Chinese Internal Alchemy: Qi, Jing and Sex

Let us examine the concept of Qi as it relates to sexual activity according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In TCM, there are three types of energy, the Three Treasures or Three Jewels: Jing, Qi and Shen).

Qi can be acquired, but is also generated and mobilised from various inputs and activities, food (e.g. carbohydrates), light exercise, fresh air and proper breathing, etc. Exercise helps to circulate your Qi more so than actually generate it. Blood is said to follow the Qi flow, and in some sense, blood and lymphatic circulation can be approximated to levels of Qi.

Jing is much harder to acquire/replenish. Two known methods for generating Jing are Qi Gong and Chinese Herbal Medicine. Internal Chinese martials arts, in performed correctly, are designed to preserve pre-natal Jing and build up post-natal Jing. Chinese herbs are also said to perform such a role in those with energetic imbalances.

Jing is known as Essence or Inherent Chi. This the fixed amount of energy you are both with, and is determined by the health of your parents at the time of conception. Jing is generally stored in the kidneys, known as kidney essence.

There are various disciplines, including martial arts, that help to develop your Jing and your Qi. The most effective is believed to be Qi Gong. Second to this, T'ai Chi Chu'an (and probably Yoga) are deemed to be the next effective. After this comes various kung fu styles, the more internal forms are regarded as being superior at developing Qi. These are Ba Gua, Hsing I and Wing Chun; and perhaps also Shaolin Five Animals to a lesser extent. Virtually all kung fu styles help to develop Qi, some relying on external strength more than others. Some styles or disciplines are more physically demanding than others. The physical intensity may depend on the style but also how your train, which particular aspects of the art you are practising and the duration of your training sessions. Clearly doing too much too soon may simply tire you out and use up more qi than you actually create. So a balance has to be struck with your training sessions. More strenuous arts may also not be suitable for those with very frail health (which require a certain level of fitness in order to perform and to build qi), who may be better off focussing on Qi Gung and T'ai Chi Chu'an. The amount one performs depends on what one has learnt and how much one is comfortable doing. There is usually an optimal amount you can do every day, to slowly build up Qi, and beyond this, you may simply be wearing yourself out. This optimal amount may change with time.

Jing is consumed throughout one's life by one's daily activity, and one is said to die when one's jing becomes too low. The rate of depletion of one's jing depends on how well one takes care of oneself. If you look after yourself by eating well (according to various disciplines such as western nutrition and also TCM), sleep enough, not staying up late all the time, not working too hard and generally living a moderate life, then you will continue to replenish your Qi and Blood which helps to protect your Jing from being used up. This will help to conserve and protect your Jing. Your Jing in a sense is your body's reserve which is dipped into only when the Qi and Blood supply is low. In addition to these things, you can keep yourself in tip top shape and health through the practice of Qi Gong and also taking Chinese herbs if applicable to any energetic imbalances you might have.

However, if you fail to eat properly, fail to sleep enough or rest enough, experience stress, work too hard, study too hard, exercise too heavily without days off, experience excessive stress, ingest too many toxins, sexually overindulge, etc.,then these things will tend to greatly use up or lower your Qi and blood levels, and when they become low enough, your body will lose that level of 'protection' and start to use the Qi and Blood from your Jing instead. This is why imbalanced or excessive or destructive lifestyles are extremely draining and unhealthy for the body and your Jing.

Jing is the essence of the Kidney from which yin and yang are derived. Exercise also helps to make yang more available in the body (temporarily). It does not however help to replenish your yang. Yang is generaly topped up by eating particular food types such as red meat, ginger and garlic, as well as taking certain Chinese herbs and using certain acupuncture points.

Semen loss and menstruation/egg production are said to put a particular strain on one's jing. Jing is given to the foetus at the moment of conception. Conception is the fusing together of an egg cell and a sperm cell. The mother only produces/releases one egg per month, whereas the man produces millions of sperm cells. The egg cell is however many times larger than the sperm cell. TCM considers the egg and the sperm to be forms of Jing.

One can look at it from a 'spiritual' angle, that the actual egg produced is more vibrant that other bodily cells and has more 'energy' or 'essence' (Jing) in it, compared to other cells. Indeed it holds half of the life force of a new human life in there - the 'soul'. This would require a significant amount of jing to be shared from the mother to produce. Similarly, the man's sperms are very hardy swimmers and are capable of unfathomable physical feats in relative terms, relative to their size. However, the man does not produce one sperm but millions of sperm cells on a continual basis, and more so if he ejaculates and loses the sperm cells. So perhaps this requires even more of a man's jing to produce. It is possible that when some of the semen is reabsorbed into the body (when stored in the vessels adjacent to the balls) that some of this jing is reabsorbed - perhaps. But anyway, the man must continually produce many individual potential halves of a human being in his sperm.

So whilst the act of sex could be considered similar to other forms of exercise, in the bigger picture, it is likely that it is more than just a case of using up one's Qi and 'blood' so there is less protection for the Jing. There will be some element of actually directly using up the Jing in both ejaculation and menstruation/egg production. Sex itself is a much more complex activity hormonally and in terms of neurotransmitter production than regular exercise. It is no secret that people feel slightly tired after sexual intercourse and climax. More than they would after the equivalent cardiovascular exercise session. This is especially true for men who lose the most jing after climax/ejaculation! This tiredness is more than just the'refractory period' but is Qi/Jing related to some degree also.

For women, menstruation is not optional, but a monthly biological fact (from early teens to late 40s or 50s). The menstrual cycle does however have a built in recover period before it begins again, allowing the woman to build up her blood and jing again. The menstural cycle results in a certain amount of blood and mineral/nutrient loss. Blood is associated with Qi, and it is thus important for everyone, especially, women that their diet is nutritious and that they are able to build up their blood volume (and hence Qi) again in between menstrual cycles. For a woman, childbirth is probably the biggest sexually related factor in 'jing' loss. In addition, having children in close succession may well drain a woman's jing. This may also reflect the preferential diversion of nutrients to the foetus in a pregnant mother and the severe nutrient depletion that can occur when mothers have multiple pregnancies/childbirths in close succession.

Sexual intercourse results in some qi and jing loss from a woman, but not in the same way as a man's ejaculation, as a woman does not have to physically lose a substance containing jing from her body during sexual intercourse. It is unlikely that a woman can recover jing from a man's semen inside the uterus/vagina or if ingested orally. So whilst it is not favourable in health terms to lose more jing than one has to from the body, it is not so critical for a woman as for a man. This can be balanced with the extent that the woman is able to top up her jing, as described above.

A man does not menstruate, and so there is no monthly blood loss and corresponding loss of nutrients and jing this way. However, he does lose some jing during sexual intercourse to some degree, but primarily at the point of ejaculation, where jing is physically lost from the body. Clearly a man will continually produce semen during his life (from early teens to old age, e.g. 70s) regardless of how often he ejaculates, as the body continually tops up and reabsorbs semen, in order to keep the sperm cells fresh and vibrant. However, after ejaculation, the body works harder to replace the lost semen, i.e. it is having to use more of its 'jing' to build up the semen supply again. In other words, regular ejaculation will deplete the jing more than if one does not or rarely ejaculates. Regular ejaculation can also deplete the jing more rapidly if one is not doing much to actually build up the jing in the first place, i.e. taking Chinese Herbal Medicine and/or performing Qi Gong or similar exercises daily. For someone who is very ill (whose jing may be low and/or their protective blood/Qi levels are low and hence providing no protection to their jing), regular ejaculation from a TCM perspective is a very harmful activity - it affects their overall health as well as their sexual health and sexual function (both of which go hand in hand). Anyone with low blood/Qi levels will be more likely to dig into their Jing reserves. One might colloquially refer to it as 'spunking off one's qi'! The exact recommended limits for numbers of ejaculations an adult male should adhere to to ensure that his jing is not unnecessarily depleted varies from TCM practitioner to practitioner. I have been told by a number of acupuncturists that 1-2 times a week is probably the limit for an adult male, especially so for one who is in poor health. A web site below examines the recommended 'limits'. Clearly it depends on the individual, and those with CFS or related conditions may want to consider being especially conservative in this manner.

There may be some advantages with daily ejaculation, for example less DNA fragmentation of one's sperm, compared with individuals who do not ejaculate daily. This is only relevant however when one intends to impregnate a woman. This advantage must be offset against the loss of jing.

Sexual arousal and sexual intercourse or activity that precedes ejaculation will affect one's energetic movement and balance, besides draining one's jing. The yang element is increased and moves much more rapidly and vigorously within the body during arousal and intercourse. However, this additional yang movement and altered balance between yin and yang should only occur for the duration of sexual activity. The increase in movement and mobilisation of the yang element (produced from Jing) is not so significant in gentle sexual activity compared with vigorous sexual activity. The same could be said of exercise in general.

After sex or sexual arousal is over, the body should return to the state of balance or imbalance it was in prior. Some people's constitutions, however, cannot deal very well with the increased yang in the body or the intensity of yang created during sexual arousal or sex. This can make any kind of sexual activity an overwhelming experience during or afterwards (depending on intensity and duration) as it can upset the balance within their bodies even more. Indeed, this may be especially exaggerated if mitochondrial function is especially poor, when the actual sex act itself can be enough to totally deplete a person's reserves. Jing is the essence of the Kidney from which yin and yang are derived so further depletion of Jing from ejaculation will affect the general Kidney function more severely.

Sexual intercourse cannot be considered to be like any other form of exercise. It may well be tempted as it releases endorphins and makes us feel much better than regular exercise normally does. Sex acts to mobilise and scatter your Qi and Yang element (temporarily) in the same way that normal exercise does, however sexual intercourse does still use up your Jing, for both men and women, even if the man doesn't ejaculate. Avoiding ejaculation just reduces the amount of jing one uses up during sex. Exercise in general does not have this impact on the body, although extreme feats of athletic prowess that put a big strain on the body are highly likely to force the body to reach into its reserves and use up its jing, e.g. long distance marathon running a few times a year, or taking part in long expeditions such as extreme mountain climbing or polar exploration. This is not intended to discourage people from athletic feats, heroic acts or exploration, but merely that this kind of thing will takes its toll on the body and one's health/lifespan, and so in the interests of health should not be done frequently, perhaps just as a one off experience. At one extreme there is leading an uneventful life, which the Chinese traditionally consider to be optimal, and at the other extreme we have the macho western style action hero (who usually doesn't live very long). Where one finds one's personal balance is up to the individual, but clearly cultivating one's Jing will provide damage limitation and allow one to be more adventurous and still relative healthy than the next person who may burn himself out over a period of time with the jing cultivation exercises. It comes down to how long you want to live, what quality of life you want now and also in your latter years, and how much 'fun' you want in the interim. 'Fun' and long life are not incompatible. Bodily abuse or overstretching can be better tolerated with high levels of Qi, Blood and Jing.

Some TCM practitioners believe very strongly that Jing can be somewhat depleted by constantly thinking about sex, or with any sexual arousal even without ejaculation. This could be because the energy and the spirit is not centred or focused, and also because the yang activity generated during arousal is so great that it does consume some Jing from the body. As one's Jing is what your Kidney yin and yang is derived from, it is logical to assume that anything that uses up a lot of yin or yang in the body will have a knock on effect on the body's overall Jing supply.

A man can therefore choose to preserve his jing (related to sex) by reducing the amount of sexual intercourse he engages in, and to a lesser extent by not ejaculating every time he engages in sexual intercourse, or to learn how to separate orgasm from ejaculation. The latter two activities may be learnt/trained through practices like tantric sex or sexual qi gong. These practices may also be used to prolong the sex act for many hours, rather than the shorter durations normally associated with ejaculation-based sex. These may not be for all. Many people want to have sex and simply assume ejaculation is required or necessary, as it is the normal 'conclusion' of events, but this does not necessarily have to be so. One may even practice sex but without a climax, in which case a recovery period is not really necessary afterwards and one can pick it up any time as it were. This is of course not tantric sex in any sense but does preserve one's semen. The practices of tantric sex or sexual qi gong are usually performed in a controlled manner and may not generate as much yang as 'traditional' sex, or if they do, there are perhaps methods of channelling the excessive yang away from the body and influencing its effects so one does not end up draining the body of as much Jing; and to use up less jing during non-ejaculative sex. In any case, these activities should probably not really be learnt without also cultivating one's jing with various internal martial arts and exercises, such as energetic-based meditation, Qi Gong, T'ai Chi Chu'an and even Kung Fu (and perhaps other types of yoga). Jing cultivation and minimising Jing loss should be one's first priority. If one wishes to pursue an interest in the 'energetic arts' of sex, then that should come second.

Some critics of tantric sex or sexual qi gong suggest that the practice of preventing ejaculation at or close to orgasm by pressing the point between the anus and the balls does not actually prevent 'ejaculation' completely. They argue that as semen is mobilised from the scrotum prior to the point of orgasm, then some of it may simply end up in the bladder rather than coming out of the penis, and so the Jing is still lost. However, it depends on exactly one goes about sexual practices and how close one comes to orgasm, if one reaches orgasm, and whether one has trained the body not to ejaculate (or pass semen into the bladder) during orgasm.

Whilst sexual activity (solo or with a partner), even without ejaculation, may have some beneficial effects on the body, in terms of stress relief, neurotransmitter and hormone production, it may still be draining energetically for those who are chronically ill (as mentioned above), and result in hyper-excitability or a state of excitation which may be the opposite of what a person requires to quieten down their mind and normalise their neurotransmitter production for the promotion of healing. Sexual activity can be an excuse to prevent one from quietening one's mind, from detaching from one's stress and (other) addictions, and be an item in a long list of activities that the conscious mind wishes to engage in to prevent the aforementioned quietening and relaxation. Sex can become an addiction and/or a routine, where it loses the fun element. In addition, frequent and daily (or more often) ejaculation for some men results in less satisfying (and harer to achieve) organisms than less frequent ejaculations provide (e.g. once or twice a week). Assuming one is ejaculating during sex. Any fun activity, when we become fixated on it or dependent on it, has all (or at least most of) the fun squeezed out of it.

Of course, as discussed above, it depends how healthy one's blood and Qi levels are, which provide a protective buffer for one's Jing in day to day activity; and indeed it depends on how much jing one has to start with, and how old one is; and what one is doing to top up one's Jing. At a young age one can dip into one's jing frequently if one is pushing oneself or living an imbalanced lifestyle, and not notice any significant effects until perhaps one's early 30s, when lowered jing is more noticeable. One's jing is used up throughout one's life, as mentioned above, but one can choose to try to protect and conserve it as one sees fit. We are all biologically programmed to die, but to reproduce in the time that we are alive. However ageing does not have to mean becoming ill, frail, mentally degenerate, and become more immobile and miserable, and one can maintain good mobility, health and cheer into one's old age, and in many cases embarrass teenagers and people in their 20s who are in much worse health and state of fitness. Youth is often wasted on the young!

Many of us come to rely on sex or orgasm as a way of releasing tension and forgetting about stresses and pains etc. This is fairly normal. Some people additionally rely on smoking, drinking, drug use, comfort foods, working out etc. Whilst certain forms of exercise can be quite healthy, most of the aforementioned strategies are unhealthy and also put excessive strain on our blood and Qi. Those who are too reliant on any of the above go into a cold turkey and experience a mental rollercoaster ride and excessive stress if they try to abstain initially, which is draining of one's energy and Qi, and often leads them to give up and go back to their previous habits. In the case of sex and/or masturbation, one may simply not be used to doing without it, and this has resulted in an addiction and also in lack of mental discipline, at the expense of other methods of relaxation which promote wellbeing and health with no downsides. One should ideally be able to take or leave sex without having one's libido control one's thoughts, and fill one's thoughts with sex if one has not had an orgasm for a certain number of hours or days. It is also not conducive to mental calm and clarity. If one is to cut down on an activity such as orgasm that may be draining for a less than perfectly healthy body, then one must find other ways of tackling the root causes of the stress that the sex/masturbation was used to relieve; and also find other healthier ways of calming the mind and releasing stress. It is good to cut someone out of one's life temporarily just to see how dependent one is on it, and how stressed one really is underneath it all. This can point to a more positive and constructive way forwards. Ultimately it depends what you want out of life, and many people are content to not really want to think about stress, and just assume it is an involuntary response, and use sex or drinking as a distraction. No one is being forced to examine this issue. Ultimately you make your choices and live with the consequences, whatever they may be.

Critics of the whole concept may point to the fact that those who are unwell and in poor health, especially those who tend to survive day to day mainly on adrenaline (i.e. cases approaching or at adrenal 'burnout'), may find that once one has climaxed, that adrenaline levels may perhaps drop, resulting in a feeling that one has 'lost' some of one's energy. However, clearly the sex act itself can be physically demanding and enough to deplete the mitochondria of ATP in those individuals with poor metabolic functioning. This also does not explain why those with chronically low mitochondrial function and cardiac issues may experience heart palpatations afterwards (after ejaculation but not after non-ejaculative masturbation) for many hours until the body has had time to recover either hormonally or in mitochondrial terms. Maybe this is on account of the additional mitochondrial burden the orgasm places, as it is very energy intensive/demanding, even if one doesn't realise it. However the type of sensation afterwards is different from heavier exercise, which results in a feeling of weakness and fatigue as opposed to palpitations like an ejaculation (in such individuals).

Historically speaking, I personally found that I felt better if I avoided ejaculation and retained the semen in my balls. This was more noticeable at some times than others. Whilst ejaculation is certainly very pleasurable, it felt like I have lost part of my body afterwards, and that I was running on one or two cylinders less afterwards for 12-24 hours until I have build up the semen again. Mid afternoon sex involving ejaculation I found was disasterous in terms of energy levels, causing me to want to have a long sleep and feel shattered for the rest of the day. Everyone is however different and has a different physiology and state of health.

© 2006-2014 Fabian Dee