In the West, Tantra has gone from a completely unknown esoteric phenomenon, involving esoteric lineages, the deities of Sanatana Dhamma, Hindu castes, and chakras, to merely a kinkier way to have sex. Mentioning no names, in one alleged book on “Tantra,” one of the co-authors talks about how they got involved with orgies, BDSM, peep shows, and “masturbation workshops” as they embarked on writing the book.
None of this would be recognized as Tantra by any actual Tantric lineage. Right-hand path Tantrikas don’t even have sex as a part of their practice. And, while left-hand Tantrikas do, they generally refrain from sex before and after participating in any rituals in which they do have sex. In other words, abstinence is also a part of Tantra. (Male Tantrikas also don’t ejaculate.)
It’s not an excuse for orgies. There are no Tantric masturbation workshops. And, ultimately, it’s not even all about sex. It is, in a sense, about harnessing and transcending desire — and probably no desire is as powerful, or as easily misused, as sexual desire. (We only need to think of one or two politicians or Hollywood movers and shakers to realize the latter point.)
But, perhaps, we’re getting hung up on “Tantra.” In the West, over the last couple of hundred years, “sex magic” or “sex magick” has also emerged from the shadows. Although similar to Tantra in some respects, in sex magical practice the male sex magician doesn’t refrain from ejaculating. So maybe the Western way is a little more loosey-goosey. And, in Western sex magic, there is a heavy dose of experimentation and Jungian psychology.
But what about plain old sex? Sex that felt magical or mystical in and of itself? Although more open-minded about a range of sexual identities, young people are having less sex than ever. This suggests that, when it comes to sex or intimacy, young people, in particular, are facing certain society-wide problems. Porn, of course, is immediately accessible. And, probably not unrelated to this, from 1992 to 2014, rates of masturbation doubled among men and tripled among women.
But which came first: masturbating or not having sex with a partner? With dating apps, people are always available for sex. Yet, a third of young people have opted out of hookup culture altogether, with only a quarter participating in it enthusiastically (I’m guessing most of that quarter are young men).
Then, of course, there’s politics. Today, every fact comes prepackaged with morals. And we cannot debate the facts without appearing deeply immoral. The facts might be on our side, but we will still be wrong if the morals du jour are not. Consequently, of course, every act is fraught with political implications — sex, perhaps, more than any other.
Hence, the “consent contracts” that couples are being encouraged to fill out on college campuses. Personally, I can’t imagine anything less arousing than signing a contract, but if that’s you’re kind of thing you can find out how to write one here. But, according to eForms:
The sexual consent form is a written agreement that relays in clear terms the intent of two consenting adults to participate in sexual acts together. The form allows the couple to enter the date and time the activity is to occur and list the exact permissions made by the consenting party. In case things go beyond what was originally intended, the consenter will have to mark that it will be ruled an accident with no repercussions or that the accident will be determined as assault. After the agreement is made it is recommended, although not required, to be signed with a witness present.
On college campuses, at least, this, apparently, is the new language of love.
But, of course, it is. The seeking of bliss, highs, and nirvana; tuning in, turning on, and dropping out; and Hippie trails to Woodstock or Kathmandu is as alien to our age as medieval Europe — maybe more so in some respects.
Ours is a world in which everything is politicized; everything is legalistic; everything is about manipulating the facts. It is a world in which we are cautious about expressing ourselves — because we know that fewer and fewer people are interested in knowing who we are and more and more people want to see only identities composed of political markers that must be denounced.
In sharp contrast, the sacred effaces our own identity, especially our social (and, thus, in today’s terms, our political) identity. According to Christianity, in the eyes of God the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker are the same as the overpaid, tenured, college professor, who is looked up to as a moral and ideological authority.
In Tantra, the initiate of one caste would have ritual sex with a person of another caste, breaking that societal taboo and releasing them from their identity. Falling in love is not so different. Love makes one person fall for another of a different class or background despite the tutting of neighbors or parental concern. It is naive and spontaneous. It is a rule-breaker, not a signatory of consent contracts.
There are no sexual taboos anymore, except, perhaps, love itself. We can have all the sex we want so long as it’s not sacred. Modernized and commercialized “Tantra,” porn, hookups, masturbation workshops. It’s all available, often at the click of a button or two. But these things are only symptoms of a consciousness that has changed, collectively, to one of suspicion and scapegoating. To a consciousness that only sees degrees of ugliness rather than beauty. To one in which we no longer see the individual — even the individual with whom we personally may be having sex. It is symptomatic of a time in which people need an escape from tension and have no concept of the sacred, freedom, or ecstasy.