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On Sex, Consciousness, and LSD
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The reader should be warned that this essay is much out-of-date. Our knowledge of PSYCHEDELIC and CYBERNETIC events have progressed considerably since this primitive stage in our growth. And we have all become more sensitive to various sexual chauvinisms since this primitive year, 1966.
Up to this moment, I've had 311 psychedelic sessions.
I was thirty-nine when I had my first psychedelic experience. At that time, I was a middle-aged man involved in the middle-aged process of dying. My joy in life, my sensual openness, my creativity were all sliding downhill. Since that time, six years ago, my life has been reviewed in almost every dimension. Most of my colleagues at the University of California and at Harvard, of course, feel that I've become an eccentric and a kook. I would estimate that fewer than 15 percent of my professional colleagues understand and support what I'm doing. The ones who do, as you might expect, tend to be among the younger psychologists. If you know a person's age, you know what he's going to think and feel about LSD. Psychedelic drugs are the medium of the young. As you move up the age scale into the thirties, forties and fifties, fewer and fewer people are open to the possibilities that these chemicals offer.
To the person over thirty-five or forty, the word "drug" means one of two things: doctor-disease or dope fiend-crime. Nothing you can say to a person who has thisneurological fix on the word "drug" is going to change his mind. He's frozen like a Pavlovian dog to this conditioned reflex. To people under twenty-five, on the other hand, the word "drug" refers to a wide range of mind benders running from alcohol, energizers, and stupefiers to marijuana and other psychedelic drugs. To middle-aged America, it may be synonymous with instant insanity, but to most Americans under twenty-five, the psychedelic drug means ecstasy, sensual unfolding, religious experience, revelation, illumination, contact with nature. There's hardly a teenager or young person in the United States today who doesn't know at least one young person who has had a good experience with marijuana or LSD. The horizons of the current younger generation, in terms of expanded consciousness, are light years beyond those of their parents. The breakthrough has occurred; there's no going back. The psychedelic battle is won.
None of us yet knows exactly how LSD can be used for the growth and benefit of the human being. It is a powerful releaser of energy as yet not fully understood. But when I'm confronted with the possibility that a fifteen-year-old or a fifty-year-old is going to use a new form of energy that he doesn't understand, I'll back the fifteen-year-old every time. Why? Because a fifteen-year-old is going to use a new form of energy to have fun, intensify sensation, to make love, for curiosity, for personal growth. Many fifty-year-olds have lost their curiosity, have lost their ability to make love, have dulled their openness to new sensations, and would use any form of new energy for power, control, and warfare. So it doesn't concern me at all that young people are taking time out from the educational and occupational assembly lines to experiment with consciousness, to dabble with new forms of experience and artistic expression. The present generation under the age of twenty-five is the wisest and holiest generation that the human race has ever seen. And, by God, instead of lamenting, derogating, and imprisoning them, we should support them, listen to them, and turn on with them.
Throughout human history, humans who have wanted to expand their consciousness, to find deeper meaning inside themselves, have been able to do it if they were willing to commit the time and energy to do so. In other times and countries, men would walk barefooted 2,000 miles to find spiritual teachers who would turn them on to Buddha, Mohammed, or Ramakrishna.
If we're speaking in a general way, what happens to everyone on LSD is the experience of incredible acceleration and intensification of all senses and all mental processeswhich can be very confusing if you're not prepared for it. Around a thousand million signals fire off in your brain every second; during any second in an LSD session, you find yourself tuned in on thousands of these messages that ordinarily you don't register consciously. And you may be getting an incredible number of simultaneous messages from different parts of your body. Since you're not used to this, it can lead to incredible ecstasy or it can lead to confusion. Some people are freaked by this Niagara of sensory input. Instead of having just one or two or three things happening in tidy sequence, you're suddenly flooded by hundreds of lights and colors and sensations and images, and you can get quite lost....
You sense a strange powerful force beginning to unloose and radiate through your body. In normal perception, we are aware of static symbols. But as the LSD effect takes hold, everything begins to move, and this relentless, impersonal, slowly swelling movement will continue through the several hours of the session. It's as though for all of your normal waking life you have been caught in a still photograph, in an awkward, stereotyped posture; suddenly the show comes alive, balloons out to several dimensions and becomes irradiated with color and energy.
LSD and the Senses
The first thing you notice is an incredible enhancement of sensory awareness. Take the sense of sight. LSD vision is to normal vision as normal vision is to the picture on a badly tuned television set. Under LSD, it's as though you have microscopes up to your eyes, in which you see jewel-like, radiant details of anything your eye falls upon. You are really seeing for the first timenot static, symbolic perception of learned things, but patterns of light bouncing off the objects around you and hurtling at the speed of light into the mosaic or rods and cones in the retina of your eye. Everything seems alive. Everything is alive beaming diamond-bright light waves into your retina.
Ordinarily we hear just isolated sounds: the rings of a telephone, the sound of somebody's words. But when you turn on with LSD, the organ of Corti in your inner ear becomes a trembling membrane seething with tattoos of sound waves. The vibrations seem to penetrate deep inside you, swell and burst there. You hear one note of a Bach sonata, and it hangs there, glittering, pulsating, for an endless length of time, while you slowly orbit around it. Then, hundreds of years later, comes the second note of the sonata, and again, for hundreds of years, you slowly drift around the two notes, observing the harmony and the discords, and reflecting on the history of music.
When your nervous system is turned on with LSD, and all the wires are flashing, the senses begin to overlap and merge. You not only hear but see the music emerging from the speaker system, like dancing particles, like squirming curls of toothpaste. You actually see the sound in multicolored patterns while you're hearing it. At the same time, you are the sound, you are the note, you are the string of the violin or the piano. And every one of your organs is pulsating, and having orgasms in rhythm with it.
Taste is intensified, too, although normally you wouldn't feel like eating during an LSD session, any more than you feel like eating when you take your first solo at the controls of a supersonic jet. Although if you eat after a session, there is an appreciation of all the particular qualities of foodits texture and resiliency and viscositysuch as we are not conscious of in a normal state of awareness.
As for smell, this is one of the most overwhelming aspects of an LSD experience. It seems as though for the first time you are breathing life, and you remember with amusement and distaste that plastic, odorless, artificial gas that you used to consider air. During the LSD experience, you discover that you're actually inhaling an atmosphere composed of millions of microscopic strands of olfactory ticker tape, exploding in your nostrils with ecstatic meaning. When you sit across the room from a woman during an LSD session, you're aware of thousands of penetrating chemical messages floating from her through the air into your sensory center, a symphony of a thousand odors that all of us exude at every moment, the shampoo she uses, her cologne, her sweat, the exhaust and discharge from her digestive system, her sexual perfume, the fragrance of her clothinggrenades of eroticism exploding in the olfactory cell.
Touch Becomes Electric as Well as Erotic
I remember a moment during one session in which my wife Rosemary leaned over and lightly touched the palm of my hand with her finger. Immediately a hundred thousand end cells in my hand exploded in soft orgasm. Ecstatic energies pulsated up my arms and rocketed into my brain, where another hundred thousand cells softly exploded in pure, delicate pleasure. The distance between my wife's finger and the palm of my hand was about 50 miles of space, filled with cotton candy, infiltrated with thousands of silver wires hurtling energy back and forth. Wave after wave of exquisite energy pulsed from her finger. Wave upon wave of ethereal tissue rapturedelicate, shudderingcoursed back and forth from her finger to my palm.
Transcendentally erotic rapture.
An enormous amount of information from every fiber of your body is released under LSD, most especially including sexual energy. There is no question that LSD is the most powerful aphrodisiac ever discovered.
Sex under LSD becomes miraculously enhanced and intensified. I don't mean that it simply generates genital energy. It doesn't automatically produce a longer erection. Rather, it increases your sensitivity a thousand percent. Let me put it this way: Compared with sex under LSD, the way you've been making loveno matter how ecstatic the pleasure you think you get from itis like making love to a department store window dummy. In sensory and cellular communion on LSD, you may spend a half-hour making love with eyeballs, another half-hour making love with breath. As you spin through a thousand sensory and cellular organic changes, she does too.
Ordinarily, sexual communication involves one's own chemicals, pressure and interactions of a very localized nature, in what the psychologists call the erogenous zones. A vulgar concept, I think. When you're making love under LSD, it's as though every cell in your bodyand you have trillionsis making love with every cell in her body. Her hand doesn't caress her skin but sinks down into and merges with ancient dynamos of ecstasy within her.
Every time I've taken LSD, I have made love. In fact, that is what the LSD experience is all about. Merging, yielding, flowing, union, communion. It's all lovemaking. You make love with candlelight, with sound waves from a record player, with a bowl of fruit on the table, with the trees. You're in pulsating harmony with all the energy around you.
The three inevitable goals of LSD sessions are to discover and make love with God, to discover and make love with yourself, and to discover and make love with another. You can't make it with yourself unless you've made it with the timeless energy process around you, and you can't make it with a mate until you've made it with yourself. One of the great purposes of an LSD session is sexual union. The more expanded your consciousness, the further out you can move beyond your mind, the deeper, the richer, the longer and more meaningful your sexual communion.
Only the most reckless poet would attempt to describe an orgasm on LSD. What does one say to a little child? The child asks, "Daddy, what is sex like?" and you try to describe it, and then the little child says, "Well, is it fun like the circus?"
And you say, "Well, not exactly like that."
And the child says, "Is it fun like chocolate ice cream?"
And you say, "Well, it's like that but much, much more than that."
And the child says, "Is it fun like the rollercoaster, then?"
And you say, "Well that's part of it, but it's even more than that."
In short, I can't tell you what it's like, because it's not like anything that's ever happened to youand there aren't words adequate to describe it anyway. You won't know what it's like until you try it yourself and then I won't need to tell you.
This preoccupation with the number of orgasms is a hang-up for many men and women. It's as crude and vulgar a concept as wondering how much she paid for the negligee.
Still, it's a fact that women who ordinarily have difficulty achieving orgasm find themselves capable of multiple orgasms under LSD, even several hundred orgasms.
I can only speak for myself and about my own experience. I can only compare what I was with what I am now. In the last six years, my openness to, my responsiveness to, my participation in every form of sensory expression, has multiplied a thousandfold.
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The sexual impact is, of course, the open but private secret about LSD, which none of us has talked about in the last few years. It's socially dangerous enough to say that LSD helps you find divinity and helps you discover yourself. You're already in trouble when you say that. But then if you announce that the psychedelic experience is basically a sexual experience, you're asking to bring the whole middle-aged, middle-class monolith down on your head.
At the present time, however, I'm under a thirty-year sentence of imprisonment, which for a forty-five-year-old man is essentially a life term, and in addition, I am under indictment on a second marijuana offense involving a sixteen-year sentence. Since there is hardly anything more that middle-aged, middle-class authority can do to meand since the secret is out anyway among the youngI feel I'm free at this moment to say what we've never said before: that sexual ecstasy is the basic reason for the current LSD boom.
Young people are taking LSD and discovering God and meaning; they're discovering themselves; but did you really think that sex wasn't the fundamental reason for this surging, youthful social bloom? You can no more do research on LSD and leave out sexual ecstasy than you can do microscopic research on tissue and leave out cells.
LSD is not an automatic trigger to sexual awakening, however. The first ten times you take it, you might not be able to have a sexual experience at all, because you're so overwhelmed and delighted, or frightened and confused, by the novelty; the idea of having sex might be irrelevant or incomprehensible at the moment. But it depends upon the setting and the partner. It is almost inevitable, if a man and his mate take LSD together, that their sexual energies will be unimaginably intensified, and unless clumsiness or fright on the part of one or the other blocks it, will lead to a deeper experience than they ever thought possible.
From the beginning of our research, we have been aware of this tremendous personal power in LSD. You must be very careful to take it only with someone you know really well, because it's almost inevitable that a man will fall in love with the woman who shares his LSD experience. Deep and lasting neurological imprints, profound emotional bonds can develop as a result of an LSD session, bonds that can last a lifetime. For this reason, we have always been extremely cautious about running sessions with men and women. We always try to have a subject's husband or wife present during his or her first session, so that as these powerful urges develop, they are directed in ways that can be lived out responsibly after the session.
One of the great lessons I've learned from LSD is that every man contains the essence of all men and every woman has within her all women. I remember a session a few years ago in which, with horror and ecstasy, I opened my eyes and looked into Rosemary's eyes and was pulled into the deep pools of her being floating softly in the center of her mind, experiencing everything that she was experiencing, knowing every thought she ever had. As my eyes were riveted to hers, her face began to melt and change. I saw her as a young girl, as a baby, as an old woman with gray hair and seamy, wrinkled face. I saw her as a witch, a Madonna, a nagging crone, a radiant queen, a Byzantine virgin, a tired worldly-wise oriental whore who had seen every sight of life repeated a thousand times. She was all women, all woman, the essence of female, eyes smiling quizzically, resignedly, devilishly, always inviting, "See me, hear me, join me, merge with me, keep the dance going." Now the implications of this experience for sex and mating, I think are obvious. It's because of this, not because of moral restrictions or restraints, that I've been monogamous in my use of LSD over the last six years.
The notion of running around trying to find different mates is a very low-level concept. We are living in a world of expanding population in which there are more and more beautiful young girls and boys coming off the assembly line each month. It's obvious that the sexual criteria of the past are going to be changed and that what's demanded of creatures with our sensory and cellular repertoire is not just one affair after another with one young body after another, but the exploration of the incredible depths and varieties of your own identity with another. This involves time and commitment to the voyage. There is a certain kind of neurological and cellular fidelity that develops. I have said for many years now that in the future the grounds for divorce would not be that your mate went to bed with another and bounced around on a mattress for an hour or two, but that your mate had an LSD session with somebody else, because the bonds and the connections that develop are so powerful.
For the most part, during the last six years, I have lived very quietly in our research centers. But on lecture tours and in highly enthusiastic social gatherings, there is no question that a charismatic public figure does generate attraction and stimulate a sexual response.
Every woman has built into her cells and tissues the longing for a hero, sage-mythic male, to open up and share her own divinity. But casual sexual encounters do not satisfy this deep longing. Any charismatic person who is conscious of his or her own mythic potency awakens this basic hunger and pays reverence to it at the level that is harmonious and appropriate at the time. Compulsive body grabbing, however, is rarely the vehicle of such communication.
I'm no one to tell anyone else what to do. But I would say, if you use LSD to make out sexually in the seductive sense, then you'll be a very humiliated and embarrassed person, because it's just not going to work. On LSD, her eyes would be microscopic, and she'd see very plainly what you were up to, coming on with some heavy-handed, mustache-twisting routine. You'd look like a consummate ass, and she'd laugh at you, or you'd look like a monster and she'd scream and go into a paranoid state. Nothing good can happen with LSD if it's used crudely or for power or for manipulative purposes.
You must remember that in taking LSD with someone else, you are voluntarily relinquishing your personality defenses and opening yourself up in a very vulnerable manner. If you and the other are ready to do this, there would be an immediate and deep rapport if you took a trip together. People from the LSD cult would be able to make love upon a brief meeting, but an inexperienced person would probably find it extremely confusing, and the people might become quite isolated from each other. They might be whirled into the rapture or confusion of their own inner workings and forget entirely that the other person is there.
LSD is not a sexual cure-all. LSD is no guarantee of any specific social or sexual outcome. One man may take LSD and leave wife and family and go off to be a monk on the banks of the Ganges. Another may take LSD and go back to her husband. It's a highly individual situation. Highly unpredictable. During LSD sessions, you see, there can come a microscopic perception of your routine social and professional life. You may discover to your horror that you're living a robot existence, that your relationships with your boss, your husband, and your family are stereotyped, empty, and devoid of meaning. At this point, there might come a desire to renounce this hollow existence, to collect your thoughts, to go away and cloister yourself from the world like a monk while you figure out what kind of life you want to go back to, if any.
Conversely, we've found that in giving LSD to members of monastic sects, there has been a definite tendency for them to leave the monastic life and to find a mating relationship. Several were men in their late forties who had been monks for 15 or 20 years, but who even at this mature age returned to society, married and made the heterosexual adjustment. It's not coincidental that of all those I've given LSD to, the religious groupmore than 200 ministers, priests, divinity students, and nunshas experienced the most intense sexual reaction. And in two religious groups that prize chastity and celibacy, there have been wholesale defections of monks and nuns who left their religious orders to get married after a series of LSD experiences. The LSD session, you see, is an overwhelming awakening of experience; it releases potent, primal energies, and one of these is the sexual impulse, which is the strongest impulse at any level of organic life. For the first time in their lives, perhaps, these people were meeting head on the powerful life forces that they had walled off with ritualized defenses and self-delusions.
For almost everyone, the LSD experience is a confrontation with new forms of wisdom and energy that dwarf and humiliate the mind. This experience of awe and revelation is often described as religious. I consider my work basically religious, because it has, as its goal, the systematic expansion of consciousness and the discovery of energies within, which men call divine. From the psychedelic point of view, almost all religions are attempts, sometimes limited temporarily or nationally, to discover inner potential. Well, LSD is Western yoga. The aim of all Eastern religion, like the aim of LSD, is basically to get highthat is, to expand your consciousness and find ecstasy and revelation within.