When the only goal of sex is pleasure through play for the sake of itself, we can surprise ourselves with how much is actually possible.
In part one of this series on Tantric sex, we discussed the first key: being present. Tantra can mean a lot of different things, but I’ve come to understand it as a daily practice of showing up to the full field of our human experience and developing a compassionate relationship with the self, the others in our lives, and our social and cultural fabric. Having Tantric sex from this perspective doesn’t require any particular sexual positions or techniques—in fact, it doesn’t even require orgasms.
One of the things that can get in the way of having deep, fulfilling, intimate sex with a partner is the idea that there is a goal that must be reached. Sex is about intimacy and play, but too often we think it’s supposed to be a performance. When we feel we must climax in a certain way, at a certain time, a certain number of times, or at all, we focus less on the pleasure we are experiencing in the present, and more on how to get to a specific place. It can pull us out of the moment.
There are many reasons men and women may not be able to experience orgasm. Some women have a history of being unable to achieve orgasm. California sex therapist Peg Burr has written, “Orgasm requires becoming vulnerable and open. This openness is based on an intact sense of self which does not feel threatened (engulfed, or overpowered) by sexual union.” For many women, achieving orgasm is especially hard in a society that tells us our bodies do not belong to us. It can be hard to let go with anyone when you don’t feel in control of your own body. Burr goes on, “Women have less personal power in (and over) their own lives, due to social roles which teach them to be passive and non-assertive. They therefore may (unconsciously) exert control where they can, over their own bodies, and unfortunately, limit their own sexual pleasure.”
Men tend to feel a lot more pressure to experience orgasm—but not too early or too late. They also tend to feel a lot of pressure to make their partner climax, and this must be through a consistent erection that can be hard to maintain in older age. That’s a lot to control about a moment that is about losing control. On top of that, many of us feel guilty about experiencing pleasure. When both partners overfocus on trying to please the other, no one actually gets to experience pleasure!
A very simple exercise that is a low-pressure way to practice goal-free pleasure with your partner is through focused hand touching. One partner is the giver, and takes the receiver’s hand (with their consent). The giver’s job is to touch for their own pleasure, to explore the feeling of their fingers or palm on the receiver’s hand. The giver can explore touching with more or less pressure, faster or slower, in different parts of their partner’s hand. The receiver’s job is to relax and fully experience any pleasure that arises, remaining silent for the full five minute exercise. Then the partners switch. Afterward, the partners can discuss what they liked or didn’t like and how the exercise felt for them.
When we have Tantric sex, we have sex with our whole bodies. We take pleasure in both giving and receiving pleasure. When the only goal of sex is pleasure through play for the sake of itself, we can surprise ourselves with how much is actually possible.