It's not just for hippies.
If you're like most Americans, chances are good that you have preconceived notions about tantric sex. Many dismiss it as the domain of new-age hippies who wax poetic about chakras and life force.
But these days, as tantra programs pop up in spas, yoga centers and private homes across the country, the practice is finding a host of new adherents.
Tantra, from the Sanskrit word for "interwoven," is an ancient philosophy threaded through Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. While Westerners tend to associate it with the acrobatic positions illustrated in the Kama Sutra, practitioners say it actually has little to do with sex.
Tantric teachings were originally a path to spiritual enlightenment. The Western version has been secularized to help couples bond.
"When people come to me, they’re looking for a deeper experience with their partner," says Cheryll, of the Integrative Transformation Center in New York City. Through tantra, "you connect in body, mind, and spirit."
The practice is intended to make sex more cerebral and spiritual. Through synchronized breathing and the visualization of energy being passed back and forth, couples can theoretically have intercourse for hours, with both partners experiencing repeated climaxes, even though the man never ejaculates.
If successful, both partners will feel completely attuned to one another.
At a tantric workshop she held in her home, Cheryll asked a group of couples to straddle each other, synchronize their breathing, and stare into each other’s eyes. Pelvic thrusting and chakra-talk ensued. But first, each person was instructed to place a hand on his partner's heart and complete the sentence: "I feel most loved and cherished by you when..."
If that sounds like couples therapy—well, that's because it could be.
A growing number of Western sexologists are starting to employ methods that echo tantric principles. While your shrink might ask you to "respect each other," your tantric guru would ask you to "acknowledge the divine in each other."
"When things go south for a couple, one of the first problems is often sexual," says Richard Jordan, a clinical psychologist based in San Diego, California. "I find that a body-centered approach is much more effective than talk therapy in yielding change." Jordan, who says his study of tantra has improved his therapy practice, often incorporates its techniques into his clients’ treatments—be it G-spot ("sacred spot") massage or breath work.
Tantra, he explains, can help men overcome erectile dysfunction, which boosts their self-esteem and benefits their relationships."We have a lot of mental and sexual energy, but the two don't always connect," he says. "When they do, sex has the potential to be the most intimate experience a couple shares."