Eastern traditions have a long history of sexual/spiritual philosophies and practices, commonly referred to in the west as “Tantric.” Over the last century, many westerners have studied these approaches (often with trips to India), and teachers like Michaels and Johnson (The Essence of Tantric Sexuality) have translated Eastern traditions into Western forms. In general, enhanced sexual intimacy has been an increasingly hot topic as American culture normalizes the importance of sexuality and the need for sexual wisdom and fulfillment in individual and relational health. Lots of practitioners teach an incredible array of systems amplifying sexual intimacy and pleasure. Alan and Donna Bauer’s Extended Sexual Orgasm, and Steve and Vera Bodansky’s Extended Massive Orgasm, get to the nuts and bolts of achieving and amplifying orgasms. Margo Annand (The Art of Sexual Ecstasy) has a more theatrical and eastern tinged approach that includes invoking nature spirits, movement, dance, and erotic ceremony. David Deida uses a more rigorous—almost martial arts tinged—approach of blasting through blocks and liberating your masculine/feminine aspects and essence. Cumulatively, I call all these more flexible, less traditional approaches “American Tantra,” because Americans are diverse, individualistic, and tend to resist surrendering to any one path. When I meet practitioners in these areas, I kid them that, by the time a couple is ready to go to one of their intensives, my hardest work as a therapist is done. Most American couples can’t safely discuss sexual wants and yearnings, much less experiment with extended sexual play or tantric ceremony. I’m stoked when a previously sexually silent couple can just have a productive sexual conversation in my office—never mind going to organized erotic workshops. Such talk forms the foundation upon which individualized American Tantra programs can be constructed. You can see the inhibition of sexual communication weirdly played out in American culture, where people are fascinated with public displays of affection up to kissing and hugging, and completely shut down around talking about anything more sexually explicit. For instance, I subscribe to “People News” from Stephen M. Silverman, and the following are a couple of typical entries: Anne Hathaway and her fiancé Adam Shulman are in Paris this week, and clearly feeling the allure of the old city – as they were spotted kissing at an outdoor cafe, while enjoying glasses of champagne. Bradley Cooper & Zoe Saldana Share Kisses at Sundance Cast mates and rumored off-screen couple Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana weren’t coy about their relationship status at Sundance! The costars were spotted taking their romance public, smooching at a cocktail party for their film The Words at the Park City, Utah, film festival. Nobody ever speculates any further about sexual engagement. If Anne and Adam and Bradley and Zoe are lovers, what kind of sex do they like? Does Zoe like to be swept off her feet and ravished in hotel rooms? Does Adam get off on Anne wearing high heels? Powerful taboos repel us from such talk—taboos so strong that many married couples never share their sexual landscapes fully with each other, even after decades of marriage. That’s why it was so much fun recently to work with Jim and Bobby, a couple who had just returned from a sensuous tropical vacation and wanted to keep the sexual thrill going. Neither believe they have much trouble talking explicitly about what they like—and they really are much more open than most couples. On the other hand, subtle resistances still cause them problems in sexual communication, and they have an ongoing problem keeping sex hot at home. With partners like this—generally self-reflective, communicative, and experienced in personal transformation and erotic development—my job is to help them expand their range of self-awareness, communication and action, and then guide them through the defensive distress that inevitably emerges from such work. In the initial session with Jim and Bobby, the expansion part involved exploring their favorite connections and fantasies, and suggesting a few relatively safe practices. The defensive distress part came in the next session after they tried out the new ideas and activated their defensive states—which always show up when people work with their sexual identities, yearnings, judgments, and practices (see Blogs #14, #26, and #31). In the first session, I starting by asking them, “What is your best emotional connection?” Bobby answered immediately, “Gratitude and appreciation for each other.” Jim took a little longer. He looked thoughtfully out the window and finally said, “Her enthusiasm, sexual desire, desire to be playful.” I asked, “What’s your favorite sexual scene?” She, “Dressing up, adorning myself as the sex goddess—being appreciated found attractive, worshipped.” He, “Directing Bobby to do sexy things.” He looked embarrassed, “Kind of being the master in the master/slave thing.” Bobby blushed, “I have to say I like that too. But sometimes it’s hard to get there.” I asked Bobby, “When you two start fooling around, how many minutes until you are in the mood?” She laughed a little, “Often right away, but it can take five to ten minutes if I’ve had a stressful day.” “OK,” I said, “This week I’d like you to stake out a two hour interval and have Jim initiate lovemaking. I turned to Jim, who gets impatient when Bobby doesn’t immediately get into it when they start making love, “You need to be loving, patient and present for at least ten minutes after you begin. That’s your job.” He nodded—guys like to have a specific mission. Bobby visibly breathed deeper and relaxed as Jim agreed, and I told her, “Bobby, your job is to relax and let Jim lead you into bliss.” Looking back to Jim, I continued, “The first directions you offer are the most important ones. Each needs to be an easy ‘yes,’ like, ‘Close your eyes and taste this strawberry.’ The president of a Los Angeles Hypnosis Association once said that if someone does what you say three times in a row, they are likely be relaxing into trance and much more available to further direction, so the first things you suggest—or order her to do in the master/slave sense—need to be easy and fun.” They both nodded, and two weeks later they came back into my office and sat down with Jim looking pissed and Bobby scared. “Time to deal with their defenses,” I thought to myself as they settled down armchairs facing each other. Sipping from my teacup, I asked, “So, what happened?” Jim, “She got controlling and wouldn’t go along.” Bobby, “He got angry and I couldn’t relax.” I smiled at them reassuringly. “We talked about how stuff would come up, and here it is. How did you handle the situation?” Bobby, “We had a fight and then stopped talking to each other.” Jim nodded his agreement. We proceeded to explore the negative stories they tended to generate about each other and the hostile habits of blaming and attacking they unconsciously surrendered to when feeling sexual criticism, shame, or pressure. We went on to make fairly good progress with these issues, and I ended the session with my admiration and encouragement. “This conversation, where you two can talk in an accepting and caring way about your hurtful experiences and negative stories, and listen for the kernels of truth in the other’s beliefs, is what will guide you towards deeper intimacy and sexual bliss. This conversation is a prime example of what I call American Tantra, the ability of equal partners—educated, sophisticated, but still driven by defenses and closed down by inhibitions—to keep expanding the conversation and trying new ideas and practices to create more love and passion. As long as you keep the conversation alive, and keep reaching for more love and passion with each other, you’ll continue to make progress. They left the session more hopeful, and willing to try some more practices. If they continue, they’ll discover amazing capacities for love and passion, but it will be harder than they think. That’s really the secret knowledge about American Tantra—it requires courage and willingness to be wrong and to change over time, but two people committed to ongoing practice can generate incredible levels of love and passion that are unique and special. America is a society of unique individuals, and so we each co-create our own growth systems with therapists, teachers, health practitioners, and lovers. We have always been a great melting pot of ideas and approaches to everything imaginable. American Tantra reflects this as it draws from multiple sources and traditions to help people find their way to deepening love and sexual bliss.