I can’t believe I forgot the most pertinent reason for our inability to comprehend Vedic approach to sex – contraceptives. Invention of a pill has truly changed women’s lives and with it the sexual attitudes of the entire humanity.
It has completely divorced sex life from procreation and turned it into recreation. Prior to that every sexual congress could always produce children and both participants were fully aware of it. It was impossible to separate sex from reproduction and so if it was in marriage it was always “licit”, and just as enjoyable.
Every marriage was expected to bear fruit as soon as possible and marriage was practically synonymous with breeding – men and women getting together meant children first and foremost while any romantic involvement was simply icing on the cake. Success in marriage was determined by the number of children, the more the merrier.
Of course one reason for judging marriage by the amount and quality of progeny was economics of a farm life – more children, more farm hands, better security and bigger incomes, but this excuse doesn’t change the underlying principle – sex as procreation is godly, just as it’s said in Bhagavad Gita (7.11) – kamo ‘smi, “I am sex life which is not contrary to religious principles”.
Of course some wannabe Sanskritologists might object that kamah in this verse is not “sex according to regulative principles” but just “kama”, but there’s dharma-aviruddhaḥ — “not against religious principles” in the verse and this translation with commentaries of other vaishnava acharyas carry the same meaning. In fact, over there kama is translated as energy for procreation, not just sex as in Kama Sutra, a book that has nothing to do with procreation at all.
Next objection would be the existence of the Kama Sutra itself – it was a book describing how to enjoy sex, not how to make it more effective in terms of procreation.
Fine, not everyone in Vedic ages was living to the same standards of purity as expected of vaishnavas, there were hunters and fishermen, too, doesn’t change the fact that brahmanas were supposed to be vegetarians, and vaishnavas always supposed to be the best of the best.
Even in Srimad Bhagavatam we have stories of kings who overindulged in sex life and clearly broke the fourth so it was always possible but it was still not recommended, those were kings who suffered for it, and attachment to sex life is universally condemned there, even to “licit” one.
I am not talking about such exceptions here, I’m talking about general attitude – sex meant procreation and it was all good and even prescribed as one’s duty.
Somehow I don’t think that introduction of contraceptives has made sex any more objectively pleasant or any more frequent just as invention of processed food hasn’t made it any tastier or healthier, there are too many variables that could influence the outcome if we judge success in sex life purely by the amount of pleasure.
It’s obvious that couples who are trying for a child are far more fulfilled in their lives than those who treat their unions more like one night stands, it just doesn’t compare, and, more importantly for us, it doesn’t make them break the principles but rather carries with it guru and Krishna’s blessings.
Another objection could be that child bearing takes too much time and leaves husbands hang out to dry, so to speak, but a man emotionally and spiritually involved in this endeavor naturally loses his sexual appetite, so it’s not a big problem at all. It becomes a problem if he lives in a sex obsessed society that puts him under undue expectations but if he stays with this family he should be pretty immune to such external pressures.
Funny thing, I can’t think of any cultural references that could vividly describe this kind of sex life even if it was traditional only fifty years ago. It’s gone, completely, purged from public consciousness, and even among devotees no one is surprised if a newly wed couple doesn’t produce a child in nine months.
In our defense – it’s not that we don’t want children or we want sex as recreation, in the modern society children are a big burden, a big financial commitment, and, as birth rates are plummeting, it becomes impossible to keep up with Joneses who pour all their considerable resources in this one little brat.
We can counter Joneses with six kids of our own but when we divide our meager income among them we would be lucky if they all got socks on at the same time, and we can forget about decent colleges. Education is another problem – gurukulas are nice but we haven’t got enough of them for all our devotees.
Perhaps what holds us back from engaging in “licit” sex is not our unstoppable lust but our external circumstances. We’d love to have sex for procreation every time we feel the physical need but modern life has made it impossible. Or maybe it’s our lack of faith that Krishna will provide. Or maybe it’s the sense of responsibility that if we can’t guarantee proper care we shouldn’t go near our wives.
Life in Kali yuga is very tough, there is no doubt about it, but it’s still not the reason to abandon our principles, we should just soldier on to the best of our abilities and always keep our eyes on the target – Krishna. Remembering Him at all times is the most important principle of all, this will never change.