Vortrag (Auszug) auf der 7. Internationalen Daoismuskonferenz in Nanyue/China
Sexuality and Infertility: From Han dynasty medicine to modern IVF
Qiuzi- the desire of sons or the desire for children nowaday is main theme of mankind since the beginning of he human race. Getting descendants was ever more than existencially for the survival of each individual as well as any community.
In China as well in the modern western world, issues of reproduction and sexuality have been determined significantly by the culture as a whole.
There in China since the fifth century BC, the culture and the way of thoughts were shaped by the two great religious-philosophical currents, namely Confucianism and Daoism, and later since the first century CE also by Buddhism.
Daoism is designed much more loosely than Confucianism. We can distinguish between several developments since its creation by Laozi and Zhuangzi, most likely contemporaries of Kongzi:
• Sociopolitical developments (Laozi),
• philosophical teachings (Zhuangzi),
• a religion with a particular world of deities (assimilated from popular religion, which also included the fangshi magicians, widely popular until the Qing period),
• the ability to cultivate life (yang sheng),
• religious cult with sometimes sexual practices, etc.
Especially the aspect of “cultivating life” (yang sheng), which included efforts to achieve longevity and immortality, developed numerous strategies in the areas of sexuality and reproduction.
Confucianism is rooted in a worldview that defines the individual as part of society, and that not only on a synchronic plane, that is, during the person's lifetime, but in addition also in terms of obligations towards ancestors and descendants. All individual efforts should serve first and foremost the creation and preservation of a good and just society by a system of mutual, carefully graded rights and responsibilities. The personal fulfillment of wishes and claims of the individual was secondary to this, unlike the West, where the individual was the governing force since Plato. All human efforts, hence also including sexuality, had to be subordinated to this overarching benefit to society as a whole. Reproduction assumed a central role until the modern age, especially since Neo-Confucianism developed around the 12th century CE in the Song dynasty. Concepts of sexuality, on the other hand, were primarily developed in Daoism.
Confucianism, which should in fact be considered a philosophical and social concept rather than a religion, moreover incorporated ancestor worship, practiced in China since thousands of years. This tradition is based on a system of mutual obligations within families, far beyond the present existence. The “Begetting of sons” was therefore an indispensable part of this system. In regards to reproduction, Confucian thought also influenced the other two great religions in China.
For Buddhism, all life is suffering. This suffering has four causes, among which the second cause is desire, or thirst, that is, for the so-called “lusts of the five senses,” for existence, for becoming, and for non-existence.
The goal of Buddhism is liberation from the eternal cycle of rebirth.
In this context, Confucian ideas about descendants and ancestors are just as irrelevant as Daoist ideas about longevity and immortality. Hence, Buddhist monks are not allowed to touch women or spend time with a woman in a secret or non-public place, let alone engage in sexual intercourse. In Buddhism, sexuality is not seen as reprehensible per se, but only as part of general badness that must be overcome because it stands in the way of enlightenment.
We also need to mention that Tantric Buddhism, a school of Buddhism, consciously cultivated sexuality in “red” or “left-handed” Tantra and engaged in sexual practices to unite the polarities. But not all forms of Tantrism include real sexual intercourse, such as Buddhist and Hindu Tantrism.
Especially during the times of Kublai Khan (1216-1294 CE), this school exerted considerable influence, which however declined afterwards and partly continued to exist in turn in Daoist communities like the Quanzhen order..
But over thousands of years it was a mystery: why can some people get children and others not? What could be the cause for infertility. May be ghosts and demons…good for everything on the world, what was not explainable.
May be the ancestors, who didn´t receive enough attention and care.
But since the beginning of medicine in imperial some causes for infertility, based on health and habits of women and men as well as in astrological constellations were found. That means in contradictory to the intention of the heaven and the fate.
the ancient doctors diagnosed the cause for infertility in internal and external factors.
5 Taxations leads to 7 damages of the flow of qi in the body. Main symptoms for these damages for women were different disturbances of the menses. They had to be cured as a precondition for pregnancy. But also man could be responsible for infertility – described in this medical classic from the Tang Dynasty. Zhu Bing Yuan Hou Lun (Thesis on the Origins and Symptoms of Diseases). Written by Chao Yuan-Fang. No essence jing, no yang qi or stagnation of qi therefore cause childlessness.
Misscariage was possible by bad habits of woman during pregnancy.
some important medical classics about pregnancy, women diseases and infertility.
In the recent past, the “sexual revolution” and the anti-baby pill have separated sex from reproduction. “Free love” created the possibility of having sex without begetting a child, while modern biomedicine now promises a child without sex. We apparently must distinguish here between two terms that in fact exist separately from each other but are nevertheless intimately interwoven.
The close connection between sexuality and reproduction was formed in our culture only under the influence of Christianity. Hinduism likewise postulates “chastity in marriage,” as a result of which sexuality was shifted into the realm of extramarital activities like prostitution. A process that was and is certainly also found in the Greco-Roman-Christian cultural complex as a result of sexual asceticism.
The notion that the male seed (just like a seed of grain) already contained all life and that women therefore merely served as a fertile field survived into the 17th century CE. Thomas Aquinas (13th c.) still imagines the sexual act in paradise without any sensation of pleasure and considers matrimony as the will of god, as long as it serves the begetting of children. Luther also sees sexual pleasure as resulting from the Fall of Man, but tolerates marriage also “for the sake of harlotry,” as a medicine against unchastity. This purposive-rational attitude continues to survive in Calvinism and in radical Puritanism (USA).
In the course of enlightenment, which demanded in the 17th/18th century a “free man, absolved from a self-imposed immaturity” (Kant), sexuality experienced a partial redefinition in the relationship between man and woman, in the sense that it stressed emotional, sensual relationships based on respect and mutuality. This development was continued by the Romanticists in the 18th century.
Very different, however, Sigmund Freud. In his work and on the basis of psychoanalytic reasoning, he created new notions about sexuality that have influenced our thinking deeply even to this day. Influenced by mechanistic ideas, terms like “drive,” “suppression,” “the unconscious,” etc. are deeply anchored in our use of language. Freud “mechanized” and (pathologized) sexuality as a source of neuroses as well as of cultural developments.
In the most recent past, AIDS and Viagra have contributed significantly to a more open treatment of questions of sexuality.
Many couples in fertility treatment appear to give priority more to the above-mentioned problems than to a lively sexuality; and sexual intercourse itself as well as fertilization become increasingly mechanized in the course of the various attempts, and are performed with a purposive attitude
Therefore the problem of infertility is still very important in the modern world. Modern technics cause new possibilities. And the practitioner of Chinese Medicine has to consider this fact. He has to combine the experience and knowledge of the old chinese medical classics with the stormy development and achievements.
the modern artifical reproductive technics ART offers manifold mechanic methods.
these methods are necessary, because the modern life cause some general problems and questions.
in my two clinics in Berlin and Munich in Germany I am loking for the comprehensive constellation of partnership, body and mind, which could be the cause for infertility.
The consequence of the diagnosis are several advices and therapeutic strategies.
but: beside the strategies, don´t forget the surrounding!