There’s a saying that “the longest journey you will ever make is from your head to your heart”. It’s a nice aphorism. It looks good on social media memes. It gets Likes. And it isn’t true.

In Healing the “shambles” – uniting the head, heart and genitals, I quoted psychologist R.D. Laing, who wrote in The Politics of Experience that, “When our personal worlds are rediscovered… we discover first a shambles… genitals dissociated from heart; heart severed from head; heads dissociated from genitals.”

Two journeys

Laing’s insightful comment reveals that when we embark on a journey of self-discovery, self-development and self-responsibility—“when our personal worlds are rediscovered”—there are actually two journeys we need to make to achieve complete integration.

The first is the well-recognised trek from the head to the heart. The second, barely acknowledged even by experienced voyagers in our personal worlds, is much longer, more arduous, more hazardous, and trodden by far less travellers than that from the head to the heart: the journey from the genitals to the heart.

The reason the latter journey is so little known is because of unconscious shame.

The Valley of Shame

Since the advent of patriarchy six millennia ago, humanity has systematically repressed, denied, denigrated, ignored, persecuted and shamed sex. As a result, a thick layer of emotional concrete encases our psychosexual programming as we have sought to protect ourselves from being punished for our innate sexuality.

To borrow R.D. Laing’s word, our sexuality is a “shambles”. While the journey from the head to the heart is recognised and encouraged as vital development, that from the genitals to the heart is a descent into the Valley of Shame.

While the journey from the head to the heart is recognised and encouraged as vital development, that from the genitals to the heart is a descent into the Valley of Shame.

Every step of this journey means confronting two overwhelming obstacles—society’s on-going resistance to healthy, feminine-centric sexual openness; and the fact that we are going against 6,000 years of human conditioning which has taught that sexuality should be repressed to fit accepted social norms.

Releasing shame

This journey has three overall phases, as illustrated below:

  • Repressed behaviour—when we shut ourselves down to conform with social expectations and are oblivious of the fact that we’re repressed (where most people are)
  • Dysfunctional behaviour—when repression crumbles and we find ourselves facing emotional and sexual issues such as porn addiction and extramarital desires (where you are?)
  • Self-controlled behaviour—a new place of equilibrium where our sexuality is controlled by our heart and only ever expressed in healthy, respectful ways (where you’re going?)

This journey also goes from the masculine-centric sexual paradigm that’s existed for several thousand years (see Sex in patriarchy – how the past shapes sex today) to a feminine-centric sexual paradigm based on mutual consent, respect, playfulness, and on-going growth.

Upper and lower bodies

The journeys from the head and genitals to the heart can be imagined as the upper body and lower body journeys respectively.

The upper body contains the face, the mind, strong arms, and hands that do clever things. In patriarchy, these are all considered desirable. The upper body is associated with the masculine, the mind, and the light. In some esoteric systems, its symbol is an upward-pointing triangle—the shape of male public hair.

The lower body pisses, shits and fucks. It has legs that kick and feet that stink. Patriarchy regards all of these as undesirable. The lower body is associated with the feminine, with (the) sex, and the dark. Its symbol is a downward-pointing triangle—the shape of female pubic hair.

Star of David

Between the two lies the heart—the point of balance, the only place where Laing’s “shambles” can be united. When the journeys of the upper and lower body are completed, the two triangles—upward- and downward-pointing—overlap. The result is a six-pointed star, the Star of David, an ancient symbol for balanced masculine-feminine integration.

As a patriarchal-based society, we accept the upper body journey—supposedly the longest we can make—from the head to the heart. The lower body journey is entombed in so much darkness and shame that it is, as yet, largely unrecognised. If you have the courage to take it on, to descend into the Valley of Shame, that is the longest journey you will ever make.

Stages in the journey

The journey from the genitals to the heart goes from a masculine- to a feminine-centric paradigm, from a narrow focus on penetrative sex towards embracing sexuality in its widest sense.

This ultimately converges with the journey from the head to the heart to create an integrated human being with both intellect and genitals in service to the heart.

The stages of this journey relate to our understanding of the purpose of sex:

  1. Procreation
  2. Sharing love in a relationship
  3. Sharing pleasure in a relationship
  4. Sharing pleasure outside a relationship
  5. Healing
  6. Self-regulation

The journey from the genitals to the heart - lift numbers

1. Procreation

We begin our journey with the default patriarchal view that the sole legitimate purpose of sex is procreation. This is the view that has been banged into us by organised religion and ‘decent society’ over the last few millennia.

This view originates in the drought, desertification and famine that created patriarchy. Geographer James DeMeo writes in Saharasia that famine creates “a general intolerance and anxious aggressivity [sic] towards the basic biological expressions of… touching and body contact… Prolonged famine and starvation produce profound disturbances in the capacity for… sexual expression.”

In the quest for survival, famine deeply skews the human psyche away from its feminine, right brain, nurturing aspects towards masculine, left-brain, hunter-killer functioning. This skews sexuality into a masculine paradigm based on ownership (sexual slavery), violence and rage against the absent mother figure.

Psychological armouring

As I write in A brief history of shame, this profound emotional shift created psychological armouring that prevents people from feeling their natural sexual impulses and expressing them healthily.

As a result, sex was reduced to its minimum possible social extent: for procreation only. This view migrated into monotheistic religion and became society’s default position until fairly recent times.

Sex became inherently transgressive, creating anxiety and neuroses. Porn addiction, erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation are just the most obvious of these neuroses.

“In the male… we find either the inability to achieve an erection or apprehensive hyper-excitability resulting in premature ejaculation.”

— Wilhelm Reich

Sex in patriarchy

As I write in Sex in Patriarchy, the cornerstone of this paradigm is the 3 M’s—married, monogamous, missionary. Because of the shame surrounding sex, further unconscious beliefs include the need for sex to be shut away in bedrooms, with doors closed and curtains drawn, at night. Sex is too shameful for us to even observe ourselves at it.

This stage, with sex and nudity as too shameful to be displayed in any public form, is society’s default position today. The truth of this can be seen in opposition to public breastfeeding and social media’s inability to handle sex/nudity with even a lick of common sense.

This has led to the rise of campaigns by brave women demanding the right to unashamedly reveal their bodies, including ‘slut walks’ and the #underboob and #freethenipple Twitter campaigns.

Twitter - Free the nipple screenshot

Despite thundering religious imprecations, over time a few brave souls sensed there was more to sex than just procreation.

2. Sharing love in a relationship

If I had to date it, I’d suggest this view blossomed during the Romantic Age in the first half of the 19th century. It was the age of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, and the ageing William Blake—all authors impelled by deep feelings.

In William Blake’s Sexual Path to Spiritual Vision, Marsha Keith Schuchard describes how a spiritual longing to infuse love with sex—and vice-versa—fires Blake’s poetry and paintings.

William Blake - Oh flames of furious desires
— William Blake, Oh flames of furious desires (1796)

Wordsworth spoke of “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” He was referring to poetry, but an orgasmic exuberance characterises the Romantic Age. It led to the belief in marriage based on mutual love between two equals. Sex was one way of expressing that love.

This is the stage that many relationships—particularly among older couples—are currently at. While the notion of sex being pleasurable may exist as an abstract concept, too much unconscious shame means that any pleasure is tinged with guilt and shame.

Guilt, shame and disconnection

The result is stagnant sexual relations characterised by similarity, brevity, and emotional disconnection during and after sex.

“The Latin saying, “Omne animal post coitum triste,” has become a scientific axiom.”

— Wilhelm Reich

In Character Analysis, psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich references this post-coital guilt, shame and disconnection in the Latin phrase, “after intercourse every animal is sad.”

Partners experience an inability to fully ‘show up’ emotionally during or after sex. This often leads to sex being dumped in the ‘too hard’ bin. Without a word being spoken, long-term relationships descend into platonic friendships with the underlying chasm left uncrossed.

A friend of mine refers to this chasm as ‘the zone of mutually agreed non-negotiation’—a hidden hole at the heart of relationships where partners are too afraid to reveal their deepest emotional and sexual selves to each other, for fear of disgusting the one they love.

3. Sharing pleasure in a relationship

The notion that sex can be not only loving but also pleasurable can perhaps be dated to Dr Alex Comfort’s 1972 manual The Joy of Sex. Wikipedia observes that “the book played a notable part in the sexual revolution.”

Five decades later, society hasn’t fully embraced sex as pleasurable in and of itself, even in a committed relationship. Several thousand years of profound shame cannot be shaken off so lightly.

Yet—if sales of sex toys, self-help books, porn from female directors and sexual healing workshops for couples are any guide—people are slowly finding their way to genuine pleasure within the confines of committed relationships.

This stage is often perceived as the acme of sexual fulfilment by New Age devotees—sometimes referred to as finding one’s ‘soul partner’ or ‘twin flame’: the one who completes us, now and forever.

Restrictions remain

The problem with this lovely-sounding notion is that while some shame has been resolved, deeper patriarchal sexual restrictions remain unaddressed.

Reaching this stage may work well for some couples, perhaps even for years as a degree of exploration and growth occurs. However, the genital energy has not been brought under the sway of the heart as too much shame-based unconscious programming remains.

The notion we need someone to ‘complete us’—our ‘other half’—is deeply patriarchal, and representative of an unbalanced masculine-feminine internal state.

4. Sharing pleasure outside a relationship

Once the pleasure of sex is accepted, this opens up the notion that the ‘container’ of a single, committed relationship isn’t necessary—in fact, it was only necessary to comply with the anti-sexual social conventions that are accepted as normal (and hence moral) in our society.

This is a difficult step to take as it breaks one of society’s cornerstone beliefs—the sanctity of monogamy.

Am I advocating that you take this wild, reckless, potentially disruptive course? No.

What I’m trying to communicate is that if the course of your life requires you to release every shred of patriarchal programming to escape from pain, then you may find you don’t have a choice. In which case, you need to take this step in a conscious, structured, responsible way rather than in a compulsive, out-of-control, reactive way.

If there’s one thing this journey has taught me, it’s the need to be uncompromising.

Make the decision with your head and your heart—not your balls—and take full responsibility for it.

Reaching this phase marks a tipping point—the point where the journey from the genitals to the heart leaves territory that society can’t really object to, to territory where it can—and will.

Our society has a number of epithets for sex outside of committed relationships: quickies, flings, dirty weekends. They all imply such sex is morally repugnant and degrading—particularly to women. Embark upon this stage of the journey and you’ll encounter society’s resistance to you and your sexuality.

The goddess

This is also where you encounter the goddess.

The journey from the genitals to the heart - Shakti

“Woman is the Creator of the universe; She is the very body of the universe”

— Shaktisangama-Tantra (II.52)

If you’ve been diminished by shame, so will the significant women in your life. It’s no coincidence that where you encounter resistance is also where you encounter the feminine—as if for the first time.

Her name is Shakti, the Sanskrit word for ‘woman’ in both the divine and literal sense. Let me warn you now: do not mess with Shakti, for she will devour you just as the black widow eats its mate after sex.

Just as you are making the journey from the genitals to the heart, so are others—women and men. As a historically patriarchal society, we are completely unaccustomed to women who have reclaimed their sexual power and are unafraid of it.

I don’t mean that in the sense that they become nymphomaniacs. I mean it in the sense they will call out anything emotionally wounded, manipulative or disempowered—i.e. any male sexual bullshit.

“Sexually awakened women, affirmed and recognized as such, would mean the complete collapse of authoritarian ideology.”

— Wilhelm Reich


Shakti can only be approached with complete reverence.

For men, that means a lot of inner work releasing the unconscious beliefs I describe later in this toolkit, in Sex in patriarchy. What is required is a sense of sacredness between partners, based on mutual consent, openness, vulnerability, respect and trust.

Vulnerability, particularly for men, is the very antithesis of the patriarchal paradigm based on male conquest of the female. It’s essential because to approach Shakti is to stand on sacred ground.

Monotheistic religion is often seen as the source of sexual repression. This isn’t true; patriarchy predates monotheism by several thousand years. The key values that Jesus espouses—compassion, forgiveness, non-judgment and unconditional love—are all feminine values.

Apply them in your life and they will lead you to the goddess—and to wholeness.

The journey from the genitals to the heart - man sitting on rock
Photo by Keegan Houser on Unsplash

5. Healing

Growing liberation from sexual shame carries the stalwart traveller into the realm of sexual healing—the realm of female-centric Tantric sexuality. Tantra views every woman as the living embodiment of the divine femininity to which we all owe our existence.

“A Tantrist worships the cosmic Shakti in all women.”

— André van Lysebeth

Here sex slows down.

Breathing, touching and eye contact become the instruments of eroticism, capable of simultaneously giving and receiving both pleasure and life-altering healing. Sexual traumas can be accessed and released through heart-centred, ritualised sexual touch.

Tantric massage workshops are one way to access sexual healing and can hugely assist in reconnecting the heart and the genitals.

Beware that not all these workshops are created equal; discernment and self-responsibility are required. Lead with your heart and you will be drawn to whatever your personal healing journey requires.

The shame-ridden West has no real equivalent to Tantra; few understand the extraordinary nurturing and healing that sexual imbued touch, consciously guided by the heart, can provide.

6. Self-regulation

Finally, when we’ve purged the patriarchal sexual paradigm from our DNA and enough healing has been done, our genital energy suddenly and unmistakably flows into our heart. With that, we reach the end of the journey from the genitals to the heart and achieve both sexual satisfaction and self-regulation.

How? By restoring our natural capacity to release trauma and anxiety through sex—the orgasm reflex. Wilhelm Reich describes this in The Function of the Orgasm, first published in 1942 yet still largely unknown today:

“The orgasm reflex consists precisely of the fact that a wave of excitation and movement runs… over the head, neck, chest, upper and lower abdomen, to the pelvis and then to the legs.”

What Reich describes is a whole-body muscular pulsing that ripples like a series of waves from the head down to the tips of the fingers and toes. It occurs at the point of genital climax—in both women and men, according to Reich—and can be experienced during both sexual intercourse and masturbation.

The orgasm reflex provides two vitally important keys to a balanced and self-sustaining life: (1) it releases trauma and anxiety, and (2) it provides every person with permanent access to a fully gratifying sex life.

It provides full gratification because it releases trauma and anxiety.

No more idiocy trying to impress women, no more chasing after sex. It’s all inside us now, under the sway of the heart. The key thing is no longer actual sex but the clear connection to our own sexuality.

This is a whole world away from our current situation, where most men’s behaviour is either repressed (socially approved) or uncontrolled (socially disapproved). Yet the journey from the genitals to the heart is so mired in shame that it is, at present, largely unrecognised. R.D. Laing saw this half a century ago:

“If the human race survives, future men will, I suspect, look back on our enlightened epoch as a veritable age of Darkness.”

— R.D. Laing

For further information please see The Journey from the Genitals to the Heart toolkit.

Porn addiction, unconscious shame, inherited traumas | Michael H Hallett
Photo by Mukuko Studio on Unsplash

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