From the March/April 1999 issue
Heighten Awareness of All the Senses
William Masters and Virginia Johnson introduced to the West a technique called “sensate focus,” in which the receiving partner focused on his or her own sensations while being slowly and nonsexually caressed. Tantric versions are more playful and aesthetic: Tantric teacher Margo Anand of Mill Valley, California, for instance, recommends that the receiving partner sit blindfolded on the bed, while the nurturing partner wafts a variety of smells, such as peppermint, licorice, gardenia, or even Chanel No. 5, under his nose. Next he is treated to sounds–bells, gongs, even crackling paper. Then he is fed distinctive-tasting foods–almonds, grapes dipped in liqueur, whipped cream, fruit or bittersweet chocolate. Finally, the nurturing partner strokes the receiving partner’s body with pleasant textures–silk scarves, fur mittens or feathers. The ritual closes gently and formally. “With utmost gentleness, as if you had never touched him before, let your hand rest on his heart,” writes Anand. “Allow your hands to radiate warmth, tenderness, and love.”
Create Intimacy Through Gentle Contact
Modern Tantrism focuses strongly on the subtle physical harmony between partners. In Tantra: the Art of Conscious Loving, yoga teachers Charles and Caroline Muir of the Source School of Tantra in Maui, Hawaii, recommend spoon meditation: Lovers lie together spoon-fashion on their left sides and gently synchronize their breathing. The outer person, the nurturer, rests his right hand on the heart of his partner. Placing his left hand on her forehead, he visualizes sending love and energy from his heart down his arm and into her heart on his out-breath. On the in-breath, he draws energy back from her forehead and into his body in an endless circle. The Muirs also recommend that partners do yogic breathing in unison: inhaling, holding the breath for a few seconds, exhaling and holding the breath out for a few more seconds. While breathing out, one partner visualizes accepting energy while the other visualizes projecting it. Couples can also inhale and exhale in counterpoint, visualizing “shooting out” energy on the out-breath through heart, head or groin and receiving it on the in-breath.
Focus on Connection Rather Than Orgasm
Much of conventional sex therapy has focused on orgasm. Many previously unsatisfied women were liberated in the process, but it also turned intercourse into a big project, made orgasm the be-all and end-all of being together sexually, and defined any other sexual interaction as “the failure to achieve orgasm.” Tantrism extols the joys of brief sexual connections without orgasm. In The Tao of Sexology, for example, Taoist teacher Stephen Chang recommends that couples practice the “Morning and Evening Prayer” for at least 2 to 10 minutes, twice a day. Every morning and evening, partners are to lie together in the missionary position, lips touching, with arms and legs wrapped around each others’ bodies and the man inside the woman. The couple breathes together in a peaceful, relaxed state, with the man moving only enough to maintain his erection. “The couple enjoys and shares the feelings derived from such closeness or stillness for as long as they desire,” writes Chang, who notes that orgasm sometimes follows without any movement. “Man and woman melt together, laying aside their egos to exchange energies to heal each other.”
Enhance Sexual Pleasure
Ancient and modern Tantric and Taoist sex manuals are full of sophisticated physical techniques designed to enhance the pleasure of both partners, stimulate orgasm in the woman and delay orgasm in the man. Chang, for example, recommends a Taoist practice called “Sets of Nine.” The man slowly penetrates the first inch or so of his lover’s vagina with the head of his penis only. He repeats this shallow stroke slowly nine times, followed by one slow stroke deep into the vagina. The next “set” consists of eight shallow strokes and two deep strokes, followed by seven shallow strokes and three deep strokes and so on until a final set of one shallow stroke and nine deep strokes. The “sets” help men prolong intercourse by balancing intense and less intense forms of stimulation and arouse women by stimulating the G-spot and numerous nerve endings in the neck of the vagina.
Separate Orgasm From Ejaculation
In its most signal departure from Western sex therapy, modern and ancient Tantrism recommend that men, especially older men, frequently enjoy what it calls a “valley orgasm”–orgasm without ejaculation. Chang recommends that as the man senses himself approaching the “point of no return,” both partners stop all movement while the man clenches his pubococcygeal or PC muscle (the urination-stopping muscle known to many women from the Kegel exercises they were taught to strengthen uterine and bladder muscles after giving birth). The man also slows and deepens his breathing, looks into his partner’s eyes, connects with her heart and channels energy upward from his groin toward his heart and the crown of the head. Orgasm without ejaculation often follows. Ejaculation can also be reserved, without stopping the experience of orgasm, by pressing on what Chang calls “The Million Dollar Point,” in a small hollow between anus and scrotum.
Honor Sex, But Keep It in Perspective
“When sex is good,” Charles Muir said at a recent workshop, “It’s 10 percent of the relationship. When it’s bad, it’s 90 percent.”
Katy Butler, a former features editor and staff writer for Psychotherapy Networker, is the author of two award-winning books about aging and living meaningfully in life’s final quarter, especially in relation to modern medicine. Knocking on Heaven’s Door (2013) was a New York Times Bestseller and Notable Book of the Year. The Art of Dying Well (2019) is a road map —practical, medical, and spiritual —through the significant passages of life after 55. Katy’s groundbreaking work for the Networker was nominated for one National Magazine Award and contributed to several other NMA awards and nominations. Her writing has also appeared in the The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Tricycle: the Buddhist Quarterly, Scientific American, Best American Essays, and Best American Science Writing. Other honors include first-place awards from the National Association of Science Writers and the Association of Health Care Journalists; a “Best First Book” award; and a finalist nomination for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. She lives in northern California and loves to dance in the kitchen to Alexa with her husband Brian.