But does mindfulness at the mind comprise an aspect of satipatthana? Yes.

Therefore, either one thinks that satipatthana is not going to work re: sexual activity, or one thinks they can get it to work ‘just enough’ to fit into a lay lifestyle. I think these are odd ideas.

Or, it’ll do what it’s supposed to do - move one closer to dispassion - and sexual activity will begin to taper. This idea seems suitable and aligned with the Dhamma.

[quote=“SC1100, post:7, topic:3616”]
So, lay people should just be aware their sexual activity is not breaching the third precept[/quote]

Not just any sexual behavior is a safe bet, as you note, but in general the precept isn’t breached in a healthy relationship.

But it is sensual gratification; and, while one can indeed be mindful of it, correctly grasping the Dhamma here will result in it being less desired, even not desired.

Probably something to talk with the spouse about…

It occurs to me that this is an aspect of the Gradual Training itself. Practicing ‘just’ the precepts was a stage along the Path, but satipatthana was practiced a bit farther down the Path. Back in the day, it seems layfolk found a spot on the Path and hung out, at least for a while.

So all this Samadhi these days is a bit wonky, given this structure, it seems to me. “Dating and Dispassion”: kinda sounds funny.


anyone interested in renunciation? :slight_smile:


“This body comes into being through sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse is to be abandoned. With regard to sexual intercourse, the Buddha declares the cutting off of the bridge". AN 4.159

Hope this will shed some light on this discussion.
With metta

although in my personal opinion the N8P can only be effectively cultivated through a renunciant way of life, even without formal ordination, because this was the framework the Buddha re-discovered it in and originally envisaged it for, still we need to differentiate between instructions to monastics and to lay people, because they, as known from the EBT, obviously differ, and recognize the validity of the ‘light’ practice as it were for lay people

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Who’s questioning the validity of lay activity here, in and of itself?

I question it only when one is trying to have one’s cake & eat it, too. In this case, I suggest that trying to have a strong seated contemplative practice alongside a “gettin’ it on” practice is a case of trying to go left and right at the same time.

to make it clear, it was not a response to your comment
so not sure whether you argue with me or just in general

Well, I apologize for any abrasion. I’m not trying to argue with anyone.

If one is truly mindful of the experience, can it be considered wrong? I would think that wrong mindfulness would be a lack thereof.

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‘Sati’ is said to be ‘recollection’ (the action or faculty of remembering or recollecting something.). The mind cannot be mindful ‘of’ a present experience. Instead, the mind can only bring mindfulness ‘to’ an experience.

For example, if I am meticulously aware & observant when scrupulously planning & intending to murder a person, this is wrong mindfulness, despite the meticulousness & acuteness of my awareness. This is wrong mindfulness because I have forgotten to practise the teachings of the Buddha.

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Is mindfulness just recollection or remembering ,if so what are you going to recollect or remember? My perspective is that mindfulness is not limited to "remembering " or " recollection " mindfulness is defined in many ways by different scholars in different ways. Some say it’s awareness of the present moment some say it’s remembering or recollecting. the word “sati” is ambiguous. So my final point is that saying cannot be merely defined as remembering or recollecting .

Please consider this as my personal opinion. :slight_smile:
With metta :anjal:

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as buddhists our primary concern must be with the way mindfulness facilitates the practice of the Dhamma