You’ve heard about Tantric Sex, right?

Maybe you’ve heard about the super-human, almost extra-terrestrial love-making powers that some allege tantric sex and the practice of Tantra imbues into its practitioners.

Probably, you’ve heard the phrase alongside mention of some celebrity and their Tantric-infused sex lives – like Sting, who boasted many years ago of seven-hour Tantric sex sessions with his wife, Trudie Styler. Not to be out-done, Sean “Diddy” Combs has boasted of 30-hour Tantric sex marathons involving strawberries and whipped cream and views of the Eiffel Tower.

But what do you really know about Tantra? What are the roots of the practice? What does Tantra really entail? And what can it bring to your whole life, and not just your sex life?

If you don’t have the answers to these questions, don’t worry – you’re not alone! Until very recently, I couldn’t have answered them either, and nearly everyone I asked (friends, colleagues, even strangers at a bar) failed to, as well. Which is why I contacted Dawn Cartwright, a self-professed Tantric visionary and founder of the Chandra Bindu Tantra Institute in Santa Monica, California.

With a lilting sing-song voice and a languid calm, long blond hair and cool-blue eyes that possess a certain penetrative quality, Dawn’s the living embodiment of that new-age, alternative lifestyle ethos that seems as much a part of the SoCal vibe as sun-screen and sandals. And she joined me for lunch one day recently to give me the skinny on the meaning of her idea of Tantra, as well as why people turn to Tantra in the first place…

“People who come to Tantra, their relationship is really important to them”

They do so for all sorts of reasons, Dawn explains – one reason being that one half of a relationship is more into sex than the other half.

Past trauma is another reason, “such as when one person had a past sexual experience that wasn’t something which felt positive for them. So, they’ve shut down, and are not able to sustain a relationship,” Dawn says.

Men come to her with erectile dysfunction problems – when they can’t maintain an erection, for example, or are unable to get an erection in the first place. “Men harbor a lot of shame in their penises,” Dawn says.

That’s because men can be confused about when they’re supposed to have erections, when they’re not supposed to have erections, or when they’re supposed to be turned on, when they’re not supposed to be turned on, she says. “There’s too many rules. Men can’t just be themselves.”

Women often turn to Tantra to learn how to connect more deeply with their partners and “build that sexual strength” with them in order to grow much closer. “Because really, Tantra’s asking, ‘how can you find the meeting place between you both?’”

Ultimately, people who turn to Tantra do so because their relationships are really important to them and sex is really important to them.

“Tantra teaches us how to be more aware of our sexual energy, how to cultivate it, and how it can be something that we don’t just have as a way of connecting, but is something that we can cultivate and harness in order for us to catapult forward into being the best version of ourselves that we can be,” says Dawn, adding that Tantra teaches us how to maintain sexual energy, “and how to stay in a constant state of relaxed arousal and stay comfortable with that.”

Got it? Not entirely sure? As you can see, it turns out there’s a lot to unpack! so, let’s start at the beginning…

“Orgasms happen when we’re not resisting ourselves”

Ok, so the origins of Tantra are something of a complicated hodgepodge of ideas that would take acres of ink to cover properly. So, I’ll just say that Tantra can be traced back to the early roots of Hindu and Buddhism, and leave it at that.

Over hundreds of years, Tantra has broken off into an array of different theories and ideas. Some Tantric experts focus solely on orgasms, for example, and the premise that orgasms are a gateway to a higher plane of existence. Their thinking: that people are so repressed about the idea of deriving pleasure from sex, the removal of any shame attached to having and enjoying orgasms will trickle down positively into the rest of their lives.

Orgasms are only one part of Dawn’s work – rather, she delves into much broader questions surrounding sex, like: what exactly is sex? Why do we orgasm? And what do orgasms mean?

“It’s more than just your body producing oxytocin. We need to go beyond that,” Dawn says. “Orgasms happen when we’re not resisting ourselves. We’re actually meant to be in that state all the time, but we have so many reasons why we can’t.”

Dawn’s approach to Tantra can be broken into broad parts, each of them overlapping, with the initial stages being spent teaching and encouraging her students to become more aware of their bodies, and all of its sensual outlets.

“Our body is doing and perceiving so much all the time,” Dawn says. “I teach people how to slow down, how to tune out distractions, and how to tap into and access what their body’s feeling.”

The awareness of breathing is key, as it increases the amount of oxygen in the body, thereby heightening our sensitivity. Conscious breathing also improves the strength of the pelvic floor, Dawn says, “to help release some of the tension we hold in our genitals. All tension in the body is mental tension – when we’re stressed out, we’re tightening our pelvic floor.”

The trick, says Dawn, is to settle into a rhythm of breathing that mirrors your partner, your eyes on theirs, so as to heighten the intimacy of the moment. This is something that anyone can do at home in a quiet room – candles, soft music and sensual oils can enhance the mood. Simply look online for all sorts of excellent breathing techniques.

“Sex is so much more than just sex”

One of Dawn’s students, Jennica Mills, who has practiced Tantra for some four years now, describes her life before she discovered Tantra and her life after like this: evolving from being limited to seeing a thin dull sliver of a painting to being able to see the whole broad canvas in vivid color.

And she says there’s lots of simple exercises folks can do at home when they first embark upon Tantra – like stand with your feet apart, your knees soft, and just let your body gently sway and move. All the while, you should take deep, expansive breaths.

Hatha Yoga is another important component of Tantra. According to Dawn—who sits ramrod straight, shoulders back, even at the table—Yoga brings us into alignment, for “how you hold yourself says so much about your sexuality.”

And finally, Dawn guides couples through communication exercises, getting each to ask the other questions like:

  • How does it feel to be loved?
  • How do you like to be made love to?
  • What would make sex even better for you?

…questions that will carefully lead them outside of their comfort zones within the relationship.

“Couples are relieved to have someone else to talk to about these things – like how one person might perhaps want to slow down during sex, but doesn’t say anything because they don’t want to discourage their partner,” says Dawn. “That person gets to say, ‘I really love it when you go slow, or when you look into my eyes.’”

It comes as no surprise then when Dawn says that the Tantra she practices and teaches as a spiritual path, a journey. “And the first thing that happens along any spiritual path is to fall apart. It’s a deconstruction process,” she says.

Or, as Margot Anand, a world-renowned Tantra expert, explains it: “surrender is an essential aspect of the learning process in Tantra.” And true surrender, she says, means opening your heart “and trusting the person you are with.”