Ancient practices of the Far East are creeping into Western bedrooms -- and gaining a lot of attention from Western sex therapists. The ideas and exercises of tantra -- a sexual practice and philosophy found in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism -- help enhance sexual experience and deepen emotional connections. Much of tantra will be familiar if you've ever heard what Western sex therapists teach.
"It took me a while to realize this," says Ray Stubbs, PhD, a longtime devotee of tantra and author of The Essential Tantra. "What I studied in Western sexology, and what I was studying with a Tibetan lama at the very same time, were very similar concepts, but because the language was different and the framework was different, I didn't think of them as being the same. And one day I had this realization: Oh, they're talking about the same thing."
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Beverly Whipple, PhD, the sex therapist and neurophysiologist whose 1982 book coined the term "G-spot," says she uses tantra in her workshops today. "I help people to see that the genitals are not our only focus," she says.
Basically, tantric sex is about enhancing the sexual experience by expanding your senses, as well as by deepening the connection between you and your partner.
When the famed sex researchers Masters and Johnson began to teach techniques for improving people's sex lives, they were often rephrasing what was written in a set of Hindu texts called the Tantras (tantra, in Sanskrit, means something like "interwoven") around 300 A.D. "In Masters and Johnson's terminology, it's moving from sexuality as 'performance or demand' to really an enhanced experience of the full aspects of sexual, sensual expression," Stubbs says.
What it's not about, modern tantric teachers say, is copulating in convoluted sex positions. It's fun to look at illustrations in the Kama Sutra, but for most of us, the more gymnastic positions would be no fun to imitate.
Many Roads Lead To Rome
How, exactly, do you do tantra? It depends on whom you listen to. Popular books on tantra written in English are adaptations of the ancient Eastern rituals and philosophy, and interpretations vary among authors. Sometimes what they describe would bear little resemblance to the original rituals, because what worked for people in India 1,700 years ago may not necessarily work for Americans now.