Believe it or not, orgasm is not the end goal.
If you consider yourself a spiritually open-minded person with a considerable sexual appetite, at some point or another, you’ve probably stumbled upon—and had your interest piqued by—the concept of tantric sex. Originally stemming from ancient India and with roots in both Buddhism and Hinduism, tantric sex is a form of intimacy that, well, gets intimate—though maybe not in the way you’d think.
Like any eastern practice that’s been adopted (or, more likely, appropriated) by masses of self-declared free-spirited westerners, the true history and practice of tantric sex have been muddled, and so, what you imagine the practice to be (intercourse so out-of-this-world that it takes you to another dimension, perhaps?) isn’t what it is.
What is tantric sex?
Tantra involves several different practices—not just sex—including yoga and mantras—that stem from Sanskrit texts that date back to around the 7th century. These texts and rituals are found in more esoteric forms of Buddhism and Hinduism (read: through history, tantra certainly has not been mainstream). Sex is just one form of tantra, which is one small part of a tradition practiced by a globally small subset of people.
What is its goal?
Broadly, tantric sex is performed to achieve a kind of ecstasy or enlightenment—without (get this) orgasm. This has a lot to do with the fact that Tantra isn’t a practice that’s about sexual fulfillment or pleasure, but rather a spiritual practice. For Hindu practitioners, that means working with a guru to achieve “liberation” through tantric sex, and for Buddhist practitioners, the goal is enlightenment. Sometimes, tantric yoga is a component. Sometimes, tantra is practiced without literal sex at all. And when it does, the people engaging in the act avoid doing it for pure pleasure-seeking principles—in Buddhism, doing so must be believed to have karmic consequences. As a whole, it’s important to note that tantra, in its traditional forms, may include sex, but it isn’t concerned with sexual connection or even greater intimacy—and especially not with having your best orgasm ever.
What is neo-tantra?
What we think of when we think of tantric sex is more realistically neo-tantra—the form of tantra that developed in the west in the 20th century, which somewhat divorces the practice from its religious roots, in favor of a much-more sexually-focused alternative. Neo-tantra was spread in the United States by largely white practitioners of yoga, who, having researched Hindu and Buddhist texts, appropriated them for a western audience. (Another figure who encouraged the spread of Neotantra in the U.S. is Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a.k.a. Osho—the key figure in the documentary Wild Wild Country).
Today, you’ll find plenty of stories giving tips on how to incorporate tantric sex practices into your solo or partnered play. They usually emphasize breath work, massage, slow, deliberate movements, and (often, if intercourse is involved) edging. Of course, these kinds of techniques can be incorporated in the bedroom without adding a layer of misappropriated spiritualism that’s divorced from its original context. Neotantra’s end goal is sexual fulfillment—but when it comes to the original Tantra, it’s all about transcendence on a much bigger level.