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Let's Talk Tantra


What’s the first thing you think of when someone says the word “tantra?” Does it have something to do with sex?

To scholars of religion, the tantras are a collection of esoteric Buddhist and Hindu-oriented writings compiled between the fourth and tenth centuries. Search through hundreds of mind-numbing pages of ritual minutia and arcane philosophy and you will, indeed, find some descriptions of using sexual acts as a way to connect with divine energy.

The word “tantra” comes from a Sanskrit root that means to weave or extend. So one way to think of tantra is a philosophy and a spiritual discipline that uses ritual, meditation, and yoga to allow its practitioners to experience themselves and the world around them as an interwoven unity. 

Some of these practices can be sexual. Tapping into male and female sexual energy can be a powerful and pleasurable way to transcend dualism and experience the union of opposites. 

But the main reason “tantra” has become synonymous with making love is because “sex sells.” In the on-line bustle of the New Age spiritual marketplace, the word “tantra” has become a way to grab your attention and entice you to click your way to an author’s book, video, or weekend workshop.

Of course, those of us at Spirituality & Health would never sink so low. That is definitely not why the cover story I wrote for the current print edition of the magazine comes with the giant headline “Thou Shalt Have Great Sex.”

(Click here to read my exciting article about SEX and TANTRA!! ) 

In reporting the article, I spoke with various teachers of tantra, and I have come to realize that “tantra” is one of those words that has come to mean almost anything. Some tantra teachers are marriage and relationship counselors using The Word to reach a New Age audience. Some are yoga teachers. Some are teachers of sensual massage. Others are humanistic psychologists sprinkling a little tantra over their encounter groups. 

Some of them are doing fine work, helping couples improve communication, spice up their sex lives, and find a way to overcome a religious upbringing that taught them sex was shameful and profane. 

One of the questions I ask in the article is what makes sex “sacred” and what makes it “profane.” To some traditional Roman Catholics, “sacred sex” is limited to intercourse between a married man and women who leave themselves open to the creation of new life. To some of the wilder proponents of neo-tantric sexuality, “sacred sex” is the liberation one may find in a drug-fueled sex orgy. 

Another aspect that interests me are how some of us are searching for a new sexual ethic. If we no longer base our sexual ethics on the moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, what do we base them on? By what standard do we decide what is sexually “right” and sexually “wrong”?

What do you think? 

Don Lattin is the author of five books on religion and spirituality in America. His second book, Following Our Bliss, has a chapter on “God and Sex.” Learn more at


Don Lattin

Don Lattin is a veteran journalist and the author of five books on religion and spirituality in America. His national bestseller, The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America, won the 2010 California Book Award for nonfiction. His most recent work, Distilled Spirits: Getting High, Then Sober, With a Famous Writer, Forgotten Philosopher and a Hopeless Drunk, is a memoir and group biography of writer Aldous Huxley, philosopher Gerald Heard, and Bill Wilson, cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Lattin’s stories have appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle, where he covered the religion beat for two decades. He lives on an island in the San Francisco Bay with his wife, Laura, and his dog, Bella. Visit him at

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