What the Cicadas Can Teach Us About Sex & Sacredness

Cicadas mating

mmonia/Getty

We experience the cicadas’ life cycle as sound, sex, then silence. The coming brood makes us mindful of our own sexuality and connection to the earth.

Imagine spending seventeen years underground. Waiting. The saucy-named Brood X cicadas have been doing just that. Soon, billions of them will emerge from the earth for a mating frenzy that would make Tinder aficionados jealous.

For millions of years, periodical cicadas have engaged in this cycle. Accordingly, they have captured the curiosity of humans since antiquity, becoming a symbol of spiritual ecstasy and inspiring mythic stories and sensual poems. To wit, Syrian-Greek poet Meleager of Gadara declared: “Come, dear cicada, chip to all the grove; The Nymphs and Pan, a new responsive strain; That I, in the noontide sleep, may steal from love; Reclined beneath the dark overspreading plane.”

Let’s Get Loud!

A well-known attribute of cicadas is their loudness, as male mating calls create an almost constant buzzing. (But don’t let their noise scare you. Cicadas don’t bite or sting humans. And they can’t chew, either. So, ditch any biblically minded fears that they will devour your yard like locusts. That said, you might want to wrap young trees, so that thin branches don’t snap under their weight.)

This year, while Brood X is “going at it,” many of us in the eastern United States will have a front-row seat, so to speak. What might their coupling inspire in us? Heartfelt poems? Or, perhaps, the chance to ponder the sound of our own sacred sexuality.

Research on the importance of coital vocalizations for human sexual satisfaction is mixed. On the one hand, a study of nonverbal and verbal communication suggests, “the more noise people make during sex, the less inhibited they are in the bedroom.” Yet, noise doesn’t necessarily mean pleasure. Some studies suggest that partners may utter sounds not as a reflex but rather as a way to encourage their partners.

Reflect: Take a few minutes to think about the interrelationship between sexual activity and sound for you. Does vocalizing help or hinder you? Are you comfortable talking about your needs with your partner? If not, what might help you be more willing to share?

Let’s Get Quiet.

As if a mirror response to their arrival, Brood X will depart just as suddenly, a few weeks after commencing their earthshaking symphony. They will die, this stage of their journey complete. If they transpire in our yards, we will be presented with a sacred opportunity. Having witnessed their courting—and indirectly the creation of their offspring—we may witness the passing of a generation.

The 17th-century Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō reflected, “The song of the cicadas leaves nothing visible from their near death.” While their din may leave nothing visible, their left-behind exoskeletons and bodies will be ripe for transformation into planetary nutrients—or, perhaps, dinner for nearby woodpeckers, opossums, and house sparrows. And their babies will burrow down into the ground to continue Brood X’s legacy.

Reflect: Would you be willing to memorialize their lives? Consider sweeping or raking the tiny bodies into a pile and giving them a green burial. Their bodies will naturally decompose, providing nutrients back to the Earth. As you place them in the soil, offer a blessing: May the Earth receive you into her embrace. May your children live in peace.

Let’s Be Silent.

The silence after Brood X’s departure will be noticeable. It will be an opportunity to more thoughtfully notice the beings whose voices will now fill the air. And a chance to appreciate the importance of natural silence for our own wellbeing.

[Read: "Silence for Inner Peace."]

Research reveals that natural, biological sounds have impressive benefits, especially when compared to ambient technological noise. Water sounds can help increase the ability to address life’s challenges with positive emotions. Bird sounds score high for decreasing stress and annoyance. One report suggests that as little as seven minutes of exposure to the sounds of nature can help us release muscle tension.

Reflect: How often do you sit outside your home and listen to your environment? If you are apartment-bound, is there a tree-filled park nearby where you could spend more time? Would you be interested in spending your vacation communing with the more-than-human world? Find new places to visit through Find Your Park.

Let’s Do It Again.

Of course, admiring cicadas for their impressive sex drive alone does not give credence to the fullness of their lives. Beyond inspiring erotic musings, cicadas became symbols of longevity, renewal, and transformation for the many cultures who revered these winged ones.

As spiritual people who speak of the interconnection of the earth’s many living beings, we should revere these lives as sacred as well. The cicadas’ refusal to live quietly among us, their bold assertion that this planet is their home, too, reminds us that we have an obligation to those with whom we share the Earth. Nature insists that we provide each being space for their own sacred transformation.

In addition, conservationists warn us not to forget our shared destiny with every winged neighbor, asserting, “By conserving as many naturally intact ecosystems as possible … we can get on course for leaving a sound legacy to future generations.” For cicadas and humans alike.

Next flight: “The Practical Balance of Crane Conservation.”


About the Author

Sarah Bowen

Find spiritual practices in Sarah Bowen’s book Spiritual Rebel: A Positively Addictive Guide to Finding Deeper Perspective &...

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This entry is tagged with:
SexualityAnimal WisdomConservationEcology