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The ‘sexual-spiritual split’ is a term that comes to us from Michael Picucci, PhD, co-founder of the Institute for Staged Recovery.

Writing in The Journey toward Complete Recovery, Picucci describes the sexual-spiritual split as “a deep psychic schism within almost everyone in our culture which prohibits enduring, loving relationships to form, which at the same time can remain sexually alive and growing.”

Picucci goes on to say that, “Many who enter therapy have no idea that they have such a schism within themselves…” Those who don’t seek therapy are equally in the dark.

Origin of the sexual-spiritual split

Picucci gives the origin of this split as “early religious and cultural training, which teaches that God, love, and family are good while sex is dirty, bad and perverse.”

“Strong barriers have been erected against this flood of refuse and asociality: moralistic views and inhibitions on the inside and the vice squad and public opinion on the outside… The many fantasies that psychotic patients have… can be explained on the basis of this split.”

Wilhelm Reich

Picucci recalls a nun in a catechism class telling him—at eight years of age—that, “To touch your private parts, or someone else’s, is a mortal sin”. In short, the sexual-spiritual split is a psychic wound. It results from the incompatibility of our animal sexuality and our (supposedly) civilised and spiritualised humanity.

It’s the split between the part of ourselves we accept as ‘good’ and the part we reject as ‘bad’. That rejection is largely sexual and entirely unconscious.

The sexual-spiritual split is the split between the part of ourselves we accept as ‘good’ and the part we reject as ‘bad’. That rejection is largely sexual and entirely unconscious.

Picucci writes that, “We find it difficult to resolve our commitment to a ‘higher’ power with the human need to express, satisfy and celebrate our sexuality.”

Default programming

It’s important to realise that even those of us that aren’t brought up in overtly sex-negative environments (religious or otherwise) automatically acquire this default programming. It’s part of the base operating system of every patriarchal based society—i.e. global society, excluding a few remaining native cultures.

The sexual-spiritual split is one of the key components of what I call the Patriarchal Operating System, the acquisitive, consumptive and destructive psychological model that’s crippling humanity and the planet.

In fact, the sexual-spiritual split isn’t just part of the Patriarchal Operating System. The existence of patriarchy is entirely due to this schism. If it weren’t for the sexual-spiritual split, we would be aware of everything in our consciousness, i.e. we would have no unconscious.

The unconscious

The following diagram illustrates very simply the crucial role the sexual-spiritual split plays in the formation of our unconscious.

The sexual-spiritual split

  • Conscious mind—our clear, rational mind that can make decisions without unconscious bias or interference
  • Shame layer—a layer of emotional concrete that we can neither see through nor think through. It shrouds all our unconscious wounds in emotional fog and represses pain through numbness
  • ‘Sexual-spiritual split’—a schism in our psyche caused by judgement. We divide everything into good-bad, if-else, either-or, in or out, with us or against us
  • Personal unconscious—wounds, coping mechanisms and trauma unique to us, whether from our current life or inherited through generational trauma
  • Collective unconscious—collective wounds in hearted through community trauma, racial trauma or ancestral trauma

Everything below the conscious part of our minds is walled off by unconscious shame. The key thing to note is this includes the sexual-spiritual split itself. We wall off the pain of its constant judgment behind a layer of shame, a fog of denial, and the endless pursuit of numbness.

Carl Jung wrote that humanity’s task is to “become conscious of that which presses upward from the unconscious”. This comprises unresolved traumas from our current life—such as Picucci’s traumatic religious education (above)—as well as unresolved traumas inherited from recent and distant ancestors.

The sexual-spiritual split both creates these traumas and perpetuates them through on-going, unconscious judgment. The result is that instead of emotional cohesion we suffer from fragmentation and disassociation between our hearts, minds, and bodies.

René Descartes

Picucci specifically connects the separation of the body, mind and spirit inherent in the sexual-spiritual split to the changed worldview that arose after the 17th century French philosopher René Descartes asserted, “I think therefore I am.”

I’m not so sure about this. The sex-negative behaviours associated with this schism clearly predates Descartes. His assertion—to me at least—smacks more of symptom than of cause.

In A brief history of shame, I’ve written about the origins of the sexual-spiritual split in the climate change and ensuing psychological shift that gave rise to patriarchy around 4000 BC.

The source of shame

While its origins may be disputed, the existence of the sexual-spiritual split deep within our psyches cannot. It is manifestly evident in our society’s on-going deep shame around (and aversion to) nudity and sexuality.

This unconscious shame (of which sexual shame is a—if not the—major component) originates in the judgments inherent in the sexual-spiritual split.

The following diagram illustrates the accepted/good/conscious and rejected/bad/unconscious elements of our psyche. The sexual-spiritual split is the dividing line between them—the black horizontal line across the middle of the diagram:

Unconscious polarityWe experience shame around all aspects of ourselves we’ve unconsciously rejected because of the sexual-spiritual split.

Healing the sexual-spiritual split

Healing the sexual-spiritual split within ourselves is a significant milestone on the road to recovery from porn addiction.

Picucci stresses both the importance and the magnitude of the task. “I’m convinced that the key to this earth-splitting dilemma we face is to reunite the body, mind, and spirit, and the primary obstacle most people face is the matter of uniting the spiritual with the sexual.”

This echoes the words of psychologist R.D. Laing, who writes 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… No one can begin to think, feel or act now except from the starting-point of their own alienation.”

The sexual-spiritual split is the starting-point of that alienation.

Perineal breathing

Michael Picucci provides a very simple exercise for getting in touch with our dissociated genitals—perineal breathing. (The genitals are so taboo that spell-checker doesn’t recognise the word perineal, ‘of the perineum’.)

Imagine that you can take your breath all the way down to your perineum, that lowermost part of the crotch between the vagina and the rectum or the scrotum and the rectum.

This can be done while sitting on a bus, riding in a car, or for a few minutes before or after sleeping. While the results may not be immediate, with a little practice and patience, deeper breathing will lead to spiritual integration.

My personal experience of this exercise was that after a short while, I felt an intense, stinging sensation in the perineum. The feeling was slow burning and long lasting. It’s a sign of blocked energies in the genital area. Keep breathing.

“The most intimidating task”

Yet breathing is not enough. Our sexual wounds date back thousands of years and are the most frightening component of our unconscious. This stuff used to get you killed. In many cultures, it still does. Healing the sexual-spiritual split needs a strong commitment to facing your worst nightmares.

I’ll leave the last word with Michael Picucci. “The healing of the internalised schism between our sexual and spiritual energies is the most provocative topic, and the most intimidating task we can address.”

If you’re ready for that task, get in touch.

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