Tantric sex is a meditative practice that combines spiritual and sexual elements with mindfulness techniques, the gestalt of which creates and facilitates a deeply intimate emotional and spiritual connection with the self and a partner.
Similar to many other mindfulness practices, tantric sex is characterized by slow movements, vocalizations, and deep breathing techniques to achieve an altered state of consciousness. It is not climax objective-based, in that while orgasm may be achieved it is not the primary goal.
There are many different tantric schools and lineages, all of which vary in the nuances of their practices and tend to evolve over time. The common thread between most of them is that the goals of the practice are the spiritual liberation, energy transformation and attainment of power. From a sexual perspective, these intentions can allow for the achievement of spiritual and energetic bliss by way of an intimate, sensual experience.
There is also often an emphasis on bodily fluids related to sex and reproduction (e.g. menstrual blood, vaginal ejaculate, semen), either in the internal retention or use of them externally. These fluids are said to be symbols or vehicles of power and can be harnessed for use in tantric rituals.
History and Etymology
Tantric sex is preceded by Tantra, a Sanskrit term that refers to both the esoteric philosophies and practices associated with Hindu and Buddhist lineages in India, as well as the ancient texts these traditions drew upon for their religious rites, philosophical understandings, and metaphysical education.
The word Tantra has been interpreted in different ways. In Sanskrit, it literally means to loom, warp, or weave, which lends itself to the common interpretation of “woven together” — the idea of weaving together the emotional, sexual, and spiritual as one, or weaving two bodies and souls together to achieve oneness and ultimate bliss.
However, when broken down and the root of the word Tan is examined, it can mean to extend, put forth, or compose. As such, it has also been interpreted as a reference to an entire doctrine or system rather than a mere act. Tantric therefore comes from the Sanskrit tāntrik to describe elements and aspects associated with Tantra.
As an ancient philosophy and set of sacred practices, Tantra dates back millennia, though just how many millennia is unclear. Many tantric scholars agree that the set of principles associated with Tantra today can be traced back to texts written between 650 and 800 CE. However, there is some academic debate as to whether this was the point of origin or rather a revival of Tantra. Based on archaeological findings of tantric-style ritual worship that date back as far as 1300 BCE, it’s possible these philosophies took root much sooner.
Tantra and the Divine Feminine
While there are discrepancies of when the tantra can be traced back, there is consensus on one of its key elements: tantric ritual emphasizes the power of the divine feminine. Be it in the form of worshiping female deities, considering menstruation and menstrual blood a source of power, or simply allowing women to participate. Early tantra was more inclusive than the more exclusive, misogynist Vedic tradition of the time, permitting female practitioners and acknowledging or even revering the female experience.
Feminine energy is referred to as Shakti, after the Hindu goddess of the same name. Shakti is the primordial cosmic force and the source of all energy in the universe, and as such is worshiped as one of the most important deities in the Hindu pantheon. Her partner is Shiva, the lord of death and time. He represents the masculine energy that compliments Shakti. In Tantra, the goal is to merge, or to weave Shakti and Shiva energies together, acknowledging that there must be balance and equilibrium between the two in order to reach spiritual liberation.
Neotantra – a New Age Spiritual Sex Practice
When the practice of yoga made its migration to the West, tantric sex came along with it. Many Westerners then and now have perceived the Indian subcontinent to be steeped in mysticism and have been enamored by the promise of physical fitness, mental ease, and spiritual liberation. This Westernized, New Age version of tantra which strays from the path of traditional tantra is also known as Neotantra.
Tantra is not inherently a sexual practice; it is a philosophy that can include sexual rites as part of its overall set of practices. The notion of tantra as a explicitly sexual practice, or tantric sex, gained notoriety in the mid-20th century through the teachings of controversial spiritual leader Osho, founder of the Rajneesh movement. The erotic aspects of the practice were especially appealing to those looking to transgress or free themselves from what they deemed a repressive society.
As a sexual practice, neotantra teaches to harness one’s sensuality by attuning to the senses, becoming intimately aware of the sensations in one’s body, and in this way, transmute one’s intrinsic power, expand one’s consciousness, and unite with the divine cosmos. While one could take inspiration from the Kama Sutra and choose a position such as Yab-Yum – a seated position, which optimized front-to-front touch and eye contact – it is not crucial to success. Because it is more about achieving a certain mental state, or altered state of awareness, tantric sex can be performed in whatever position is comfortable for the partners involved.
Sexual intercourse or genital contact can be a part of the experience, though it is not necessary. Similarly, many tantric techniques can be practiced alone. Tantric masturbation employs breathwork, meditation, and erotic touch without the goal of orgasm. It can be performed either in preparation for a partner experience, as a self-love ritual, or as part of a solitary spiritual practice.
Dinsmore-Tuli, Uma. 2014. Yoni Shakti. YogaWords. London.
GoodTherapy: “Tantric Sex 101: An Introduction to Enrich Intimacy.”