The essence of Daoist sexuality is the idea that the sexual act is an exchange of Yin and Yang essences, from the woman and man respectively, which is beneficial to each partner: it represents the harmonious interaction and mutual nourishment of Yin and Yang.
Central to Daoist sexuality is the idea that man must conserve its sperm and only ejaculate occasionally: this is because sperm is a direct physical manifestation of Jing and too frequent ejaculation depletes Jing. If sperm is not ejaculated and directed upwards along the Du Mai to the brain, it can be transmuted and then lowered down to the Dan Tian where it nourishes the body and mind.
Since excessive ejaculation weakens the Jing, and since sex without ejaculation can replenish the Jing, it follows that Jing lost through sexual activity can be replaced by sexual energy itself, by practising sex without ejaculation.
Sexual intercourse was considered to have two aims: first to produce sons who would continue the family (and look after the parents' grave). This was a sacred duty to one's ancestors since the well-being of the dead could only be ensured by regular sacrifices made by their descendants, especially the male ones.
The second aim (more relevant to us) was to strengthen a man's vitality by making him absorb the Yin essences of the woman. As a matter of course, these two aims were closely interwoven.
In order to obtain healthy male children the man's Yang essence should be at its apex when he ejaculates, and ancient sex manuals frequently pointed out the optimal conditions the best conditions for a healthy child: at the time of ejaculation and subsequent conception, the man should not be in a state of exhaustion and should not drink alcohol, for example.
To the Daoists, sex was like a process of alchemy, of transformation of the sexual essences into Qi and Jing, through the harmonious intermingling of Yin and Yang. They identified the woman with a crucible and her vital essence with cinnabar (red); they identified the man's white semen with lead; the coitus with the mixing of the elements, and the technique of the coitus with the firing times.
Since men had to restrain themselves by not ejaculating whereas women could reach an orgasm whenever they liked, the onus was very much on men to conduct and prolong sexual intercourse by sexual expertise; in fact, because of this, sexual intercourse is often described by the Daoists as a "battle", as "riding a tiger", or as "walking on the edge of a precipice": i.e. man is easily aroused and easily ejaculates and must learn to control his ejaculation to prolong sexual intercourse (see below).
There were also social reasons for this as the sexual art was essentially for the upper classes whose men had a wife and concubines and they therefore had to restrain themselves in order to satisfy them all.
A constant theme running through Daoist sex manuals is that excessive ejaculation is detrimental to health. This is because too frequent ejaculation leads to a direct loss of Jing and also Minister Fire: thus it depletes both Water and Fire. As we all know, this is very much a theme of modern Chinese medicine books where "excessive sexual activity" features prominently in the aetiology of diseases. As I will explain below, I think that this cause of disease does not apply to women.
The role of the Ming Men (Minister Fire) in human physiology should be discussed. The Fire of Ming Men represents the physiological Fire within the Kidneys, it arises from the area between the two kidneys and is closely related to the Yuan Qi from which the Du, Ren and Chong Mai originate.
Under physiological conditions, the Fire of Ming Men warms the Uterus, the Intestines, the Bladder and the Heart and balances the Yin influences: it makes conception possible and is related to sexual desire. In women, "it is through Kidney-Yang [and therefore the Fire of Ming Men] that the Tian Gui turns red [i.e. it turns into Blood]".1
The Fire of Ming Men is the origin of the "formless" Minister Fire which also generates Water, hence the Kidneys are the source of both Water and Fire. This physiological Fire is unique in that, not only it does not dry up Water, but it can nourish Water..
The Minister Fire is called "formless" because it is a non-substantial Fire which actually generates Water rather than overcoming it. It is a Pre-Natal type of Fire formed at conception on the Du/Ren Mai axis.
In fact, the "Golden Mirror of Medicine" (1742) says: "The Pre-Natal Tian Gui originates from the mother and father, the Post-Natal Jing and Blood are derived from food and water, a girl's Tian Gui matures at 14, when the Ren Mai is open, the Chong Mai is flourishing and the periods arrive".2
The commentary then explains: "At 7 the Motive Force [Dong Qi] is flourishing. At 14 the Tian Gui matures: this is the Motive Force within the Pre-Natal Water of Tian Gui, crystallizing in a girl's uterus".3
"Motive Force" (Dong Qi) is the Yuan Qi. This last passage is interesting as it confirms that the Yuan Qi and the Minister Fire are pre-natal and present before the onset of the periods. It also highlights the close integration of the Minister Fire and the Tian Gui (the Yang and Yin aspects of the Kidneys).
Zhang Jing Yue says: "The Ming Men is the Root of the Yuan Qi and the residence of [both] Water and Fire. The Yin of the 5 Zang cannot nourish without it and their Yang cannot develop without it".4
This passage clearly shows how the Minister Fire is the Fire within Water, interdependent with Water and inseparable from it. The Emperor Fire (of the Heart) is called "with form", i.e. it is a substantial Fire which overcomes Water, is formed after birth and is therefore post-natal.
It is important to note again that the Minister Fire cannot be seen in the context of the Five Elements, it is not like the Fire of the Heart and it is a Fire within Water of the Kidneys that actually nourishes Water.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN WOMEN'S AND MEN'S SEXUALITY
Women pertain to Water and men pertain to Fire and there are important differences in their sexuality. Women are like water, i.e. slow to bring to the boil and slow to cool down; men are like fire, i.e. easy to arouse and quick to cool down.
Ever since very early times, Chinese sexual manuals stressed that women like "slowness" and "duration" and abhor "haste" and "violence". This difference is the crux to understand the different sexual behaviour by men and women necessary or a successful sexual life. For this reason, all Daoist texts stressed very much the importance of expert foreplay by the man to arouse his partner and hence the detailed description of the signs of women's arousal.
From the point of view of Chinese medicine, there are important differences between men's and women's sexuality. In men, the lower Dan Tian contains the "Room of Sperm" and is, so to speak, "empty"; in women, the lower Dan Tian is, so to speak, "full" as it contains the Uterus and Blood. Excessive sexual activity does not affect women as much as men for various reasons.
In men, ejaculation is a direct (but temporary) loss of Jing as sperm is derived directly from the Jing. Sperm is Tian Gui whereas Tian Gui in women is menstrual blood and ovarian follicles and eggs. As in sexual activity men lose sperm but women do not lose menstrual blood (unless they have sex during the period which they should not do) or follicles.
As there is no comparable loss of Jing in women as there is in men, there is no equivalent depletion after sex. Quite simply, the Kidney-Jing is the origin of sperm in men and of menstrual blood and ova in women: while men lose sperm during sex, women do not lose menstrual blood or ova.
Although some practitioners consider the lubricating fluids secreted by the Bartholin's glands during sexual arousal in a woman to be also a manifestation of Jing comparable to sperm, I tend to disagree because such fluids are secreted by glands in the vagina and not by sex organs (such as the ovaries in women or testicles in men): I would therefore consider these fluids precisely as a form of Body Fluids (jin ye) rather than a direct manifestation of Jing. In fact, the Bartholin's glands in the vagina are homologous to the Cowper's glands in men and their function is purely lubricative.
In other words, sperm is a direct manifestation of Jing, the equivalent of which would be the ova and menstrual Blood in women: the former is lost in men's orgasm, the latter are not lost in women's orgasm.
Furthermore, the Lower Dan Tian in men contains the Room of Sperm which is directly related to Jing, while in women it contains the Uterus which is related to Blood. The Room of Sperm is related to the Kidneys while the Uterus is related also to the Liver and Blood (although also to the Kidneys through the Bao Luo). Because the Lower Dan Tian in women contains the Uterus rather than the Room of Sperm, in women excessive loss of blood after childbirth or excessive loss of blood in menorrhagia would be equivalent to excessive sex for men.
In men, the lower abdomen is occupied by the Room of Sperm and it is therefore "empty", also because sperm is easily discharged while Blood is not.
The book "Elementary Medicine" (1575) says: "The Room of Sperm in men suffers no accumulation or fullness, while the Blood Chamber in women suffers from accumulation and it overflows downwards in the period....[The Lower Dan Tian] in men stores Jing [=sperm] while in women it stores the Uterus and foetus. Men pertain to Qi and when it mixes with the Abysmal [the trigram corresponding to Water], Qi makes Water steam and produces sperm which is white... Women pertain to Blood, when this mixes with the Clinging [the trigram corresponding to Fire], Blood is transformed into the period which is red".5
By Giovanni Maciocia
1. Cong Chun Yu 1989 Chinese Medicine Gynaecology (Zhong Yi Fu Ke Xue), Ancient Chinese Medicine Texts Publishing House, Beijing, p.11.
2. Wu Qian 1977 Golden Mirror of Medicine (Yi Zong Jin Jian), People's Health Publishing House, Beijing, vol. 3, p.7. First published in 1742.
3. Ibid., p. 7.
4. Zhang Jing Yue 1986 The Complete Works of Jing Yue (Jing Yue Quan Shu), Shanghai Science and Technology Press, Shanghai, p.19. First published in 1624.
5. Elementary Medicine (Yi Xue Ru Men ) 1575 cited in Zhang Qi Wen 1995 Menstrual Diseases (Yue Jing Bing Zheng), People's Hygiene Publishing House, Beijing, p.10.