If you’ve ever been curious about spicing up your sex life, you may have heard of Tantra.
You may be surprised to learn that so-called Tantric sex isn’t about contorted postures or multiple orgasms—though those things can be a part of it.
Though it may seem boring to some, embodied sex is incredibly simple. It’s about being totally present with your body and your awareness, whether alone or with a partner.
And it’s not just all about pleasure, either. Sex can be important for mental and physical health.
It can be a source of fun, connection, joy, gratification, and—sometimes—pain. No matter what, sex encompasses the entire breadth of the human experience.
On top of that, it can also be a vehicle to reconnect to your body, yourself, and your intimate partners. It can even be a way to connect more deeply with life.
Want to understand how to harness your sexuality to experience deeper pleasure and intimacy? Read on to get the details from experts who know how.
In traditional Indian medicine, known as Ayurveda, there are three pillars of life: food, sleep, and sex. More accurately, sex here refers to the wise use of creative energy, called Brahmacarya in Sanskrit.
According to Tantra and Ayurveda expert and author of “Healthy, Happy, Sexy,” Katie Silcox, sexual energy is the human version of nuclear energy. This means it can be wildly creative or equally destructive, depending on how you use it, Silcox says.
“It’s all about maintenance and wise use of our energy, which is inherently sexual,” says Silcox. “Our life-force, or prana, is sex energy.”
As such, Ayurveda provides guidelines about how to use sexual energy in constructive ways, both for health and happiness.
These range from the choice of a sexual partner, to what to eat after sex to replenish your energy, to how to have the most nourishing sex for your type, or dosha.
Silcox also notes this orientation isn’t about control, repression, or inhibition, but is fundamentally sex-positive.
“It’s about aligning your energy with whatever your highest vision is,” she says. “All of these rules are simply ways of helping you align with you.”
Additionally, exploring your sensuality can be a powerful way to discover your deepest needs.
“The realm of the sensory is one of the most potent sources of Ayurvedic healing,” says Silcox.
“It’s all about maintenance and wise use of our energy, which is inherently sexual.”
Still, for many, accessing the sensual self can be difficult.
Whether the result of trauma, a particular family dynamic, or emotional repression, the effect can be the same.
According to trauma psychotherapist, yoga therapist, and Ayurvedic practitioner Kathryn Templeton most people develop maladaptive thinking patterns early in life as defense mechanisms to cope with situations and people perceived as dangerous.
As a result, parts of the body and even the ability to receive pleasure can shut down as a form of protection.
“This can affect [someone’s] ability to feel at home within themselves with how they identify, how they express their longings, and how much they allow themselves to receive pleasure,” Templeton notes.
This may also result in what Templeton calls an “external locus of control,” where someone’s sense of self is based on outside influences, external factors, and comparisons.
“If people are so outwardly turned, they become higher in anxiety and increase tension in their bodies,” says Templeton. “They become less and less oriented to who they are as a unique individual.”
This results in identification with groups, which Templeton notes is a common phenomenon in adolescence. Ideally, this fades during development into adulthood.
“We want to bring our attention inward,” says Templeton. “We want to become more interested in what our inner world says about us than what the external world says about us.”
This leads to a sense of inner confidence that isn’t affected by the changing tides of cultural values.
“If my locus of control is not within myself, it’s out [there], I’m going to be subject to constant judgment, and constant disconnection from who I am, and my focus is going to go on what the outer world tells me I am,” says Templeton. “Theoretically, as you develop into adulthood find a way of being at home with yourself.”
However, trauma can disrupt this process.
“We want to become more interested in what our inner world says about us than what the external world says about us.”
—Kathryn Templeton, PhD
When stress, fear, or trauma takes hold, it may be more difficult to connect to your body and your own desires.
“When we’re tense, anxious, and fearful, we’re not receptive,” says Templeton.
This can make pleasure next to impossible.
According to Silcox, the idea is to reclaim sexual sovereignty. This starts by retraining what Silcox calls the “sensory apparatus” to allow the sexual experience to be more enjoyable.
In other words, Silcox says, “it’s the experience of the nervous system being able to attune to the parasympathetic.”
Reclaiming the body with self-massage, or Abhyanga
As a starting point, both Silcox and Templeton recommend self-massage with oil, known as Abhyanga in Ayurveda.
The word “sneha” in Ayurveda refers both to oiliness and unctuousness as well as love and affection. The practice known as “snehana”involves the use of oils to prepare the body to receive medicine.
Abhyanga is one of those practices.
“Self-body oiling is the first place I work, especially with my clients who’ve been sexually traumatized,” says Templeton.
“Using this practice is a wonderful way to…feel yourself in a way that’s loving and tender and kind.”
—Kathryn Templeton, PhD
That’s where sexual expression starts, Templeton adds.
Gynecologist and Ayurvedic doctor Vrinda Devani, MD, notes that touch is the one sense that pervades all the other senses. That’s why it’s often utilized as a healing practice in Ayurveda.
You can begin with “just the practice of rubbing your own skin, feeling your hands, and feeling how you want to be touched,” says Silcox.
“You’re anointing yourself and your body as a divine vessel, to remind yourself of that even if there’s been trauma or heartbreak,” says Templeton. “The practice is to reclaim your body as a loving, kind, safe place, but also to remember that you are an aspect of the divine.”
Templeton also notes that the practice of abhyanga is a form of swaddling the body, just like you might do to an infant, so the nervous system can relax.
This nervous system relaxation can slowly train the body to open back up to pleasure.
“That level of intimacy emulates the time we were skin to skin with our mother or caregiver, and reinitiates this process of returning to that vulnerability,” says Silcox. “That’s why abhyanga is so powerful, because it’s awakening that cellular memory.”
Get started with self-massage
Before you start:
- Choose a body oil like sesame, almond, coconut, or sunflower oil. Banyan Botanicals offers several herbally-infused options.
- If you’d like, you can add skin-safe essential oils like lavender, sandalwood, vetiver, or rose. Add these directly to your oil and mix well.
- You may choose to warm your oil, especially if the weather is cold. You can use a candle-based oil warmer or an electric one.
The oil massage:
- Starting at the top of the body, slowly spread the oil over your skin, rubbing in gentle, circular motions.
- You may want to spend extra time on certain areas, like the breasts, the lower back, the stomach, or the thighs.
- Once your entire body is oiled, carefully step into a warm shower to rinse off any excess oil.
- Pat dry with a towel. Your towel may get a bit oily, so it’s best to set one aside just for this use.
While research suggests there are health benefits, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with a healthcare professional before you begin using essential oils and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil and dilute any essential oil with a carrier oil so it doesn’t irritate your skin.
Silcox notes the importance of healthy boundaries in developing or re-developing a sense of sexual sovereignty, associating it with the term “ojas” in Ayurveda.
“Sex has a lot to do with this idea of ojas,” she says.
According to Silcox, ojas is a psycho-spiritual and physical concept in Ayurveda related to immunity as well as mental and emotional health.
“Ojas has to do with the question ‘what energy do I want to let inside of me,’” says Silcox.
Devani defines ojas as “the most refined super-essence of our body. It’s the final thing that gets produced after the nutrients have nourished the tissues of the body.”
In addition, ojas can be seen as a kind of juiciness.
“In intercourse, you need ojas to have that drive, to even have excitement, you need juiciness, connection,” says Devani. This juiciness feeds everything from the hormones to the tissues, and results in being “just in love with life.”
This means that cultivating the energy for sex can go beyond the bedroom.
“There is a release of ojas in the act of sex,” says Devani. This is traditionally replenished by ”drinking a warm glass of milk with ghee and sweetener. It has a really strong propensity to build ojas.”
After-sex date shake recipe
- 1 cup almonds, peeled and soaked in water overnight
- 2-4 dates with pits removed
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- 1 tbsp oil, like sesame, coconut, or ghee
If you know your type, or dosha, in Ayurveda, you can add flavors and spices according to your needs:
You can also add rejuvenative herbs like:
Herbal remedies can be powerful. It’s important to talk to a qualified herbalist or Ayurvedic practitioner before you add herbs to your diet to make sure they’re appropriate for you and don’t interfere with any medications.
Tune into the senses
Silcox says Ayurveda views the senses as a vehicle for healing. She calls this “five senses therapy.”
Just as abhyanga uses the sense of touch, other therapeutic practices might use the senses of sight, smell, hearing, or taste.
“It requires meditation, but not traditional meditation. It’s meditation on the five senses and the world,” says Silcox.
It might involve listening to the cicadas in the evening, observing the colors of the leaves as they change in fall, or enjoying the touch of soft fabric against the skin.
Simply start by enjoying the sensual nature of existence. Cultivating this habit can spill into every aspect of life, including sex.
Deep seeing exercise
Deep seeing is a simple exercise that engages the sense of sight to tune in more deeply to your surroundings. All you need to do is select an object that appeals to you. It can be anything: a colorful scarf, an orange from a fruit bowl, or a fresh flower.
Then, use your sense of sight to intimately engage with that object. See the folds, colors, texture, size, and shape. Gently observe the object until you begin to notice things you didn’t notice before.
Set a timer for 3 to 5 minutes, so you can fully immerse yourself in the process without looking at the clock.
Check out more mindful exercises like this one.
In the end, sex is just a part of life. From cell division to getting busy with your boo, sex is literally everywhere. You couldn’t even exist without it.
“It’s not about intercourse or performative sex,” says Silcox.
Though it may seem boring to some, Tantric sex is really about being totally present. That practice starts with engaging with the senses in everyday life.
Crystal Hoshaw is a mother, writer, and longtime yoga practitioner. She has taught in private studios, gyms, and in one-on-one settings in Los Angeles, Thailand, and the San Francisco Bay Area. She shares mindful strategies for self-care through online courses at Simple Wild Free. You can find her on Instagram.