SuttaCentral

Sexual Misconduct query


#1

Hi all, I have a question that has been bugging me for a while now.

My marriage ended some time ago and I have been single ever since.

Occasionally I sleep with prostitutes in order to satisfy my urges and I wondered where that sits as far as sexual misconduct is concerned? Technically speaking I know it isn’t but it hasn’t always sat well with me as far as keeping the five lay precepts is concerned.

Be interested to hear the thoughts of others.


#2

Women in that calling rarely seem happy. And when we sleep with others, it is best if both are happy, yes?

Perhaps when next one is drawn to this by need, one might choose to pay up front and simply ask, “Hello. How was your day? How are you doing?” And then one might simply listen, give a hug and walk away?

And if something happened, ok.
And if nothing happened, also ok.

Would there be misconduct here?

Consider…

The efforts to restrain, to give up, to develop, and to preserve. --dn33/en/sujato


#3

This is a question that might call for thousands of words of response, or perhaps just a few.

There may be cases where a willing pair exchange money for time and sex, and neither party is harmed. Some sex workers act as licensed parties and do this work voluntarily and to support themselves and their families. But, many sex workers live traumatic and difficult lives. In many cases, people that buy sex are becoming part of a stream of commerce that is harmful, or at least unskillful.

From the perspective of original Buddhism, we can see this question through the lens of the Dhamma. Is the act skillful, and likely to lead to bright kamma and merit? Or is it the kind of pursuit that is somewhat on the darker side of kamma? And, I think it’s also important to come back to the final step on the Eightfold Path…the jhanas. We know that the chasing, clinging to, and cultivation of sense pleasure and sexuality dilutes the capacity for renunciation, letting go, and deeper samadhi.

So, one way to look at this question is to consider what kind of kamma are we making ourselves heir to? Are we OK with the skillfulness of these pursuits? Is there some harm involved, or are both parties gladdened by the transaction? But more importantly, if we are truly pursuing the Path that the Buddha taught, these coarse sexual pursuits are the antithesis of the noble Path, and perhaps even if we are OK with the ethics, we might consider that these pursuits detour us a bit off of the Path.

Having said the above, Bunks, I can think of many acts that people do regularly that are more harmful than paying money to a willing partner for sex. Every day, people hurt others with their actions and words. People steal from others, or cheat others. People turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. People emotionally abuse their partners and children.

I’m guessing that you are a good and honest and kind person. Don’t sweat this question too much. Just see how this question resonates with your immersion in the Dhamma and practice. Maybe it all works out OK, and maybe there are other paths you could take that might be more beneficial.


#5

Just a note:

This is an EBT focused forum, and while one compassionately acknowledges the sincere asking for advice regarding personal issues, we would encourage members to frame questions and answers within an EBT and general context, that then can be discussed and applied by anyone looking to reconcile the true Dhamma with daily practice.

There are many forums where personal issues can be discussed, and on this forum we are striving to maintain the integrity of Sutta Central to pursue its aims of making the Dhamma accessible for free in as many languages as possible globally, and without duplicating functions that are performed by other sites.

Sexual misconduct is certainly something that the Buddha warned against. The post by @UpasakaMichael has beautifully demonstrated how this topic can be skillfully discussed, within the guidelines of this forum.

With Compassion and Metta :anjal::dharmawheel:


#6

Are you free of constraints of precepts at this time?

Are you seeking to be harmless? Protection from diseases, protection from heedless pregnancy, avoidance of psychological, social, physical, spiritual harm to yourself or anyone involved or affected by your sexual activity? Are you avoiding lying, avoiding coersing, avoiding manipulating, abiding in mutual healthy consent?

Are the mental fabrications you generate for your life, this other life, and others, leading to renunciation, peace, happiness, dispassion, equanimity?

You say your question has been bugging you for a long time. Maybe some deeper understanding ripens…?

May you ultimately be freed of suffering. May all be ultimately freed of suffering.


#7

@Bunks

This is only my opinion.

Part of the Eight Fold Path is Right Livelihood. Part of Right Livliehood is not to do business in living beings.

There ca’t be a business without customers.


#8

If the question is whether or not the behavior is a violation of some doctrinal lay “code”, others who have more knowledge of such things will have to answer.

But I do know that the Buddha takes an unflinchingly negative and warning attitude toward the craving for kama, sensual or worldly pleasure, and recommends that we attempt to refrain from satisfying those cravings, and train our bodies and minds over time not to be plagued by those cravings. Sexual lust muddles our vision of the dhamma and our discipline of mind, and its gratification is typically followed by despondency. As far as I can tell, and as strangely as it sits with ordinary attitudes, the Buddha was of the opinion that sexual activity always caused some harm to both parties. At least, that’s the Buddha’s view as I understand it. Of course, there are greater and lesser degrees of harm.

I don’t think the modern western libertarian concept of “free exchange” and its default moral validity plays much of a role in the Buddha’s thought, as far as I can tell. No doubt it is worse to beat, rob or cheat someone to get something from them, but the mere fact that there is no gross coercion of that kind in the interaction doesn’t mean lesser kinds of harmful compulsion and kammically toxic need aren’t involved. For example, you are driven by your sexual cravings, and your partner is driven by economic need.


#9

Agree. However, currently have the opinion that this is learned by unflinching self awareness and examination, combined with as self-less an examination of underlying principles as is possible at the time.

:slight_smile: That is neither modern nor libertarian as classically or popularly defined. But the label did give me a smile, ty.


#10

Hi @ERose. I don’t understand your comment. What is learned?


#11

As this is not EBT, sending a PM.


#12

Hi and thanks for this question. :grinning:

I especially enjoyed your refreshing openness in asking about a slightly ‘taboo’ topic (why taboo?!), and appreciate your trust in this community to respond well and without judgement.

There are references to courtesans and sex workers in the EBTs. Such as Ambapali of Vesāli who was reputedly very beautiful and could command huge amounts of money for her services, money she utilised to donate a large estate for the Buddha and his Sangha to use for practice. She later became a nun and attained enlightenment. There are other stories too in the commentaries, such as Sirimā, who was also very beautiful and very generous too, and became a stream winner. Even in death she continued to be of service, the Buddha (apparently) inviting monks to see her decaying body to help with their lust!

The commonplace interactions of sex workers with many levels of society in the sutras and vinaya seems to indicate they weren’t the pariahs some people see them as today. It’s important to remember that sex workers are just people like all of us and there is tremendous variation in the experiences they have of their profession. We shouldn’t fall into that easy and lazy trap of moralising whilst ‘clutching at our pearls’ in exaggerated horrror, or engage in ‘othering’ of them that makes these people seem like a different species (they walk among us!) And we definitely shouldn’t over simplify and generalise their diversity. Perhaps as with many groups that experience being stereotyped, it’s good to actually listen to sex workers and how they talk about their lives and craft.

As for sexual misconduct, in the 3rd precept it is not defined very clearly at all:
Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami ,
Literally: “I undertake the course of training in refraining from wrong-doing in respect of sensuality.”

It is a training precept, not a biblical style commandment, although it is often presented as such, with many people making the mistake of thinking that because nuns and monks are celibate, sex must be somehow bad for lay people. But it’s just another form of sensuality. An intense form, true, using all the senses, but then, I’ve also seen people get pretty worked up talking about food, music and cars! :thinking::joy:

In MN 41 we get a different but more full definition that focuses on adultery, sex that is against the law and sex with people who are ‘protected’ by family:
“He is given over to misconduct in sexual desires: he has intercourse with such (women) as are protected by the mother, father, (mother and father), brother, sister, relatives, as have a husband, as entail a penalty, and also with those that are garlanded in token of betrothal.”

In our contemporary society with poly-amorous relations and open relationships, online dating apps and swingers parties, Buddhists certainly have many opportunities to ‘contemplate’ the nature of their desire, but it is only misconduct if you are breaking a ‘contract’ with someone (like between spouses, or with a partner you’ve agreed to be monogamous with) or any behaviour that ‘entails a penalty’, which today would entail nonconsensual behaviour such as inappropriate touching, rape, child sexual abuse, and any sexual harrament in other forms. So it comes down to what your contract with them is (and any other partner you have) and if it’s consensual. A note of caution though on condemning sex which ‘entails a penalty’, remembering that it was only recently that gay sex was criminalised in many countries and still remains so in many today. So perhaps, focusing instead on the consensual is actually quite important even if it is illegal? Maybe that’s why the precept is kept vague, because it’s partly about relative standards of misconduct in societies and that definition changes over time.

Many people think prostitutes must be breaking this precept all the time (as married people often avail themselves of sex services) and make it out to be both sexual misconduct and wrong livelihood. However the sex worker does need to know about their client’s married status, and does not have a ‘contract’ with the client’s spouse, that is the sole responsibility of the client, who is breaking the precept, unless they have permission! Don’t blame the sex worker for the client’s actions.

It’s easy to understand why people seek out intimacy in a world so full of loneliness. We are conditioned even as babies to want to be hugged and caressed, not to mention countless lives of sexual activity… but therein lies our problem! :laughing:


#13

Thank you for writing this Bhante. :pray: I had been thinking about saying some of this, tho in a rather less skilful way. :frowning:

There is one thing I would like to add. I agree that the sexworker’s contract is with their client and not with their client’s spouse, but clients should perhaps reflect on, even investigate, the worker’s status as a free and independent worker. It is compassionate and just for a client to check that they are not visiting a worker who is constrained or enslaved by their ‘protector’ to work against their will. (Hence, to my mind at least, the importance of legalising and licensing prostitution.)


#14

I think there is only one dhamma and one teaching, although renouncers make a more dedicated effort to realize the dhamma. It’s hard for me to recall anywhere in the suttas when the Buddha extols carnal pleasure of any kind. The closest I can recall to an approval of sensory pleasure of any kind are some places where he describes how pleasant it is to sit in seclusion in pleasant moonlit surroundings.

Several of the background stories in the Therigatha suggest being reborn as a prostitute is a kammic fruit of unwholesome behavior in previous lives. And I don’t think this is merely a case of a misogynistic attitude, because the Buddha seems equally disparaging of men whose lives are given over to carnal gratification, the pursuit of pretty young wives, etc.

There seems little doubt that the Buddha regarded lust as a fetter and source of ignorance - something to be avoided and let go of, to the greatest extent possible, even by people who had not undertaken formal disciplinary commitments to refrain entirely.

In the modern world, we have learned to be suspicious of the concept of purity, and are likely to think there is something deviant or morbid or hysterical in the pursuit of that kind of chaste purity, and that we should instead cultivate a wholesome “sex positive” attitude toward healthy and non-exploitative sex. But as far as I can tell, the Buddha thought sexual activity defiled both partners.


#15

Oops sorry. added reference. :pray:


#16

The Buddha also taught āhāre patikkula sañña, the loathesomeness of food, and yet Buddhists still eat! And even enjoy it.

Renunciants have a different attitude to sex and food, as well as other sensual pleasures. But they have the pleasures of seclusion and meditation. We should not use monastics standards as a general rule for everyone. Forl a lay person, if they can’t enjoy the fruits of seclusion and meditation or the fruits of lay life they would be pretty miserable! I’m not advocating for wholesale unrestricted pleasure, which is the cause of many problems, both personal and social, but rather suggesting we don’t advocate for puritanical denial of sense pleasure as a moral virtue in itself.

Further, monastics and religious people generally should be very cautious about making broad moral judgements about other people’s sex lives. Religion has a bad track record of this., the Catholic church comes to mind… Buddhism doesn’t have these moral hang ups about sex, let’s not introduce them. I’ve also found that the most zealous puritans often have the most distorted views. So it’s probably best to stay out of other people’s bedrooms and just generally praise restraint (and actually practice it oneself also) but not become superior on account of it, nor expect other people to adhere to one’s own views.

Yes. I totally agree! Ethical consumers of any service in any industry should have concern and compassion for the person providing it. Things like blood diamonds and sweat shop labour also spring to mind.


#17

But if I were to ask the lady if she was partaking in this profession of her own free will what do you think she’d say even if she wasn’t?
"Yes baby! Of course "


#18

I don’t think the Buddha judges the pursuit of sensory pleasure according to the moralistic right/wrong framework we tend to use in conventional moral thinking. It’s not as though there is just some list of obligations and prohibitions, along with penalties for violations. His recommendations always aim at recommending what is beneficial and warning about what is harmful. My understanding is that he regards lust as a kind of fire that overwhelms and clouds the mind, and obstructs the mindfulness, cooling and peace that all travelers on the path are seeking. To be in the grip of lust is to be in a state that is inherently dissatisfied - dukkha. So it is in one’s own best interest to reduce the incidences of its arising and diminish its importance in one life.

I don’t think the suttas give a bifurcated message telling monks to be ascetics but telling lay people to eat, drink, be merry and enjoy the good life. The Buddha extols restraint, and even asceticism, through and through, although he recognizes that some people are not able to achieve the same dedication to the path as others. Also, it seems strange to me to think that the Buddhism of the world of the suttas is a more sexually liberal outlook than that of Christianity, with fewer “hangups” about sexuality. After all, Sn 4.9 tells us that, after Magandiya offered his daughter in marriage to the Buddha, the Buddha said something like:

On seeing the daughters of Mara, there wasn’t even the desire for sex. So what would I want with this, filled with urine and excrement? I wouldn’t want to touch it even with my foot.

Also, isn’t the Buddhist attitude toward eating that one should endeavor to restrain the sense doors while doing it, and treat it as an activity that aims only at sustenance?


#19

Thank you all for your input…food for thought.
I’ll no longer be checking this topic.
:pray::pray::pray:
Bunks


#20

Dear Bunks, being aware of things like this

It is not surprising that you have been feeling uneasy.

From my perspective, your uneasiness could come from an inner knowing > that you can’t be 100% sure your conduct is harmless… Technicalities and intellectual arguments can not convince the heart…

When in doubt, I always go back to basics - try it and see. Put it into practice; what is the difference in how you feel when you choose different paths of action? Uneasy, content, happy, agitated etc etc. Take notice of the results… and make your decisions according to how you prefer to feel - the Awareness and the Heart are our best guides, not technicalities, words and views :slight_smile:


#21

Just my two cents: If you do continue to find this activity to be worthwhile, please always do so with a heart of loving kindness, be respectful, gentle, and do your best to show your gratitude for the gift they give you!