GLOSSARY OF SEX & TANTRA TERMS

Note: Terms in italics are also entries and have their own definitions in the glossary.


Anus – The ring-shaped exit from the anal canal, located between the buttocks.  The outlet for the rectum is a short muscular canal with strong sphincters at both ends that keep wastes in most of the time and help expel them when needed.  The tissue around the anus and lining the anal canal is richly innervated and sensitive.  These nerves are a branch of the same nerve bundle that serves the clitorispenisurethra, and pelvic floor.

Arousal – The activation of nerve networks, muscles, glands, and other tissues in preparation for some action, especially as a result of sexual thoughts, situations, or stimulation.  Symptoms of arousal include vascular engorgement, tumescence (swelling) and erection, flushing of the skin, increase in relevant neurotransmitters and hormones, muscle tension, and increased nervous system activity.

Balls – See Testes, Testicles.

Buddhism – Originally a naturalistic philosophy based on the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama, known as the Buddha, who lived sometime between 600 and 300 BCE.  Gautama rejected the polytheism and supernaturalism of Hinduism and focused instead on teaching people how to gain and maintain mental health, wisdom, and personal enlightenment through meditation, self-knowledge, integrity, and right conduct.  Within a few centuries, however, the various schools of Buddhism began to evolve many religious characteristics, and Buddhism has since become a major religion with a number of widely divergent branches.  ( See MahayanaTheravada, and Vajrayana.) There are strong Tantric traditions within most branches of Buddhism, especially Mahayana and Vajrayana.

Chakras – In Kundalini yoga and many other Eastern spiritual religious practices, the chakras are points or waystations along nadis or channels, which supposedly run from the base of the trunk to the top of the head.  The number, color, significance, and names of the chakras vary widely in different yogic traditions, but most people in the west are familiar with a system of seven chakras corresponding approximately to the perineum or anus, the groin or genitals, the navel or stomach, the chest or heart, the throat, the forehead or eyes, and the crown of the head.  The idea of chakras was invented in the eighth century CE, and many complicated spiritual doctrines involving chakras have evolved in different schools of mysticism since then.  However, Tantric sex as we know it is far older than that, and the concept of chakras is not essential to Tantric sexual practices.

Climax – See Orgasm.

Clit – See Clitoris.

Clitoral hood – A thin fold of tissue that partially or completely covers the clitoral
shaft and the glans or head of the clitoris.  It corresponds to the male foreskin and is attached to the labia minora.  It varies in size and the degree to which it covers the clitoris.  In most women it is retractable and can be slid upward toward the mons pubis, exposing the glans and part of the shaft.

Clitoral shaft – The portion of the clitoris extending from the head or glans upward toward the mons pubis.  This narrow shaft is covered partially or completely by the clitoral hood and is sensitive to sexual stimulation by rubbing or pressing, either directly or through the clitoral hood.

Clitoris – The female analog of the penis and the only organ in either gender whose sole function is to produce pleasure, it has more sensory nerve endings in a smaller space than any other organ.  The (sometimes) visible part of the clitoris is the glans or head, which is located at the end of the clitoral shaft below the mons pubis at the upper end of the junction of the labia minora.  Most of the clitoris is internal and hidden from view.  From the glans and external shaft, it extends upward toward the mons pubis, then turns rearward and downward, and divides into two legs that extend down behind the labia and straddle the vaginal opening.  The head and shaft are erectile and the entire clitoris is tumescent, filling with blood and becoming more sensitive with sexual arousal.

Couple Meditation – Meditation by two people in which each person attempts to incorporate intense awareness of the other person into his or her meditative focus.

Corona – The meaty ridge around the lower edge on the back and sides of the penile glans.  Caressing the corona increase sexual arousal and produces strong pleasurable sensations for most men.

Daoism – See Taoism or Daoism.

Dopamine – A neurochemical with many functions, two of which are to alert us to the unexpected and to help us understand causation.  Uptake of dopamine in certain parts of the brain strongly reinforces the circumstance or behavior that triggered its release, contributing to addiction, particularly to activities with intermittent rewards (e.g., slot machines and other forms of gambling).

Dry Orgasm – See NEO or Non-Ejaculatory Orgasm.

Ejaculation – The usually forceful expulsion of semen during (most) male orgasms.  See also EO and NEO.  See also female ejaculation.

Endocannabinoids – Any of several natural compounds chemically similar to tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, aka marijuana.  Endocannabinoids are released in the brain as a result of sustained arousal, orgasms, and other beneficial activities.  They are taken up by receptors that cause pleasure and euphoria.  Endocannabinoids released as a result of prolonged sexual arousal and prolonged, intense orgasms help produce a characteristic euphoric feeling, or “Tantric high,” similar to but stronger than the “runner’s high” that results from prolonged exercise.

Endorphins – Any of several natural opioid compounds released in the brain as a result of sustained exercise and other beneficial activities.  They are taken up by receptors that cause pleasure and reduce pain.  These receptors are the targets for a variety of natural and artificial compounds (like opium, morphine, heroin, and cocaine) that are frequently used and abused for their analgesic and pleasure-inducing properties.  Endorphins released as a result of prolonged sexual arousal and prolonged, intense orgasms may contribute to a euphoric state, or “Tantric high,” similar to but stronger than the “runner’s high” that results from prolonged exercise.

EO or Ejaculatory Orgasm – A normal male orgasm that is accompanied by the ejaculation of semen.

Erection – The result of becoming enlarged and stiff or hard.  Although many parts of the body are tumescent (they fill with blood during sexual arousal), only the penis, the clitoris, and sometimes the nipples are normally said to become “erect.”

Female Ejaculation – The discharge of fluid, usually around 1 to 3 teaspoons of clear fluid, from the female urethra, often after extended stimulation of the G-spot.  It is not urine.

Foreskin – The retractable covering of the male glans.  Also, prepuce.

Frenum or Frenulum – Latin for “bridle” or “little bridle,” a frenulum is a strip of tissue that anchors, connects, or restrains the motion of another body part.  (For example, the lingual frenum connects the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth.)  The penile frenulum is a slim membrane that connects the foreskin to the front of the penile shaft.  During circumcision, part of it is usually cut away, leaving a narrow ridge on the underside of the penis near the glans or head.  For most men, lightly caressing the frenulum produces strong pleasurable sensations.

G-Spot – An area inside the vagina on the front wall of the vaginal barrel, usually 1-2" in from the entrance.  It is the part of the vaginal wall directly beneath the vestibule and clitoris.  When fully aroused, the G-spot often has a rippled or corrugated feel.  When stroked, it can produce strong pleasurable sensations in many women, often leading to orgasm and sometimes to female ejaculation.

Glans (1) – The clitoral glans or head is the tip of the clitoris, located at the end of the clitoral shaft.  It is often likened to a tiny button, pea, or pearl, but its size is quite variable, and in some women it is much larger than in others.  Like all of the clitoris, it is highly sensitive to stimulation.  It is erectile, increasing in size and changing in color as it fills with blood in response to sexual arousal.  In most women, the glans is normally hidden by the clitoral hood, but often extends visibly beyond the clitoral hood during arousal, only to retract again just moments before orgasm occurs

Glans (2) – The penile glans or head is the fleshy, bulbous tip of the penis, located at the end of the penile shaft (2).  It is highly sensitive to stimulation and it increases in size and changes color as it fills with blood.  In uncircumcised males, the glans is covered by the foreskin when the penis is not erect.

Guru – A teacher, particularly a teacher of an esoteric doctrine or tradition, one that may not be completely written down and must be passed from teacher to disciple.  Other terms include lama, yogi, sensei, swami, and master.

Hinduism – A catchall term for the many and varied forms of the polytheistic religious tradition that emerged on the Indian subcontinent in prehistoric times.  It is the oldest major religion in the world, with approximately a billion followers.  There are Tantric traditions within all major branches of Hinduism.

Introitus – The external opening of the vagina, located at the lower end of the vulva.  The introitus is sensitive to gentle stimulation and is surrounded by the legs of the clitoris, which are sensitive to firmer strokes and pressure.  Although it can normally accommodate even the largest penis (after all, it can stretch to allow the passage of a baby’s head), the introitus can become too small to allow even a normal-sized penis to enter without causing pain if the woman is tense or frightened, or has reduced hormone production as a result of hysterectomy or menopause.  In most such cases, it can still be stretched slowly to accommodate the penis, but it can take considerable time, patience, and lubrication.

Kegel Muscles – See Pubococcygeal or PC Muscles.

Kegel Exercises – Exercises designed to strengthen the muscles that make up the pelvic floor (the pubococcygeal, PC, or Kegel muscles).  To “Kegel” or “do your Kegels” is to perform one or both of the two basic Kegel exercises:  1) forcefully contracting and releasing the PC muscles very rapidly for several minutes and 2) contracting the PC muscles and holding them in a contracted state for as long as possible, or for some specified time, usually 5 to 30 seconds.

Kundalini – A form of yoga that attempts to use meditation to “awaken the Shakti energy” at the base of the spine and to channel that "energy" upward toward the head in order to experience transcendence and to perform magic and healing.

Labia Majora – Literally, “major lips,” these are the two fleshy outer folds of the vulva.  In adulthood, they are generally covered by pubic hair.  They may meet in the centerline of the vulva, hiding the other parts of the female genitals, or there may be a visible gap between their inner edges.  Although generally rather flat, they are tumescent and become filled with blood as a result of sexual arousal, often becoming much thicker and plumper as a result.

Labia Minora – Literally, “minor lips,” these are the two inner folds of the vulva. They run the length of the vulva, from around the introitus or vaginal opening to the clitoris, where they join together to form the clitoral hood.  They can vary a great deal in form and appearance from one woman to another.  They can be very thin and narrow and almost invisible in some women.  At the other extreme, they can also be thick, “meaty,” and several inches wide, protruding visibly an inch or more past the labia majora.  They are tumescent and become notably darker as they fill with blood as a result of sexual arousal.  Color, particularly at the edges, varies from pale pink to red, purple, dark brown, or black, somewhat independently of race or skin color.

Lingam (1) – In Hinduism, the lingam is a smooth, rounded column, usually of stone, that represents the god Shiva.  There is a debate among both Eastern and Western scholars over whether the origin of the lingam is phallic or simply aniconic, but in Tantric traditions the lingam is clearly and explicitly phallic, representing Shiva in his role as the sexual partner of Shakti.  Lingams are very common in Hindu temples and gardens, and during religious ceremonies lingams are often anointed with aromatic oils and covered in flowers.

Lingam (2) – In Tantra (1), the male genitals, particularly in the context of a Tantric ritual.  The term always includes the penis, often includes the testicles, and may also include the perineum and anus, depending on the context.

Mahayana – “The Great Way” or “the "Great Vehicle,” the largest branch of Buddhism, including just over half of all Buddhists.  (Vajrayana, or Tibetan Buddhism, is technically a subset of Mahayana, but is usually classified and counted separately.)  Although Buddhism in its original form is best characterized as a largely naturalistic philosophy, Mahayana is a religion based mainly on “sutras” (religious texts) written by other people long after the death of the Buddha, Siddhārtha Gautama.  Mahayana diverged from Theravada by accepting these later writings as canonical, and particularly by its emphasis on “bodhisattvas” – people on the path to full buddhahood who help others become enlightened – and other holy figures who fill, in many ways, the roles played by saints, angels, and demigods in other religions.

Maithuna or Mithuna – Sanskrit for sexual union.  In Tantra (1), it most commonly refers to the last phase of the Tantric ritual, even though intercourse, in the sense of insertion of the penis into the vagina, usually begins at some point during the preceding phase, often called the “yab-yum” phase.  The distinction that is being made is between the quiet immobility of the yab-yum phase and the vigorous activity of maithuna.

Materialism – The belief that the physical, material realm that is apparent to human senses, science, and instruments is the real world, that it consists of matter and energy, and that it obeys physical laws (even if we don’t know what all of those are).  Materialists reject magical, mystical, or supernatural explanations for phenomena, and believe that the natural world is all that exists outside of the imagination.  Also called “physicalism” by some, it is the opposite of spiritualism, mysticism, or supernaturalism.

Meditation – A contemplative mental discipline based on deep relaxation, controlled attention, and stilling the mind’s frequently frantic rush from thought to thought.

Mindfulness Meditation – A type of meditation based on the Buddhist injunction to be mindful and aware at all times, as opposed to the goal of “no-mind,” the complete blanking out of conscious thought that is espoused by some schools of meditation, particularly Zen.

Mons or Mons Pubis – The fleshy pad covering the pubic bone.  Beginning in puberty, it is generally covered with pubic hair.

Nadi or Nardi – In Hindu folk medicine, a nadi (pronounced and often spelled “nardi”) is a supposed vertical channel for spiritual energy, connecting the Chakras in the trunk, neck and head.  In various spiritual traditions, there may be one, two, three, or more nadis in the human body.  (One of the oldest texts claims that there are 72,000 of them!)

NEO or Non-Ejaculatory Orgasm – A male orgasm that is NOT accompanied by the usual ejaculation of semen.  Also called a “dry orgasm.”

Orgasm – The rapid discharge of sexual tension at the peak of the sexual arousal process.  Usually accompanied by intense waves of pleasure and rapid muscular contractions in the anal and genital areas, as well as a variety of other involuntary actions.  Without continued sexual stimulation, an orgasm is generally followed by a comparatively rapid drop in arousal, much more rapid than would occur if stimulation ceased without orgasm.  Also called "climax."

Pelvic Floor – The band of skin, muscles, ligaments, and other tissue that forms a flexible bottom to the bony cradle of the pelvis.  It fills the gap between our legs and keeps our abdominal organs from falling out.

Penis – The male reproductive organ.  It is erectile, normally becoming stiff and hard when filled with blood as a result of sexual arousal.  The internal root of the penis extends downward several inches from its origin below the bladder to the point where it emerges from the body at the base of the pelvis.  The external part of the penis consists of the shaft and the head or glans.  The urethra runs along the underside of the penis.

Phenethylamine or PEA – A neurotransmitter in the brain, one of a class of compounds well known for their stimulant, euphoric, and psychedelic properties.  Phenethylamine is released and accumulates in the brain during extended sexual arousal, contributing to euphoric feelings (the “Tantric high”).  Its psychoactive effects may include shutting down the mechanisms in the brain that normally keep track of the boundaries of our physical bodies.  High levels of phenethylamine may therefore contribute to the “body sharing illusion” and the transcendent experience of “cosmic oneness” that occur for many Tantrics.

Prepuce – See foreskin.  The retractable covering of the male glans.

Pubis or Pubic Bone – The bone connecting the two halves of the pelvis at the front.  It is covered by a fleshy pad called the mons pubis and forms the dividing line between the abdomen and the genital area.

Pubococcygeus or PC Muscle – The pubococcygeus is the largest of several muscles that make up the pelvic floor and surround the anus and the genitals.  These muscles generally contract as a group and are often called the PC muscles or the Kegel muscles.  Contracting them while urinating interrupts the flow of urine.  Having strong PC muscles helps prevent urinary incontinence, reduces pain and the chance of complications (like perineal tearing) during childbirth, increases the strength and intensity of orgasms, and reduces both erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation in men.

Scrotum – The sack of thin skin hanging from the base of the penis, containing the two testes or testicles.  It is contractile, in that it can stretch out, letting the testes hang down and swing freely, or contract, often in response to cold or fear, but also just before orgasm, as the cremaster muscle inside the scrotum pulls the testes firmly up against the floor of the pelvis.  In the contracted state, the skin of the scrotum becomes thickened and wrinkled.

Semen – A cloudy liquid mixture of sperm and seminal fluid that is expelled from the urethra during male ejaculation.

Shaft (1) – See Clitoral shaft.

Shaft (2) – The main external part of the penis, running from the root, where it emerges from the body, to the head or glans.  The urethra runs along the underside of the shaft.

Shaivism - The branch of Hinduism in which Shiva is worshipped as the prime deity.

Shakti (1) – Hindu goddess of wisdom and fertility.  In Shaktism, one of the principal branches of Hinduism, Shakti is revered as the supreme being.  In all forms of Hinduism, she is the eternal feminine principle, the source of the primordial energy and dynamic forces that move the universe.  In the common saying, "Shiva without Shakti is shava."  (“Shava” is sanskrit for “corpse,” i.e., a body with no animation or energy.)  Shakti is also known simply as “Devi” (the Goddess), and all other goddesses are her avatars, so we see particular manifestations of Shakti/Devi as, for example, Durga, the divine mother; Lakshimi, the goddess of health, wealth, and beauty; Parvati, the goddess of spiritual fulfillment; Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, music, art, and science; and even Kali, the goddess of chaos, death, decay, and redemption.

Shakti (2) – In Kundalini and some other forms of yoga, the supposed primordial sexual and healing energy in the human body, often described as residing like a snake coiled around the lowest Chakra or the base of the spine.  Shakti, in this sense, is also referred to as “Kundalini energy” because of the association of the idea with Kundalini yoga.

Shakti (3) – Like Mary, Joseph, Jesus, Moses, and Mohammed, Shakti is a religious name that can be a given name too!  :)

Shaktism - The branch of Hinduism in which Shakti is worshipped as the prime deity.

Shiva – Hindu god of wisdom and fertility.  In Shaivism, one of the principal branches of Hinduism, Shiva is revered as the supreme being.  In all forms of Hinduism, he is the creator and the destroyer and the eternal masculine principle.  He is Shakti’s mate and is variously portrayed as a meditating yogi, a benevolent husband, a cosmic dancer, and a fearsome slayer of demons.

Spirit – From the Latin “spiritus,” literally “breath.”  An immaterial essence believed by some to correspond to the life force or soul.  It derives from early attempts to explain why some things are alive, since the most obvious difference between the living and the dead is the cessation of breathing.

Spiritualism – The belief that there are two planes of existence, a physical, material realm that is apparent to human senses and instruments in the “real” world, and a magical, immaterial, spiritual realm that flows invisibly through and around the physical world.  Ritual manipulation of this supposed spirit realm and its contents, energy, and supernatural inhabitants is the basis for many types of magic, religion, and folk healing.  (The term also refers specifically to the 19th century mania for “spiritualists” who claimed to be able to communicate with the dead, but this is just one example of spiritualism.)  Also sometimes called supernaturalism.

Tantra (1) – Tantric sex, the common Western term for a set of sexual practices that are allegedly derived from sexual rituals that originated at least 2500 years ago in the Indus Valley region of India.

Tantra (2) – A religious tradition, especially within the major branches of Hinduism, such as Shaktism, and in Vajrayana (Tibetan Buddhism).  Tantric traditions, in this sense, are based on Tantras (3) and on esoteric teachings handed down secretly from teacher to student.

Tantra (3) – One of many religious texts or teachings believed to have been divinely inspired, especially in Hinduism and in Vajrayana (Tibetan Buddhism); most originated in the 6th through 9th centuries CE.

Tantric (adj) – Having to do with Tantra or Tantras, in any of the senses above (which one is usually clear by context).

Tantric, Tantrik, or Tantrika (noun) – A person who practices Tantra (1) or Tantra (2).

“Tantric High” – The euphoric state created by the release of phenethylamine, cannabinoids, and endorphins in the brain as a result of prolonged sexual arousal and prolonged, intense orgasms.  It is similar to but stronger than the “runner’s high” that results from prolonged exercise.  Some Tantric couples cite the “Tantric high” as an explanation for why they feel “addicted” to each other.


Taoism or Daoism – A Chinese religion/philosophy based on the Tao Te Ching, an enigmatic book by the philosopher Lao-Tsu, as well as traditional Chinese beliefs and folk medicine and later writings by others.  It is best known for encouraging harmony with the Tao  (literally “the Way,” but often understood as "the natural order"), and is symbolized by the union of Yin and Yang, the eternal opposites, representing light and dark, male and female, sky and earth, fire and water, etc.  Hindus may see the classic Daoist symbol as representing the union of Shiva and Shakti, through which the universe is created and maintained.


TestesTesticles, or Balls – The two ovoid, sperm-producing gonads housed in the scrotum, just below the penis.  The testes also produce the male hormones called androgens, primarily testosterone.  The testes are richly innervated and are well-known for their ability to produce excruciating pain when struck or squeezed.

Theravāda – The oldest surviving form of Buddhism.  Compared to later forms, it is simpler and more conservative, hewing more closely to early Buddhist doctrines.  About three-eighths of the world’s Buddhists practice Theravāda, including most of the people in ThailandCambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and Sri Lanka (Ceylon).

Tumescence – Swelling caused by relaxation of capillaries and engorgement with blood (not by internal bleeding or an increase in intercellular fluid, as in a bruise or sprain).  Although normally assumed to be a response to sexual arousal, tumescence can also occur during sleep or unconsciousness.  The term is often used as a synonym for erection, but in fact can apply to many parts of the human body besides the usual three erectile organs (penisclitoris, and nipples).  Prolonged sexual stimulation can cause noticeable vascular engorgement in the pelvic area, breasts, chest, neck, and parts of the face, including the ears, nose, and lips.

Urethra – The tube that connects the bladder to an opening (or “meatus” in Latin) in the female vulva or in the glans or head of the male penis.  It carries urine when emptying the bladder, and in the male it also carries semen during ejaculation.

Vagina – The inner portion of the female genitals, a soft, highly elastic tube connecting the introitus, or vaginal opening, and the cervix.

Vajrayana – “The Diamond Way” or “The Thunderbolt Way,” the form of Buddhism most associated with Tibet and the Dalai Lama.  Also known as “Tantric Buddhism” because it is based on Tantras (3), religious teachings and texts from many centuries after the death of the Buddha. Although Buddhism in its original form is best characterized as a largely naturalistic philosophy, Vajrayana is a complex and colorful religion, complete with gods, demigods, saints, spirits, and demons.  Although it is perhaps the best-known form of Buddhism in the West because of its leader, the Dalai Lama, it represents only about 6% of all Buddhists.

Vestibule – In the vulva, the smooth area between the labia minora, running from the clitoris at the top to the introitus, or vaginal opening, at the bottom.

Vulva – The external female genitals, comprising the labia majora, the labia minora,  the clitoris (with its glansshafthood, and roots), the vestibule, and the introitus or vaginal opening.  See also Yoni (2).

Yab-Yum (1) – To quote from Wikipedia:  “Yab-yum (Tibetan; literally, ‘father-mother’) is a common symbol in the Buddhist art of India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet representing the male deity in sexual union with his female consort.  Often the male deity is sitting in lotus position while his consort is sitting in his lap.”  The term is also used loosely to include similar representations in Hindu art called karmamudrā (Sanskrit; "action seal").  Note the word “often” in the quoted definition.  Shakti sitting on Shiva’s lap is the most common meaning, but (at least in Tantric sex) yab-yum can include any position that allows close couple meditation while embracing each other, generally with sexual union but restricted mobility.

Yab-Yum (2) – In Tantra (1), yab-yum, or “the yab-yum phase” is often used as a shorthand term for the period of close sexual connection, couple meditation, and relative immobility that begins or precedes maithuna, the final phase of the Tantric ritual.  The yab-yum, "quiet connection," or “rekindling and communion” phase need not be done in the strict yab-yum position with the female astride her partner’s lap; it can be done in any position that allows for close sexual union.

Yoga – In general, any of the physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines that developed out of traditional Hindu philosophy.  In the West, yoga is generally thought of principally as a type of stretching and physical exercise program that is often combined with very rudimentary meditation. In spite of the use of Eastern religious terminology, the "hatha yoga" taught in "yoga studios" all over North America is almost entirely a Western invention stemming from the 19th century "physical culture" movement.  (For more on this.)

Yoni (1) – Sanskrit for the female genitals, the vulva and vagina.  In Hindu religion, the Yoni is a block or tablet, usually of stone, that is carved with an abstract representation of the female vulva and vaginal opening.  It represents the goddess Shakti in her role as the sexual partner of Shiva. The union of Shakti and Shiva represents fertility and the creation/re-creation of the universe.

Yoni (2) – In Tantra (1), the female genitals, particularly in the context of a Tantric ritual.  The term usually includes both the vulva and the vagina, as in the term "yoni massage."  However, it is fairly common for modern Tantrics to use yoni in casual conversation as a synonym for the vagina, especially after “in" or "inside.”  For example:  “When his lingam is in my yoni…”

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