Backpack

Mystical passion

Tantric sex workshops sell rapture

SHARON DOYLE DRIEDGER September 16 1996
Backpack

Mystical passion

Tantric sex workshops sell rapture

SHARON DOYLE DRIEDGER September 16 1996

Mystical passion

Backpack

HEALTH WATCH

Tantric sex workshops sell rapture

SHARON DOYLE DRIEDGER

It was a running gag on the popular television series L.A. Law. Actors Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry, in the roles of kindhearted attorneys Stuart Markowitz and Ann Kelsey, would frequently leave the office, making vague allusions to the Venus Butterfly—a mysterious sexual manoeuvre that supposedly drove women wild. “It’s such a funny thing,” Tucker told Maclean’s. “The writers made it up and then, years later, we discovered what it was and it has become the centre of our life.” The secret, says the couple who have been married for 23 years, is Tantric sex. “We thought we had the best relationship in the world before,” says Tucker. “We had no idea—we’ve gone to the moon.” Tucker says they have both “changed profoundly” since they began to practise Tantric lovemaking techniques three years ago. “It’s been extraordinary in terms of healing for me,” says Eikenberry, who was diagnosed with breast cancer about 10 years ago. “All the aches and pains, the stomach problems I’ve suffered over the years seem to be completely gone.”

For Tucker, it meant a “180-degree reversal” in his attitude towards sex. “I always thought the point of sex was my pleasure,” says Tucker. “But the point is fulfilling my woman in the deepest, most spiritual way, but also in a profoundly sexual way.” Now, he adds, “Our sexual life is greater than anything I’ve ever dreamed of—it’s a state of bliss.”

Tantra—a complex marriage of yoga, meditation and ritual that originated in India thousands of years ago—has been floating on the fringes of pop culture since the 1970s. North Americans easily embraced its exotic props— incense-burning, candles and massage with aromatic oils. But the authentic Tantric approach to sex proved too esoteric, not to mention time-consuming. ‘There was a lengthy ritual called maithuna,” notes Stewart Esposito, an Arizona-based management consultant and Tantra teacher who, with his partner Mackenzie (Bodhi) Jordan, led a five-day seminar called ‘Tantric Loving for Couples” on Cortes Island, B.C., last month. “There would be three days of gift-giving, fasting, meditating and looking into each other’s eyes to heighten the energy before intercourse.”

But, now, lovers across Europe and North America are beginning to uncover the ancient secrets of Tantra—as well as Taoism and other mystical religions. In a clutch of popular books and videos—with such seductive titles as Tantra: The Art of Conscious

Loving, Mystical Sex and Sexual Energy Ecstasy—modern gurus and sex experts offer dozens of 1990s adaptations of the ancient techniques, often packaged with New Age psychotherapy and without the bell-ringing, incense-burning and strange Sanskrit terminology. Last month, in Vancouver, Canadian-born travel writer Tim Ward drew a crowd of 500 to a reading of Arousing the Goddess, his recently published book about his personal experiences with mystical sex in India. ‘Tantric sex has come out of the woodwork,” says Ward. “People are looking for new ways of looking at their sexuality.” Attracted by promises of intimacy, vitality and prolonged sexual rapture, couples and singles of all ages are signing up in increasing numbers for workshops. “It’s what I have always looked for,” says Sophie, an unmarried 31-year-old Toronto bookstore clerk. “Holistic sex isn’t just something you do for fun—there is a profound spiritual connectedness.”

The newly aroused passion for Tantra— with its promise to add a spiritual dimension to sex—is no mystery. “In North America, sex and love are often separated,” says Caroline Muir—who, with her husband and partner Charles Muir, taught Tantra to Tucker and Eikenberry. “Many people have a feeling that something is missing.” Some supporters point out that, in the era of AIDS, Tantra offers couples a way to explore their sexuality while g remaining in a committed relationship. “BeI yond the sex,” says Louis Meldman, a clinical í psychologist in Birmingham, Mich., and author of Mystical Sex: Love Ecstasy and the Mystical Experience, “there is a tremendous interest in spirituality—people are looking for something that they are not getting in regular religion.” Tantra does offer a spiritual dimension, but it’s a “fairly shallow, New Age” one, remarks a skeptical John Stackhouse, professor of religion at the University of Manitoba. “It promises spiritual benefits—without having to be responsible to any spoil-sport supreme being who will tell you what you can and cannot do with your body.”

Tantra is based on the traditional Eastern belief that a circuit of energy flows through the body, in much the same way that blood runs through veins and arteries. This pathway of energy—according to Tantric beliefs—connects the body’s seven main “chakras,” or energy centres, from the lowest chakra at the base of the spine to the crown chakra at the top of the head. Although there is no anatomical evidence for the existence of chakras, Margo Anand, a respected psychologist and promoter of Tantric sex who was recently invited to collaborate with staff at Harvard and

Stanford University medical schools, believes that the chakras correspond to parts of the body’s endocrine system that regulate vitality and energy. “Like acupuncture, it can only be partially explained scientifically,” says Anand, “but the results demonstrate that it works.”

The secret to Tantric sex, believers claim, is to open up the chakras and to move the sexual energy—called kundalini—from the two lowest chakras near the genitals, up to the heart, or feeling chakra, where it merges with the partner’s energy channel before flowing to the highest crown chakra, creating a sensation of oneness and ecstasy. “When my seven chakras are open and all of Jill’s are open and we are connecting,” says Tucker, “we can damn near levitate off the bed.” Toby Earp, a Montreal teacher, reports a less dramatic experience. “The goal is not so much to get blissed out,” says Earp, who has attended Tantric workshops. “The idea is to become more open and present to your partner.”

Experts in Tantric sex have widely different views on how to control the body’s energy. “There’s a lot of just plain nonsense out there,” says Meldman. Still, most programs emphasize breathing exercises, meditation and yoga. Some also include dance, massage, psychotherapy and communication skills as a prelude to love. “People imagine that Tantric sex workshops are orgies,” says Liliana Cañé, who, with her husband Robert Baillod, runs the Montreal SkyDancing Institute, one of eight international training centres founded by Anand. “It is not like that at all. It has to do with spiritual and personal growth.” Still, Anand and others suggest caution. “Some teachers may never have done any yoga in their life,” says Muir. “There have been teachers busted for abusing women, others for taking drugs in groups.”

Some Canadian experts take a benign view of Tantric sex. In fact, well-known sex educator Sue Johansen says that one Tantric technique used to prolong lovemaking is often used by conventional sex therapists to treat premature ejaculation. “It’s marvellous therapy,” says the outspoken Johansen, who adds that she is “not enthralled” with the meditation and trance-like states that accompany it. “There are some good things about Tantric sex,” states Saskatoon sex therapist Carolyn Chernenkoff. “It really does stress equality and it seems to stress sensation.” Her husband and cotherapist, Dr. William Chernenkoff, believes that Tantra’s attempt to develop oneness with a partner is probably “therapeutic”—if not scientific. In fact, the Chernenkoffs believe that Canadians suffer more from lack of time than lack of technique. “If most couples had the luxury to take the time to enjoy their sexual relationship,” says Carolyn, “they could have wonderful sex—even without Tantra.” □