So it seems like a good idea to talk about bodily fluids and their complex, and seemingly problematic relationship to western Daoism.
I’m just going to jump in, so please bear with me.
We know that Daoism around the time of the Three kingdoms period placed considerable emphasis on various bodily fluids such as saliva, semen, female reproductive fluid and various other things. Typically, the idea was that these materials contained high levels of energetic substance and could be used in certain ways to improve the situation of the body.
Daoism at this time in history was also very interested in medicine, and probably would have remained so if it hadn’t been for the failure of the external alchemy tradition to produce anything really meaningful on a large scale (failed experiments do that).
Concepts surrounding semen and saliva don’t have their own specific classical documents though and they usually get put into larger works, especially those surrounding early Daoist meditation.
Daoists believed (and do believe) that excessive sex is a bad thing, just like excessive eating, drinking alcohol to the point of drunkenness, and any other vice are also bad things. Sex can deplete energy levels since the release of Prolactin and other sleep inducing hormones after male orgasm. Ancient Daoists might have seen this as indicative of a general depletion of energy.
Certainly not ejaculating does lead to increased energy levels in males and when combined with meditation, can lead to other unusual side effects, so it is no surprise that not ejaculating was seen as important back then. Saliva is the second important bodily fluid that doesn’t get mentioned as much in the western discourse. Post meditation saliva is called “The Jade Tablet” and is considered to be very potent material which can mix with the other fluids in the lower body and strengthen the energy body overall. Usually this saliva is gathered during meditation and then swallowed and traced with the mind to the lower dantian. In Daoist meditaiton writing, Saliva is actually more commonly mentioned than semen.
Having said that, the idea that semen is “jing” essence is very misleading for a number of reasons. The main reason is because jing is the essence of the body in general, so it is made up of more than just sexual material. Jing also exists in the marrow, in the heart, and in every other organ of the body. It may not even be one physical substance, but instead, what Daoists believed to be the building blocks of the body.
It is also important to recognize that semen is not part of the equation
change jing to qi, change qi to shen, change shen to emptiness.
This concept is not using the concept of semen, it is using the concept of “Yuan jing” the primordial, original essence. This essence is considered to be the ancestral energy that was transferred to you during gestation in your mother’s womb. In Daoist thought, it is the first aspect of human development, followed by “yuan qi,” and finally “yuan shen” a few weeks before birth.
The reason why neidan works the way it does is because it uses silence and emptiness to “Return to the root and revert to the origin.” The root and the origin are alternatively interpreted as the lower dantian (umbilical region) and emptiness, or the heart and the body, depending on which school of neidan you subscribe to.
Neidan is a really big school with hundreds of different documents discussing its theory and method, and almost uniformly agree that semen is not the material that is worked with to do the transition between jing and qi.
The idea is actually much more complex than that, and although the preservation of bodily fluids (including saliva) is very important to overall health, the real secret is found in the transitional period between normal consciousness (post heaven) and real consciousness (pre heaven). Another way to say it is that the real formula for neidan is not to save up semen and transform it to Qi, but rather that “let the human heart die and let the Dao heart be born,” and “return to the root and revert to the origin,” and focus on the “original seed” or the “one opening of the mystery gate.”
So although you may or may not choose to abstain from sex, this does not preclude you from gaining benefit from meditation. In the modern era, the advent a more secular approach to meditation as advocated by Chen Yingning and Jiang Weiqiao among others opened up the flood gates for normal people to get more benefit from Daoist practices and for people to begin to do more detailed research for themselves about these topics. Simply reading the classics of the internal elixir school shows us that while it is important to take care of ourselves, the actual practice of neidan is not as many teachers in the west have suggested as the relationship between bodily fluid and energy, it is actually the relationship between the mind and the body.