Moving along in our investigation of ethical living as a foundation for harmonious communities, the third precept is: I undertake the training rule to refrain from sexual misconduct.
We could argue long and hard about what exactly constitutes sexual misconduct, but the shorthand rule is to refrain from hurting anyone (including ourselves) with our sexual energy and actions. Egregious misconduct includes rape, coercion, and other prosecutable offenses. Less obvious versions include betraying established partners, misleading others, seductions, taking advantage of people who are vulnerable (impaired by intoxicants, or at a disadvantage by virtue of age or inexperience). People with authority over others have a special duty to protect those under their care.
Flirting and teasing form a tricky category because they can so easily tip over into humiliation and emotional cruelty. If we observe closely, we can see that sexual teasing or taunting is a form of bullying.
…what is the scope and purpose of this precept? The word kama means in Pali “sensual desire,” which is not exclusively sexual. It is here used in a plural form which comes close to what is meant by the Biblical expression “the lusts of the flesh.” Greed for food and other sensual pleasure is also included. Most people who are strongly addicted to sexual indulgence are also much drawn to other sense-pleasures. …For those with any grasp at all of Buddhist principles, the basic reason for such an injunction should be immediately obvious. Our dukkha — our feeling of frustration and dissatisfaction with life — is rooted in our desires and cravings. The more these can be brought under control, the less dukkha we shall experience. It is as simple as that. But of course, that which is simple is not necessarily easy.
Our feelings of love and sexual desire are often intermingled and can become confused. Love can sometimes be pure and unselfish, but sexual desire is usually about satisfying ourselves, physically and/or emotionally. Lust can provide us with a false feeling of power or of escape from our responsibilities. It takes patience to sort out when our desire to make someone else happy is overtaken by our own perceived needs.
Our sense of self is more closely tied to our bodies than to any mental qualities. Keeping our bodies safe and comfortable consumes a tremendous amount of energy. If we can practice awareness and acceptance of things as they are, just now, the urgency of our passing desires may be tempered.
As a wise friend said, once we refrain from harmful behavior, a whole world of wholesome possibilities opens up. For example, we can physically comfort others when appropriate. We can position our bodies and facial expressions to make others feel welcome, safe, and loved. Kindness is expressed non-verbally more often than not, and that is something we can observe in others and cultivate in ourselves.