The yoga of relationships.
A lot of people in the West think Tantra is some kind of underground sex cult, and that Tantric sex involves pretzel-like sex positions and internal techniques like retaining ejaculation and reverse orgasms. Those techniques may be cool, but they are more of a Western interpretation of Tantra than any historical aspect. The sex positions found in the Kama Sutra that often get associated with Tantra are actually a part of mainstream Hinduism and aren’t associated with Tantra in particular. Sexual practices have historically existed in some branches of Tantric ritual, but these practices are a small part of a much wider and more interesting worldview—and yes, there are some ideas from that worldview that can make sex a lot better!
I’ve been studying Tantric mythology and philosophy over the last several years, and I’ve come to think of it as the yoga of relationships. Its fundamental tenet is that everything that exists in the universe is a manifestation of the divine play of the goddess, called Shakti. Everything—from the most beautiful to the ugliest parts of life—are made up of the same stuff. We need boundaries and categories and rules, of course, but we must never forget that every part of who we are is deeply connected with everything else on the planet. The secrets of Tantric sex, from this perspective, are actually quite simple, and can be done in any position, including plain ol’ missionary. The key, as with so many things, is mindfulness.
The First Secret: Being Present
Yep. We are back here at the simplest, most fundamental work of mindfulness. Being present means being willing to feel everything—the sweat, the tears, the pain, the pleasure, the old ghosts that arise in the flesh as we are touched. Being present isn’t easy. It’s deeply complex work and it requires that we see and feel ourselves in places that aren’t always easy to see and feel.
So much of sex, especially these days, is about performing. We think sex is supposed to be clean and pretty and well-lit (thanks, porn!). In reality, though, sex happens with our bodies. No matter how shaved and polished and perfumed we start out, by the end we’re going to be covered in sweat and sexual fluids and probably (hopefully!) have made some weird noises.
Being overly concerned with some sort of fancy sexual technique can actually prevent us from being present and truly connecting with the human person in front of us. When we cultivate a loving and compassionate relationship with ourselves, however, we are able to show up with an energy of play. When we play, it doesn’t really matter what happens, we are simply exploring and enjoying. And that’s the whole point of sex: enjoying it!
Tantra encourages us to peer into the darkest corners of our own souls and see potential there. So much of the work of Tantric sex, then, happens when we are alone, meditating, doing yoga or just riding the bus, simply showing up to whoever we happen to be that day. When we develop a loving relationship with ourselves, we can show up more fully to the vulnerability of being with another person, and allow them the space to be truly present as well.
Sex is the fundamental metaphor of Tantra: Shiva and Shakti, the God and the Goddess, come together as separate selves, entering into relationship to create a universe rich with experiences. Tantric sex isn’t about showing off a bunch of fancy moves. It’s about showing up with one’s whole self to the whole self of another and letting that generate play. It’s as simple—and profound—as that.