A special thanks to Dr. Markie Twist for her insight on the study and discussion of meditative and tantric practices, and how couples can benefit from the exploration of Tantric sex.
Brief History of Tantra
Tantric is used to refer to "sacred sexuality", and its origins are rooted in the East — India, specifically. What is known about Tantra today has been preserved through the works of the Kama Sutra and the Ananga Ranga.
Tantra historically comprises two paths of training—Vara Marga (left-hand path), and Dakishna-Marga (right-hand path). The left-hand path includes a combination of sexual activity with yogic practices, whereas the right-hand path involves yogic practices without sexual activity. Tantra in Sanskrit means "integration" — meaning that the two paths work together and complement one another in practice.
Tantric practices became known in Western societies around the 1960s and have become increasingly popular since. The term often used in Western contexts is “Tantric sex”. Much of the aim of Tantric practices in Eastern cultural contexts has been focused on spiritual growth; However, in Western contexts, the focus has been more on sexual improvement.
Professional Perspective on Tantric Sex
Dr. Markie Twist, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Mental Health Counselor, as well as an Associate Professor in Human Development and Family Studies, and Marriage, Family, and Sex Therapy, regularly teaches students and clients about the Westernized practice of Tantric sex.
In a recent interview, Dr. Twist discussed how Tantric sex is viewed as so vital in clinical practice that learning about such practices is part of the required curriculum for becoming a Certified Sex Therapist, despite there being little scholarly information on the topic. The little existent published research on the topics shows that Tantric sex practices help women experience multiple orgasms and help men attain more prolonged, stronger, and powerful orgasms.
For Twist, often the issues that couples present with in therapy revolve around getting a “sexual script” right. A sexual script is a culturally-based story of what people think comprises the proper stages and perfect way to have sex. This script is typically thought of as primarily penetrative sex that happens in the following stages — desire, arousal, plateau, orgasm, and resolution.
Couples will often present in therapy with sex-related issues like performance anxiety, erectile dysfunction, low desire, premature ejaculation, pain-related sex, and anorgasmia. Frequently, these sex-related issues are not the actual problem; Rather, the pressure and anxiety that are placed on couples to get the “sexual script" right is the real problem. These issues presented in therapy are the symptoms of this larger problem.
Combatting Sexual Scripts through Tantric Sex
One way to combat sex-related issues that emerge from trying to follow a set sexual script is to offer and/or co-create alternative sexual scripts.
Tantric Sex is one possibility of a new script — one which can transcend sexual standards and introduce new ways to integrate as a couple. For instance, through Tantric sex, partners are invited to think of their sexual encounter with each other as an exploration rather than as a stage-based narrative.
In addition to suggesting that a couple frame sexual encounters as exploration, a therapist will often encourage partners to practice a series of rituals with each other, like certain yogic-based poses, synched breathing, sustained eye contact, motionless sex, and sex without orgasm or the pressure to orgasm.
Benefits of Meditation Before, During, and After Sex
Not only is Tantric sex helpful in managing sex-related issues by combatting dominant sexual scripts, it also frequently includes a meditative component before, during, and after sex.
Researchers have found that when meditative practices are introduced into the sexual environment, the effect is an alleviation of stress and a clearing of the mind, which allows a person to be more present — a component often needed to experience sexual arousal and further exploration.
Also, once in a meditative state, in turn, sensations and sensitivities heighten, which enables partners to be more fully in their bodies, and as a result, enhances sexual enjoyment. Overall, researchers have shown that deep meditation significantly improves sexual health.
So, if couples are interested in sex as a shared exploration, then saying “Yes!” to Tantric sex and meditation may be just the thing for them!
Markie Louise Christianson (L. C.) Twist, Ph.D., is the Graduate Certificate in Sex Therapy Program Coordinator, and Associate Professor in the Human Development and Family Studies Department and Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Dr. Twist is also an Affiliate of the Wisconsin HOPE (Harvesting Opportunities for Postsecondary Education) Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Twist is a licensed marriage and family therapist (IA, NV) and mental health counselor (IA), and a clinical fellow and approved supervisor of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy. In addition, Markie is an American Association for Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists Certified Sexuality Educator. Dr. Twist also serves as the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy Virtual Issues Editor, and is an editorial board member for Sexual and Relationship Therapy, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Journal of Feminist Family Therapy: An International Forum and the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy. Markie’s research primarily focuses on: people whose sexual, relational, erotic, and gender orientations have been minoritized; professional mentoring and scholarly collaborative relationships; family and ecological sustainability; couple and family technology studies; and couple and family therapy technological practices. Works Cited American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists [AASECT]. (n.d.). "Kiss of the Yogini" Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 June 2016 Michaels, M.A., & Johnson, P. (2006). The Essence of Tantric Sexuality. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications Ruth Neustifter, MSSW-MFT. (July 27, 2008). Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 11. Review of The Essence of Tantric Sexuality. David Gordon White (2003). Kiss of the Yogini: "Tantric Sex" in Its South Asian Contexts.