You’ll rethink everything you thought you knew about getting busy.
Say the words “tantric sex” to the average American adult, and their associations may be few and far between. In popular culture, it’s even been the butt of jokes: Think the reaction to Sting’s infamous claim of hours-long lovemaking sessions with his wife Trudie Styler (though he’s since walked that back, he stands by the practice), and the women of Sex and the City veering between skepticism and nervous giggles as they watch a self-serious, caftan-clad instructor bring her husband to climax. Tantric sex is often misunderstood in the Western world, but its techniques can deepen or revive the connection between you and your partner.
“In my experience, tantric sex allows for sex to be a lifetime journey of discovery and exploration,” says Layla Martin, founder of The Tantric Institute for Integrated Sexuality. When applying the practice in her own long-term relationship, Martin says, “there’s always a ritual for us to try, a new dimension to explore.”
Here’s what you should know about tantric sex, and some expert-recommended beginners’ techniques to try at home.
First, what is tantric sex?
The beliefs and practices of tantric sex are drawn from Tantra, which Martin defines as “a practical path of initiation and techniques where the goal is to experience the oneness of everything in this lifetime.” Its philosophy and texts date back to seventh-century India (or, some belief, even earlier). Martin points out that the “all in one” teaching you might hear while mountain-posing in your yoga pants originally came from Tantra.
“In many Tantric traditions, sexuality can be a path to spiritual realization, just like yoga or prayer or meditation,” she continues. “So tantric sexuality is when you have sex with the intention of growing spiritually. This can sound crazy to some of us, but in my experience, sex is absolutely a portal to spiritual states of awareness. We already shout, “Oh god!,” when we’re having an orgasm and melt into a state that feels deeper than our everyday reality. In tantric sexuality, you use tools and awareness in sex to go even deeper into spiritual awakening.”
What are the benefits of exploring tantric sex?
Diana Richardson, who wrote The Heart of Tantric Sex and has been teaching Tantra to couples since 1993, says tantric techniques help couples to radically reimagine how they think of sexual intercourse—and introduces new ways for two people’s bodies to connect and exchange energy with each other. If that’s already sounding a bit woo woo to you, consider the very real issues couples’ sex lives can suffer from (or even become a sexless marriage over), and which Richardson says tantric sex provides tools to address: Premature ejaculation, painful sex for reasons including menopause, erectile dysfunction, inability to orgasm, and performance anxiety.
“The problem isn’t with sex itself,” Richardson told a Toronto crowd in a 2018 TEDx Talk titled The Power of Mindful Sex. “The problem lies with the style of having it.
Even if you’re pretty satisfied with your intimate experiences, practicing tantric sex techniques can shift the way you and your partner think about getting physical in the bedroom. Martin says it’s about “transforming the cultural conditioning that the body is not sacred, or that sex is wrong.”
Interested in trying it yourself? Richardson spoke to OprahMag.com about the mindful sex techniques described in her TEDx Talk—no wild sex positions required. And while Richardson’s India-based teachings are centered around heterosexual couples, she maintains that it’s for everyone: “Its principles can be adapted according to orientation.”
First, block off two or three hours for your tantric sex date.
Richardson encourages people to think of mindful sex as a long meandering walk, as opposed to the breathless race to the finish that orgasm-focused intercourse can be. “It’s not against orgasm, one can, of course, have one every time,” she says. “But that’s not what you go for.” Taking (lots of) time to explore each other avoids a rush to penetration before a woman’s body is ready, and Richardson says setting a date for sex can have a foreplay-like effect on men, as it builds anticipation.
Stay aware and present in every moment.
Richardson says staying present is the most important aspect of tantric sex, and every physical technique is in service of that intention.
Scan, release, repeat.
Take your time, checking in with every part of your body—jaw, shoulders, belly, genitals, buttocks—and breathe to soften any tight areas that you notice. “Embracing your beloved, you immediately relax your belly. Then your jaw. And then if you look again, you’ll notice, oh! That’s tightened up again! It’s just the nature of how we are. So you keep scanning and softening.” Do this throughout your tantric session and on your own too, as a way to check in with your own body.
“If a man goes very slowly, that enables a woman to trust the situation, relax, and open herself.”
“A classic place where we tighten is the pelvic floor,” Richardson continues, saying women may find that they tense up when they move away from the present moment and get lost in thought. “You can be engaged with a man being inside, and suddenly you notice, oh I’m holding my vagina a little tight.” she says. “These patterns of contraction are just simply there. It’s just a matter of remembering.” Notice, and breathe deeply to loosen any tension.
Breathe deeply and slowly into your belly and genitals.
“Breath is one of the greatest bridges that bring us from our mind into the body,” Richardson says. “When we really get into the breath, we become fully merged with our bodies.” She notes that most people tend to keep their breath shallow in what she calls ‘traditional’ sex and that while deep-breathing you may even notice a barrier of tightness in your solar plexus (the nerve bundles located in the abdomen just below your sternum).
“If you keep breathing into that, in time your breath will go deeper and deeper into the belly,” Richardson says. “Again, this is something that develops with practice, and with more lovemaking.”
Try slow, “conscious” penetration.
However slow you’re imagining, try even slower than that. You blocked off a few solid hours, so what’s the rush? “If a penis comes in with a lot of…intention, women naturally close to protect from possible pain,” Richardson explains. “Furthermore, it’s actually in this higher region, around the cervix, where women can experience very ecstatic blissful energies.” Rushed penetration can curtail the possibility for female pleasure in that area, she says.
“If a man goes very, very slowly, that enables a woman to trust the situation, relax, and open herself,” says Richardson, who strongly advises ample use of lubrication (here are some of our favorites).
Don’t fall back on mechanical back-and-forth movements.
Richardson uses the term “keeping things cool” to describe tantric techniques, as opposed to the heat generated in traditional sex where achieving orgasm is the main (and too often, the only) goal. You might lie in bed with one partner inside the other, not moving for awhile, or rocking slowly—er, consciously, savoring every sensation and breathing into any tension you feel. “If you eat a meal consciously, you’re going to eat much slower,” she says. “Being more conscious slows everything down. And if you do slow down, everyone can feel everything more.”
Maintain eye contact.
Most of us have sexual fantasies and that’s okay—but in the tantric practice, your intention is to stay entirely present at the moment. That’s why Richardson recommends looking into each other’s eyes during sex, though she recognizes that it may be distracting for some, or cause self-consciousness. “Many of us do feel our bodies on an inner level more fully with their eyes closed,” she says, “so it’s not like it’s a rule. It’s more of a tool.”
If you do want to try extended eye contact, Martin suggests this exercise: Set a five-minute timer. Sit across from your partner on a bed or floor, looking into each other’s eyes, while taking deep breaths through the center of your chest. “This is your spiritual heart center,” she says. “Once the timer is up, you can start to move into a sexual connection, but keep your focus on your heart center during the whole experience. Breathe in and out of your heart if you can, and when you are making love, keep your focus on that heart center.”
Sharing is encouraged.
Anytime you can verbalize what you’re feeling and experiencing during sex, do—it doesn’t have to be an extended conversation. “Often, we’re just kind of guessing what’s going on with the other person,” says Richardson. “So to clearly articulate, ‘oh I feel this here, or that’s happening there’, actually makes it more concrete for you both.”
Noting the positive sensations out loud can actually deepen them. “Sometimes when you feel something small, like a little buzz, or tingle, or butterfly, and you acknowledge it, it will immediately expand.”
Maintain a sense of humor.
Great advice for life in general, and for sexual experimentation. “We get a bit serious in sex. We want to get it right, we want to be successful,” Richardson says. ‘So if you can just have a sense of humor when things happen when you cough and the penis jumps out or something awkward happens, it’s so healthy just to laugh.”
Orgasm isn’t the goal of tantric sex.
If it does happen for one or both of you, that’s wonderful too—and Richardson doesn’t recommend that men actively repress ejaculation if it’s about to happen. Ultimately, tantric sex is about the journey, and what you discover along the way, as opposed to a big finish. “Often after climax, it’s this peak and then a drop,” she explains. “For men, there’s a tendency to feel a bit tired. Women sometimes feel a bit sad, or some emotion is there. So it is really fascinating to experiment with not climaxing. That means the vitality stays inside you and then starts to work on an inner level.”
By By Samantha Vincenty