1. The Maenads
Throughout history there’s been a lot of weird religions, sects, or cults. I’m not using the word “cult” negatively here: some cults are really awful, and some are not so bad, some were great, and really successful ones became major world religions (not necessarily the good cults). A lot of cults were pretty uptight about all kinds of things, sex often being one of them. But once in a while, there were a few cults that instead of making their members renounce sex, praised sex instead, and if you joined you were pretty much guaranteed to get some! So let’s look at some of the best sex-cults, from ancient history to the modern day.
The Maenads were probably one of these, if they ever really existed. Supposedly, they were the fanatical followers of the Greek God Dionysus. Legend has it that they would go out into the woods and wild places (but sometimes even in town markets) had have intense orgies of drinking and sex in honor of their sexy drunk god.
The Upside: lots of booze, lots of sex, almost no inhibitions.
The Downside: may just be a myth. Also, if you were dude, according to some legends the orgies would end with you being hacked to pieces by god-crazed women, and maybe eaten.
2. Simon Magus
Simon Magus was a magician and spiritual teacher in the 1st Century. He was a Gnostic, and according to some reports was either a Christian, or had been a Christian before breaking with them from philosophical differences. He taught an esoteric system, but it’s hard to be sure what it consisted of because almost everything we know about his teaching is from his enemies in mainstream Christianity. But one thing that they all claim about him is that he believed in a God and a kind of ‘wife of God’; and that he was a manifestation of God, and his lover Helen a manifestation of the ‘wife of God’. And that he taught that sex was a great sacrament, and something that his sect would do in praise.
According to legend, Simon Magus had a kind of wizard-battle with the Apostle Peter, which included one or both of them flying through the air. Peter won, and Simon fell from the sky and died (or fell and was then killed by an angry mob of onlookers). Peter’s victory was short-lived because right after that he was crucified by the Emperor Nero.
The Upside: Lots of sex, fairly easygoing belief system.
The Downside: Doesn’t exist anymore, cult leader lost a magical duel to a fisherman.
Antinous’ cult was of an official God of the Roman Empire. In fact, Antinous had been a real person: an attractive teenage boy that had drawn the attention of the Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian fell in love with Antinous and took him on his travels. After several years with Hadrian, Antinous died on the waters of the Nile. It isn’t clear if he died by accident, suicide, or was murdered by people in Hadrian’s own court. Hadrian was so grief-stricken for his lost boyfriend that he declared Antinous a god. And Antinous’ cult remained popular in Rome for several hundred years (until Christianity came along). He was a god of youth, beauty, art, and youthful masculinity, and who was said to have defeated death by the power of love. His priesthood were likely homosexual (or the Roman equivalent thereof). In spite of this, Antinous’ cult wasn’t one of having lewd sexual orgies; instead the main celebration of his cult appeared to be a festival of artistic and athletic sacred games for young men (similar to the Olympics, but even more homoerotic).
The Upside: Officially sanctioned cult, lots of art and beauty, young men wrestling.
The Downside: Not as much sex as you’d think, even less if you aren’t gay.
Valentinianism was a cult named after the Gnostic teacher Valentinus. He had been a respected early Christian teacher from a line directly descended from the apostle Paul. But his teachings were mystical and esoteric, and eventually entered into conflict with the more orthodox branches of Christianity. He taught that there was a supreme God, a feminine divine principle known as Sophia (“Wisdom”), and that there was Christ (the redeemer of humanity) who was the child of the love of God and Sophia. Like most Gnostics, he taught that this world was an imperfect material creation and that there was a more perfect spiritual reality above it. Unlike most Gnostic groups (who were fairly anti-sex) and the orthodox Christians, Valentinus placed so much importance on the union of male and female (through God and Sophia) that his group not only had female priests and teachers, it also considered sex a sacrament. The enemies of the Valentinians portrayed them as sex-crazed maniacs, their sexual initiations being orgies. But it seems more likely that they were not as erotic as their bad press made them out to be; it’s possible that the Valentinians really only believed in sacred sex within the bonds of marriage.
The Upside: men and women were treated equally; sex was seen as holy.
The Downside: there’s a good chance that you had to be married anyways.
The Adamites were the Christian sex cult that just wouldn’t quit! Like the Valentinians, they started as a 2nd Century Gnostic sect. Their main teaching was that through baptism and initiation they could return to the ‘primal’ state of Adam (hence their name), where they were pure and liberated from sin. They claimed that in this new innocence gained from their faith, they no longer fell into sin due to any actions. So they went around naked. Aside from the nudism, they also rejected marriage, because the primal innocence of Adam meant that marriage was no longer necessary. They had sex with whoever they wanted to, because they felt it was no longer sinful to them.
The original form of this anarchist/christian/nudist sex cult lasted for over 200 years, but it was later revived several times, whenever someone decided that the original Adamites had gotten it really right all along. In the 14th and 15th century the cult was revived in what is today Holland and the Czech Republic. Then they appeared again, in England during the Civil War. And in Czech Republic again in the 18th and 19th century. Each time they were ruthlessly persecuted by their puritan neighbors, but each time they eventually rose up again. I guess you can’t keep a fun idea down.
The Upside: You get to be naked and have guilt-free sex.
The Downside: Public Nudism isn’t everyone’s thing, plus all your neighbors will want to kill you for having too much fun.
In India, both Hinduism and Buddhism tend to be religions that were at least as hung up about sex as in the Christian world. Even to this day, in Bollywood movies the actors start dancing to not have to show a kissing scene! But in the middle ages, one cult emerged that bucked that trend: Tantra.
In the West, today we think of Tantra as some kind of kinky ‘sacred sex yoga’, and we sometimes get it confused with the Kama Sutra, which was actually just a kind of Indian porno/sex-manual that wasn’t part of Tantric tradition. Actually, Tantra was a profound esoteric and mystical system from the Himalayas, that had both Hindu and Buddhist versions. It taught the power of using the ‘forbidden’ for changing consciousness. Tantra was all about becoming ‘enlightened’, except that instead of trying to do that by rejecting desire and the material world, it taught that you could do it by transforming your desire into a way to power the growth of your consciousness. This also required breaking your limitations; not just about sex, but about other things like eating forbidden foods, breaking caste rules and other social laws, and overcoming superstitions about the fear of death. Tantrists would get together in secret groups, initiate members, and had a kind of ‘great rite’ that involved a sex ritual where the male and female practitioners would be transformed into living embodiments of Shiva and Shakti, the male and female forms of God. There are still Tantric groups today, but in Buddhism this was mostly taken over by the monasteries, and in Hinduism it was mostly whitewashed into much more symbolic and less explicit practices. There’s also tons of “Tantra” teachers in the West, but they’re mostly fake new-agers teaching a kind of kinky couples-therapy.
The Upside: psychedelic cosmic self-transformation and sacred sexual union!
The Downside: It’s really hard to find the real deal, and the real deal usually involves a lot of meditation and serious study before you get to join in with the sex rites.
7. Chinese Alchemists
China is another culture that has, for most of its history, been pretty repressive about sex. And its religious philosophies are usually pretty puritan. But certain esoteric schools in China were very interested the power of sex and sexuality for self-transformation, or just for crazy magic (often to try to discover the secret of immortality). We can broadly categorize these movements as “Chinese Alchemy”. Now, a lot of these were pretty puritan too! Some schools of Chinese Alchemy taught that every single orgasm you had in life would deplete your precious life-energy and so total abstinence was required. But others had just the opposite view: the union of Yin and Yang (male and female energy), if done in secret ritual sex-practices, would liberate your consciousness or empower your body. By uniting Yin and Yang, with the proper magical rites, you could enhance the energy, power, consciousness, and longevity of both participants. Orgasm in those cases, with those secret exercises and techniques, could accomplish wonders. Note that most teachings of this kind required that both participants achieve orgasm, so the female partner’s pleasure was just as important as the male’s. The earliest of these secret practices are at least 2200 years old (though probably a lot older), and there are still secret schools that teach these techniques now.
The Upside: Secret power-orgasms that give you superpowers.
The Downside: You might join one of those total-abstinence groups by mistake. Also, legitimate groups are really hard to find and get into. Plus you have to do a ton of meditating and study.
8. The Hellfire Club
I may be cheating a bit with this. The Hellfire Club was not quite a cult, it was closer to… well, a club. But it did have some cultlike qualities. And sex. A lot of sex.
The official name of the Hellfire Club was “the Brotherhood of St. Francis of Wycombe”. There were a few versions of this group (even if you don’t count the one in the X-men comics), but the most famous was the one founded in the 1752 by Sir Francis Dashwood, a notable figure in British society and a notorious prankster and libertine. They would meet in a former monastery, and their motto was “Do what thou wilt”, taken from Rabelais’ novel “Gargantua and Pantagruel” (and which would later be part of Aleister Crowley’s Thelemic credo). They performed fanciful rituals to Bacchus (god of wine) and Venus (goddess of love/sex), as well as lesser deities like Priapus (the god of massive erections). Then they would feast with copious amounts of food, wine, and romp with the order’s “nuns” (actually high-class prostitutes). Their membership was super-elite, and included the Earl of Sandwich (yes, the guy who invented the sandwich, which was probably really convenient for all the orgies). They also had another famous participant: Benjamin Franklin. Yes, the U.S. Founding Father, who in his lifetime had a reputation as a bit of scoundrel, was a ‘brother’ of the Hellfire Club while he was living in England.
The Upside: Spectacular parties, tons of booze and sex, sandwiches, not really super-serious about the religious parts, and you’d get to hang out with Ben Franklin.
The Downside: Unless you were a very powerful 18th Century Englishman, or Ben Franklin, you weren’t going to be allowed in. Unless you were a high-class prostitute, in which case it’d probably be good money.
It’s a bit of an odd choice. I mean, Mormons today are pretty much the exact opposite of a ‘sex cult’, unless you count having a ton of kids and being vocal opponents of gay marriage as sex-cult behavior. But the 19th century Mormons spent most of their time being classified as a sex cult by everyone around them. If you know anything about Mormon history, or watched “Big Love” or “Sister Wives”, you already know why: Polygamy.
To the 19th Century Americans, the Mormons were absolutely shocking. Popular opinion was that the whole notion of ‘plural marriage’ was nothing more than an excuse for horny cult-members to get their own personal harem, especially the leadership of the new religion. It didn’t help that Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s founder, had somewhere between 27-40 wives, depending on who you believe. The youngest confirmed wife was only 14 when she married Smith (who was 38 at the time). Now, even back then the Mormons were very much against sex outside of marriage, or even masturbation. So they weren’t exactly an ‘orgy’ kind of sex-cult. But there’s ample evidence that in the Polygamist period you’d have leaders in the church hand-picking a stable of some of the most attractive girls and women for themselves, while pushing out less-powerful men that would have been rivals to them. Of course, outside of some unrecognized and totally creepy fringe-groups, Mormons don’t do that sort of thing anymore.
The Upside: tons of attractive sister-wives “sealed” to you for eternity thanks to Heavenly Father direct from the planet Kolob.
The Downside: you only get the pick of the litter if you’re a high-ranking member of the church.
The Oneida community was a cult focused around a religious commune (in Oneida, New York), that existed from the 1840s until around 1881. They were a Christian sect who believed the Second Coming had already happened shortly after the first, and so in the present age it would be possible to create paradise on Earth. A big part of paradise on Earth included “Free Love”, which they termed the more politically delicate “complex marriage”. They were a real commune, in that everything was shared, and this extended to relationships: having a normal marriage or even a steady monogamous relationship was not allowed. Women had leadership roles and got to wear pants under their dresses (which was the mid-19th century’s version of ‘scandalous radical feminism’). Kids were raised by the whole community and not by their biological parents. Teenagers were usually instructed in early sexual experiences by older community members of the opposite sex. Consent was considered an absolute rule, in theory, though in practice there may have been cases where some people (especially younger members of the community) were pressured to ‘consent’ if the partner was a prominent, respected, or older member of the commune. Sex was expected to be pleasurable for both partners; but to avoid unwanted pregnancies (eventually, you needed the whole community’s permission to intentionally have a baby) the men in the cult were expected to avoid orgasm while engaging in intercourse. The commune fell apart when their founder had to flee to Canada to avoid charges of bigamy, and the only part of it that survived was the Oneida Silverware company. Yes, your mom’s best dinnerware was partly invented by sex-cultists.
The Upside: Women’s lib, strong on consent, everyone doing it with everyone else.
The Downside: if you’re a guy, a lot of blue balls.
Maybe the most awesome sex-cult of all time is Thelema. It is a spiritual philosophy founded by the occultist Aleister Crowley in 1904, declaring a ‘new aeon’ of human evolution, under the “Law of Thelema” (“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law; Love is the law, love under will”). It teaches that every human being must have the absolute freedom to discover their full potential. The law doesn’t mean ‘do whatever you like’, but rather that you must strive to discover your true nature and embody that to the fullest, and allow yourself no restriction or distraction from that purpose. Part and parcel of Thelemic philosophy is that everyone has a personal right to absolute freedom; no one can take away that right from another. This includes the freedom of what you choose to eat, drink, smoke, what you do with your own body, and how you express your sexuality. It is a kind of western Tantra.
Thelema is different than most other sex cults in that it doesn’t have a central organization; there are many different Thelemic groups, but anyone who accepts the Law of Thelema is a Thelemite. Even most other sex cults tend to have a lot of strict rules and people you have to obey, but Thelema doesn’t. Its philosophy of free love, sex as a sacrament, the divine feminine, and consciousness expansion has made it popular among all kinds of different counter-culture groups: rock musicians, rappers, artists, sex-positive feminists, the LGBT community, and porn stars (who particularly like that the sexually-liberated woman is treated not as something shameful but hailed as a manifestation of the Goddess). And of course, occultists, who dig all the esoteric stuff.
The Upside: lots of free love with beautiful people of all varieties, big on female empowerment and consent, super sex-positive.
The Downside: You have to like hanging out with a lot of weirdos.
12. Church of All Worlds
The Church of All Worlds is another fairly easy-going sex cult, but definitely a weird one. It’s technically part of neo-paganism, and often considered part of or close to Wicca (another religious movement that is usually pretty sex-positive, if a bit more prudish than Thelema). But it’s a pretty weird sub-branch, because instead of being inspired by mostly-made up European folklore, it’s inspired by a totally made-up science fiction novel.
In 1961 the great Robert Heinlein published “Stranger in a Strange Land”, a sci-fi novel about a groovy martian who ends up on Earth, trying to teach people a martian religion of psychedelic mysticism, free love, and cannibalism. One year later a pair of loony witches named Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart founded the CAW, declaring themselves the “Primate” and “High Priestess” of the new religion. They had a loosey-goosey set of magick teachings, bred unicorn-goats, ran a magazine and founded a school of wizardry. They’re big advocates of nudism and free love.
The Upside: hippy new-age aesthetics if you’re into that sort of thing, lots of free love.
The Downside: Ten times loonier and flakier than the Thelemites, plus their religion is literally based on a sci-fi novel.
13. The Family
The “Jesus Freak” hippie-christian movements in the 1960s spawned a number of strange cults, but most of these were the clean-living no-sex-outside-of-marriage type not relevant to this article. Then there were the “Children of God”, later renamed “The Family”. Founded by an insane poster-boy for degenerate hobos named David “Mo” Berg, they preached a weird fascist-hippie Christianity with a really controlling culture and apocalyptic overtones. But unlike those other Jesus Freak groups, the family recruited members through orgiastic ‘free love’ practices. They even did something called “flirty fishing”, where attractive young cult-girls would seduce a guy and draw him into the group. They lived in communal houses where everything about the members’ lives was strictly controlled, and members were made to work like crazy for nothing, raising money and converting people for the cult. But they did get to have the orgies.
The Family became notorious in the late 1980s when it became public that they were including underage children in their sex activity. After Berg’s death they claim to have reformed and stopped engaging in this clearly criminal activity, but denunciations from former members cast a lot of doubt on that.
The Upside: A lot of sex.
The Downside: Almost everything else. This is easily the most disgusting group in this list.
Most 20th century Indian Gurus that ended up famous during the hippie movement were ironically very puritan when it came to sex, at least in theory. In practice, a lot of them were total hypocrites. The Maharishi, Muktananda, Sai Baba, and tons of others went around telling their disciples that it was unspiritual to have sex, and then turned out to have been doing it with their attractive followers (or in some worse cases, their follower’s kids).
Osho, on the other hand, became infamous as the “sex guru” and got all kinds of flak specifically because he WASN’T a hypocrite. Early on in his teaching, he did a lecture called “From Sex to Superconsciousness” where he basically said there was nothing unspiritual about sex, and that if you are doing it right it becomes a gateway to higher consciousness. The orthodox Hindu authorities and puritan Indian society were shocked. The Reagan-era West was no better. But Osho’s initiates were free to have sex or not have sex as much or as little as they liked, in between (or sometimes during) sessions of intense meditation practice. Osho was also notable for being one of the first spiritual teachers to advocate safe sex when the AIDS crisis hit.
After Osho died, the people who took over his school ended up mostly reducing his legacy to publishing watered-down new-age books of heavily-edited cut/paste jobs, to try to rebrand him for a more prudish middle-class audience (who are scared of both sex and serious mysticism). It’s a shame, because in life he was one of the most intense teachers and one of the greatest spiritual rebels of the 20th century.
The Upside: totally sex-positive, and seriously hardcore spiritual teachings if you can get his original books.
The Downside: these days, it’s mostly new-age fluff.
The Raelian cult was founded by a former French race-car driver who claimed to have received a divine message from extraterrestrials (who also renamed him “Rael”). He claimed that all the great teachers of history (Buddha, Jesus, etc.) were also messengers of these aliens, who used to pretend to be god, because humans weren’t ready to understand the truth, until now. The Raelians claim that humans were created by these aliens through genetic engineering, so they’re very interested in cloning. You might remember the cult as having claimed to have cloned the first human being in 2002, though they’ve never provided any proof. The Raelians are quite popular in France, Canada, Japan and South Korea, but they also have smaller followings in many different areas of the world.
Raelians are hugely sex-positive, believing that sensual pleasure was programmed into humans by the aliens as a way to connect to our spiritual nature. They advocate nudism and free-love. They are also generally low-pressure about their beliefs, and they’re cool with LGBT, even performing same-sex spiritual unions.
The Upside: sexually uninhibited, sex-positive in almost every way, lots of attractive members, not very controlling in any other areas of life.
The Downside: their beliefs are totally batshit nuts.