Tantric Sex 101: A Guide for Curious Couples

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You probably associate Tantric sex with unbridled sexuality, day-long lovemaking sessions, incense, and flowing robes. Not exactly. Tantric sex is part of Tantra, an ancient Indian tradition that influenced both Hinduism and Buddhism. "[Tantric practices] assist in quieting the mind and activating sexual energy, directing it throughout the body to bring greater sense of well-being and higher states of consciousness," says Sally Valentine, who has a doctorate in clinical sexology and is a Tantric facilitator. The sex part? Well, that’s actually optional. Think of this as intimate, clothing-optional yoga with your partner that often leads to sex. Confused yet? Here’s a guide to a first-time tantric practice.

1. Set the space: The first step in getting ready for a Tantric sex session is creating a "sacred space,” says Jacqueline Hellyer, psychosexual therapist and Tantra teacher. Try scented candles (placed carefully), luxurious bedding, maybe some rich chocolate, wine, and relaxing music (think, Boards of Canada). You’ll also want plenty of water — to stay hydrated.

2. Get comfortable: Don’t wear your college hoodie and sweat pants, but do opt for comfortable clothing. While some people practice Tantric sex in the nude, for many it's better to build up to undressing. If your partner is spending all her time adjusting her corset, she might want to swap that out for pajamas.

3. Get in sync: Hellyer says a simple way to ease into Tantric sex is by sitting across from your partner on the bed, starting up some pleasant music, and staring into each other's eyes for the duration of the song. This, she says, can create a sinking (and syncing) sensation between a couple; a taste of the mindfulness that's key to Tantric sex. You should also try and synchronize your breathing, which may happen without you even trying.

4. Check your feelings: As you relax in the various steps of Tantric sex, emotions are going to come and go. Rather than trying to ignore them, understand these are part of the present experience too, says Valentine. "Notice what feelings come up, notice what thoughts come, and if tension is increased or decreased," she says. "Breathe into any tension that may arise and continue to breathe until each of you feel relaxed and receptive." Experiencing your thoughts and feelings and allowing your partner to witness are important parts of fostering a deeper, more spiritual connection.

5. Then, a massage: Tantric massage begins with soft, teasing touches of non-erogenous zones. Some partners like to include feathers, silk, hot wax, or ice to create different sensations. These touches can become deeper and more sexual over time, although penetrative intercourse and orgasm aren't goals of Tantric sex. "Rather than [the sex] being very genital focused […] leading to this big, explosive orgasm, what you're actually doing is you're cultivating a sensation that's much more of a bliss type sensation and so your whole body gets suffused with a bliss and a more ecstatic kind of experience," says Hellyer.

6. Get in the Yab-Yum position: The Yab-Yum position is a staple of Tantric sex. It can be done while clothed or naked. In this position, the male sits with his legs crossed and the female sits on top of his lap, facing him. The partners should embrace each other fully and try to synchronize their breaths. The closeness of this position helps people to physically and mentally appreciate their partnership to the fullest.

7. Try a Tantric kiss: A Tantric kiss, like much of Tantric sex, is similar to what you would normally do but in slow motion. It's something partners can try out while in the Yab-Yum position. Get close, share a breath, and kiss slowly and sensually, savoring each sensation.

8. And then, the sex … Once partners are attuned to each other and embracing all the sensations of each moment, they may move onto insertive sex. Or they might not. It all depends on how each person feels right then and is something that Tantric teachers don't necessarily encourage. If penetrative sex does happen, Hellyer encourages men to remember that every thrust counts. It's not about the pushing toward the finish line, so the movement outward is just as important as the inward thrusts.