Sue Newsome BA(Hons), PGDip,PST
I live in the Midlands, UK. I work as a sex therapist, sex coach, sexual educator and Tantra teacher; I have been working in the field of intimacy and sex since 2001 and with people with physical disabilities since 2008.
Let’s start with the question “What is Tantric Sex?” This can have various answers which range from a deeply spiritual experience that does not require an erection or an orgasm to a sensual massage with a ‘happy ending’. I started my exploration of Tantra over 18 years ago and since then, the practice has become much more widely recognised and talked about in the UK. There are many different interpretations of this ancient teaching and I feel that part of its popularity is because, in the western world, we are seeking deeper understanding and meaning about adult sexuality. In its highest form, Tantra is a spiritual practice that includes the possibility of us using our sexual energy to connect with the divine but for many it offers a wider perspective on sexual pleasure and connection. Due to the appalling quality or absence of sex education, we allow the messages and images offered by the media and pornography to influence our ideas of how sex should be and this often leaves us feeling frustrated, inadequate and alone. I will attempt to explain how some of the fundamental principles of Tantra can be significant for people with disabilities, based on my experience of studying and working in this field. These principles can be applied to when we are enjoying sex with ourselves as well as with a partner.
Tantra explodes some of the myths that we believe about sex. Firstly, that having sex must include intercourse. Secondly that the only way we can measure whether a sexual encounter has been successful is by having a hard penis, a lubricated vagina, one or more orgasms and an ejaculation. These are ideas that are perpetuated by the media and can cause people with disabilities to feel very marginalised and frustrated. Tantric teaching promotes the idea that, as humans, we have the capacity to experience sexual pleasure and this can take many forms, happen in different parts of our body, have varying levels of intensity but, essentially, it is a unique experience to each person and to each moment.
When we are having a sexual experience (either with ourselves or someone else), a lot of our attention and activity can be focused on chasing the end goal i.e. what do I need to do to get wet, get hard, have a climax or how can give my partner an orgasm? This means that instead of enjoying what is actually happening, we are distracted by chasing the end goal and if we don’t reach this goal, we feel disappointed and/or a failure. In tantric practice, we let go of the goal, we do our best to focus on each moment, to bring all of our attention to what is actually happening right now and try to stop thinking ahead. The most significant question we can ask ourselves or our partner is “How does this feel?” We are interested in this moment, not what has happened in the past and certainly not what might happen in the future. Being in the moment takes practice because our mind tries to distract us but we can develop the capacity to keep focused on the here and now. This can make a huge difference for anyone who struggles with lubrication, erections and orgasms and it becomes possible for them to enjoy what they can experience rather than what they have difficulty with. Sexual pleasure can have different shapes and forms from being gentle, subtle, tender, loving, fine to hot, horny, sweaty, outrageous and passionate. Tantra does not define what makes for a success or failure, the teachings encourage us to be in your own authority about our body and our experience and to stalk our pleasure from moment to moment.
We are generally preoccupied with the idea that sex is all about the genitals. There is a concentration of erectile tissue (whose only function is to give sensation) in the genital area but sexual arousal can be experienced throughout the whole body. Where people have places on the body where sensation is missing or limited, there will be many other places to explore. When we focus on the genitals, our natural tendency is to contract different muscles so the experience can be very tension-based which can leave us feeling depleted and sometimes disappointed. If we are building pleasure throughout more of the body, we can practice relaxing into the sensation so that we can ride the waves of our pleasure for longer to support a more fulfilling and energising experience. There are numerous places of potential pleasure on the body, areas where the concentration of nerve endings can offer intense and delightful sensations e.g. outside edge of the ears, back of the neck, inside of the thighs, back of the knees, crease between the buttocks etc. The practice of exploring and building pleasure in the whole body can significantly heighten the experience of pleasure and remove the need to chase erections, lubrication and orgasm – the principle of Less is More.
Applying these principles to our masturbation practice can significantly transform the experience from one of frantically chasing a climax and potentially becoming frustrated or bored with the process to really enjoying the exploration of ourselves. Our mindset and attitude can influence the quality of the pleasure, for example, we can create the time to have a meeting ‘with the most important person in our life’ and have the intention of pleasure rather than performance. As we stimulate ourselves, we keep checking ‘How does this feel?’ and we allow our imagination to enhance the experience. The use of sex toys to stimulate different places on the body can help where manual stimulation is difficult or impossible.
Another useful principle is being total in each moment and we can practice this by separating out the giving and receiving. In partner sex we can get into a bit of a muddle when we are trying to give our partner pleasure while we are also receiving delightful pleasure from them – what do we focus on? We want to enjoy what they are doing but we feel that we should be doing our best to pleasure them. It can be good practice to periodically agree that you will give to your partner so that they can totally relax and enjoy receiving and surrender to the experience without having to worry about pleasing you and then swop so that you can focus on receiving from them.
Another important principle relates to us being in our own authority about our sexual pleasure so that we endeavour to make any experience the best that it can be. This minimises the risk of us settling for something that is not OK. In partner sex, we often spend a lot of time and energy trying to guess what to give to our partner or we assume that we know what they would like which can mean that we are taking away their choice. Also, we avoid asking for what we really want because we don’t want to upset, offend or shock them.