Soul & Spirit

A Tantra Guide for the Skeptics

Carlos Milan
Written by Carlos Milan

The first time I heard the words “sacred sexuality” I felt automatically drawn to learn more about them.

I was already looking for a way to think about sex that was different from the oxymoronic guilt and longing that most of us have towards our sexuality as we grow up.

To a good number of my friends, however, the whole idea of bringing together sex and sacredness seems a bit more challenging to get on board with.

For some, it’s a matter of being shy or disapproving about discussing any sexual topic out in the open.

But for a higher percentage of people, at least this is what I see in my social circle, it’s a matter of being skeptic about anything that brings the label of spiritual along with it.

And I totally get why people can get wary or suspicious around the whole concept of Tantra, spirituality and sacred sex.

We all know sex has a long tradition of being used as a tool of marketing: advertising turns to sexually charged images and ‘sexy’ product campaigns in order to sell all sorts of stuff.

At the same time, a whole industry has sprouted around the organic, the holistic and the spiritual way of living.

It’s no surprise many of us experience some resistance when we come across any product or service that has the potential to be on the new-agey side of things.

So it’s no wonder that sacred sexuality can be perceived by some people as a dubious or superficial concept, that promotes all sorts of experimentation around sex while claiming to have a spiritual side to it.

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you’re torn between the search for a richer and more meaningful experience of sex, and some inner resistances that the word sacred brings along for you, or also a very common scenario, for your partner.

Well, I have been in the exact same place and I know it’s not easy to find nice resources to learn from.

That’s why I want to share my story with you: to reassure you that, from my experience, sacred sexuality is 100% worth getting through all the initial questioning and doubting that may come to you when you first explore it.

Confessions from a non-believer

If you think about it, it’s only natural for all kind of doubts to come around you when you’re considering to learn something like Tantra.

Sexuality and spirituality are two major forces in our existence, no matter how connected or distant we feel to them at any particular point in our lives.

So there’s a part of us that can tell in advance that learning and practicing something like sacred sex is going to expose a lot of our emotions, fears, wounds, desires.

And if we’re going to expose our raw selves to the exterior world, we want to make sure we do it under the guidance of a teacher or a philosophy that is truly watching our back.

Exploring our sexual and spiritual dimension makes ourselves feel vulnerable, but that’s not always a feeling that is easy to identify at a first glance.

vulnerable

The first time I attended a live tantric event, it had actually nothing to do with sex, and still, I had a lot of resistance, fear and even anger towards the course that I was taking.

It was a tantric yoga retreat, and it felt like I was stuck for a whole month in a mosquito-plagued village, in the middle of nowhere, listening to a bunch of ramblings about Indian philosophy being taught by messy-haired Europeans who had quit their corporate careers in the middle of an existential crisis.

That’s a long description, I know…

But it’s exactly how I felt at the moment: ill-disposed and judgmental to a very specific degree.

To be honest, deep down I did enjoy the Indian philosophy lectures, but that feeling kind of got lost amidst all the other things that were pushing my boundaries.

I did not like that everyone walked around with dreamy eyes and spent half an hour blessing their food before taking the first bite.

I didn’t like the weird cleansing rituals, the devotional singing, the altars with photos from spiritual masters that could be found just in every corner of the school.

Most of all, I did not like that we were borrowing spiritual elements from a different culture (the Hindu-Tantric tradition, in this case), and trying so hard to adopt them as our own.

Why I went to a Tantra retreat in the first place

tantra-guide-spiritual-skeptics-road

After listening to all my criticism around a tantric yoga retreat, you might be wondering why I decided to go there in the first place.

The answer is simple:

Tantra had already created a lot of positive impact in my life already.

When I was a teenager, just around 14 or 15 years old, I happened to stumble upon a Tantra book that my uncle had bought and then conveniently forgot in my house when he came to visit.

I think he intended for me to read the book, but I guess I’ll never know for sure…

The book was called Supreme Bliss Tantra: a Guide to the Ecstasy of Spiritual Sex.

It was a good book in the sense that it did not jump straight into the part of learning techniques to make sex a more memorable and pleasurable experience.

The authors, Somraj Pokras and Jeffre Talltrees, open up the guide with a careful diagnosis of why we struggle to build meaningful and violence-free relationships in our culture.

The answer, really summed up.

It is that our society is heavily unbalanced towards ‘masculine’ aggressive values, like competition and domination, while ‘feminine’ bonding values, such as empathy and collaboration, are not considered useful or desirable to the same extent.

competition

That book gave me a huge advantage in the following years when it came to dating.

I was able to stand away from the common patterns of jealousy, possessiveness, and miscommunication that tend to undermine relationships’ health to such a large extent in our culture.

And it also gave me a whole new perspective in my body and its capacity to experience pleasure.

Supreme Bliss Tantra introduced me to the concept of energy channels and learning to circulate sexual arousal, which in turn led to the ability to experience full-body orgasms.

The subtle art of pushing your limits

I was completely grateful and crazy about the first book of Tantra that I ever read, and yet, when I first attended a Tantra retreat about a decade later, I had to seriously fight against myself not to escape running from the place.

So what was different between one case and the other?

Simple!

When I read the book, and quite a few other good Tantra books after that one, it was always my choice which aspects of Tantra I wanted to apply in my own life, my relationships and my sexuality.

I got to move at my own rhythm, and I got to dismiss, or at least mentally postpone all those practices that seemed too strange or too challenging to try.

In the retreat, it was the exact opposite…

The description had the word intensive course in it, but I chose not to take it seriously.

So when I found myself in a full-immersion experience, completely surrounded by guru’s quotes and mythical-looking Indian deities, I just felt overwhelmed.

After some years of perspective, however, it is now clearer than ever for me that the boundary-defying experience at the course was definitely a good one for me, even though I would never have admitted at the time that anything positive or constructive could have come out of it.

I was not, perhaps, the ideal student to dive into a tantric yoga course at the time.

yoga student

Part of it was because there are indeed some elements of Tantra with which I don’t identify and that I consciously choose not to cultivate.

Those elements remain basically the same after years of studying the discipline.

I don’t like altars of any kind.

I don’t like tunics and other esoteric clothing.

And I don’t like the exaltation of any religious figure, from any country or faith. Be it a saint or a guru, a man, a woman or a god.

But an important part of my resistance to fully participate in the course also had to do with a fear of looking inside at me. 

Would you like to be brave and look inside yourself?

Of spending a whole month listening to my ignored anxieties, my buried wounds and my feelings of uncertainty towards the future.

It took me some time to realize it, but it opened a very important question.

Which components of Tantra or any other spiritual practice, for that matter, are truly out of sync with my personal path for inner growth, and which are the ones that I avoid mainly because they take me out of my comfort zone?

4 Steps to Take the Most Out of Tantra

If you had asked me just 3 years ago, I would have said that meditation was not for me, that there was no good reason whatsoever to quit dairy (not that I think there’s something spiritual about depriving yourself of cheese, but ‘conscious diets’ do tend to advise against it), and that I would never take part in an Ayahuasca ceremony.

Now that I’ve opened up to actually experience all three of those practices, I can say they actually felt great when I gave them a try. 

But there are also a lot of other practices or life choices that I have been suggested to try at different courses about conscious living, and that I don’t plan on taking up anytime soon.

The difference between my selection criteria these days and the one I used to cling to back when I first lived an intensive Tantra retreat, is that I don’t automatically discard anymore everything that claims to have a link with consciousness or spirituality.

I’m still not a big fan of the words consciousness or spirituality, nor would I say I try to live my life deliberately including them in my everyday choices, but I now have a much broader perspective of what I can learn from teachings and practices that cite those words as their core values.

When it comes to sacred sexuality and Tantra, there are 4 specific practices that I’ve learned to appreciate and work to my advantage, even if I initially experienced a strong resistance to experiencing them in any form.

1) Giving Meditation a Go

If you have never tried meditation, and its applications to making the most of your sexual experiences, then you have no idea what it actually can do for you.

I was the number 1 skeptic about the concept of meditating because I used to think it implied forcing you to feel an elevated state of mind, and having glorious and enlightening epiphanies while you somehow managed to make your thoughts go blank.

Then I opened up to a teacher’s explanation of what meditating could look like in everyday life.

It turns out I liked it a lot.

One of the practical goals of meditation, she told me, is not to empty yourself completely, but simply acknowledging all that’s keeping you full.

Every day we go out and collect a myriad of emotions that we are not able to process completely, trapped in the constant run from checkpoint to the next in our hectic schedules.

And unprocessed thoughts and emotions are the worst starting point for the experience of connection that sacred sexuality proposes.

How can you relax into loving caresses, when your head is full of fears about the future?

How can you wonder at the beauty of your partner, if your heart is filled with resentment or sadness?

Meditation before sex, or for the mere sake of feeling at calm, can be seen merely as a moment you take for yourself, whenever you feel the need to slow down and catch up with everything with that’s been going on in your mind and your emotions.

It’s a time where you can acknowledge all that you’ve been feeling (the negative and the positive), but also acknowledge that you’re not obliged to keep on feeling the same way.

2) Understanding the Value of Rituals

Tantra Ritual

The first time I heard that sharing rituals with my partner could be a great way to cultivate intimacy in our relationship, and massively build on the experience of sex for both of us, I just didn’t see myself going the extra mile to try something that sounded more in the terrain of cults and shamanic fraternities than connected in any way to secrets for mind-blowing sex.

In my defense, I had only heard of negative associations of the word.

And the first ritual I read about in a Tantra workshop did involve channeling the spirit of a mountain and then embodying the roar of a grizzly bear as you made a dance of power through the 4 corners of the bedroom.

However, I later came to understood that rituals don’t need to involve exotic garments, words of incantation or complex movements and dances.

A ritual is actually anything you choose to do in order to mark an event or a moment as special.

It doesn’t have to boast magical properties, and it does not have to be spiritual in nature.

It just has to be significant.

When you give your body and your mind a clear heads-up that something special is about to happen, all of a sudden your senses are much more receptive, and you discover yourself being much more present in the moment.

tantra-guide-spiritual-skeptics-present

Taking a bath together can be a form of ritual.

Going out for a nice dinner, or taking time for a special date night, are also good examples of prepping your mind and your senses for something out of the ordinary to happen.

So here was my lesson learned:

Never discard trying out a new experience just on the basis of its name.

It turns out rituals were something I already used and suspected were good for my relationship…

And learning how to apply them in a more conscious way towards sexuality and body-mind presence was definitely a great addition to my relationship.

3) Thinking of Sacred Sexuality as a Sum of Individual Findings

Before, I used to consider that nothing that called itself ‘spiritual’ could actually be so, and that even the word spiritual was devoid of meaning.

My reasoning was something like this:

If there are actually activities that put you in contact with a superior force or essence, then they surely don’t have any specific prescriptions but are rather to be discovered by each individual in a personal and spontaneous form.

It’s not like the superior force would like to reveal itself just to a few lucky ones, who happened to be in touch with the right ways to practice spirituality.

Whenever I talked about the topic, I used to quote a phrase that I had heard from a teacher, and that I used to justify my aversion to anything that claimed to be spiritual:

“If you meet the Buddha, kill him”.

It’s a Zen saying that defends the idea you can’t have a spiritual experience that comes from the outside.

Any realization on the road to bliss and enlightenment has to be generated within you.

And that’s all very nice for a Buddhist monk, really…

But the truth I faced some years into the practice of sacred sexuality, is that most of us do need a bit of external help at understanding all the inner questioning and transformation that comes when you start being really conscious about your body, your needs, and your relationship with a partner.

spiritual asshole sitting

So instead of dismissing all kinds of spiritual practices that came from longtime traditions, I realized that being humble enough to approach them and see which of their parts I resonated with was definitely in my best interest.

Any spiritual tradition, after all, originated from a particular practice that someone realized to be especially effective as he or she explored their interest in connecting to a higher state of consciousness.

And in spite of some very orthodox Tantra teachers, most of the people I’ve met who follow this philosophy actually encourage you to take from the tantric tradition only those elements that resonate with you, and that you’re able to welcome with your heart once you’ve tried experiencing them.

4) Mixing it Up to What Works Best For You

I once had a Tantra teacher who insisted I had to work on something that is called Dervish Kneeling Meditation. It looks something like banging your head and your torso back and forward, as quickly as possible, from a straight sitting on your knees position to a sort of bending over reverence, that puts your forehead and your hands against the floor.

You are supposed to breathe really fast, a bit faster each time, until you ‘surrender to the experience’ of being completely present in your body.

Well, it turns out I was lousy as hell at this particular kind of meditation.

No matter how hard I tried, I never really enjoyed any of the intense moving meditations that this particular teacher claimed to be the only way to truly establish a connection with your body… and in turn experiencing sacred sexuality to all of its extents.

There was also a particular vocabulary that this teacher intended me to use.

I had to power up my Shiva in order to remove the blockages in my Kundalini, and then really hold the space for my partner so she could become a super manifestor of her Shakti energy and carry us both into the ecstatic states of pleasure that we can reach together.

The truth is, of all the sacred sexuality terms and practices that I learned from that tantric teacher, the only two I liked were the Yoni-heart Meditation, and the word Yoni itself.

And while having both of these in our sex life was a really nice presence, my partner and I didn’t seem to be getting down much further in the sacred sexuality road.

Then we attended by mere chance a workshop that shared the Taoist approach to spiritual sex and we found that for the first time we were able to identify with a lot of the practices and meditations that we learned over there.

At the same time, I would not have been able to explore in depth these practices from a different sacred sexuality tradition, if I had not had my initial formation in Tantra in the first place.

So if you or your partner are thinking about learning about sacred sex practices from any spiritual tradition, but are a little bit worried about the implications of the spiritual part of the equation, my advise to you is:

Do not take it too seriously.

Allow yourself to try any of the spiritually themed experiences that you’re invited to, but don’t feel obliged to stick to any part of them that you don’t feel comfortable about.

Liking some aspects and learning about one particular school of sacred sexuality doesn’t mean that you have to take up their whole philosophy, nor blindly defend its principles against similar schools.

And the same holds true the other way around.

Disagreeing with part of the principles behind a sacred sexuality tradition doesn’t mean that you should ditch all of its learnings forever and never again take a look at the parts of it that could actually work great for you.

You don’t need to worry so much about sacred sexuality that you become obsessed with getting it right straight away from your first experiences.

And you don’t need to worry about it so much in the opposite direction, either, that you ponder all its workings and misworkings so thoroughly that you just end up giving up the idea of trying it at all.

Just let the solemnity of the word ‘sacred’ dilute against the bigger dimension of what exploring sex along a person you love should mean.

Sacred sex is meant to be fun.

As much as it is supposed to be mundane, messy, challenging and transformative, just like any other activity that connects us to the people and the world around us while touching the most intimate and sensitive fibers of our being.

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About the author

Carlos Milan

Carlos Milan

Carlos has been working as a publisher in the area of conscious development for over 9 years. He's also an academic researcher in the topics of sexuality and relationships, with a focus in language and art as pathways to mindfulness and emotional healing. Check out Carlos's website