ICYMI, Here is the Interview in which Stephanie Talks to Playboy.com about Tantric Sex

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Tantric Sex Explained

by Jonathan Stewart, originally posted at playboy.com in the summer of 2014

Celebrities like Sting and P. Diddy have spoken publicly about their love of tantric sex and guides to tantra crowd the sexuality sections of bookstores, but what is tantric sex? We asked sex and relationship coach, and tantric sex practitioner, Stephanie Johnstone to explain the ins and outs of tantric sex to us.

Playboy.com: What is tantra and tantric sex?

Johnstone: Tantra is a vast and ancient way of being that originated in India thousands of years ago. Some people who practice tantric sex are more traditionalist and others cherry-pick what works for them. [Tantra] is a way of thinking about sex that is not specifically genital focused. That doesn’t mean there can’t be hardcore fucking in tantra; it just means whatever kind of sex you’re having or whatever way you’re being intimate can be tantric. You start to consider other ways of framing pleasure besides penis-in-vagina intercourse. But when it comes to Tantric Sex 101, there’s two ideas and techniques I’d like to share.

First: really think about breathing. There’s a perception that spiritual sex takes a lot of ritual and hullabaloo—it totally can and that works for some people—but I think a great first step is just to become present and aware of your own breath. People can [start by noticing] where they’re holding their breath and experiencing their breath in their day-to-day life, and that will translate to noticing your breath when you’re being sexual.

Something that is very powerful is breathing in sync with your partner when you’re engaging in sexual intimacy; it can be a deep act of empathy and energy alignment. This breath work with your partner is the deepest kind of listening and is the embodiment of tantric sex.

Playboy.com: How did you come to tantric sex?

Johnstone: My personal journey with my body and sexuality was one from utter shame to utter celebration. I was raised in a wonderfully kind family but one that was a fundamentalist Christian family. So sex, sexuality and the body were considered dirty and off-limits and relegated to specific contexts.

In my early 20s I began to let go of those beliefs; I let go of Jesus and found myself and had a liberating awakening to my own sexuality and I realized I didn’t just live in my head, I lived in my whole body. I became open to things like practicing yoga. I also became open to the fact that sex and sexuality are not things that belong in dark bedrooms behind closed doors, but that we can experience pleasure in sex, as well as a sensual life-giving pleasure in walking down the street, in smelling the roses, in the way that the light falls on a particular place on the beach.

Around this time I came across a book, Urban Tantra by Barbara Carrellas. It draws on the ancient spiritual tantric traditions but also speaks about it in a way that allowed me to see everything as sacred. It elevates the pedestrian. And from there I delved deeper into it and I now work tantra into my work as a sexual educator and dating coach.

Playboy.com: Why should someone study and practice tantric sex?

Johnstone: The juicy answer is that the capacity for sexual pleasure expands when you bring tantric ideas and practices into your lovemaking. Even using a fraction of some of these ideas—and tantra is vast and you can spend a lifetime studying it—is going to see a transformation in your sex life and how you experience pleasure.

In my coaching and on my podcast I’ve encountered women with a similar story to mine—of wanting to unlock and transcend sexual shame—and tantra is a tool for that. There’s also many men who feel frustrated about coming too soon and who wish to last longer or have difficulty getting erect or staying erect, and the techniques of tantra let you check in with your body and think of your whole body as an erogenous zone, and it can assist men with these issues.

America is weird when it comes to sex. We’re so good at sex when it comes to promiscuity that doesn’t have much humanity in it. And paradoxically, we’re also so good at the residual puritanical shame. We’re not great at finding the life in the middle.

Playboy.com: In popular culture when we hear about tantric sex we associate it with being able to have endless orgasms and being able to have sex all day. Is there any truth to this idea?

Johnstone: Yes, it can be that, having sex for hours and hours. But it’s a bit of a misconception thinking that’s all tantra is. Sex advice columnist Dan Savage jokes, “I don’t have time for the tantra people; I don’t have time to have orgasms all day long. I want to read the newspaper and do other things.”

How I think of tantra is it shakes up the idea of what it means to have sex. That doesn’t mean it tries to get rid of fucking, but it means you could be engaging sexually while reading the paper across the table from your partner who is also reading the paper as you’re also being really present with each other. You stay relaxed when you’re excited and stay excited when you’re relaxed so in that way you can apply a little added consciousness when you’re having sex— even when it’s a quickie. I have tantric quickies all the time!

Think about sex like food. It takes more attention and effort and forethought to make a gourmet three-course meal than it does to throw together a sandwich. I love sandwiches, and in my sex life I like sandwiches sometimes and other times I like gourmet meals. Once you start having tantric sex that doesn’t mean you always have to have tantric sex when you fuck.

Playboy.com: What other common misconceptions do you encounter around tantric sex?

Johnstone: That it’s super serious. It certainly can be. But any sex can be tantric sex—consensual power play, the playful, the rough, the silly!—if you are present and conscious with it.

That points to the common misconception about sex, in general, that I would most like to see shaken up: Many people think that being “present” or “conscious” with sex, or communicating about sex, or putting forethought into sex takes the sexiness out of things. But my own and multitudes of others’ experience with the core ideas of tantra (and talking more and better about sex in general) is that it exponentially increases hotness!

Sure, it can be fun to roll around without thinking or talking about it. But there is a pretty low ceiling to how pleasurable that can be. The tools that tantric thinking and practice offer can allow us to get more clear and present with ourselves and with our partners in terms of what we most deeply desire and what follows can be an expansion of pleasure that feels—and may be—limitless!

Stephanie Johnstone is an NYC-based human/activist/artist/sexuality educator with a fierce commitment to celebrating and cultivating interdependence. Her podcast, Sex For Smart People* (*that means you), founded in the belief that authenticity and communication are the sexiest, is available on iTunes and Dogcatcher. She draws heavily on her tantra practice in her work as a wholistic sex and relationships coach, with a focus on sexuality from a place of wholeness and communication for couples. Contact her at stephanie@sexforsmartpeople.com, and on Twitter @SexForSmarts.