Sex and Spirituality Find a Home in Visionary Fiction – by Peggy Payne

-Art by Willow Arlenea

Art by Willow Arlenea

Where sex and spirituality meet is in the experience of dropping boundaries, of feeling expansion, dissolution, limitlessness. In both, we can have the experience of dissolving into a larger existence, joining a great ocean of being.

Where sex-and-spirituality fits well is in the world of Visionary Fiction, which allows the reader to feel the experience vicariously and recognize a connection between these two areas of life so often kept severely separate.

That’s important, because where these two subjects are brought together there is often squirming discomfort, controversy and hot anger. People are so often offended—incensed, even —that the two could even be mentioned together. Many take the stance that something so animalistic and messy as bodily functions should not be allowed to sully the beautiful purity of religious/spiritual experience.

This dichotomy should not be. The two are inevitably intertwined; bodies and souls are, at least for the moment, joined. Sex is central to human life. And we can use stories —Visionary Fiction — to allow a reader to sense this or feel it more strongly.

 A Calling I Didn’t Request

 I seem to be making a career of focusing on this intersection, though I never meant to. I never intended to write about spiritual experience or about sex. In fact, I didn’t even plan to write fiction. I was for years a happy travel writer and freelance writer on other nonfiction subjects.

But then one day I returned to my office to write a news story about a government committee that, in my view, had done all the wrong things. I said to myself, “If I were going to write a novel, what would it be about?” Making up a story felt like taking charge, which I couldn’t do with North Carolina government (though I still wish I could.) Then it turned out that the novel I started that day began with a frisky fifteen year-old girl’s spiritual experience. And that all the stories since have wound their way to ecstatic spirituality, spiritual sex, and the conflicts and joys thereof.

Not my plan, and definitely not a good commercial strategy, since most readers of spiritual books aren’t looking for explicit sex, and most seekers of erotica aren’t in the mood to hear about God or church.

But anyone who has written any fiction knows that stories take their own course. I stopped fighting it long ago. Here are the three novels resulting so far, which range from what some call Edgy Christian to what some call Erotic Fantasy, and yet they all are Visionary Fiction. To me, to tell the truth, they’re all well within the scope of Realistic.

Revelation: Troubled minister hears the voice of God, an experience quite different than expected. Minister, without intending to, experiences further grace through his sexual relationship with his wife.

Sister India: After getting into some sex-provoked trouble, an American girl flees to a Hindu holy city, tries to hide her dangerous sexuality in fat and seclusion and the religious mantle of this city on the Ganges.

Cobalt Blue: A single woman in a small conservative town has a spiritual experience that initially tips her into erotic obsession.

 A Culminating Moment

One might wonder how sex and spirituality can show themselves in the same moment. The best I can do is offer a sample. From a sex scene in Cobalt Blue:

A burning started at the base of her spine, roared through her to the top of her head. And beyond. A yell started out, pushing her head back. With the force of her whole chest: another. And on…until the sound broke her into pieces, and every spinning atom of her dispersed into the crowd in the street and out across the night; warm waves of her rushing, eager and joyous, to everyone, anything that would take her.

The Potential for Change

One of the functions of Visionary Fiction is to show possibilities and avenues for transformation. Stories that show the entwined nature of sex and spirituality have the potential to help bring the warring aspects of our natures together. That might, in turn, diminish the impulse to war between religious groups that take violently different stances toward sexuality.

That’s a lot to hope for from a few stories. And so there need to be more.



Peggy Payne lives in a log house by a pond near from Chapel Hill, NC, with her husband who is a psychologist and clinical hypnotherapist. Her Sister India was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year;  Revelation, a New York Times Editors’ Choice; and Cobalt Blue, winner of a 2014 IPPY for Visionary Fiction. All her novels focus on the intersection of sex and spirituality.  She has also published in More Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Coastal Living, Family Circle, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, etc., and most major American newspapers.

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29 Responses to Sex and Spirituality Find a Home in Visionary Fiction – by Peggy Payne

  1. Bob Edward Fahey says:

    Wonderful. Thank you for writing on this. That is the whole point of my novels. Nothing takes us beyond contact with the spiritual. We can draw closer from wherever and whomever we are. The sexual, the addicted, the troubled and depressed; any one can find spirit and reach higher.


  2. Peggy Payne says:

    Thanks, Bob. I feel that ideally the sexual and spiritual are intertwined in a good way. Both can dissolve boundaries and take us out of ourselves to a place greatly larger.


  3. Peggy, Sex and spirituality – the two belong together. And they find a perfect home in VF. Thank you for taking on a much misunderstood topic and writing about it in your VF novels…even as a calling you didn't request! I think we have all had that experience of a theme or a character or a topic popping up as we write, something we hadn't anticipated at all. (I'm dealing with that in my current WIP). I'm glad you answered that calling!


  4. philipparees says:

    The most (seminal) spiritual experience that changed not only my entire life but the Book that then continued to write it, was from just such a close alliance. The problem with aligning sex and spirituality is the debased nature of casual sex, and its exploitative potential, which could not be further removed from the spiritual. English is so impoverished in its vocabulary to describe tantric worship…is content with calling it 'sex', along with many other manifestations. I believe we need a cultured and innovative new dictionary to draw out subtleties.


  5. Peggy Payne says:

    I agree, philipparees, and thanks for the recent re-post of my notice.


  6. What a great post, Peggy. Jodine has some great scenes involving sacred sexuality in her series. And did you say North Carolina? I discovered that my ancestors who settled NC, the Moavians, taught sacred sexuality in the 1740s. I didn't believe it either, so I researched and writ The Star Family.


  7. Peggy Payne says:

    And another thought on vocabulary — we can't even boost a Facebook post that uses the word sex or use it in an email without running into spam filters. Makes it hard to communicate.


  8. reanolanmartin says:

    We are such complicated, diverse creatures! Peggy, thanks for a great post!


  9. micelle2014 says:

    Wow, I am learning so much from the posts on this blog and from the comments from all of you. Reading this post was like a bright light breaking through for me. Thank you Peggy for shining light on this often neglected subject. I understand some of my own writing and motives much better now.


  10. Peggy, this post brings to mind a scene I wrote in which my protagonist feels a sense of unity and bliss while standing next to the Pacific Ocean. Almost every one of my readers mistook her momentary entry into the elusive and mysterious Theta state for a sex scene. Yes, on rereading it, I,too, noticed that her feeling of "expansion, dissolution, and limitlessness," as you describe it, had a strong sense of the ecstatic. Embarrassed, I removed the scene. I commend you for not backing away from the sexual/spiritual connection as I did.


  11. Hi, Peggy! Great article. I knew from my first Kundalini experience that sexuality and spirituality were fundamentally linked. A lot of my writing is involves putting my spiritual/meditative experiences into words and reframing and/or adding fluff. Like characters and a plot.

    Figuring out exactly what to call my work is a bit of a struggle. I'm very clear that it's Visionary Fiction, but I'm not sure how readers perceive it. I'd call what I'm working on now, The Billionaire & the Holy Man, Religious Fiction. It's as sexy as the rest of it and very religious, but not straight any religion in particular. I haven't gotten any complaints about "what genre IS this" so far …

    I'll have to take a look at your books. Great that you're getting such recognition.

    My "The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy" won the Gold Medal in Visionary Fiction in the 2011 IPPYs and several other lovely awards. It's now being made into a screenplay, which is very exciting. Books of this type win contests very nicely; mine have done well. At least the contest judges appreciate them.

    All the best,


  12. Admin - Eleni says:

    It's interesting how you organically gravitated toward this topic in your stories. As having experienced a kundalini awakening, I have felt the sexual/spiritual connection and have also used it in my own writing–although I don't use any terms to define it. This facet is implied, and it's amazing how much more erotic a scene can be when the spiritual connection is added and most importantly…felt.


  13. Peggy Payne says:

    I so agree, Eleni. And now I try to also talk about it in nonfiction; I find it more difficult than in novels.


  14. Thank you, Peggy, for opening the door on what I too discovered to be an intrinsic aspect of visionary fiction. Many years ago I realized that the closest the majority of people get to spiritual ecstasy is good sex. I saw it as the most natural bridge to realms beyond. In itself it is the act in which man and woman, in perfect partnership, co-create humanity's future ! That sexuality became something dirty to be concealed rather that something magnificent to be "flaunted" is an indication of human perversity.

    I have read several excellent treatment on the subject, books like The Secret History of Sexual Mysticism by Arthur Verslius and the classic, Love in the Western World by Denis de Rougement. Material essential to writers who want to break new ground but may be afraid to go there.

    One other thing: so cool to see so many of you women, like Peggy, promoting such themes, invading even "taboo" areas. As a male, I feel plenty ashamed of the oppressive standards foisted on society by the "patriarchs" of old. Carry on. We men will catch up, especially if you write about sex!


  15. Peggy Payne says:

    Thanks for this encouragement, Victor. I find it heartening. Also, thanks for these two titles. I mean to read them both. Didn't know about either one.


  16. Peggy Payne says:

    I hope you'll say more, micelle2014, about what you realized about your own writing and motives. I'm curious.


  17. drstephenw says:

    Peggy, it took a while but I just got a chance to read your article. You tackled a subject, which as you say can be very touchy, with great tact, openness, and ease. It makes something that should be acceptable and reasonable, well, acceptable and reasonable. Thanks for that.


  18. Peggy Payne says:

    I do appreciate that, drstephenw! And it's never too late.


  19. Christopher Sly says:

    Peggy, number me among those writer's who seek to use VF to free the people from from the deceitful and self-destructive sexual stories they were trapped inside of to control them. My WIP is a teacher/student story involving sexual alchemy as a path to awakening. So was my last, Witch's Rock, a school for alchemy disguised as a porn studio —

    Our Spirits touch and fuse. I taste the truth upon their sweet lips and drink deeply from their sacred cups to quench my thirst for eternity. We dance with the Creator to those primal rhythms of the dragon born, and call the hero seed to that loving stage where monsters cannot breed. I stand within The Circle, naked before the world at last. I raise my staff toward midnight sky and roar –


  20. Peggy Payne says:

    Very interesting premises, Christopher Sly.


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