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Does Buddhism do anything to prevent sexual desires?

Do they do anything to lower sexual desires?

Prevent eating certain foods or something similar?

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Yes, they do something to lower sexual desire. Sexual desire is a form of sensual desire which is the first of the 5 Hindrances to meditation practice. The commentaries to the Satipatthana Sutta list 6 antidotes for sensual desire:

  1. Learning how to meditate on impure objects
  2. Devoting oneself to the meditation on the impure
  3. Guarding the sense doors
  4. Moderation in eating
  5. Noble friendship
  6. Suitable conversation

The first two methods refer to the practice of Asubha Bhavana (the meditation on the foulness and impurity of the body), which explicitly counteracts sexual lust and is one of the Four Protective Meditations. In this technique you examine your own body by looking at each of the 32 body parts individually. The purpose is to see the sign of the unattractive nature of the human body.

"And further, O bhikkhus, a bhikkhu reflects on just this body hemmed by the skin and full of manifold impurity from the soles up, and from the top of the hair down, thinking thus: 'There are in this body hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, fibrous threads (veins, nerves, sinews, tendons), bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, contents of stomach, intestines, mesentery, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, solid fat, tars, fat dissolved, saliva, mucus, synovic fluid, urine.'

"Just as if, O bhikkhus, there were a bag having two openings, full of grain differing in kind, namely, hill-paddy, paddy, ...; and a man with seeing eyes, having loosened it, should reflect thinking thus: 'This is hill paddy; this is paddy, ...' In the same way, O bhikkhus, a bhikkhu reflects on just this body hemmed in by the skin and full of manifold impurity from the soles up, and from the top of the hair down, thinking thus: 'There are in this body: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, ...' - MN 10

A very good practical guide is in the video series of Bhikkhu Bodhi's course of the 4 protective meditations

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Ways to prevent sexual desire are described in the Bharadvaja Sutta.

Here, the best method for developing the "lifelong chaste life, perfect & pure, and make it last entire lives" is advised to be development of 'loving-kindness & compassion' ('metta-karuna'), namely:

'With regard to women who are old enough to be your mother, establish the attitude you would have toward your mother. With regard to women who are old enough to be your sister, establish the attitude you'd have toward a sister. With regard to women who are young enough to be your daughter, establish the attitude you'd have toward a daughter.'

When 'loving-kindness & compassion' (which require wisdom) are not strong enough for "unruly" minds, the next method the Bharadvaja Sutta prescribes is the (theoretically popular although less effective) method of 'asubhaṃ' (loathsomeness) found in many suttas (together with metta & compassion), such as in MN 62, MN 118, etc, as follows:

Asubhaṃ rāhula bhāvanaṃ bhāvehi. Asubhaṃ hi te rāhula bhāvanaṃ bhāvayato yo rāgo so pahīyissati.

Develop the meditation of the unattractive [loathsome]. For when you are developing the meditation of the unattractive, lust will be abandoned.

In general, during the Buddha's time & also today, men & women left/lost interest in the family life to become monks & nuns because they reflected upon the burdens & problems of the family life.

From a strict Buddhist perspective, sexual promiscuity is not an alternative to the family life because sexual promiscuity is regarded as harmful. Here, there are basically two sexual choices, particularly for a man: (i) serve or be the support for a woman, in her needs & wants; or (ii) celibacy.

Therefore, when the harm, burdens, obligations, disadvantages & unsatisfactoriness of sexuality are reflected upon, in addition to what is truly loving & compassionate for others, sexual desire reduces, is brought under control or even disappears.

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To provide my perspective on this question "Many Buddhists do not, indeed recognize they cannot, prevent sexual desire.. they prevent attachment to sexual desire fulfillment. This can be accomplished through renunciation, meditation and right action. Any statement that 'desire' is to be conquered should be restated as 'attachment' is to be conquered."

All of these suttas that prescribe visualizing the objects of those desires as disgusting or unattractive merely subverts, but never addresses, the attachment, nor the desire in and of itself. In fact, taken to extreme, such practices often cause one to develop a new desire even more powerful than the original, but in the opposite direction. Hence, you are running in place, achieving nothing, if you do not recognize the desire itself cannot be conquered.

Renunciation is not about rejection.. it is about contemplation. A desire arises, we watch it rise, we discover its roots and the roots of our attachment to it through non-action. But rejecting a desire, or subverting it, is contrary to the entire point of Attainment. You can certainly engage in rejection as part of your path, but believing that rejection is anything other than acceptance is the wrong idea.

Also, I think we REALLY need to be more specific as to WHAT school of Buddhism we are talking about when we answer questions like this.

It is true that according to some paths, including some aspects of the original interpretations of the Eightfold path (which, by the way, some argue was distorted from the Buddha's intentions by charismatic ascetics.. I am neutral on this) what you say about sexual desire and sensual pleasures is correct.

It is also true that there are paths that acknowledge sensual pleasure as a part of the path, and advocate a different route to mastery over desires. We could even say that these paths might be more in line with what Ananda believed to be so (that would be a stretch, but it is defensible).

The idea that sexual desire is harmful is an absolutely horrible way to talk about this situation. Even within the most renunciatory path, it must be admitted that desires are not a target for elimination, but attachment TO those desires. We must admit to everyone and ourselves that renunciation has nothing to do with eliminating desire.. but with eliminating attachment.

It must also be admitted that we need to look at any sutta with a liberal dose of grains of salt. These things were written in the Bronze age (in general) and any particular advocacy of behavior during that time must be put in context with that age, otherwise its utility is lost. Foe example, it could be argued that any renunciation of sexual pleasure was primarily advocated so as to help monks avoid entanglements, which would be brought about by pregnancy.. most especially considering how the predominant culture treated such a situation (aka if you abandoned a pregnant woman you were dooming her to suffering). With modern birth control, there may not be a need for this proscription, as worded, anymore.

When you say (or anyone says, including those sayings in the suttas) that desire needs to be conquered, you immediately setup dissonance that is impossible to satisfy. This is useful to a Religious Organization, but has no bearing on Enlightenment or Attainment, unless a school's intention is to enlighten through dissonance, which is a common thread in some.

In any event, It is attachment that is the enemy, not desire. Which is why the translation of 'taṇhā' is so important. And it is why I sincerely think that we must stop fetishizing the suttas as somehow 'inviolable' or as some sort of unerring guide to life.

We are thousands of years away from the events and sayings in the suttas.. they are useful and wise, but not perfect, nor even directly applicable to our daily lives. It seems to me that our job is to extract meaning and intent from all of it, not to slavishly follow proscriptions established in a time of <1% literacy.

  • I don't get the point about literacy in your posts all the time...you don't need to be literate for survival or to do many things, we're all born illiterate. Being literate by itself doesn't help with much, it's just used for communication, preserving a thought or idea...the actual achievement of arahantship doesn't rely on literacy much just like the achievement of most other things. So why do you keep emphasizing literacy a lot in your posts? – MischievousSage Oct 21 '16 at 19:16
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    Because I am trying to point out that ancient culture was primitive by comparison to our own, and that being an adult who is illiterate, and totally uneducated, means that subtle concepts will be lost on you, and you will be a slave to superstition, most certainly for the 100,000 years we were around without telephones or internet.... thus the drive in the suttas to teach through experience and dissonance. This is no longer true today, given the world's overall 80%+ literacy rate. However people are looking at the suttas as "true". They are not, and were not intended that way. – T. B. Oct 24 '16 at 17:49
  • Ok...so how you define primitive? Why is illiteracy primitive? Like I said you don't need to be literate for survival or to achieve arahantship, it's debatable if literacy is actually good or bad since reading causes nausea and headaches and obviously our brain was never specified to be literate. Many resources are wasted on literacy. Illiterate people can understand and learn the same things orally, with images, or videos. The difference between literate and illiterate is oral vs. written. Someone can have false views or sayings "written down"...how does it make it better? – MischievousSage Dec 17 '16 at 1:52
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    I am talking about how things are. There is no absolute to compare to, and I am not sure your comment about illiteracy not being "bad" is relevant, since literacy has created a world where people are warm, well fed, and healthy as compared to 2000 years ago. If there is anything we can look at as a "good" in modern life, that is it. Since the suttas were designed for a world not like ours, they need to be reinterpreted to fit modern culture. Buddhism never stayed static, nor was it supposed to. I am saying we need to move it towards a new modality that fits with modern culture. – T. B. Jan 3 '17 at 20:09
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To my understanding ...Buddhists and not celebent monks would experience sexual desires at appointed times in life such as adolescent boys and girls post legal age of 16 in Victoria Australia ...however to ACT on these impulses would be dangerous for untrained minds .perhaps Buddhist would have an advantage as mediation gives insight into behaviour of desires / craving and one can observe rather than react in ignorance . nut shell yes I believe Buddhist can do and only by choice react or dismiss such thoughts on sex .

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Its not a sin in Buddhism to have a high sexual drive.

You cannot prevent sexual desiveres unless you attained nirvana. Even monks get sexual desires because we cannot control our mind.

You said Buddhists so I assume you mean un ordained people like you and me, not monks (who have much stricter code). Unordained people have to live by the five precepts. We had to say this verse before school starts back when I was in Srilanka and we said it in pali but the translation is and some words I don't know the exact words:

1 I will not kill, harm any living things.

2 I will not steal or take anything that isn't mine

3 I will not have wrong sexual relations. Sex isn't banned or even restricted in Buddhism.

4 I will not gossip or say things that will hurt other people.

5 I will not take any alchohol/cigarette/drug substances (I don't know the exact translation from Pali to Sinhala in this much less the English translation for the 5th but you get the idea)

So these are the five things normal people should follow to live a happy life. Having lived in a traditional Buddhist country before moving for college, I can say that well sex isn't a taboo unless you're cheating etc. The mind cannot be controlled unless you attain nirvna so until then its normal to feel sexual desires, hate, jelousy etc. There are no rules for unordained people in Budddhism. Instead a set of guidelines to follow and people can choose to follow them or not. Bad karma will have bad results and good deeds will have good results

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