Tantra is for everybody.

I taught a class called Intro to Tantra and Intentional Sexuality at Chicago’s Early To Bed this past Monday. It was my first time teaching Tantra to a large group, people from all walks of life, including two very experienced Tantra teachers, and it was a wonderful experience. I started teaching Tantra in the past six months, after five or so years of studying, solo and partner practice, and working with a teacher. Shortly after I parted ways with my own teacher (often a necessary part of spiritual growth) and began teaching myself, I experienced a Kundalini Awakening. Tantra has become an intrinsic piece of who I am, and my life’s work.

At this point you may be saying “What the fuck is Tantra?” or “Isn’t that the thing where Sting can fuck his wife for 16 hours straight?”

I think my wonderful friend Rachel put it very succinctly:

While on an imaginary continuum there is, on the far right, a philosophy called “tantra” that has nothing whatsoever to do with sexuality; and on the far, far left there is an association of the word “tantra” (aka neo-tantra) with concepts like polygamy, polyamory, group sex and getting naked with complete strangers, somewhere in the middle of that continuum is the “tantra” that I know and love: a nondual spiritual path inclusive of, and honoring, sexual energy, a brilliant blend of ancient and modern yogic techniques that awaken the Divine flow of life within, to promote heart-consciousness that may or may not include sexual intimacy. It is about learning to live ecstatically in everyday life. It is about experiencing your body as a divine temple.

I was raised by Buddhists, so the idea of Tantra as a tool for spiritual awakening was never particularly strange for me. Admittedly, my early studies were guided by a desire for adventurous sex. But while Tantra works with sexual energy and uses sex as a tool for mindfulness, it is not a sexual practice by definition, and is a marvelous set of practices that can help boost self-love, intimacy, personal growth, and general quality of life.

One of my main goals in teaching Tantra is to make it accessible to everyone, in the following ways:

1. Affordability. Tantra classes are often quite expensive- and I respect that people who teach for a living need to make a living. For me this is a passion project and I am grateful that I am able to offer $20 classes that both allow me to cover my costs, but also make Tantra education available for folks with limited means.

2. Accessibility. Tantra is to some extent a physical practice- which can make it intimidating for people with disabilities to attend workshops. For example, I attended a workshop with a partner who has limited mobility in his legs and while the organizers made a point to make the workshop as inclusive as possible- one of the exercises involved walking around the room, which was not something he could really do. But the exercise itself- eye gazing- was something he could do, and it was as simple as having people who could walk comfortably come to him. Breath is the key ingredient of Tantra, and most of us (with the exception of those who use breathing devices, an experience I cannot speak to), have the power to work with our breath in powerful ways, regardless of what our physical abilities may be.

shiva-shakti3. Queer and Gender Inclusivity. There is a lot of discussion of the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine in Tantra, and these are powerful concepts, but they do not necessarily mean man and woman- they are principles of receptivity and projectivity, yin and yang, form and formlessness, that exist inside of all of us. We can integrate and explore these principles regardless of our gender identity, integrating them into the Divine Androgyne. And while traditional depictions of of Tantra typically show a Male Daka and a Female Dakini, people of all genders and sexual orientations can practice Tantra with one another.

4. Consent and Personal Boundaries. Tantra can be very emotionally intense and intimate, and everyone is ready to practice Tantra with a partner, or has a partner they can practice Tantra with. Not everyone is ready to explore Tantra as a sexual practice, but can nevertheless can enjoy the benefits of “White” (non-sexual, for lack of a better term) Tantra. In my workshops I always try to offer both partnered exercises and a solo alternative so there is no pressure to practice with a partner if not desired.

5. Opening up to a wider demographic in general. Tantra education tends to attract a very specific audience- white, middle aged, cisgender, well-off, heterosexual, partnered, with an established spiritual practice. There is nothing wrong with being any of these things, but I also want to reach folks who fall outside of this category- people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, people who don’t necessarily hold spiritual beliefs (Tantra IS a spiritual practice but you don’t have to believe in anything but yourself to do it), people of color, single people, queer and asexual people, kinksters, sex workers, so forth and so on. Some people have suggested calling it “intentional sexuality” instead of Tantra to make it less intimidating to newcomers, but I feel that though these things are related, they are not one and the same.

In line with my vision of Tantra Education, I wanted to offer a few Tantric tools that you can experiment with, if you are curious.

  1. Shake, wiggle, flow, and/or jump if you can. Shake and move your body in any way that feels good. Put on fun music, jiggle your butt, let your arms flop, hang forward and sway, jump up and down if that is possible for you, for 1-5 minutes. Feel your body wake up with joyful energy as you shake loose.
  2. Pay attention to your breath. Take a deep breath into your belly, hold it, and breathe out your mouth with a sigh, releasing any stuckness or tension. Breath up the energy of the earth from the base of your spine, up to the crown of your head, then breathe the energy of the divine back down again. Practice mindful breath while meditating or masturbating. Experiment with syncing or alternating your breath with a partner during sex or cuddling.
  3. If you have sight, silently practice looking into your partner’s left eye (this is easier than looking into both at once), or look into your own eyes in a mirror. This is surprisingly powerful and intense. Don’t be afraid to laugh or cry. Watch the documentary “The Artist is Present” about Marina Abramovic’s amazing eye gazing performance piece to get deeper insight as to why this practice is so powerful.
  4. Learn more! Barbara Carrellas’ Urban Tantra was my first Tantra book, and I recommend it to everyone as a very inclusive and accessible guide to beginning a practice.

Want to attend one of my future workshops? Email me at biancajarvismph@gmail.com!

Reflections After Reading Neil Strauss’s “The Truth”

Magnus's BD/SM Gender Unicorn presented at NACS.

Magnus’s BD/SM Gender Unicorn presented at NACS.

When I attended NACS in Reykjavik last month, I met a wonderful person named Magnus, who was in the process of speaking to the Icelandic Minister of Health about having BD/SM removed as a pathology from the Icelandic version of the DSM. A critical (and fascinating) point of his argument is that BD/SM is not a sexual compulsion, or even preference, but a sexual orientation, and that many kinky people are more sexually oriented to a specific BD/SM role than partners of a specific gender. This is not true for everyone, but it is an interesting and valid idea. However, it potentially falls into the same traps as the “born this way” argument that has been used to further LGBTQI rights- that sexual orientation is essential, fixed, and immutable, and that we don’t have a choice in the matter. I don’t believe that sexual orientation is a “choice” in most cases, but I do believe that for many people it is a fluid thing that evolves over the life course, and that our romantic desires, domestic desires, sexual desires, and so forth aren’t always consistent across the board.

My Girlfriend and I are currently reading Neil Strauss’s book “The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships” together and it’s fantastic. Strauss is perhaps best known for his pickup artist tome “The Game” and “The Truth” emerges as a later in life sequel about what happens when PUA’s (hopefully) grow up and try to figure out relationships. He goes to sex addiction rehab, explores his mommy issues, burns out in a monogamous relationship, attends polyamory conferences, swingers clubs, and play parties, unsuccessfully tries to build a polyamorous harem based on his adulation of a creepy dude named “Father Yod.” It’s amusing to see the names of folks I know from my worlds of tantra, kink and sexual health promotion pop up throughout the book. I haven’t finished the book yet (I think he ends up back in the monogamous relationship he started out with), but it’s a very interesting read and mirror to my own relationship life.

In my teens and twenties I hungered for non-monogamy, but not polyamory perse- getting too emotionally close to multiple people always seemed to be disastrous. Then in my late twenties a switch flipped and all my friends started getting married, and I really wanted Monogamy. After a few terrible monogamous relationships, and a last ditch attempt at committed polyamory that I didn’t really want, I found a person I really liked, and was monogamous with him for three years. I was certain at that time that he was “the one” and that we would get married and spend our lives together.

Me.

Me.

When our relationship ended abruptly and traumatically, I was lost at sea. On one hand, I felt liberated. I had private space again, I didn’t have to censor myself, I didn’t have to justify my health challenges, spiritual practice, sexual proclivities or choice of career, feel pressured between choosing between career and children, policed for how much cleavage I showed or how to wear my hair. A huge weight was lifted as I was able to devote myself to self care and feel comfortable in my body, my gender, and sexual identity again. Sometimes you don’t realize how much you’ve lost yourself until you find yourself again.

One thing that led me to stay for too long- and a terror that haunted me as I became single again- was that I felt unloveable. It had taken me years to find the person I thought was “the one”- the idea of going back on OKCupid gave me hives. I was 35 years old, so out of shape that I got winded during sex, stubbornly gender non-conforming, yet primarily attracted to men- I felt undateable, despite the reassurances of my friends. I was starting to get the first wrinkles around my eyes and forehead, despite the reassurance of the clerk at Sephora who praised my “youthful” skin. I had failed at heteronormativity, and this was my punishment- I was past my prime, and unloveable. The idea of love and sex made me nauseous at that point, so perhaps it was an inconsequential problem in the short term.

My whole life I’d been taught that if you didn’t pin down one person by the time you were forty you’d be doomed to spend your life alone. That men my age were either immature commitmentphobes or divorced damaged goods. That men stopped looking at women once they turned forty. I’d internalized these societally enforced scare tactics instead of taking a minute to consider that maybe they were bullshit that existed to reinforce gender normativity and heteronormativity.

One of my biggest anxieties was that I was so weird, and wanted monogamy. Until I realized that I didn’t.

Living in love.

Living in love.

That was one of the biggest surprises of becoming single again. That my relationship with myself was the most important thing, and I didn’t want to give away too much of myself to anyone else. The second surprise was that I didn’t have to go back on OKCupid again. People who had been my friends for years wanted to date me, and I wanted to date them. The foundation of years of friendship eliminated a lot of the trust-related anxieties that had plagued polyamory for me in past. My best friend and I decided that we wanted to former a platonic domestic partnership and emotional support system with one another, a primary relationship free of sexual jealousy and erotic stagnation. I went to a BD/SM club for the first time in years, and sat down next to a man who I’m still dating four months later.

For the first time in my life, dating is effortless. The partners appear. For the first time in my life, polyamory works. Every person I date adds something important to my life without being overly high maintenance, and my domestic arrangement with my girlfriend is the rock that grounds me through it all. My boundaries are the best they’ve ever been, I don’t feel compelled to abandon myself to please others. If you had told me a year ago that I would be polyamorous, I would have laughed in your face. Yet here I am.

I don’t, however, think I am fundamentally polyamorous (and I don’t really feel at home in that subculture, to be honest, but the concept of multiple loving relationships describes what I’m doing pretty well). Nor am I fundamentally monogamous. Polyamory is my sexual orientation right now. It works right now. I cannot tell you what I’ll want in a year, five years, a decade. I am giving myself permission to evolve and grow. Like Neil Strauss, the process of exploring different relationship styles has enabled me to better figure out what I want. I don’t think that being poly OR mono is a more emotionally evolved way of being- your success in either venture will largely depend on the strengths and weaknesses of you and your partner(s) than the relationship model itself. Both are valid relationship styles.

For Strauss monogamy is the logical conclusion at the end of exploration, for me, it’s polyamory. But at 35, I don’t think it’s the last stop on the line. I don’t think my monogamy was somehow false or delusional.  It was what I needed at the time (and I’m seeing an increasing number of people burnt out by poly returning to monogamy out of exhaustion- just as I did once upon a time). Like any other element of sexual orientation, this too is allowed some modicum of fluidity. With one’s sexuality there is always some pressure to pick sides and sustain a fixed identity (as a genderqueer bisexual I’ve spent my whole life grappling with other people’s discomfort with ambiguity). But I refuse to identify as strictly poly or mono.

My only fixed romantic identity is self love, and my capacity to love others.