When Eva Clay went to sell her house, she didn't rely on a realtor to make sure she got her list price. Instead, the clinical sexologist and psychotherapist took a different approach. She made love to her partner on a bed of money.
Clay was practicing sex magick, a craft that’s meant to use the energy created during sexual arousal to manifest hopes, dreams, and intentions. (The ‘k’ isn’t a typo; it’s the preferred spelling in the neo-pagan community.) And it worked, Clay says: She ended up receiving the figure she wanted for her house.
Sex magick’s complicated history
Today, sex magick is used by some Wiccans, witches, neo-pagan believers, and ceremonial magicians. And, some every day people who are interested in energy work, manifestation, and sexual exploration.
But the practice is not new. It dates back to the first millennium, with roots in tantra in Central Asia, according to the book Sex and the Supernatural. It was also a part of the philosophy of the Ordo Tempil Orientis (O.T.O.), an occult organization founded in the early 1900s, explains Cat Cabral, a modern witch and author of The Spells Deck.
A very famous early practitioner, however, “gave sex magick a bad name,” explains Peg Aloi, a writer and witchcraft scholar. She's talking about Aleister Crowley, a widely known O.T.O. member in the 19th century who was sexist and racist, among another things. “His books are still considered required reading for those interested in ceremonial magick," Aloi says. "But he’s what we’d now call a toxic narcissist. I would even say he was a sexual predator. He would practice sex magick on students of his. They say he was able to drive them ‘insane’ and make them do things they didn’t want to do... And the sex magick practices were part of that, as the story goes.”
Sex magick’s image started to improve in the late '80s and '90s thanks to writer Margot Anand, Aloi says. “She started writing about it as something that’s healing,” Aloi explains. “She stripped it from its darker aspects. She made it acceptable to practice sex magick as a life-affirming and positive activity, as opposed to something used to garner power and influence over others.”
Many present-day practitioners see sex magick as a way to reclaim their sexuality, or even heal from past trauma. “Sex is taboo and special and sacred because it can transport us,” Cabral says. “If you can hone in on that a little bit more, perhaps through sex magick, you can hone in on your own power.”
How sex magick is practiced today
Modern sex magick can be done with a partner or during masturbation. Throughout the act, you visualize a specific goal. The energy created during arousal is incredibly potent, the thinking goes, offering a way to supercharge your manifestation practice.
Traditional sex magick often centered around orgasm, but Cabral says it’s not required. “Orgasms do not come easily for everyone,” she acknowledges. “Throughout the entire act, you can be putting that intention out there.” Some practitioners even use orgasm denial to build the energy needed for the practice.
That’s the basic routine, but each practitioner may have their own specific rituals, says America Allen, a therapist and the owner of suNu Healing. For example, Dana Humphrey, a life coach in Queens, NY, sometimes likes to write down an intention on a piece of paper and keep it near her while she masturbates. She says she also makes wands out of driftwood she collects at Rockaway Beach. “I don’t insert it, it’s just for fun,” says Humphrey, who first learned about manifestation at Burning Man in 2012. “I’ll hold it and wave it over myself. It just adds a little extra intention and umph.”
Others chant mantras when they orgasm, or light green candles, which symbolize healing, says Malika O'Neill, a therapist, sexologist, and founder of The Pleasure Collective, which offers therapy services. “They also might put flowers or salt around their bed to represent that it’s a sacred place,” she says. “But some might not feel the need to set up their environment at all.”
If you’re doing it with a partner and you’re both manifesting the same thing? “It might be even more powerful,” says Allen.
Regardless, those who put their trust in the powers of sex magick say it can be an ethereal experience. “Once I start to climax, I manifest,” says Humphrey. “I feel like there is a bright light shooting out of my head and I feel like this is going energetically out into the universe as fuel for something purposeful.”
What sex magick can bring you
The goal you focus on during sex can be “as broad or small or specific as you want. It can be around wanting a new client or a book deal, or even just wanting someone to buy [you] sushi,” explains Humphrey. O’Neill says one of her clients who was trying to have a baby believes it played a part in her getting pregnant after eight months of trying in-vitro fertilization.
That said, it’s considered bad form to manifest anything that may harm someone or interfere with someone’s free will — like, say, visualizing a specific person falling for you, according to Aloi.
Another word of caution: You can’t predict exactly how your desire will be delivered. In January 2020, Humphrey pulled out her vibrator and did some sex magick, hoping to “call in community.” Then, in March, she packed her bags for what was supposed to be a week-long retreat in Guatemala. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, she was stuck there until June. “I ended up living there for the last three months with 11 people,” she says. The circumstances in which she found her close-knit circle weren’t ideal. But ultimately, she says, “It was everything I was wanting.”
Of course, the role sex plays in our lives right now is complicated, given that we’re in the midst of a pandemic that has killed almost 158,000 people in the U.S., created large-scale job loss, and led to an impending eviction crisis. In a NBC News poll of 9,000 people, 47% said the coronavirus negatively affected their sex lives. Yet Cosmopolitan Magazine dubbed masturbation the “only winner” of the COVID-19 outbreak. Although hookups might be going down, it's easy to imagine that solo sex magick is going up at a time like this. And, as Cabral says, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could stop the coronavirus by making love?”