The Baha’i teachings hold sexual intimacy as a profound act of unity within marriage, and the conceiving and rearing of children as a sacred purpose of this unity.
Beyond having children, healthy sexual intimacy within marriage contributes powerfully to the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being of the partners. Sexual health in marriage matters.
A popular world view today is that sex is primarily an act of physical pleasure. This view is one that does not acknowledge its sacred reality or our fundamental spiritual nature. Often, people unconsciously compartmentalize sex and spiritual matters.
Harmonizing sexuality and spirituality may not be something you have considered. As you grow in your understanding of this concept, you increase your ability to experience greater levels of congruence between your spiritual beliefs and your sexual actions. To achieve this involves applying spiritual capacity in all aspects of your life, including sexuality.
From this spiritual standpoint, we can also appreciate God’s purpose and gift to us in creating marriage as a sacred institution. The Baha’i teachings exalt marriage as a “fortress for well-being,” which includes sexual and societal well-being. This foundational social structure offers a safe and clearly defined opportunity for partners to turn towards each other with their God-given sexual impulses. This allows for couples to experience a unique, intimate, and profound expression of their love:
… marriage must be a union of the body and the spirit as well, for here both husband and wife are aglow with the same wine, both are enamored of the same matchless Face, both live and move through the same spirit, both are illumined by the same glory. This connection between them is a spiritual one, hence it is a bond that will abide forever. Likewise, do they enjoy strong and lasting ties in the physical world as well, for if the marriage is based on both the spirit and the body, that union is a true one, hence it will endure. If, however, the bond is physical and nothing more, it is sure to be only temporary, and must inexorably end in separation. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 117.
This Baha’i quotation recognizes the problem of neglecting the spiritual nature of the marital relationship. It also appears to validate and offer a couple permission to experience the spiritual and physical joys of their sexual union.
Consider this similar perspective from writer Tim Alan Gardner in Sacred Sex, A Spiritual Celebration of Oneness in Marriage:
… God could have arranged the whole reproduction thing any way He wanted: a hidden button, a super-secret handshake, or some unique facial exchange that brought about conception. Really, He could have. But instead, He designed sex. He must have had a good reason, but what is it? The answer, in short, is that God wanted sex to be a lot more than just a really fun thing for wives and husbands to do together. And He wanted it to be more than an extremely enjoyable way to populate the planet. He had a far loftier goal in mind. God designed marital sex to be an encounter with the divine. Sexual intimacy, with all of its overwhelming emotions and heart-pounding sensations, was never intended to be experienced solely in the emotional and physical realms. Rather, it is to be a spiritual, even mystical, experience in which two bodies become one. God is present in a very real way every time this happens. Sex really is holy. It’s a sacred place shared in the intimacy of marriage. -pp. 4-5
When a couple prioritizes their spiritual relationship and love for each other, they can experience both the spiritual and physical joys of such a union:
… the union must be a true relationship, a spiritual coming together as well as a physical one, so that throughout every phase of life, and in all the worlds of God, their union will endure; for this real oneness is a gleaming out of the love of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 117.
… husband and wife should be united both physically and spiritually, that they may ever improve the spiritual life of each other, and may enjoy everlasting unity throughout all the worlds of God. – Ibid., p. 118.
More specifically, then, what are some of the spiritual qualities, or virtues, that a couple can consciously strive to apply to their sexual life together? Loving-Kindness. Trustworthiness. Honesty and Tactfulness. Generosity. Creativity. Respect. Enthusiasm. Each one strengthens with practice and appreciation. These are but a few spiritual qualities that support a vital and happy sexual relationship. A spiritual approach to creating a higher degree of unity and sexual satisfaction is to ask, “What qualities (or virtues) could we apply to our intimate life?”
Ideally, both spiritual and physical aspects of the marital union can be beautifully integrated. Having said that, it is not uncommon for couples to face sexual “incompatibilities” and difficulties. Unfortunately, some tests become impossible to overcome. However, even the most difficult issues can be addressed when the couple seeks to understand sexual problems through a spiritual lens, and both are willing to utilize the marriage as a vehicle for personal growth.
The Baha’i teachings encourage a balanced approach to sex; cautioning us not to be unknowledgeable, disdainful, or puritanical, nor to over-emphasize the importance of sex in human life. By harnessing our innate capacity for problem-solving and seeking a spiritual perspective that allows for our greatest, most holistic well-being, we are on our way to becoming more sexually mature and spiritually integrated, both individually and collectively.