I will admit that I was introduced to the concept of tantric sex in my adolescence when I came across that Sting quote about how he could have sex for 7 hours straight (which he has since clarified as being a boastful overestimate, and which, frankly, sounded not so fun even to my teenaged self). When I was coming up with things to do for the Do Something New series, Amelia said, “You should try tantric sex!” Which is, like, great – I don’t mind having sex for research purposes – but what the hell do I know about tantra?
Well, I do know that tantra is a spiritual practice originating in India which, like yoga, has been appropriated in the West and adapted to our ideations of the body – in this case specifically our ideas about sex, which is that it should always be “good” and that it should always end in orgasm. The net result, there, is that a lot of the articles about how to try tantric sex that you’ll find have a lot to do with achieving super-long orgasms, or mutual orgasm, and that’s really not what’s at the heart of tantra, from what I can tell. Really, tantra is a form of meditation that has to do with “weaving together” the physical and the divine. It is, in practical terms, very slow, non-orgasmic sex that focuses more on eye contact, synchronized breathing, touch, intimacy with your partner, and being in tune with the way your entire body feels than on the genitals alone, or reaching orgasm alone.
I had to cobble together research on the subject from the internet (thanks, internet!) in order to get some guidance on what exactly to do, and my final cultural disclaimer here is that I know I’d be better-informed if I had picked up one of many ancient spiritual texts that have been transcribed into English. I took it on faith, more or less, that just doing the exercises prescribed by practitioners would probably result in a novel sexual experience for someone whose best sexual experiences so far have been porn-y, which I mean in the best and most ideal way.
So! First of all, my fiancé Michael and I did the rare thing of actually creating an atmosphere – we tidied the room, lit a bunch of nicely-scented (but not overwhelming) candles, and put on a tantric sex meditation music track that I found on YouTube.
The first exercise we did, I found in an article from an Australian lifestyle site that described a several-step gazing-and-touching sequence, wherein two partners sit opposite each other, gaze into each others’ eyes, and cycle through touching their own hearts, then their own genitals, then their own hearts, then their partner’s heart, then their own hearts, then their partner’s genitals. If that sounds uncomfortable or awkward to you, I don’t blame you; just reading it was making me giggle. When it came down to actually doing it, though, it was surprising how easy it was to settle in. I love looking into Michael’s eyes, because he regards me really kindly, and it makes me happy. We’ve been told in the past that it’s cute, how much we just look and smile at each other, and dedicating time to doing that – non-spontaneously – really did feel very loving and affirming. As far as the touching went, it was, I don’t know, sort of a very ritualized way to tell each other we trust each other. I mean, it takes a fair amount of vulnerability to look someone in the eyes and touch your vulva, then look him in the eyes and touch his penis. It’s intimate, but it’s not sexual in the way we tend of think of it – it establishes trust, which is sort of proto-sex, isn’t it?
The second exercise was a meditation explained by practitioner Hariprem, wherein the couple holds hands, synchronizes their breathing, and cycles their hands from the man’s heart chakra, down to his root chakra, over to the woman’s root chakra, up to her heart chakra, and over to the man’s heart chakra, and so on. The idea is that the man is giving from his penis to the woman’s yoni, she is receiving from her yoni and processing to her heart, giving from her heart to his heart, and he is processing from his heart to his penis. In the video, the couple demonstrating the exercise got, like, really into it, and I was hoping Michael and I could have that experience – particularly after the extremely positive experience we had with the gazing-and-touching exercise – but unfortunately, we didn’t really feel it. After about three minutes of it, Michael whispered, “How long are we supposed to do this?” And I replied, “They say ten minutes!” And we both laughed and decided it was time to stop.
Hariprem’s video also demonstrates Yab Yum, which is a super-intimate breathing exercise in which the woman sits on the man’s lap (and you know, I’m saying woman and man, but this is really anyone and anyone; penis-vagina penetration or the existence of one or the other genital between the two people involved need not be involved for any of this, anyway) and they synchronize their breathing and just sort of feel what happens. In the Hariprem video, the couple holds each other and sort of breathes into each other’s ears, but I’d seen it described elsewhere as involving breathing into each other’s mouths, i.e. one breathes in while the other breathes out and vice-versa, which seemed way more intimate, so we did it that way. It took a while to get into a comfortable rhythm, but when we did, like, DANG, GUYS. Tantra practitioners describe a sense of melting into each other, and describe the skin-to-skin contact as maybe the most pleasurable part of the experience, and all of that is accurate.
But moreover, I learned something about myself while we were doing Yab Yum – that I am reluctant and not very confident in giving. I was very happy to breathe in Michael’s breath, but when it came my turn to give my breath to him, I hesitated, not sure that I was doing it right. And not to go into too much therapy-relevant detail, but this has been a problem for a while for me; I’m not sure what I contribute to our relationship, I’m not very secure in a knowledge that I’m worthy and have something to offer. And sort of sappy though I tend to think exercises like this are, I found myself wanting to be part of the cycle of breath, wanting to give to him, and it made me feel really much more empowered. Once I got there, the practice became, frankly, really, really sexy. I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to give Yab Yum an earnest shot with their partner, and let me know if you were as amazed as I was.
We then did some “Woman-Led Valley Exploration,” which is simply very slow sex with the man relaxed and the woman doing her thing, whatever her thing is. After that, we sort of called it a night, summarily fell asleep, woke up at 11:15 and remembered that we had neglected to blow out the candles and open the door to let the dog know that she had not in fact been abandoned in the hallway.
I’m not one to tell people they should be having sex one way or another, but I will say that as a new sexual experience, practicing even very basic and very (personally) secular sexual tantra was extremely relaxing and empowering, and it genuinely felt like Michael and I were building on our already really good relationship. I think a lot of Americans of my generation are slowness-averse; slowness feels like wasted time, and we miss the point that going slow produces its own unique results – that, for instance, taking time to look into each other’s eyes, on purpose, isn’t an empty practice, that it gives us the opportunity to observe how someone else sees us, and it gives us the opportunity to evaluate how we see them. Being in love with Michael, I know that I could spend my evening staring at my computer, at my phone, or at episodes of “Archer,” and all of that is fine – but chances are I won’t get as much out of it as I will out of spending my evening looking into his eyes.
Original by: Rebecca Vipond Brink