We recently spoke with sex educator, author and sensual revolutionary Barbara Carellas about Tantric sex and how it can be a spiritual practice.
What is Tantric sex—spiritually, physically, emotionally and sexually?
Tantra is a spiritual practice in which all aspects of earthly life, including sex, can be a path to spiritual realization. The essence of the practice is going into everything as completely, as totally, and as consciously as possible. Tantric sex is focused more on building and following sexual energy than it is on purely physical sensations. You learn how to build and allow increasing levels of sexual energy to build up and flow within yourself, and between you and a partner. By building up all this energy, you can go deeper and farther into any erotic experience. Mind and body are equally important in a Tantric encounter.
Tantric sex allows participants to feel more pleasure for longer periods of time. For most people, the transcendent potential of sex is only experienced briefly during physical orgasm. With Tantric sex, prolonged ecstatic experiences are part of the tradition, and orgasm is viewed as a mystical experience that can help both partners and solo practitioners to experience a sense of oneness with their higher self, a partner and/or All That Is.
Anyone can practice Tantric sex. People of all genders, sexual orientations, sexual preferences, with bodies of all shapes, sizes and ages, all abilities, and all racial and cultural backgrounds can find a personal practice of Tantra that works for them. This is specifically why I wrote the book Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the Twenty-First Century and why it remains so popular, well into its second edition. It makes Tantric sex available to everyone.
How does Tantric sex fit into the much larger tradition and practice of Tantra?
Tantra is a heart-centered embodied spiritual practice that embraces every aspect of life on earth as a path to (spiritual) enlightenment. The essence of the practice is going into everything as completely, as totally, and as consciously as possible.
Tantra is a Sanskrit word that means “loom” or “weaving.” Tantra can also mean “a continuous process,” “the carrying out of a ceremony,” a system, a theory, a doctrine, a technology, or a section of a book. As such, the word Tantra can simply refer to a treatise on any subject at all.
Even when we use the word Tantra to refer to the spiritual practice that embraces sex, we’re likely to find many different opinions and interpretations of that as well. Countless Tantric texts were lost during the numerous times that Tantra was driven underground over the centuries. Many other teachings were never committed to writing at all. They were transmitted by word of mouth—from guru to disciple, often conditionally upon the disciple’s promise of compete secrecy.
No one knows exactly when Tantra began. Many scholars believe the seeds of Tantra were planted in shamanic, matriarchal societies three to five thousand years ago. The Tantra from which the modern form of Tantra that we’ll be exploring is descended, began in sixth-century India during a period of cultural wealth, renewal, and intellectual advancement. Buddhism, Jainism, and the various Vedic traditions we now call Hinduism were the dominant religions in India at the time, and they were all segregated by gender and caste. Tantra appealed to the burgeoning middle class that was unwelcome in these religions precisely because of gender and caste. In this sense, Tantra was a personal spiritual pursuit that functioned as a sort of sociopolitical revolt. Unlike the established religions of the day, Tantra provided the spiritual seeker with a direct relationship to a guru/teacher, powerful rituals, an absence (and sometimes a deliberate flaunting) of traditional religious and cultural rules, acceptance of people of most castes and genders, direct participation with—or embodiment of—the divine, and a belief that the sensual experiences of the body were an effective and legitimate path to enlightenment. In addition, Tantra held the fundamental belief that enlightenment was possible in one’s current lifetime, without the need for reincarnation.
Today, Tantra is most often thought of in the context of sex. Historically, the role of sex in Tantric practice appears only occasionally and quite briefly in original texts. There were many different Tantric sects, and only some practiced the days-long maithuna ritual featuring sexual intercourse, drugs, and forbidden foods. More important than ceremonial intercourse with highly initiated partners (dakinis, or “vessels of divine energy”) were the intensive ritual programs involving ecstatic meditations, chanting of mantras, complex yogic postures, mental visions (yantras), and eventually gaining the ability to practice divine intercourse with oneself.
Ritual sex—whether acted out or visualized in meditations—was a a physical embodiment of the Tantric view of the creation of the world: Shiva (the god of pure consciousness) joining in sexual love with Shakti (the goddess of pure power and energy) gives birth to the world. I love this image—it is the most erotic beginning-of-the-world story I have ever heard. But its implications are far greater than that. Tantra views life itself as an ongoing process of creation, an ongoing marriage of consciousness and energy at every level of existence. The very essence of Tantra is contained in a few words—an excerpt from the Vishvasara Tantra:
What is Here is Elsewhere.
What is not Here is Nowhere.
This is one of those statements about which volumes have been written, but I think there’s sufficient power in its simplicity: what is spiritual is physical, and what is physical is spiritual. That being the case, if consciousness exists in my mind, it also exists in my body. If energy exists in my body, it also exists in my mind. Thus, at the heart of Tantra is the elimination of duality. In Tantra, we don’t divide mind and body, good and evil, matter and spirit, or male and female into opposing camps. In fact, Tantra is the only spiritual path I know of that has always acknowledged all genders as equally powerful, everywhere, all the time.
Western culture’s emphasis on Tantric sexual practices began in the nineteenth century colonial period in India. Victorian era Christian missionaries singled out sex as the most alarming aspect of the Tantras. This equation of Tantra with sex was further complicated by the Western discovery of the Kama Sutra, even though the Kama Sutra was never a Tantric text. The Victorians were fascinated by both sexual secrets and the mysticism of India, which combination made the emphasis on the erotic elements of Tantra inevitable and enduring. Since then, this Westernized interpretation of Tantra has been combined with other philosophies and practices (such as sex magic) to create the many modern schools of Tantra practiced around the world today. Tantra changes with the times and the cultures in which it’s practiced and is influenced by the intentions of both teachers and practitioners. Still, some root principles remain constant:
• Tantra is first and foremost a personal practice of liberation.
• Tantra views both the human body and earthly life as concrete manifestations of divine energy.
• The Tantric belief that to experience sexual excitement is a taste of divine energy is a profound and revolutionary thought, as relevant today as it was in the past.
I call my own modern Tantric practice Urban Tantra. This school is founded on the basic Tantric practices and principles that recognize that (1) sexual energy can be a powerful path to spiritual progress, (2) sex can be sacred, and (3) all of life can be included and celebrated on the path to enlightenment.
Can you provide a few tips on how to try Tantric sex?
The essence of Tantra is not in what you do (sex positions, massage, yoga, etc.) but how you do it. Here are a few basic practices to get you started:
1) Release your goals and expectations of what might happen. Or what should happen. The most ecstatic moments in sex—erotic, emotional, spiritual—happen when the only moment that exists is the one you’re currently enjoying. This is one of the reasons that people become so fond of practicing Tantra: it’s never the same twice, it’s adaptable, and there’s always something unique to be found in each new present moment. So it can’t possibly get boring.
2) Stay in the present. Present moment consciousness—or mindfulness—makes everything sexier. Thoughts like “What are we going to do next?” or “I wonder if I’m going to be able to have an orgasm” or “Will sex today be better (or worse) than it was yesterday?” take you out of your body and throw you into your anxious monkey mind. Instead, use your mind to help you drop more deeply into your body. “Where am I feeling you most intensely?” “Where are you feeling me most intensely?” All the Tantra techniques I teach are really just tools to create mental, physical or energetic mindfulness.
3) Slow down! Do everything twice as slowly as you usually do. In Tantra we say, “Three strokes for thirty,” meaning it’s better to touch three times with exquisite consciousness than thirty times with a lack of full attention.
4) Breathe! Breathe! BREATHE! Breathe more, fuller, deeper, longer. Breathe before sex, during sex and after sex. Breathe like your pleasure, your life and your imagination depend upon it. They do. (Did you know you could have an orgasm just from breathing? It’s true! If you want to learn how click here, I’ve made an mp3 to teach you at home).
5) Practice eye gazing. Eye gazing is incredibly powerful. If you’ve never done it before, you’ll probably giggle or feel self-conscious at first. Just relax and keep breathing through the giggles and the “this is stupid” thoughts running through your head. You’ll soon drop into a kind of lovely hypnotic intimacy unlike anything you’ve felt before. A couple of tips that might help: 1) Play some instrumental music (avoid music with lyrics which can be distracting;) 2) Place your hand on your partner’s heart as they place their hand on your heart. Breathe more deeply.
Are there any resources you would recommend for people who want to learn more about tantric sex?
BarbaraCarrellas.com (Includes a large Tantric resources section)
Guided Meditation MP3: Breath and Energy Orgasms: A Guided Meditation
This meditation teaches people many of the basics of Tantric sex, all in one fun and simple practice.
Barbara Carrellas, ACS, AASECT, is a sex educator and sensual revolutionary. She is the author of Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the Twenty-First Century, Ecstasy is Necessary, and Luxurious Loving: Tantric Inspirations for Passion and Pleasure. Barbara’s pioneering Urban Tantra® workshops were named best in New York City by TimeOut/New York magazine.
Urban Tantra: How to Live an Erotic, Ecstatic Life in Challenging Times
A Weekly Class with Barbara Carrellas
(4 Sessions) Tuesdays, April 14 – May 5, 2020, 6:00 – 9:00 pm
To learn more and register, click here.