There it was, in black and white, blazoned across the Google search results, Tantra and sex, everywhere:
“Tantra worship has flourished in popularity in the Western World, establishing a reinterpretation of Hindu and Buddhist practices. This new, modern practice is often referred to as Neotantra. As time progressed, some of the ancient outdated teachings of tantra have been readopted to suit a modern lifestyle.” Karma Tantric Online Magazine
What that fuck does that last sentence mean? “As time progressed, some of the ancient outdated teachings of tantra have been readopted to suit a modern lifestyle.”
How can a methodology for awakening be readopted to suit a modern lifestyle? That makes no sense whatsoever, and points to some of the confusion that exists around Tantra, and what it is. Following a Tantrik path means risking burning down your lifestyle… not adapting the teachings to fit your lifestyle!
And we haven’t even got to the sex yet. Which is the point of this article.
Why has Tantra – a methodology for awakening – been confused with having great sex?
But first, what is Tantra? My go-to guy on all things Tantra is Christopher Wallis. He’s both an academic, with all the rigorous thinking and research skills that entails AND a practitioner. So I trust the guy.
Tantra is an historical Indian spiritual tradition that flourished in south-east Asia between 500AD and 1300AD, approximately. Then it went largely underground, due to the Muslim invasions.
The tradition was articulated in scriptures called Tantras (which is where the name came from).Tantra Illuminated by Christopher Wallis, page 19
That’s it. A spiritual tradition. Focused on waking the fuck up. Written down in a bunch of texts – hundreds and hundreds – called Tantras. Those texts revealed a way of seeing and engaging with reality that leads to liberation and awakening.
So what’s with the sex? What juicy techniques and practices do the Tantras share on sex? Dish it up!
Next to none of the scriptural sources of Śaiva Tantra teach a sexual ritual or sexual techniques of any kind.Tantra Illuminated by Christopher Wallis, page 427
Well, turns out there is a post-scriptural source that teaches a sexual ritual, but that text has never been translated accurately. And the ritual it describes, says Christopher Wallis, is nothing like anything taught in so-called Tantric sex workshops. It’s focused on using sexuality to dissolve conditioning, not on using Tantra to improve one’s sexual experience. Big difference. VERY big difference.
Nope, the spiritual tradition known as Tantra has nothing to do with the sex-related Tantra most people are familiar with. One is Classical Tantra, the other is Neo-Tantra.
And Wallis attributes this largely to one dude – Perre Bernard, a.k.a. ‘Oom the Omnipotent’ who taught in San Francisco from 1905. Yep – way back then, he was teaching a ‘bizarre and idiosyncratic version of yoga and Tantra’ sourced from a Bengali immigrant.
You can read all about Bernard in this enlightening article, which details some of his escapades. Although the title of the article, The Father of Tantra, furthers the disinformation that has surrounded Tantra for the last 130 years.
Bernard moved his “love cult” to a seventy-two-acre estate in Nyack, New York, where he took over a girls’ academy and began transforming it into a “utopian Tantrik community.” He then went on to open a chain of tantra clinics in Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Chicago. His clinics attracted a wealthy clientele fascinated by Bernard’s blend of sex and spirituality. Police raided one clinic and reported finding his followers divided into two tiers. Novices gathered downstairs practiced hatha yoga postures. Upstairs, on canvas-covered mattresses, members of the “Secret Order of Tantriks” engaged in more esoteric rituals. Bernard saw the sex drive as “the animating spirit of the world.” He was said to “give his followers a new conception of love . . . to teach men and women to love, and make women feel like queens.The Father of Tantra, Spirituality Health.
This article on Tantra and Sacred Sexuality connects more of the dots between sacred sexuality and sex magicking, showing how Pierre’s work possibly influenced Aleister Crowley. And that’s all it took. One dude, on a mission, spreading disinformation linking Tantra and sex, and now we’re here. The sex magick rites that Bernard and Crowley invented, based on their limited knowledge of Tantra, have been evolving and spreading for over 100 years. Dissemination has occurred.
Which means search Tantra and it’s likely that most of the front page results will be about sex – not enlightenment.
There’s Tantric massage, Tantric sex work, Tantric sex healing, Tantric couple work, Tantric masturbation… On and on it goes.
The women’s magazines are often the worst, with humdingers like What Tantric Sex is and why you should try it. Or this doozy from Goop, billed as an Introduction to Tantra, which is really all about couples’ intimacy. And that’s the crux of it so often – Tantra is being USED to sell relationship counselling or intimacy work. Which is valuable and important work! But it’s got nothing to do with Tantra.
No wonder everyone’s confused. And no wonder I get DMs on IG from men asking if I ‘do Tantra’, or will ‘teach them Tantra’, when all they’re looking for is massage, usually with happy endings. Yeah, I’ll teach you Tantra, and it will destroy everything you think you are. Keen? So far no one has taken me up on that offer.
Does it matter though, that people think Tantra is about sex? I don’t know. And in fact, given the avalanche of information available online that link Tantra and sex, and the number of ‘Tantra teachers’ that are working with consciousness sexuality and NOT self-realisation… it may just be too late. The horse has bolted.
Even so, clarity of information is valuable. It’s worth knowing what Tantra is – an approach to self-realization that embraces all aspects of the human condition – and what it is not – a methodology for great sexual intimacy.
And, it’s also worth noting that through the practice of Tantra, sexual intimacy will naturally unfold. It’s just one of the fruits of practice. It’s not the point of it, but it happens.
So if you read something like this (the quote below) on someone’s website… recognise that THIS is why people have got Tantra all confused with sex.
And recognise too that this is very necessary and powerful work. Kudos to all the men and women doing this work! Love it! And… multiple orgasms, jade eggs and epic sex have nothing to do with Tantra.
I’ve created the Tantric Institute of Integrated Sexuality with five transformative online programs that will give you all the education you need to experience multiple orgasms, master the jade egg, experience epic sex with your partner….or even become a Sex, Love & Relationship coach yourself with my one-year professional certification.Layla Martin
This kind of marketing will attract people who need to address sexual trauma and connect more deeply with themselves and their partners. Awesome! They’ll do this work, benefit, walk away… and think… it’s all about Tantra. Can we just ditch the Tantric? Make it the Institute of Integrated Sexuality? Please?
Yeah, nah. Sigh.
But that’s the way it is. And it’s all ok. Just the multiplicity of diversity expressing itself in an ocean of consciousness.
I’m embracing that. And clarifying that the Tantra I practice and teach is Classical Tantra, separate and different from Neo-tantra.
One’s about awakening.
One’s about a’cumming.
Now that’s clarity.