Contrary to what you may have heard, tantra is not about sex, specifically.
It is a body of spiritual practices that existed on the Indian subcontinent from about 500AD to 1500AD, and several schools of tantra emerged in India, Tibet, China, and even Japan.
Tantra is essentially an approach to viewing the world and human experiences. Because sexuality is a major aspect of our human experience, a tantric approach to sex is a significant shift from the way most of us have been raised to think about it.
The following guide outlines how the philosophy of tantra informs the tantric approach to sex...
...in other words, it aims to explain, what makes tantric sex tantric?
Before we can understand what makes tantric sex tantric, it is important to know what philosophical principles are at the core of it.
Here are three of those core philosophical principles.
Awakening to your essence
You are not defined or identified with the things you experience: you are not your sensations, your emotions, your thoughts, or your desires. You are the pure consciousness that experiences all those others things.
Realizing this does not require years of isolated meditative practice available only to a select few; it can be realized in regular, everyday experiences, available to all.
Liberation from conditioning
Because your essence is consciousness itself, and not any of the thoughts or beliefs that you experience, you are not bound to them. You are not bound to the feeling of guilt when you experience sexual pleasure, or the pain of past trauma.
However, we can become very attached to these familiar feelings, and not everyone is willing to be free from their constrictions. That's okay! There's no need for moral judgment around that.
However, it does take energy to sustain beliefs and self-image that are not in alignment with the Truth of who you are, even when those beliefs are culturally approved and familiar.
Therefore, those who are open to liberation will discover new stores of energy, freshness, and aliveness.
There is consciousness/divinity in everything - this includes that which exists, as well as the field of pure potential.
This means that the body and the material world are no less divine than the mind and other immaterial forces.
Our embodied human lives and all the pain and pleasure they contain are not meant to be transcended in order to achieve enlightenment; they are meant to be embraced and experienced as consciously as possible to help us realize the liberation.
(To learn more about the philosophy and practices of classical tantra, I recommend reading Christopher Wallis' book, Tantra Illuminated, and taking his free online course, Foundations of Tantrik Yoga.)
So how does all of this apply to sex?
Here's how those philosophical principles translate into sexual experiences that are quite different from the more secular, mainstream, pornography-influenced approach most people have learned...
Mutual influence between sex and consciousness
Your sexual fantasies, your emotional state during masturbation, and your cultural conditioning all impact the quality of consciousness that you bring to sex with a partner, and the quality of your consciousness impacts how you experience sex.
In other words, the way that you passively or actively "program" the things that turn you on (e.g., aggressively masturbating to porn vs. engaging in a loving self-pleasure practice), will impact the quality of your presence and awareness during partnered sex as well as the quality of your daily consciousness (in or out of the bedroom).
Sexual energy as fuel for spiritual awakening
Sexual energy is life force, and you can choose to repress it, scatter it aimlessly, or channel it intentionally into high-level states of energetic vibration and consciousness. This is how sexuality becomes a path for spiritual liberation and breaking free from conditioning.
Sexual energy and spiritual energy are basically the same, and can morph into one another in an endless loop.
Sex as sacred
In tantra, everything is sacred, divine, conscious. Your desires, your pleasure, even your shadows and your shame, are sacred.
"Regular" sex tends to be focused on achieving orgasm as a goal, therefore measuring success by how well that goal is achieved for both partners (frequently leading to performance anxiety and faked orgasms).
Tantric sex shifts the focus to the moment-to-moment unfolding of sensation and pleasure, allowing parters to be more embodied, impulsive, and free to follow the sexual energy wherever it takes them.
Focus on energy, not ego
We often use sex (and our sexual partners) to mean something about our value, status, or skills as lovers. But this mentality limits us from having deeper experiences.
When we allow sex to be guided by energies wiser than our egos, and ourselves to the flow of that energy within and between us, sex can take on a more primal, authentic, and deeply nourishing quality.
Spiritual liberation through sex
So many of our deepest wounds and triggers are buried in layers of our sexuality. If we are willing to compassionately confront our sexual pains, fears, and judgments as they arise, sex becomes a sacred container for spiritual liberation.
Use the comments section below to share something you learned or leave me a question - I'm also happy to provide book recommendations if you want to dive deeper!