Thursday, October 31, 2013

Oxytocin and Emotional Bonding

We've now discussed the science behind five of the "Six Remarkable Effects of Tantra" that I described in one of my first posts:
  • Prolonged and much more pleasurable pre-orgasmic phase
  • The “Tantric high,” a wave of pleasure verging at times on intoxication
  • Extended/repeated/different/better/more intense orgasms
  • Intense emotional bonding with one’s partner
  • Extension of the sense of self to include the partner/“becoming one person”
  • Transcendence of self/feeling at one with the world or cosmos
The fourth one, intense emotional bonding, got skipped because it's not related to any specific phase or technique, but rather to the whole Tantric ritual. To make up for that omission, I’m going to explore it in some depth over the next few posts. Once again, we will find some intriguing answers in the brain systems and chemistry that govern perception and the mind/body interaction.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Experiencing Cosmic Oneness

As we've seen, the body-sharing experience is entirely consistent with what we know about the human mind, so we have no need for supernatural explanations involving ESP or “the spirit plane.” But when I point this out to devout spiritualists, the answer I often get is two-fold: a supernatural answer is fully consistent with the ancient principles of Tantra, and my explanation fails to account for the less common, but more profound, experience of "cosmic transcendence," aka "oneness with the universe."

In some ways, however, this last point is easier to answer. As I described in the last couple of posts, the brain has systems that are devoted to maintaining maps of our bodies (including clothing, tools, vehicles, and other bodily extensions at any given moment), the positions of our limbs (including any tools we may be holding), and all of our internal states, such as pressure, pain, heat, cold, tumescence, touch, friction, and the deflection of hair follicles. These maps may have flexible boundaries, but they do have boundaries, which draw a very clear distinction between us and the rest of the universe.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Transcendence and Body Maps

The next part of our puzzle concerns the way the mind keeps track of the body and its location with respect to its environment. Here’s how Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee describe it in their book, The Body Has a Mind of Its Own:
Stand up and reach out your arms, fingers extended. Wave them up, down, and sideways. Make big circles from over your head down past your thighs. Swing each leg out as far as you can, and with the tips of your toes trace arcs on the ground around you. Swivel and tilt your head as if you were craning to butt something with your forehead or touch it with your lips and tongue. This invisible volume of space around your body out to arm’s length—what neuroscientists call peripersonal space—is part of you.
This is not a metaphor, but a recently discovered physiological fact. Through a special mapping procedure, your brain annexes this space to your limbs and body, clothing you in it like an extended, ghostly skin. The maps that encode your physical body are connected directly, immediately, personally to a map of every point in that space and also map out your potential to perform actions in that space. Your self does not end where your flesh ends, but suffuses and blends with the world, including other beings. Thus when you ride a horse with confidence and skill, your body maps and the horse’s body maps are blended in a shared space. When you make love, your body maps and your lover’s body maps commingle in mutual passion. [p.4]

Monday, October 28, 2013

Tantra and the Transcendental Experience

My last post, on maithuna, brought us to the end of my basic series on how to do Tantra, but it ended with tips on how to create one of Tantra’s more exotic effects, the strong sensation of merging with our partners and feeling what they feel while we’re having sex. This is one of two transcendental phenomena that get us into territory that until recently has been strictly the domain of mysticism and religion:
  • Extension of the sense of self to include the partner - "becoming one person"
  • Complete loss of a sense of self - "feeling at one with the universe"
We call these experiences transcendental because we perceive ourselves as transcending, or moving beyond, the normal physical limits of our bodies. Descriptions of these experiences have been reported across many different cultures for thousands of years, and the second one has been an important goal of religious practices in many parts of the world. But before we address the question of cosmic union, we need to look more closely at the blurring of boundaries between the partners, because that will give us some clues to the broader case as well.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Maithuna - The Grand Finale

Maithuna, or active sexual union, is the most variable, freeform part of the normal Tantric ritual. Although it is traditionally the time for normal vaginal intercourse, that does not have to be all or even most of what you do. It’s entirely up to the two of you to find out what works best for you.

Some couples go straight from yab-yum to slow intercourse and simply maintain that as long as possible before increasing intensity at the very end. Some are more active, but shift positions fairly often and include frequent interludes for clitoral stimulation by other means. (Usually, this is to give the woman a few orgasms while giving the man a chance to let his level of arousal decline a bit from the brink to prevent an early orgasm by him.) Some actually shift back into yab-yum, or simply hold still and cuddle for a while, doing this several times during maithuna.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

More about Yab-Yum

After you’ve done both the lingam and yoni massages and you’ve taken a short break (optional), move on to your preferred version of yab-yum. My description of the basics last month was fairly complete, so I won’t duplicate it here, but just as a reminder, the yab-yum phase is a time for stillness and deep intimacy, for erotic connection without erotic friction.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Receiving a Yoni Massage

[part 5 in a series that starts here]

This post is for the women: you will soon be working hard on your meditation and on controlling your attention and your level of arousal during your massage, but as your partner is learning how to do a yoni massage you also have to communicate with him and learn some habits that will help him please you and keep you on track.

To repeat what I said to the men: Try to find words that will communicate without creating tension. Just saying, “Mmmm…” when something feels good provides a lot of feedback and encouragement and, if you are consistent about it, it lets your silence tell him that something isn’t working for you.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Yoni Massage: Endings

[part 4 in a series that starts here]

All good things come to an end ... and hopefully end with a come. As you continue to massage her yoni, inside and out, mixing up your technique as much as possible, try to coordinate with her on a) keeping the build-up phase going as long as she wants it to, so that she can work on her meditation and visualization and spread the arousal area as broadly as she can, and b) getting her to as intense an orgasm as possible when she is ready.

There’s a certain basic conflict between these two things, but one of them will usually be harder than the other. Which one is harder is going to depend a lot on your partner, how comfortable and relaxed she is, and her previous experience with orgasms. The problem is that women, more than men, vary so much in the amount of time and stimulation they require. This puts a special burden on you in terms of reading your partner’s wants and needs.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Yoni Massage - Sustaining Arousal

[part 3 in a series that starts here]

In my last post, I talked about the importance of going slow and making sure that your partner is sufficiently aroused before going further. There's an important caution that I should add to that: many women will show all the signs of physical arousal even when they aren't mentally aroused at all.

This is really rare in a tantra setting with experienced couples, but it can definitely happen when you are first learning this together, particularly if your partner still has some reservations about doing tantra and perhaps some shyness about being exposed in this way with the lights on. So in addition to looking for physical signs of arousal, be sure to get some kind of confirmation from her before you go ahead. She can signal with her hands, push her vulva up against your hands, or say yes to your soft question, "Are you ready for me to move ahead?"

Occasionally, you might see the opposite situation. She may be ready and eager for you to progress to more direct stimulation even though you aren't seeing the physical signs of arousal. (This seems to be more likely to happen to women who are young and relatively inexperienced when they are learning tantra, and to women who start learning tantra after menopause.) In any case, if she says she's ready, take her word for it, use extra lube, and move forward.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Yoni Massage: Getting Her Warmed Up

[part 2 in a series that starts here]

The stereotype for women is that we take much longer to become aroused and to reach orgasm than men do. Although there is a lot of truth to this for the general population, it is much less true in the typical Tantric setting. My sample is anything but scientific, but every woman I interviewed says she warms up faster at the start of yoni massage than she ever did during normal sex before she started Tantra.

I’ve already mentioned the main reasons why women in general take longer to get aroused than men and are less orgasmic: tension and insecurity. In particular, women who have tight muscles in the lower back and pelvic area have much more trouble reaching orgasm than women who are more relaxed.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Giving a Yoni Massage

                 [This is the first in a series of five posts on yoni massage]

Okay, the women have been working hard, so its time for them to relax and for you men to take over! However, before you start, here’s another reminder to be sure your fingernails are short and smooth and that you have no hangnails or rough calluses on your hands before you begin any Tantra session. Touch is critical to Tantra, and your hands are supremely important. You want them to give pleasure, not pain!

The overall pattern of yoni massage is the same as for lingam massage, but there are some crucial adjustments that guys need to make. First, and most obvious, the vulva is generally less accessible than the male genitals, creating some positioning issues. Right at the start, you have the problem that it is mostly hidden in the face down position. Some couples like to put a pillow or bolster under the towel in the pelvic/abdominal region, just to lift her hips up a bit so you can slip your hand underneath. However, most women prefer to have their partner concentrate more on the buttocks and thighs and basically leave the yoni alone until the flipover point.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Receiving a Lingam Massage

[part 7 in a series that starts here]

I've mentioned before that learning to receive a good lingam massage can actually be harder than learning to give one. So, men, this post is for you. You will soon be working hard on your meditation and on controlling your attention and your level of arousal during your massage. Do take some time to review the other posts about attention control, visualization, and the various tricks for delaying orgasm. You are more likely to need the latter, especially, during the learning phase, since your partner won’t always guess right on the amount of stimulation you need without giving too much.

In the long run, however, it is just as important for you to learn to communicate with her, to help her find out how to please you and how to keep you on track on your orgasmic curve. Unfortunately, these things get in each other’s way while you are learning. Meditating, controlling your breathing, shifting your awareness, expanding your arousal zone, visualizing a growing pool of sexual energy, holding off premature orgasms – and finding the right words to tell your partner something?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Lingam massage: Timing Issues

[part 6 in a series that starts here]

Some men, particularly young men, are so sensitive to touch all over their bodies, and so unused to being touched in that way, that they can have an orgasm the first few times just from the body massage, or from the body massage and the very beginning of the lingam massage. If he seems embarrassed about coming quickly, reassure him that it’s absolutely normal.

This can be particularly distressing for a guy who usually has pretty good stamina during vaginal sex. But the reason he usually has good stamina is almost always because he is concentrating so hard on putting your needs and pleasure first that he is paying very little attention to himself. As a result he has little experience with being the recipient of attention and with focusing only on his own sensations. Now that the focus is entirely on him, and he doesn’t have you to think about, the experience can be overwhelmingly intense.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Lingam massage: Oral Hazards

[part 5 in a series that starts here]   

Oral can be a particularly big problem if he wants it and you’re reluctant. Oral sex can be a trouble spot for some couples, even some who don’t have any other conflicts or inhibitions about sex. Some women just hate the idea of something being thrust into their mouths. Often this will be the case for a woman who was traumatized by a former boyfriend who grabbed her head and pushed his penis in as far as it would go, hurting, gagging, and choking her. This happened to me when I was in college, and a lot of other women have told me about similar experiences that turned them off.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lingam massage: Happy Endings

[part 4 in a series that starts here]

When you first do a lingam massage on your guy, expect it to end suddenly in an unplanned way. That’s normal, and it’s pretty much the only way for the two of you to find out what his baseline sensitivity is where this kind of stimulation is concerned. Once it’s clear he’s about to come, unless he has asked you to take steps to stop the orgasm, just do whatever he likes best to help make it as intense as possible. Don’t be surprised if it takes some experimentation to discover what this is, since many men don’t know!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Lingam Massage: Tips and Tricks

[part 3 in a series that starts here]

Eventually, as you get better at managing his arousal level, you will want to be more forceful at the beginning, to get him up to a fairly high level of arousal in the first four or five minutes, and then go to a lighter and more intermittent touch to keep him there. In the terms of a popular scale, in which 1 is no arousal, 4 is a firm erection, 9.9 is the “point of no return” and 10 is an orgasm, the idea is to get him fairly quickly to a 7 and then keep him between 6 and 9 for as long as he wants the session to last. There are hundreds of possible things you can do and ways to do them that will keep him at that level without going too far. Here are just a few:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Lingam Massage: Extending Arousal

[part 2 in a series that starts here]

Over time, his control will improve, the massage will last longer, and you will be able to provide much more stimulation without pushing him over the top. However, I can’t begin to advise you on how long this will take. A few couples said it took six months or more before the man got good enough at meditation and attention control to experience the Tantric high and anything stronger than a normal orgasm. Other men were able to have a true Tantric orgasm in considerably less time than that, but only because their partners were really good at rationing out the stimulation in a way that prolonged the arousal stage. Only a few of the men turned out to be “naturals” who really caught on to orgasmic control in the first month or so.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Giving a Lingam Massage

                [This is the first in a series of seven posts on lingam massage]

If you’ve been reading along with the last few posts, you now understand why the recipient of a yoni (vulva) or lingam (penis) massage needs to be able to get into a deep meditative state and concentrate their attention on the sensations coming from a gradually increasing area of the body. By now, I also hope you have had time to practice your couple meditations and to get very comfortable with giving and getting a head-to-toe sensual massage.

Note: I’m going to describe giving lingam (male) and yoni (female) massages separately. This series of posts is about lingam massage (or “lingam worship,” as it is often called in the jargon of Tantra), so I’ll be speaking directly to the man’s partner. I’m also going to assume that you have a massage table. If you don’t, it will require more effort to move around, but it should be fairly easy to figure out how to adapt these instructions to your own situation.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Arousal, Imagery, and Breath Control

Keeping your attention focused on the sensations in one region of the body for an extended period of time isn’t easy, particularly at first. It turns out that this is much easier if you create some way to visualize the whole process.

And, in fact, everyone I’ve talked to about Tantra uses some type of mental image of “sexual energy” to help guide their attention. Most people seem to visualize it as looking something like ball lightning, or a ball of flame, or a churning hot liquid, such as lava or steam. Geysers and volcanoes are often mentioned, as the hot liquid gradually fills the underground chamber (the body) and then explodes outward during the orgasm.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Attention and the Spread of Sexual Arousal

As I said in yesterday's post, there are two reasons for controlling our attention during Tantric massage. The first is obviously to help us control the pace of arousal by not paying too much attention to the sensations from the genitals themselves. But the second goal is to spread the feeling of sexual tension – and the base of the eventual orgasm – over a much wider area.

To do this, we rely on another bit of brain-body interaction: vascular and chemical changes that occur in one area of the body tend to spread to adjacent areas over time, and this can be enhanced by focusing our attention on the broader area.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Delaying Orgasm

It’s clear how creating an appropriate setting and doing the preparations – especially bathing, meditation, and massage – reduce stress and anxiety and contribute to being deeply relaxed and feeling safe and loved, but that’s the easy part. The big stumbling block for newcomers to Tantra is always the process of learning how to stretch out the orgasmic curve and delay the final orgasm. And, at least to begin with, this brings us back to meditation.

Controlling Arousal

The kind of meditation that is critical during Tantric massage, especially during lingam and yoni massage, is different from the more general kind of individual and couple meditation described earlier.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Tantra and the Chemistry of Sex

Sexual stimulation triggers the release of a cocktail of chemicals in the brain and body, including dopamine, testosterone, adrenaline, phenethylamine, endorphins, endocannabinoids, and oxytocin. At the risk of drastic oversimplification, here are some of the effects of each:
  • Dopamine and testosterone directly increase sexual arousal.
  • Dopamine focuses attention, increases motivation, and amplifies the mental effect of rewarding behavior.
  • Testosterone also increases optimism, aggression, and stamina.
  • Adrenaline increases the heart rate, prepares muscles for stronger contractions, increases fear, reduces trust, blocks pleasure and pain, and narrows the focus of our attention.
  • Phenethylamine, endorphins, and endocannabinoids block pain and increase pleasure; they’re literally intoxicating – when they flood the brain, we get high.
  • Oxytocin creates feelings of trust, empathy, pleasure, and emotional bonding.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Keeping Count

I asked the women how many orgasms they thought they usually had during a normal Tantra session. The answers ranged from “three or four” to “two or three dozen, if you count every orgasm in a continuous orgasm separately.” Half said seven or more and the average was a little more than twelve.

The average for the men is around 3.5, but that’s misleading because it combines numbers from men who are normally multi-orgasmic, who average 5 or more, with those who aren’t, and who average 2, so the combined average of 3.5 sits right between the peaks of a double-humped curve.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Men, Orgasms, and Ejaculation

Part of the curiosity about Tantra is the general awareness that Tantric sex lasts longer, often far longer, than normal sex and that it usually involves more orgasms. Both are true, but misunderstood. For example one of the myths about Tantra is that male Tantrics have extraordinary powers of endurance. Just look at the fascination with Sting’s drunken comment about having Tantric sex “all day long.” Even though he quickly repudiated it, it is still, more than twenty years later, the first thing that many people think of when the subject of Tantra comes up.

One version of the myth is the “ironman” – a sexual superstud, immune to sensation, maintaining an erection for hours on end, thrusting with never a pause or a climax, but providing his partner with an endless string of orgasms. The opposite version is of the sexual superstud who has orgasm after orgasm and never stops. There’s a small kernel of truth in the second one – about half of the men I interviewed have learned how to be multi-orgasmic – but both create a false impression of continuous, high-intensity sexual activity.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Types of Orgasms

In my last post, I mentioned that people have at times argued that some sources of sexual stimulation are better than others, from Freud’s attack on clitoral orgasms as “immature” to modern feminist attacks on vaginal orgasms as symbols of female subjugation. My own view is that the location of the stimulus is irrelevant as long as it feels good, and that politicizing body parts or telling people that one kind of sex is “better” or more “mature” or more “liberated” than another is pretty silly.

From our point of view as we try to understand what is going on during Tantric sex, it is much more important to talk instead about how orgasms differ according to their length, intensity, periodicity, and the perceived location or spread of the “accumulated sexual tension” that an orgasm releases. These are the different types described by the experienced Tantrics I interviewed: