Was there ever a ‘British Tantric sex’? In fact, Westerners are probably too, as it were, hard on themselves when it comes to the art of sex. We tend to look to the East for all of that. Yes, there’s plenty of evidence that, historically, the average European was a rotten lover. But, on the other hand, what evidence is there that the average Indian or Chinese ever lived up to the erotic statues, illustrations and manuals that we’ve become used to?
I’m pondering this because whilst searching for a cover for my latest ebook (60 Wrong Ways To Have Sex) I came across some fascinating prints by the artist, caricaturist and illustrator Thomas Rowlandson (1756 – 1827). The one I chose shows a sailor having sex while smoking a pipe, a glass of wine in one hand and a decanter in the other. By his side are a coffee pot and some things to eat. So this is exactly the kind of scene we associate with leisurely Oriental lovemaking. Was Rowlandson’s illustration utter fantasy, a depiction of the unique way he himself had sex, or proof that there were always appreciable numbers of people in the West who, indeed, treated sex as an art?
I tend towards the latter view.
Rowlandson was quite a character. A student at the Royal Academy he would have become an important artist if he had not had the misfortune to inherit £7,000 (a small fortune in those days) and proceeded to dissipate it on wine, women and gambling. When the money ran out he was forced to think commercially, illustrating books by (among others) Henry Fielding, Oliver Goldsmith, Laurence Sterne and Tobias Smollet, and was always on the look-out for themes that would make popular prints. Here his days of ‘debauchery’ at last brought him a return. His erotic works are bawdy rather than mystical but when you take them together with, say, the erotic murals at Pompeii, the ancient concept of hieros gamos (union with the divine), the ritualized sexual relations of early Christian groups such as the Carpocratians, the sexual mysticism of the Kabbalah, the 17th century ‘inner alchemy’ of John Pordage, the poems and engravings of William Blake (an almost exact contemporary of Rowlandson), and so on and so on, you see a continuous thread of Western sexual creativity. I’ll have more to say about all of this in a future blog.
Now that I’ve published Secrets Of The Kama Sutra as an ebook I’ve had a few emails from people confused about the Kama Sutra and Tantric Sex. Even some professional sex writers are confused. So let’s be clear. The Kama Sutra is not about Tantric Sex.
Here’s the difference:
- · In the Kama Sutra, sex is for pleasure.
- · In Tantra, sex is for spiritual experience.
This is a big difference. So why the confusion? A little of the history of Tantric sex will make everything clearer. Back in the early days, some Tantrikas (it’s important to stress ‘some’) used the energy generated in sexualised group rituals to gain siddhis (magical powers) and enlightenment. Well, that’s what they hoped. Every woman who took part became a goddess for the duration of the ceremony and every man became a god. So it wasn’t important who you had sex with. It was the spiritual experience that was important.
I’ve been reading reviews of With The Kisses Of His Mouth, novelist Monique Roffey’s account of her sexual adventures in the small ads, French nudist resorts, English sex clubs and…‘tantric workshops’. Good luck to her. But I put ‘tantric workshops’ in quotes because they don’t seem to have had very much to do with Tantra.
I do get a bit irritated when the Tantric tag is attached to things that really aren’t Tantric at all, whether by journalists or by those running courses. I don’t doubt that the workshops were invaluable and professional but why call them Tantra if they’re not?
Because Tantra was not founded by any single person and has never had any sort of ruling body to define its beliefs, so its teachings have varied from century to century, place to place, and guru to guru. But there are certain essentials and if you really want to practice ‘Tantric sex’ it’s important to understand what they are.
On the Today programme last week, Sarah Montague was asking what parents should say when children see images of women ‘not wearing many clothes’. This issue of the sexualisation of children has been in the media quite a bit recently. We don’t yet know what impact online pornography will have on the adult sexuality of today’s youngsters, but we do know the impact of negative attitudes to the body and sex. That’s what I want to talk about in this blog.
Either there’s something ‘wrong’ about the body or there’s not. Either there’s something ‘wrong’ about a penis or a vulva or there’s not. Either there’s something ‘wrong’ about sex or there’s not. If there’s not, why do so many parents convey disapproval to their children? This is real damage and it takes years to undo. Some adults never ever manage to throw off their inhibitions.
A great deal of fiction nowadays surrounds Tantric sex. The problem is that Tantra was not founded by any single person and has never had any sort of ruling body to define its beliefs, so its teachings have varied from century to century, place to place, and guru to guru. Quite frankly, there are lots of self-proclaimed Tantric gurus out there writing books and running courses that have little or nothing to do with the real thing. If you go on such a course you may have a great time and learn new things. That’s fine. But authentic Tantric sex is a lot more than staring into eyes and lighting incense.
What makes Tantric sex different is not its range of physical sexual techniques (potent though they are) but its range of psychological techniques and the intention behind the sex. The prolonged state of excitement which Tantric sex is capable of creating is only a beginning. It’s aim is the attainment of a quite extraordinary state of mind known as ananda or bliss.
With all the obsession about princes and princesses or duchesses or whatever I thought I’d blog about something far more interesting – gods and goddesses. In Tantric sex every woman is a goddess and every man is a god. Why? Well, traditionally, there were several reasons. The first one stems from the idea that the universe was created by Brahman. Since there was nothing else but Brahman then, logically, Brahman must have created the universe out of Himself. In other words, the universe and everything in it is Brahman. You are Brahman. Your partner is Brahman.
Another strand of thought is that Brahman was lonely and so split into two, creating a goddess and a god (known as Shakti and Shiva in the Hindu tradition). It’s their lovemaking that created and sustains the visible universe. Again, logic dictates that every woman must be Shakti and every man Shiva. The end of lovemaking means the end of the universe so, please, don’t stop.
Yet another idea is that women become inhabited by goddesses or yogini during ceremonial Tantric sex. Probably men were startled by the way women become ‘possessed’ during orgasm and so concluded that something magical was going on. They believed they were, in effect, having sex with the yogini who temporarily took over the women’s bodies.
Whatever you make of all that, there’s no denying that sex becomes something very special when you treat your partner as a god or goddess. Exactly how that’s done in Tantric sex is something I’ll explain in another blog. Meanwhile I suggest you treat your partner as divine at all times, not just during sex. That will be tremendous for your entire relationship
Breaking taboos was a vital part of traditional Tantric sex. Scholars argue about which were the specific taboos, but the principle counts more than the detail. The idea was that Tantrikas needed to open their minds, and sweep away their prejudices, in order to be able to comprehend the reality of the universe and experience the state of ecstasy in which rasa-juice floods the body. Nowadays we have scientific evidence of what an extraordinary place the universe is, but a couple of millennia ago the Tantric stages were still able to come up with some startling insights. They had already developed the Big Bang theory, for example, and perceived that everything in the universe was composed of vibrations.
More than ever we need to have open minds to cope with the pace of technology, the latest discoveries about the nature of the universe…and the same old personal barriers that have always existed to hold us back.
For example, do you have a taboo about admitting to masturbation? About admitting to fantasies of people other than your partner? Erotica? Being naked at a nudist beach? Oral sex? Anal sex?
In Tantric sex your body is simply a tool to help your mind reach the highest level of ecstasy, known as samadhi, and by various other names. So examine your taboos, especially taboos to do with sex, and if there’s a sound basis for them then stick with them. Of course. But if there’s no basis for them, then liberate yourself, and set yourself on the path to samadhi.
A woman friend of a woman friend this week asked me what I ‘do’ and, as usual, I replied: ‘Write about Tantric sex.’ There are other subjects I could mention but Tantric sex is my most special of specialities and, anyway, I like to see what reaction I get.
‘Ah, yes,’ she said, not at all rattled. ‘Making love for a long time.’
This is one of the commonest misconceptions about Tantric sex. Another is that lighting candles, burning incense and being especially nice to one another amounts to Tantric sex. None of this is correct.
Tantric sex is about using sexual energy for spiritual purposes.
If you don’t have a spiritual aim then it isn’t Tantric sex, no matter what techniques you employ.
The point about lengthy sex is that it enables the sexual energy to build to extraordinary levels. But you still have to use that energy in the right way.