There's More to a Tantric Lifestyle Beyond Great Sex
Most people reading this have probably heard of tantric practices, but in the Western world, our concept of the subject is frequently immersed in overwhelming sexual overtones and overtly vocal boasts from supposed tantric rock stars and life coaches with prominent platforms.
The world of tantra is immense and encapsulates many aspects of our everyday experiences, from individual to interpersonal. It's hard to talk about tantra comprehensively in brief terms, but it is possible to look at particular aspects and consider how implementing them into an individual life or set of relationship practices may prove beneficial.
Tantra is a culture and spiritual practice unto itself, but for the purposes of understanding its potential use in a relationship, we're going to imagine tantra as an available set of ideals and tools to investigate alone or under the guidance of a tantric educator, a licensed clinical sexologist or a relationship counselor.
Lawrence Siegel, M.A., CSE, who is based out of Boynton Beach, Florida, has incorporated tantric ideas into his sex therapy sessions and sex education framework with great success.
"Most of tantra is really about just making that connection, just sharing that space with each other…In some ways, erasing the line between you and me," Siegel said. "So, what couples can always benefit from, in terms of things like tantra, is a lot of eye gazing. Maybe you put your hand on my chest, I put my hand on your chest, and we look into each other's eyes and then it's basically allowing our breathing to synchronize. And then we're just sort of working with that connection. It's not about intercourse."
'Most of tantra is really about just making that connection, just sharing that space with each other…In some ways, erasing the line between you and me.'
In the words of another clinical sexologist, Carol Ellison, Ph.D., "Tantra is not 25 words or less."
Ellison is an author and self-described "sexual detective/problem solver" specializing in issues pertaining to sexuality and intimacy, as well as sexual development.
"When you talk about tantra, it's essential to know what you're referring to," Ellison explained. "And because tantric practice can involve whole systems of yoga practice, as well as other physical and/or mental disciplines, it's important to be clear how the context of the conversation applies to couples or single individuals exploring intimacy with another."
Ultimately, in the sense of a relationship, the earliest stages of exploring tantra simply means making time for mindfully being together and present with one another.
Getting started with your partner
Once you remove the potentially hyperbolic reports of celebrity tantric sexual awakenings, it becomes clear that, at the entry level at least, exploring tantric practices is really about enforcing the subtle and not-so-subtle aspects of interpersonal communication in a partnership.
"You can almost look at it as very similar to the idea that I don't need to be a trained massage therapist to massage my partner," Siegel said. "So, you don't need all of that tantric training and, in fact, you don't even need to call it tantra to do tantra."
Siegel explained that couples can engage with ideas derived from tantric study by acting mindfully and staring into one another's eyes. He suggested that even something as simple as lightly touching the other person's skin, and tracing lines along their body, can be considered tantric acts if pursued with the right intentions and in the right headspace.
Whereas something like sensate focus focuses on passive and non-result-oriented touch, tantric practices tend to be about equitable involvement and engagement with one another. It's about synchronizing energies and coordinating aspects of nonverbal communication into something understood across personal boundaries. To some extent, the objective is, in a way, making it so those boundaries dissolve entirely.
This is where our tantric conversation finally wanders into the subject of sex.
Of course, it all comes back to sex
"The benefit of tantra for couples is that it really is, or can be, a wonderful tool to create that intimacy, that closeness, that connection," Siegel said. "That can then make their sexual encounters, in turn, that much better."
It's interesting to note sexual improvements go hand in hand with conversations about tantra, but the reasoning for those benefits extends beyond sexuality and into other aspects of life in general. It could be argued that, by taking time to more presently be with our partners and loved ones, we are, in a way, also taking more time to be with ourselves.
In theory, this should better allow us to communicate our needs and desires, as well as our fears and boundaries. Sexually speaking, utilizing a simple methodology in your coupled tantric exploration can help make special space for your shared sexuality outside of the usual patterns you may have fallen into.
'The benefit of tantra for couples is that it really is, or can be, a wonderful tool to create that intimacy, that closeness, that connection.'
"Experiences a couple might have would be sitting across from each other, perhaps with their legs crossed and their genitals near each other, hands on each other's hearts, looking into each other's eyes, focusing on loving feelings but not on creating genital sensation," said Ellison, who has also been a regular teacher of sexuality courses with the University of California, Berkeley. "And, in fact, in many tantric practices, the shared arousal in the shared meditation is important, and the energy builds between two people, but is not released in orgasm."
You might think of it in comparison to a band of musicians who frequently play together. When they first start playing, they have to rehearse songs in their entirety over and over. As the musicians get familiar with one another, they need to practice the same songs less and less. But, occasionally, they may need to revisit certain songs or even just certain parts of songs to refresh and revitalize their skills together as a unit. The level of familiarity allows for less practice, and the practice that does occur is then somewhat compartmentalized.
Couples with a history together can consider their combined tantric exploration in a similar capacity. Whenever couples are rehashing matters of intimacy, they are playing familiar songs that might have just grown a little rusty or dull over time and due to a lack of practice.
Exploring tantra in the ways we have described might provide just the change of rehearsal scenery some couples need to revitalize their sexual and nonsexual chemistry together.