Saturn in Scorpio: The Pleasures and Pressures of Intimacy

This article by Rhea Wolf was originally published in the December 2012/January 2013 issue of The Mountain Astrology magazine.

Our friend Saturn may not be thought of as sexy, alluring, and ecstatic, but what happens when the stern taskmaster enters the dark sign of Scorpio? History shows us that previous eras of Saturn in Scorpio were times of stark confrontation with sexuality and our public attitudes toward the intensely private act. Those born with Saturn in Scorpio have often worked toward opening society to a broader morality around the topic of sex, but not without confronting some common side effects of sexual expression — namely, repression, guilt, and denial.

On a personal level, Saturn in Scorpio focuses the qualities of discipline, structure, and authority squarely at certain areas of life that generally defy such attitudes. Scorpio’s associations with death, transformation, intimacy, and sexuality have a decidedly “uncontrollable” feel to them. We may want to control these processes but are powerless to do so. These are the parts of life that seem overwhelming. Scorpio rules the thresholds — the places in between where we are in the process of shedding, changing, becoming something else. In these liminal times and spaces, it’s hard enough to keep our bearings, let alone stand in our authority.

Yet, the Saturn in Scorpio lesson may be one of the most fundamental for knowing what it means to be human. It contains a profound paradox that simultaneously asks us to hold on and let go. It’s no accident that these two actions are also needed in the throes of sexual passion — a practice that requires both exertion of physical energy and focused attention, while we remain fluid and loose enough to let the waves of ecstasy flow through us unimpeded.

Saturn entered Scorpio on October 5, 2012 and will remain there until September 2015. During this time, we will be confronted again with the issues of sexuality, desire, and sacred union. A quick look back at the most recent Saturn in Scorpio periods reveals years of abounding change in cultural norms regarding sexuality.

Hold on and Let Go

The 20th century’s first contact with Saturn in Scorpio came in December 1923 and lasted until December 1926. Throughout the 1920s, attitudes toward homosexuality, promiscuity, and women’s sexuality in particular underwent dramatic changes. Hemlines surged up above the knee, more women entered college, and the number of people having pre-marital sex saw a sharp increase in both genders. [1] Margaret Sanger opened the first legal birth control clinic in America in 1923. In 1928, anthropologist Margaret Mead published her book Coming of Age in Samoa which explored the sexual customs and codes of Samoan adolescents. Her year of research and observation occurred while Saturn traveled through Scorpio.  In her book, Mead proposed that our western puritanical attitudes toward sex were oppressive and potentially damaging to the development of a healthy self. [2]      

Saturn again visited the sign of Scorpio from October 1953 until October 1956. In the early 1950s, the birth control pill first underwent FDA testing and entered into the mainstream consciousness as a viable option to avoid unwanted pregnancy. The very first issue of Playboy, the men’s magazine with nude women and provocative articles, hit the stands in 1953. Alfred Kinsey’s groundbreaking research into sexuality had people all across America talking about formerly taboo subjects such as female orgasms, homosexuality — and physical pleasure, instead of procreation, as the reason to have sex. [3] The sex symbol emerged as a powerful marketing tool, with women like Marilyn Monroe (born with Saturn in Scorpio in 1926) and Suzy Parker using their bodies for economic and professional gain. In 1955, Allen Ginsberg’s highly sexual, countercultural poem “Howl” was read for the first time in public and published one year later to a mixture of celebration and condemnation.

 In the money-as-god 1980s, sex became a fully entrenched commodity as well as a frequent topic in movies, books, and popular music. [4] Madonna’s hit single “Like a Virgin” was released on November 13, 1984 in the heart of the Saturn in Scorpio years, and caused a wave of scandal for its blatantly sexual language. High-grossing movies such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Porky's, and The Last American Virgin came out right at the beginning of this Saturn transit (1982). Films like these broke open the floodgates for more mainstream depictions of sexual activity and inaugurated us into a world dominated by the desire to get laid.

 Each of these eras may be viewed with gratitude or repulsion, depending upon your own attitudes toward sex. But what they demonstrate is the power of Saturn to bring to the surface those lessons, issues, and challenges that we have tried to run away from based on the sign Saturn occupies. Saturn lessons are not easy, and we do not get to cut corners. We can’t just say, “Oh, I have a totally healthy expression of sexuality,” while secretly feeling guilt, shame, and denial about our actual sexual fantasies. Saturn makes us look at what’s really going on and integrate these things into our outer-world reality. If we fail in this, we don’t get the Diploma of Mastery, which may look like true intimacy, sexual frenzy, or complete celibacy, depending on our personal needs.

 At first glance, we may be a bit confused as to why Saturn, the planet of conservatism and limitation, would be the catalyst for sexually liberating times in our cultural evolution. But no matter which sign Saturn occupies it is inviting us to gain mastery over the areas ruled by that sign — in this case, sexuality. And these examples of sexual freedom are only one side of the coin. There are countless examples of Saturn in Scorpio displaying conservatism, repression, and rigidity during these periods as well. We have a lingering image of the 1950s as clean-cut and values-driven, rather than as a pot of smoldering sexuality. And in the 1980s, several special-interest groups and government officials tried to clamp down on obscenity and blatant sexuality in the public sphere.

Even though astrologers from different traditions may disagree on assigning sexuality to the sign of Scorpio, all of us can probably agree that Scorpio leads us into dark waters. It forces us to plumb the depths of the psyche, in order to bring to awareness what is normally hidden or even consciously repressed. If Scorpio’s primary focus is on union and merging with something larger than the individual self, then we can easily see why sexuality, a field ripe with union and merging, would be associated with this Underworld sign.

Saturn challenges us to develop the consciousness required to bring certain topics into form - what appears inside as idea, motive, or even karmic law must be realized in the outer world. As we jump through Saturn's hoops, we are really building the groundwork for honest expression and integrity. Saturn says, “As within, so without” and demands that what is true in the inner landscape find appropriate outlets.

Let’s take a look now at two very different, yet highly Saturn in Scorpio individuals to get a clearer picture of what this lesson might mean for all of us.

Sex Is Sacred

The Sacred Prostitute, or Sexual Priestess, is a figure from ancient times, believed to have initiated others into spiritual and sexual mysteries. [5] This role required that the Priestess bring complete openness and acceptance to those who came to her, encouraging self-knowledge as well as self-love. Those who participated in the rites of the Sexual Priestess were embraced as representatives of the Divine, just as the Priestess herself was seen as an embodiment of the Goddess. Seekers would receive instruction in ways to increase not only sexual pleasure but also spiritual devotion. This type of sacred relationship blends the Scorpionic drive for passionate transformation with Saturn’s discipline and need for ritual. Perhaps it is ready to be activated again.

One modern-day Sexual Priestess is Annie Sprinkle, Ph.D., a former prostitute/porn-star turned activist/artist who was born in 1954 with Saturn in Scorpio opposing her Moon in Taurus and squaring her Sun in Leo. (See Chart 1.) Throughout her 36 years of exploring the world of sex and bringing the archetype of the Sacred Prostitute back to consciousness, Dr. Sprinkle has challenged notions of obscenity, pornography, and feminism while pushing the boundaries of human sexual expression with her provocative performance art and self-produced sex-positive erotic videos.[6]

With performances such as her “Public Cervix Announcement,” in which she invited the audience to “celebrate the female body” by viewing her cervix with a speculum and flashlight, Dr. Sprinkle has made a life of helping people feel good about their bodies, fearlessly exposing others to the varieties of sexual tastes available, and shocking people into seeing through their own prejudices about sex and sexuality.

After working as a mainstream porn star and prostitute for many years, Dr. Sprinkle stepped into an activist role in the 1980s. Since the porn industry refused to address the AIDS epidemic, and hard-line feminists refused to accept that sexual fantasies could be positive, she knew she could offer more to help not just individuals, but society as a whole, break down fears and biases about sex. Eventually, Dr. Sprinkle earned a Ph.D. in Human Sexuality, researching what kind of continuing education sex workers would like to have access to. In an interview, she commented: 

Why am I so interested in sex? Why have I devoted thirty years to exploring it relentlessly? Because sexuality is not only something that can be used for the enhancement of an intimate relationship, for physical pleasure or procreation. It can also be used for personal transformation, physical and emotional healing, self-realization, spiritual growth, and as a way to learn about all of life ... and death. I want to help our society mature and evolve sexually, and be a safer place. My motto is: Let there be pleasure on earth, and let it begin with me. [7]

Saturn in Scorpio could be seen as the ultimate configuration for pushing people to “mature and evolve sexually.” However, we know that, when Saturn is involved, we tend to run away from the very lessons we need to integrate. Annie Sprinkle is an example of someone who has bravely confronted her inner darkness and deepest desires in order to gain authority over one of life’s mysteries. We may want to invoke her — or the archetype of the Sacred Prostitute — as we head into the murky waters of Saturn in Scorpio.

The Natal Charts for Annie Sprinkle (left) and Allen Ginsberg (right).

click here to view the original article with charts attached.

Embracing the Paradox

We can also experience the energy of Saturn in Scorpio in the spiritual teachings of the Cosmic Lovers, such as Shakti/Shiva, Jesus/Mary Magdalene, Isis/Osiris. In this union of apparent opposites, we are given a mirror of how to approach relationships with more presence and to see how the discipline of true intimacy can lead to higher states of awareness and even personal liberation. [8]

In many traditions, the image of Cosmic or Sacred Lovers is shown as a heterosexual couple embracing in an erotic dance. But this image is less about the gender of the lovers as it is about the embracing of paradox in order to understand true union. Here, the lovers serve as a metaphor for all opposing forces; notions such as right and wrong, light and darkness, life and death are seen as equally vital and vibrant parts of life that must be integrated in order to achieve a true inner union.     

Allen Ginsberg, who is best known for his poetic works “Howl” and “Kaddish,” gave us a living example of this idea. Ginsberg was born in 1926 with Saturn in Scorpio in a grand trine with Pluto, Mars, and the Ascendant. (See Chart 2.) In “Howl,” as well as other poems, he wrote openly about a variety of heterosexual and homosexual experiences, at a time when all states had laws against sodomy. But he also lived in a 40-year committed partnership with a man who identified himself as primarily heterosexual. [9] Indeed, he regularly brought paradoxes together in his writing, personal life, and sexuality. Although he was deeply spiritual, he refused to adopt a constrained, orthodox lifestyle, choosing instead to weave the sacred and the profane together, writing about sex, drugs, madness, and death as gateways to the mysterious realms of the divine.

His ability to unite opposites and complexities was noted in an essay by poet Mark Doty:

… Ginsberg entirely transcended the question of polite behavior, of queerness, of the appropriate. He somehow skipped right around our American obsession with a binary scheme of human sexuality, as though people were issued in two basic models, and “gay” and “straight” were permanent and coherent markers stamped on their genes or characters. Allen created some zone of permission and distinction for himself that seemed to make all things possible, and he seemed to occupy a category all his own. [10]

Ginsberg’s own inner light may have been stifled had he not found the way to listen to his authentic self. After college, he attempted to live as a straight man many times until he finally found the courage to accept his own sexuality. Once this happened, the floodgates to his own creativity were also opened.

We can see this experience as a template for Saturn in Scorpio lessons. Even though Saturn is, by and large, concerned with maintaining the status quo, this principle also moves us to change existing structures if they are keeping us from living a life of integrity. When the blocks are removed, the energy can flow more freely in its natural state. It can be especially harrowing to integrate parts of ourselves that are denied or shamed by broader societal beliefs.

Returning again to the Cosmic Lovers, their union helps to raise energy in the body (Saturn), beginning at the root chakra (Mars as traditional ruler of Scorpio) and moving up the snakey spine to the crown. It is in the root chakra that we begin — a place often fraught with fear, survival issues, and animal instincts. Embodying Scorpionic powers means allowing healing to flow into this part of us, facing the secrets, skeletons, and monsters of past abuse or trauma. Saturn tells us that, if we do not face these inner fears, they will appear in the outer world as fate.

Ginsberg transcended the fate of madness and repression doled out by family and society in order to find his destiny as a revolutionary poet, a modern trickster, and a sexual disciple, bringing forth the power of the Cosmic Lover.

Repression or Liberation?

Beyond mere sexual gratification, the lesson offered to us by Saturn in Scorpio has profound spiritual implications as well: the path of Sacred Union. True intimacy — whether with a person, place, or the Divine itself — requires discipline. This is one of Saturn’s gifts to us as it pushes us through countless exercises designed to cultivate the attention, practice, and patience so necessary to achieving mastery – another Saturnian word. In her book, Making the Gods Work for You, astrologer Caroline Casey talks about the road to mastery being fraught with obstacles intended to help us regain our authority. She writes, “Authority contains the work author. To accept the responsibility of being the authors of our own lives, we must reclaim out authority…All obstacles are intended to catalyze us to experiment with different parts of our psyche that we would not explore unless compelled.”[11] If we breathe our authority back and become disciples of intimacy, what is required of us is a deep commitment to the practice of relationship that transcends Libran “Self vs. Other” measurements and propels us into the realm where these distinctions are essentially meaningless. Becoming a disciple of intimacy, we merge with the Other and see in the face of our beloved the bright countenance of the Divine.

On the day to day level, anyone in a committed relationship knows there are times when our "beloved" annoys the hell out of us. Are they still the face of the Divine when they forget our birthday, leave their underwear on the floor, or insult our best friend? Well, yes. The path is still the same. When we commit to intimacy, we brush up against the limits of ego. Saturn in Scorpio pressures us to unite with self, other, place, God/dess, in order to experience the true passion and union available to us when we move past simple ego needs and into the ecstasy of divine love. In the flames of this passion and union, we are transformed into something greater than an ego and even annoyances become sacred lessons.

In our own times, sexuality seems both blatantly public and uncomfortably secret. The topic of sexuality comes up almost every day as we debate gay marriage, women’s reproductive health, or see sex scandals splashed across news pages. In entertainment and advertising as well, sex continues to sell. And yet many of us so clearly lack real sophistication and a thorough understanding of how healthy sexuality and intimacy come into being. In our personal lives, we too can swing between extremes of sexual abandon and repression.

With Saturn plumbing the subconscious depths in Scorpio for the next three years, we will have to come to terms with this confusing, mysterious, complex subject.

Jungian Psychologist Marion Woodman writes of this process: “Self-knowledge comes through a relationship with and a commitment to something or someone beyond one’s self, beyond the gratification of one’s personal needs. Sexual repression [may have] given way to sexual liberation, but neither has anything to do with true passion or true self-knowledge.” [12]

Each of us can use the next three years to define our needs for intimacy, a task that includes clearly knowing our feelings about sexuality. Our ability to do this can also bring forth more awareness in other areas of our lives. In a lecture on Saturn in 2010, astrologer Maurice Fernandez spoke of the material planet’s less literal side, which serves as an impetus for “spiritual re-alignment.” If we are moved toward a discipline of intimacy, we are heading toward a spiritual transformation — a transformation that requires us to be present to both our shared passion and our uncomfortable friction. The friction of intimacy, after all, creates the possibility to see the spark of the Divine.

Sex is such a dicey subject. We can feel embarrassed, weird, cut off, or resigned about our own sex lives, sex appeal, and intimate knowings. Scorpio lessons always include experiences of vulnerability, and Saturn can bring to the surface the places where we have felt exposed — with both positive and negative consequences. If these experiences of vulnerability were healing in nature, then we may feel more openness and power in relation to our heartfelt desires for intimacy. But if exposing our inner states to others resulted in assault, ridicule, or shame, then these wounds become fertile ground for extreme states of repression, compulsion, or denial.

Once Scorpionic desire is rejected, either within ourselves, by another, or by the larger society, it can quickly turn bad. Scorpio is of course the sign we associate with jealousy, betrayal, and risky behavior. Feeling shame about who we are or what we desire is the fastest way to experience some of these not-so-positive traits. With Saturn holding the reins of Scorpio’s wild horses, we may try to avoid intimacy altogether — or we may overcompensate by throwing ourselves headfirst into darkness.

A positive and honest expression of one’s sexuality needs an accepting, loving, or honoring reception. This will require each of us to courageously explore our own desires, fears, and wounds around intimacy. When we can look honestly at our own sexual needs and how we might find our authority in such matters, we are invited further into the ecstatic realms of Scorpio; this unlocks our capacity for deeper, more sacred relationships as well as our tremendous potential to transform the very essence of who we are.

© 2012 Rhea Wolf – all rights reserved

This article first appeared in The Mountain Astrologer, December 2012/January 2013

Rhea Wolf will be teaching an upcoming 4-week Saturn Writing Workshop, beginning October 23rd, 2013. Please click here to read more.