photo courtesy of eggybird via C.C. License at FlickrSex is sacred. It's one of the first liberating principles that converts to Modern Paganism discover. For many of us it was a divine revelation that our bodies were sacred vessels of pleasure and delight, not sinful or an illusion, but the glorious temple of our very lives.

The Vestals are our idea of "virgin sacrifice" -- those who sacrifice their pleasure for their Gods and the good of their people. Sex is considered holy, sacred, and good in and of itself. Chastity may be a sacrifice worthy of respect but it's not considered a normal, healthy, or desirable state in the greater Pagan community.

Doreen Valiente's The Charge of the Goddess instructs us, "Let Her worship be in the heart that rejoiceth; for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are Her rituals." Homer's Hymn to Aphrodite claims "even upon her [Aphrodite] Zeus put sweet desire in her thûmos -- desire to make love to a mortal man, so that not even she may go without mortal lovemaking." In Gilgamesh, the ancient Mesopotamian saga, the city of Uruk is described as vibrant with "the lovely priestesses standing before the temple of Ishtar, chatting and laughing, flushed with sexual joy, and ready to serve men's pleasure, in honor of the Goddess, so that even old men are aroused from their beds."

When you approach sex as a sacred and holy act you must learn to reverence your own body and that of your lovers. Marilyn Monroe, the Marlboro Man, and every Calvin Klein ad must be set aside for the worship of the real body. The folds, the curves, the scars, the stretch marks, the love handles, and all the soft padding become delightful. The flesh of your partner is a universe to explore, to revel in unashamedly. You must drop all shame and self-consciousness like a robe and allow the holy hunger to guide you.

Sacralizing sex can be an important part of your love life and spiritual discipline. The need to make our interactions with others sacred is a natural thing. We come together for worship and celebration, we bless the food we share, we bless the birth of a child, and we reverence the memory of those who have passed. The need to have sacramental sex is just as natural and healthy and should be approached with the same sense of awe and celebration as any other sacred act.

Pagan thought on the sacredness of sexuality has some commonality with the Hedonist and Tantra philosophies. To give and receive pleasure with as little harm as possible is considered a good and virtuous act, whether it's making love to your partner or sharing homemade bread with a neighbor. Much of the literature on sacred sexuality is geared toward heterosexual couples but Modern Paganism recognizes all forms of sexuality between consenting adults as equally sacred. Homosexual or bisexual Pagans' lovemaking is just as powerful and holy as that of heterosexual Pagans.

The benefits you receive from sacred sex can be as varied as your intention in engaging in it. It can be a ritual to reaffirm the commitment and desire between lovers. The conception of a new soul and creation of a new life is a very good reason to sacralize sex. It can be a fertility ritual to encourage your garden to grow or for creative inspiration to flow. An act of worship for the Gods of your path. A healing embrace after a traumatic event. An act of self-love and blessing. Regardless of the intent, sacred sex always increases the connection and intimacy between the couple engaging in it.