Buddhism stands aside from other spiritual doctrines as being less a religion and more a philosophy. It stresses kindness and compassion above all else and doesn’t have the same kind of strict rules as a lot of the most prevalent faiths. It leaves a lot of ethical decisions up to the person making them, giving only guidelines to aid the process, and allowing their interpretation of them a fair amount of freedom.
While Buddhist monks will live reclusive lives with strict vegetarian or vegan diets, a heavy focus on meditation and refrainment from if possible all sensory pleasures, lay Buddhists are under much less pressure.
Buddhism in general prohibits ‘improper sexual misconduct’, but leaves the definition of improper largely up to the individual outside of a specific monastic setting.
The most obvious way to decide what counts as ‘improper’ is to see how any action will fit with the rest of Buddhist teaching. For instance, if it will cause harm, it is definitely improper. That could mean anything from making someone feel uncomfortable in your presence with excessive sexual advances to rape. If you lie to someone to obtain sexual gratification, it is safe to consider it improper too.
Beyond that, it is up to each person to consider their unique moral circumstance.
For instance, while a number of religions take a negative view of LGBT people, lifelong Buddhist George Takei finds his philosophy’s lack of prohibition of homosexuality to be a comfort. Buddhist teachings speak in more generic terms of ‘sensual pleasures’ regardless of their object. As with anything else that people can get carried away with, sex in any consensual form is not considered uniquely or inherently bad.
Any writing that specifies a particular act – whether that means non-monogamy, homosexuality, extra-marital, or anything else – is more commonly found to be the result of the local culture in which it was produced. While some encourage total celibacy, others highlight potential flaws in considering sex to only be acceptable within marriage. For instance, going so far as to point out that sex within marriage can be abusive and that having a marriage certificate does not justify that abuse, while sex outside of marriage between two people who love each other can be fully consensual and so much more morally viable.
Rather, an individual’s inability to control their craving for sexual pleasure is where most issues are found.
Similarly to when a person develops an addiction to a substance or a habit or anything else that provides base bodily satisfaction, the main teachings of Buddhism when it comes to sex is to remain in control of your urges, whatever they may be. To understand them and to accept them as part of being a human. To treat them as any other kind of craving and to acknowledge that their fulfilment will bring only temporary pleasure, rather than the higher satisfaction of the soul that Buddhists are encouraged to pursue.
Above all, Buddhism teaches moderation. It encourages neither strict puritanism nor irresponsible hedonism. As long as a person’s behaviour does not cause others pain, as long as that person does not indulge to the point of excess, there is nothing in popular Buddhist methods that need inspire guilt in anyone for their natural urges, nor in their fulfilment.
In this way, Buddhism lends itself well to people who do not consider themselves heteronormative, but still want to embrace spirituality. It considers everyone’s desire equally and maintains a position only of moderation and compassion.
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