Western culture has long been fascinated with Tantra. But what is Tantra, really – and how does it relate to Tantric Sex?

What is Tantra?

The term Tantra originally referred to a loose collection of Sanskrit religious texts. They originated from the non-mainstream Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain traditions, somewhere between 3000 and 5000 years ago. These texts discussed a wide variety of topics, ranging from mantras to magical rituals. Sex wasn’t even really a major highlight in them. The core idea of the texts professed that by concentrating, one could evoke certain deities inside oneself and unleash their spiritual energy. Eventually, sex entered the picture with the ideas that these deities can be channeled using sexual energy.

Modern Forms of Tantra

Nowadays, most people probably aren’t using Tantra to invoke ancient deities. They instead use it as an embodied spiritual practice. The modern form of Tantra originated from Tantra practices in India in the 6thh century. While there were many different Tantric sects throughout history, only a small handful of them practiced the maithuna ritual – a multi-day ceremony that involved drugs, sex, and indulging in forbidden foods.

The Western version of Tantra – also referred to as “Sacred Sexuality” – began in the 19th century. It was the colonial period in India, and thanks to Victorian-era missionaries to the subcontinent, Tantra spread to Europe. The Victorians were fans of all things mystical, so the erotic secrets found in Tantric sex rituals intrigued Westerners who equated the question of “what is Tantra” with “sex.”

These days – depending on who you talk to and where someone learned Tantra – you will get a wide variety of answers to “what is Tantra?” or “what is Tantric sex?”. However, many modern Tantra schools teach that Tantra can be used as a personal practice of liberation, that sexual energy may be utilized as a path to spiritual progress, and that sex is sacred.

What is Tantric Sex?

Often, when people hear “what is tantric sex?”, the first thing that comes to mind is the image of people having slow, breath-filled sex for hours at a time. While there are perhaps people for whom practicing tantric sex looks like this, there is much more to tantric sex than that.

Tantra considers sex to be an energy that exists on its own – not just another action that human beings do. A Tantra practitioner notices the sexual energy within them and around them. The first step towards Tantric sex is to get in touch with your own sexual energy and to be able to feel that energy moving through you.

One of the cornerstones of the practice of Tantric sex is being able to bring sexual energy up and out into the entire body. Some practitioners refer to this as drawing your sexual energy up into your higher chakras in order to drop into one’s body more deeply and completely. Other tantric sex techniques include embodiment practices, mindfulness, breathing fully, slowing down, and being more present.

Tantric sex techniques can be practiced with a partner or solo. In fact, many Tantric techniques were designed to be practiced alone, and they still offer the opportunity for sexual and spiritual growth – even if you don’t have a partner to practice with.

[Read more on How to Have Stronger Orgasms in Women, and Better Orgasms for Men]

What is a Tantric Practitioner?

A professional tantric practitioner can go by a variety of names. Some of the more common ones are Dakini, Daka, and Tantrika. A Tantrika is, quite literally, one who practices Tantra. In Sanskrit, Dakini means “a female messenger of wisdom,” while Daka is the male version. Dakas and Dakinis are sometimes also referred to as Sacred Intimates or Sacred Sexual Healers.

Tantra practitioners help their clients increase their connection to their erotic energy and the divine aspects of sexuality. They believe focusing on the sacred aspects of sexuality is a way to have more vitality in your sex life – and your life in general. Once a Tantra practitioner has evaluated your Tantra journey, they can decide where to begin working with you. This can be particularly useful if you’ve been struggling with low libido or a sexless marriage.

Methods of Tantra

Some Tantra practitioners focus on breathwork and energetic connection and do not touch their clients. Other practitioners have full sexual experiences with their clients and everything in between. Each Tantric practitioner will have a different approach to Tantra. In order to get the most out of your sessions, it is important to be clear with your practitioner about what you are looking to gain from studying Tantra. Make sure their expertise in the art lines up with your goals.

Unlike Sex Surrogacy and Sexological Bodywork (the other modalities that involves two-way nudity or one-way nudity), Tantric practices have not been approved by any state or governing bodies in the US. Thus, some of the practices may cross over into illegal sex work. While criminalizing sex work is not an effective way to deal with it in our society, it currently remains illegal. For your personal safety, it is important to know the laws of your state and your personal boundaries before seeking out a Tantra practitioner.

What to Expect from a Tantra Session

Often, the first thing a practitioner will address with you is breathwork. Many of us subconsciously hold our breath throughout the day. People also hold their breath when trying to have an orgasm. Bearing down, holding your breath, and trying to “make” yourself come is one way to have an orgasm. But there are other ways to achieve orgasm. By learning how to move breath throughout the body, one can experience other types of orgasms.

Tantric Massage Practices

Then there are tantric practitioners who specialize in tantric massage. This type of session is useful for learning more about your body – what you find pleasurable, your potential for intimacy and connection, and what areas are prime spots for growth.

A Tantric massage may include:

  • Elements of traditional massage
  • Sensual touching
  • Energy movement techniques
  • Guided meditation
  • Coaching around sound (e.g. vocalization and orgasmic sounds)
  • Motion
  • Gazing
  • Breath

The purpose of any intimate touching that occurs is not to simply achieve orgasm. The objective is to help the client get in contact with their own sexual energy and learn how to play with it. That said, not all Dakinis or Dakas use sexual touch as part of their method. Some teach how to move sexual energy around without sexual touching. It is important to talk to your practitioner about what to expect during the Tantric massage. Explain your personal boundaries when it comes to touch – ie whether or not you are comfortable with having your genitals caressed during a session.

A more intimate version of Tantric massage sessions can include what is referred to as yoni and lingam massage. The word ‘yoni’ is the Tantric term for the female genitals, and ‘lingam’ is the Tantric term for the male genitals. A practitioner who offers yoni or lingam massage can help you to explore and expand your capacity for generating sexual and erotic energy.

No-Touch Types of Tantra

Not all Tantra methods include receiving physical touch or bodywork from the practitioner. It is also very common for a practitioner to simply teach a client how to connect to their sexual energy via exercises like hip circles, figure eights, and PC squeezes. PC squeezes are when a person engages their pubococcygeus muscle. In Tantra, the PC muscles, which are located in the pelvis, are considered one’s own personal erotic energy pumps. They are also a critically important muscle when it comes to sex for any person, regardless of gender. Not only is it considered important to tone the PC muscles in order to be able to shoot your sexual energy outwards throughout your entire body. For women, it can increase vaginal responsiveness and sensitivity, and for men, it can help them achieve stronger erections.

How to Find Tantra Teacher Training

There are many Tantra-based training techniques so the experiences you might get in a session with a Tantric practitioner can vary widely. Also, many people who call themselves Tantra practitioners, may have no formal training in Tantra. If you are interested in training as a Tantra coach or teacher, a full training is offered by the Skydancing Tantra Institute. The school was started by Margo Anand, one of the foremost experts on Western Tantra.

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Celeste Hirschman
Celeste Hirschman, MA is the Co-Creator of the Somatica® Method and Co-Founder of Somatica® Institute. She trains coaches in the Somatica® Method of Sex and Relationship Coaching. She has her own private practice in San Francisco, where she works with clients to have profoundly pleasurable and fulfilling lives. She has co-authored multiple academic articles published in peer-reviewed journals and is the co-author of two books, Cockfidence - The Definitive Guide to Being the Man You Want to Be and Driving Women Wild and Making Love Real - The Intelligent Couples Guide to Lasting Intimacy and Passion. Celeste has her MA in Human Sexuality Studies from San Francisco State University (SFSU) and her BA in Women’s Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). Celeste has taken the Hakomi Pro-Skills Training as well as multiple other trainings on sexuality and relationships. Celeste also has a Certification in Sexological Bodywork from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (IASHS).