I've been interested in tantric teachings for quite a few years now. I've read a few books, and I practised some tantric principles by myself and with the help of a trusted partner. And I thought about joining a tantric workshop every now and then. Roughly a year ago, an opportunity to attend an "entry-level" tantric workshop presented itself, and I decided to go for it.
What I knew about tantra is that it's an Eastern tradition that encourages us to see everyday life experiences as a window to finding the divine, as opposed to other philosophies that promote reclusion from the world in order to attain sacred insights. In the context of sex, which is the common use of the term tantra in the Western world, it means sex can become another opportunity for evolving spiritually.
Tantric sex is not so much about sex as it is about meditation. It's about staying in the here and now instead of achieving an orgasmic goal. It's about focusing on the connection between yourself and your partner (or, if you're practising solo, focusing on the sensations that emerge in your body) instead of trying to perform. It's about being calm and slow instead of excited and getting ahead of yourself. And I was expecting the tantric workshop to give me more tools to deepen and broaden my understanding of tantric sex.
This is my recollection of the workshop:
The teacher (let's call him Mr. T) noticed that I knew a thing or two about the subject, and he started by asking me a few questions about my understanding of tantra. Then he explained something — and he gently stroked my breast with the back of his hand to make his point clear. Now, logically, I know that he meant no harm whatsoever; he was simply demonstrating something (and I have no recollection of what he was saying). But emotionally, I was taken aback. It is not a socially accepted gesture, to casually brush a woman's breast, and I didn't appreciate it, to say the least. But I said nothing. Partially, because I was too shocked; partially, because logically I understood that there was no ill intention behind that stroke; and partially, because I wanted to be that cool woman who is OK with an almost complete stranger touching her in an unsexual fashion.
But the truth is, I'm really not OK with that. I'm very happy when my partner, the man whom I know and trust, touches my body. And I'm not OK with any other guy touching my breast.
Then Mr. T proceeded to the teachings. He was guiding us on a few breathing techniques and how to notice the energy that flows inside our body. And then it was time for us to practice. We were asked to face the person who was sitting next to us, and to put one hand on their lower abdomen and the other hand on their chest while they did the same to us. And we were supposed to do a breathing exercise and to notice the energy circulating between us.
Now, the person who I was teamed up was a lovely man, extremely confident in his sexuality, and it seemed like he felt totally at ease with this exercise. In fact, he even requested that we move closer to each other. By this stage, you can already guess how uncomfortable the entire situation was for me. I do not like men to touch me (with the wonderful exception of a trusted partner) in these areas of my body. If there was any energy flow between our bodies — which I doubted, considering how tense I was — there was no way I could feel it.
Finally, that part of the workshop was over, and Mr. T concluded the workshop by telling us about all the magnificent, mind-blowing, whole-body orgasms that can happen when you practice sex the tantric way. Do I need to mention I was completely disappointed?
- Not one mention of non-goal-oriented sex.
- Not one mention of the deep connection that develops between partners who practice this form of meditation ongoingly.
- Not one mention of the most amazing, subtle sensations that you can feel in your body when you remain attuned to it and take things slowly.
- And a very interesting assumption that everyone feels totally comfortable being touched by other people.
That was one unfortunate experience for me. And now that I write regularly about sex and sexuality, I thought sharing my experience might help those who are curious about tantra and want to give it a go.
See, many of us in the Western world grew up in a society that leaves room for hardly any mature, helpful discussion about sex, which is why we are really attracted to workshops that give us an opportunity to communicate freely, express ourselves without fear of being ridiculed or shamed, and feel completely normal and natural around sex.
This could be a major reason tantric workshops became so popular in recent years. They are one of the few venues in which we can pop the lid off of that Pandora box and assume we'll be safe.
What to keep in mind when considering a tantric workshop:
Be wary of tantric workshops that can potentially do more harm than good, like the one which I attended, that give you the opportunity to dive deep into experiences without checking if you're wearing an oxygen tank. A tantric workshop, or any other workshop around the subject of sex and sexuality that have a tendency to bring up strong emotional reactions, should give its participants ample choice for adjusting any exercise that might trigger strong personal reactions.
A safer environment to learn in is one in which the teachers explain the principles of tantra and send you off to practice with your partner (or by yourself, mind you) whenever the time is right for you. I would be suspicious of teachers that lure you into their workshops by telling you that everyone can attain a million types of glorified orgasms — mot because they're wrong, but because the whole point of tantric teaching is to focus your attention on the now, and it's not about self-indulgence.
As for the spiritual side of tantric sex, I went to add a thought to ponder upon:
At some stage of our spiritual journey, many of us come to think that obtaining some so-called spiritual experiences is something to be proud of, as if by reaching a specific experience or a state of mind, we are evolving spiritually. We feel proud if we achieve it, and we are attached to that experience: we want to have it again. When we don't, we feel disappointed. This is the "spiritual ego" at its best. And this is one point of concern that I have with the so-called spiritual side of tantric teaching. As long as you know that you have a potential to connect with the divine while having sex, you are practising tantric sex. But as soon as you're practising sex in order to attain some godly experience, you have fallen. Sure, you might be experiencing a moment of blissful awakening. But if you want to get there again and that's why you're doing tantric sex, you are back in the goal-oriented sex realm. You just traded your orgasmic goal with an awaking goal, that's all.
Alternatives to consider:
The last thought which I'll leave you with is one about other options to transform your sex life from a mere biological urge to a more evolved practice that establishes a deep connection between you and your partner.
For someone like me, who defines herself more as a right-brain, logical type of person, my main attraction to tantric teaching was due to the undeniable benefits of focusing on the moment and on the connection to my partner. I have never truly felt the magnetic poles within my body or the flow of energy between my partner and myself, which the tantric teachings often describe in detail. I don't dismiss those, not at all; however, I simply never felt them — even after years of practising slow sex. And I found that there are other forms of slow sex that promote similar principles of connecting, non-goal-oriented sex, which are the principles that attracted me to tantric sex in the first place. They might not be as widely popular as tantric teachings, but they might be more suitable for some people. I would mention here orgasmic meditation (OM), which, in my mind, is quite confrontational and very valuable for those who enjoy taking themselves beyond their comfort zone. I would also mention Polynesian lovemaking as depicted by James N. Powell in his book Slow Love, an amazing book that beautifully describes a society that is fully engaged in sex and sexuality in a very natural way, completely the opposite of our culture, which has pushed sexuality out of sight and is now totally obsessed and even controlled by it.
Once you understand the principles of slow sex, there's my personal favourite form of practising it: free flow, with attention to the details of the situation as they emerge, moment by moment.