I find it a bit unfortunate that though the Gita (chapters 14, 17 and 18) and the Bhagavata (11.25) describe various phenomena and categorize them according to the three guṇas of material nature, they did not make any analysis of sexuality according to this method. This has fed the bias in some circles that there is no room whatsoever for sexuality, that it is by default in the modes of ignorance or passion, and if it could ever be in the mode of goodness, it would only be such sex as is engaged in for the sake of procreation.
The Bhāgavata adds the nirguṇa category to the discourse, by which it is to be learned that in the Bhāgavata view, the same activities that are conducted in the various modes of nature can also be free from the modes, if they are somehow dovetailed into bhakti. Thus residence in a whorehouse is tāmasika, in a city, rājasika, in the forest sattvika, but living in a temple of the Lord is nirguṇa.
Human sexuality is extremely complex and takes countless forms. Any categorization of sexuality according to the modes will require lengthy study, but the broad lines to follow are made quite clear. So let us try to make a preliminary effort that may be helpful for later understanding what might be meant by nirguṇa sexuality.
Naturally, your sexuality will mirror your general situation in the gunas.
Tāmasika sexuality is clearly that which is furthest from the ideal image we have of erotic or romantic love. It is where power and violence dominate the act and loving intimacy between the two people is altogether absent. Rape is clearly the archetype of tāmasika sexuality, but almost all perversions that have an etiology in aberrant psychology could be considered of tāmasika. In other words, where the primary amative function of the sexual act is absent, and where it serves other, distorted and often violent purposes, is of tamas. Where it is not therapeutic but rather serves to deepen one’s psychological and spiritual malaise, it is tāmasika.
Rājasika sexuality is somewhat more difficult to discern and has a large spectrum of subdivisions. However, most of what goes in the name of popular sexual culture can be categorized in the lower rungs of rajas. The Olympian sexuality that is so admired by many men and is the meat and potatoes of both hard and soft-core pornography is rājasika heavily tinged by tamas.
Performance is one aspect of that, but other aspects like social advancement, etc., also play a part. But rajas has a strong aesthetic component, as well. Arranging the external environment, courtship... these are normally in the arena of rajas.
The essence of both of tāmasika and rājasika sexuality in both men and women, however, is the orgasm. Orgasm is the payoff. In ignorance it is mainly the overwhelming animal drive and need for relief of an urge that leads to the act, whereas rajas is primarily goal-oriented, seeking refined and maximal pleasure.
But as sexual activity and orgasm is connected to procreation, so even sex leading to procreation should be seen as primarily rājasika, although it may be possible to make some distinctions here, as procreation—the desire to produce offspring—may itself be considered in the light of the three modes. And this is how we mix the gunas.
A tāmasika person has tāmasika reasons for wanting children, etc. People in tāmasika and rājasika modes will be less likely to follow prescriptions like the garbhādhāna, which is a sign of sāttvika culture. The interpretation of Krishna statement dharmāviruddha-bhūteṣu kāmo'smi envisions this sāttvika manifestation of procreational sex.
But since there are ample references to all kāma being essentially in the mode of passion, all procreative has an element of worldliness. On the other hand, since the conquering of kāma lies in resisting the push to orgasm, we can consider sexuality that accomplishes this goal to be sāttvika. In other words, that love-making which is true to its name, where communication between the lovers goes beyond the physical body and penetrates into ever subtler aspects of their being.
This is the sexuality of Tantra and Tao. It has a spiritual dimension. But ithout ever having studied either of these two famous sexual yogas, John Humphrey Noyes, the founder the Oneida community in upstate New York, put forward many persuasive arguments in favor of "male continence." Noyes' ideas seem to be benefiting from a revival of interest in the recent past and an Internet search will result in a rich amount of material including the original document. I strongly recommend reading this short work.
Noyes was a religious man who felt that human beings had an obligation to repair not only their relation with God, but also that which exists between the sexes. His diagnosis was that uncontrolled sexual activity (in those days before other forms of contraception) leading to frequent pregnancies was abusive to women.
His analysis was that the sex organs had three functions—urinary, procreative and amative. Of these, the latter was not simply a kind of bait leading to the genitals' true, procreative function, but was in itself the true, spiritual purpose of these organs. He considered the amative function to be as far beyond the procreative as the procreative is from the urinary. He felt that it was not hard for men to learn how to withhold the orgasm and so they should learn it as a birth control method and way of enhancing the pleasure of love-making for couples, with all the benefits that would accrue.
Noyes, of course, experimented with this discovery in his Oneida Community, where “special love” was discouraged and partners were exchanged on a regular basis. This ultimately proved to be a failure, due on the one hand to the opprobrium that fell upon the community from moralists, but also from the natural human tendency to seek “special love.” There is an important parallel here to the situation in Sahajiyaism also, which will necessitate more detailed discussion at some future date.
At any rate, Noyes had, it seems to me, an insight into what is sāttvika sexuality. The terms we use for the love organs are very revealing, just as are the terms used for the act of lovemaking. These terms reveal the mental state within the modes of nature of the speaker. Noyes’ term “amative” is very pleasing.
Now, as we know from the Third Canto of the Bhagavatam, the modes of nature can penetrate bhakti as well. The key to all those definitions of bhakti in the modes of nature are the terms pṛthag-dṛṣṭi and bhinna-dṛk (see Chapter 3.29). Ideally, a devotee should also cultivate as far as possible the sattva-guṇa along with bhakti, though bhakti itself is not dependent on the sattva-guṇa to manifest.
The devotional concept is that no activity should be seen separate from God. Even the mode of goodness is an inadequate response to the problems of life, because it does not go beyond the limits imposed by the material world itself. If the activities of the senses can be used as a springboard to transcendental consciousness, then we must become adept in the art of dovetailing.
This dovetailing will be amply explained in this blog. But for the time being, try to objectively assess your own sexual nature in the three guṇas and learn how to proceed towards sattva. And if you have the good fortune to be a devotee, and have the good fortune to have some love for Radha and Krishna, then please take shelter of the Holy Names while using the amative function of the love organs and start to have direct experience of the nirguṇa.