I undertake the training precept to refrain from sensual misconduct (the third precept)
As with the other four precepts, this one is a guideline to noticing how we harm and help each other. Since we are deeply driven by the desire for pleasant feelings, and the avoidance of unpleasant feelings, we can easily lose sight of the effect we have on others. And it seems to me that the more intense the desire (it can feel like a necessity), the more likely we are to disregard the feelings of others, and even our own welfare.
There’s a parallel with addiction. The addictive qualities of nicotine make us overlook the physical harm we are doing when we smoke. The lust for rich foods (or excessive quantities) blind us to the accumulating pounds. If shopping relieves some sort of anxiety for us, we’re bound to ignore the mounting debt it creates. We’ll get to intoxicants later, but it’s a related issue.
What in our lives does this precept refer to? It’s very much about how we interact with each other. I have to start by pointing out that handling our sexual energy is usually more of a challenge for us when we’re younger rather than older. Some people are early bloomers in seeing themselves as sexual beings, and some bloom late or never. That’s neither here nor there. The question is, do we use our sexual energy in ways that cause harm to others and ourselves?
At the most basic level, this would involve flirting and sexual teasing as a form of false speech – promising something we have no intention of delivering. Or we could use flirting to get something we want from a co-worker or other people we interact with, that is, manipulating others. These would just be two common examples.
On the other side, I have heard of people withholding sexual favors from a partner, someone with whom they’re living and having a relationship, as a form of punishment or manipulation. Again, this is an example of dishonesty that the precept points to, using our sexual energy to hurt another person.
In both cases, sexual energy is a type of power (greater or lesser) that we can wield over others. There are very few comparable ways we can bestow good feelings on others – or conversely, make others feel worse about themselves.