Urban Tantra, Sacred Sex for the Twenty-First Century by Barbara Carrellas
Urban Tantra (2007) is a no-nonsense, dogma-free guide to Tantra – a spiritual practice that will give you a fresh look at your sex life. It shows that Tantra can work for anyone; it’s as useful to a BDSM practitioner who wants to intensify her rituals as it is for a hurried parent seeking to reconnect with his sexuality. To practice Tantra, you don’t need to master complex positions or learn to chant in Sanskrit. All you need are a few simple tools that’ll help you become more mindful and drop into your body.
Allow Tantra to transform your sex life.
Be honest – How’s your sex life? Are you stuck in a rut? Do you ever find yourself spacing out during sex?
Sex is the most emotionally laden part of our lives. Every time we’re in the bedroom, we bring in a heap of mental expectations, insecurities, and baggage from the past. No wonder our sexual experiences don’t always feel that exciting!
Tantra is a spiritual philosophy designed to help you connect with yourself and become present in the moment. Through breathing exercises, active meditations, and sexy rituals, you’ll discover how to drop into your body and experience blissful sensations – while also learning how to become more attuned to your partner’s body.
In these summary, you’ll learn
- how to actively give and receive pleasure;
- why our minds sabotage our sex lives; and
- how to improvise sex toys with what you’ve got at home.
Urban Tantra can be practiced anywhere, by anybody.
Barbara Carrellas discovered the power of Tantra while giving a lap dance. It was the height of summer, and she was working at Harmony Burlesque, a New York strip club. On a particularly hot, clammy day, a man walked into the club and caught her eye. He was dressed unusually, in cowboy boots and a hat – not something you’d expect to see on a New Yorker. Barbara was immediately drawn to him. One lap dance became two, and then three, and then she just lost count.
They were rocking and swaying together, entranced, staring into each other’s eyes. The connection between them felt so profound that the rest of the club melted away. Eventually, after about 20 minutes, they became tired. They disentangled themselves, and the cowboy strode off into the night.
That experience of a deep, spiritual sexual connection was Tantra.
The key message here is: Urban Tantra can be practiced anywhere, by anybody.
When the author first started practicing Tantra, she was put off by how white and heteronormative the scene was. Tantra seemed to be practiced exclusively by heterosexual couples in nature retreats. Her experience with the cowboy was revelatory because she realized that the magic of Tantra could be experienced in a dingy strip club just as well as in a candle-filled forest. “Urban Tantra” was born.
But let’s back up for a moment. What, exactly, is Tantra?
Tantra is an ancient spiritual practice – according to some estimates, it began as many as 5,000 years ago! The modern form of Tantra can be traced to sixth-century India, but there’s a lot of disagreement about its exact history. Over the centuries, many documents were lost. On top of that, a lot of teachings had always been so secret that practitioners of the art never wrote them down.
Today, Tantra is associated mainly with sex. It is a spiritual practice that celebrates our bodies. But the philosophy goes much deeper than that. Tantric practices can teach you to be present in the moment, to confront your fears and shame, to connect with other people, with nature, and with the spiritual realm. Applying these practices to your life will have consequences that go far beyond the bedroom.
The most important practice of Tantra is learning to be present.
Imagine you’re in the middle of having passionate sex . . . but your mind is still buried in work emails. Sound familiar?
Most of the time, our minds are so busy with thoughts about the future or the past that we completely miss the present – the moment we’re actually living in.
The practice of Tantra can teach you how to bring your thoughts back to the now. And when you’re fully conscious during sex, you can both experience the sensations in your body more intimately, and build a deeper connection with your partner.
The key message here is: The most important practice of Tantra is learning to be present.
What is our primary sex organ? Well, some would say it’s our mind. The way we think about things shapes how we see – and experience – the world. For example, when the author began her Tantra training, she found it very boring – stultifying even. But that’s because she mentally associated practicing Tantra with being in church. She’d learned that she had to observe religious rites in a rigid way, which included sitting through long, boring services. So she unconsciously applied that model to Tantra.
But she soon realized that there was no “right way” to practice Tantra. She could do so freely and joyfully, on her own terms. She started inventing her own rituals, and her body became full of erotic energy.
Practicing Tantra involves waking up our minds, and consciously letting go of all our preconceived judgments and beliefs. You’ll also need to learn to let go of expectations. If you’re mentally planning what kind of orgasm you want to have, you won’t actually be present to experience that orgasm.
Our minds can block erotic energy, but they can also create it. When the author was having sex with her girlfriend, she visualized an electrifying stream of sexual energy. It encircled her girlfriend’s body, just as the author was licking her girlfriend’s clitoris. Her girlfriend immediately began moaning in increased ecstasy, even though the couple’s motions stayed exactly the same.
Learning to become present is a long, continuous process of discovery. As you’ll see in the next blink, regulating your breathing is one of the very best ways to calm frantic thoughts and drop into your body.
Techniques like breathing and meditation will allow you to drop into your body.
Focus on your breath. Inhale deeply; fill your belly with air. Then slowly exhale. You feel more relaxed, don’t you? Now, take a shallow, small breath. You’ll probably find that your whole posture changes – your very body becomes hunched and constricted.
The way we breathe has a profound effect on how we feel. By consciously regulating your breathing, you can learn to calm yourself down, or fill your body with extra oxygen and energy.
The key message here is: Techniques like breathing and meditation will allow you to drop into your body.
Breathing is not the only way to awaken your body. You can also get there by doing active meditations. This is almost the direct opposite of sitting serenely and chanting as you stare into the flame of a candle. No, active meditations are much rowdier than that. They’re designed to make you feel thoroughly, joyfully silly. They allow you to find your voice, to process pent-up emotions.
For example, here’s how the author’s Exhilaration Meditation works. She shakes her whole body to music, adds in some gibberish, and then dances wildly, twirling her body around to the music. Her Catharsis Meditation includes having toddler tantrums, doing kung-fu kicks, and allowing herself to literally roll on the floor laughing.
As you can imagine, it’s hard to take yourself seriously when you’re doing these meditations – which is exactly the point. Silliness is a potent and underappreciated tool in the creation of a steamy sex life. When we’re very young, adults tell us not to act silly. We learn to become controlled and composed.
But the same unruly wildness that allows us to shout loudly or sing with abandon is what can loosen us up, leading to explosive, full-body orgasms.
Active meditation is a great way to reach a physical awakening. But there’s something else you can do: dance. Put on some of your favorite sexy music, and allow yourself to twirl around the room. Then plant your feet hip-width apart, and do some hip circles or figure eights, followed by a wave that courses through your whole body.
These exercises allow you to drop into your body and wake up the erotic energy within you. As you’ll learn in the next blink, this is all excellent preparation for a full-body orgasm.
We need to deepen our understanding of what it means to orgasm.
There’s a famous scene in the film When Harry Met Sally, in which Meg Ryan pretends to orgasm in the middle of a cafeteria, moaning and grunting and breathing louder and louder until she supposedly reaches a sensual zenith.
The scene is comedic, of course. But it does contain a grain of truth. The sounds we make are key to how we orgasm; they’re a way to move sexual energy around our bodies. In fact, the author has climaxed just through mimicking the sounds of an orgasm. She calls this experience a blissgasm.
The key message here is: We need to deepen our understanding of what it means to orgasm.
The truth is that the accepted definition of an orgasm is very limited. Most of us think of an orgasm as a climax that happens when our genitals are stimulated. Those experiences are usually short and intense. They can feel wonderful, but there’s a lot more to orgasms than these volcanic eruptions of passion.
In a deeper sense, what does it mean to orgasm? The author describes this feeling as a release of tension, a surrender to energy that courses through our bodies. With this frame of mind, many experiences can be seen as orgasmic. Think about a time that your body convulsed with uncontrollable laughter, or when you cried so much that afterward you felt as if a wild storm had passed.
These gigglegasms and crygasms provide a deep release and allow you to access emotional states that adults are usually forced to stifle. Together, these kinds of orgasms are called energygasms.
There are many pathways to reach this state of arousal. For example, the author performs Breath Energygasms by breathing deeply into her chakras. In another powerful exercise called the Clench and Hold, she relaxes her body by doing 10 or 20 minutes of relaxed breathing, followed by 30 faster, deeper breaths. She then lies on the floor and takes three slow, deep breaths. The third time she inhales, she tightly clenches every muscle in her body for 15 seconds, and then lets go. The results are dramatic – anything from peacefulness and feeling tingly to developing a deep sense of catharsis or even seeing visions.
The key is to drop your expectations and give yourself over to the exercise. When you expand your definition of orgasms, you’ll find erotic possibilities everywhere.
Tantra allows you to become your own best lover.
What do you think of when somebody mentions Tantric sex? Chances are, you’re imagining a couple staring into each other’s eyes.
Tantra can, indeed, be practiced as a couple. But solo Tantra is just as important. In fact, it’s the very best place to start. Building an intimate erotic relationship with yourself is the most satisfying thing you can do.
To start, try staring into your own eyes. Take a mirror, and deeply look into your non-dominant eye. Now talk about what you love about yourself, or what you forgive yourself for. This will probably feel strange at first, but building this kind of self-rapport is very important.
The key message here is: Tantra allows you to become your own best lover.
Once you’ve begun building rapport with yourself, it’s time to take yourself on a Tantric date. Try going out for a delicious dinner at a fancy restaurant, allowing yourself to savor every flavor on your plate. Follow it up with a sexy movie or burlesque show to awaken your senses. You could end the outing with a visit to your local sex shop to choose a new toy or flavored lube. Go home for a rich and decadent dessert and a steamy bath, and then start making love to yourself.
This is a perfect time to experiment. What really turns you on? We’re all aroused by different sensual languages. For some of us it’s sound – for others, sight. And some people are primarily aroused by touch. Give yourself an erotic massage, or play out a steamy short story. Tantric dates don’t always have to involve sex. They’re more about awakening erotic energy.
Such experiences also offer a great opportunity to try on new personas and play with new toys. Perhaps you suspect you have an inner dominatrix and want to use nipple clamps. Or maybe you feel like trying out a different gender presentation? Solo Tantra will help you experiment. It will allow you to fully inhabit your own erotic world, without having to explain yourself to anyone.
Masturbation is something that you should never outgrow. It’s an evolving practice where you get to discover what you like and heal the scars of any shame or trauma you have around sex. At its heart, it’s a way to build an intimate relationship with yourself, which is also what allows you to build intimacy with other people.
Now that you’ve learned about solo Tantra, let’s find out what this practice can mean for you and your partner.
Preparation is key to a successful Tantric ritual.
Imagine you’re in a theater, waiting for the curtain to go up. Suddenly, the actors rush in from the street outside. They’re wearing their everyday clothes, and, as the lights dim, they begin to fumble around an empty set. It’s obvious that none of them knows where to stand or what lines to say.
Sounds like a disaster, doesn’t it? Well, the same goes for Tantra. Just like in a theatrical performance, there should be clear lines between everyday life and the ritual space of sex. How do you draw these lines? You prepare – thoroughly.
The key message here is: Preparation is key to a successful Tantric ritual.
First of all, you need to set the stage. That might be a room in your house, or maybe it’s a designated space – don’t feel restricted to using obvious places like the bedroom. Mixing things up can bring new sensations to sex. Just make sure that whatever space you’re in is uncluttered. Clutter is very distracting, and it creates mental stress you don’t want during your Tantric ritual.
Decorate your space with candles and fabrics, and cue up some music that makes you want to move your body. Consider what toys or props you may want to use. You don’t need to invest in expensive equipment. Instead, use your imagination. Carrots or zucchinis, for example, can make excellent dildos, and clothespins can be used to create delightful pressure in a BDSM ritual.
Once you’re done preparing your space, spend some time preparing yourself. Essentially, you want to create a mental space to transition away from the everyday. That can involve taking a steamy bath and literally washing away the day. Or screaming into a pillow to clear away any “psychic gunk” that’s bothering you. And don’t forget to change your outfit! Your clothes have a big influence on how you feel. No matter how tired or irritable you are, stepping into some lacy lingerie or some leather hot pants can fill you with erotic energy.
When you’ve gotten yourself ready, it’s time to meet your partner. Rather than plunging straight into sex, take some time to warm up together. You could do some meditation, or take turns shaking parts of each other’s bodies. Another good idea is to give each other a massage. The point is to loosen up, connect, and have fun.
By now, you’re in tune with yourself and each other. The stage is set, and you’re ready for the ritual to begin.
Tantric rituals are designed to help you connect with your partner.
If you’ve spent any time studying the Kama Sutra, the idea of Tantric sex may sound intimidating. Few of us have the flexibility needed to twist ourselves into sexual positions inspired by yoga poses.
But Tantra isn’t about how athletic you are. Much more important is how conscious and present you are while making love. You could have sex in the same position every day and still feel completely different, depending on how you directed your energy and tuned in to your partner’s body.
The key message here is: Tantric rituals are designed to help you connect with your partner.
So, what can help you and your partner become conscious during sex? Start by practicing the art of giving and receiving. Sit down facing one another. Cross your legs. Now take turns stroking each other’s bodies, starting at the top of the skull and working downward.
Another useful exercise is to sit in your partner’s lap, with your feet hooked behind his back. This is a very intimate position for connecting, especially when you start breathing together at the same pace, feeling your bodies moving as one. This is also a great position for penetration with a penis or dildo.
Whatever position you choose should help sexual energy flow both in and between your bodies. The most important connection points are the soles of your feet, your genitals, breasts, eyes, hands, and tongues. Get creative about how you build sexual energy, and remember that penetration isn’t the main aim of sex.
Use your breath, mouth, and tongue to titillate your partner. Tease them with the strokes of a feather. Make sure that your touches alternate hard and fast movements with slow and gentle ones. Although you might well come, that’s not the goal. Approach the ritual without any expectations or subconscious demands of your partner.
There is a Tantric principle called “three strokes for 30.” In other words, it’s better to have three expertly administered, deliciously precise touches than 30 messy ones. As a lover, attention is everything – so focus on giving your partner those “three touches” with all of your body and mind.
Finally, try to consciously soak up the post-sex afterglow – either alone or entwined with your partner. The energy will continue to course through your body for many days to come.
Erotic massages can form part of a powerful Tantric ritual.
At the height of the AIDS crisis in the early 1990s, activist Joseph Kramer and famous sex worker Annie Sprinkle taught a workshop called Cosmic Orgasm Awareness Week. As part of the workshop, they gave a master class in genital massage. The idea was to help students reclaim their sexual freedom amid the grief of the epidemic.
The author was one of those students, and the workshop changed her life. It allowed her to experience what it was like to truly surrender to pleasure. She learned to trust other people and build communication skills around consent. She also experienced a new way of practicing safer sex.
Inspired by the workshop, she created a Tantric ritual called the Erotic Awakening Massage, which is now at the core of her practice.
The key message here is: Erotic massages can form part of a powerful Tantric ritual.
The massage starts with strokes of a feather or a silk scarf. This wakes up the body. You can alternate some relaxing caresses with more stimulating strokes. Next, warm some oil between your hands, and start giving your partner a sensual massage.
Glide your hands over her whole body, applying just enough pressure. How do you know what “just enough” is? Your partner shouldn’t flinch, but her skin should give way to your touch. This is the level of pressure that the author calls the Resilient Edge of Resistance, and it’s different for each of us. Find it, and your partner will experience the most pleasure.
When you’re finished with the sensual massage, start directing your attention to her abdomen. Begin massaging the area above her ovaries and womb, then her vulva, labia, and clitoris. You can try using different techniques like vibrating, drumming, pinching, stroking, and blowing.
The genital massage will differ depending on whether you’re massaging people with vaginas or penises, but the purpose is the same: to build up erotic energy without necessarily speeding toward orgasm. Slowly increase the intensity of the strokes, and your partner’s experience will be blissful.
The massage culminates in a Clench and Hold, where the recipient does 30 fast and deep breaths, followed by three slow ones. On the third inhalation she holds her breath and clenches all her muscles, letting go in a fierce surrender.
Tantra embraces the adventurous and non-conforming.
Picture a scene of a man cowering in handcuffs, chained to a fence. Another man, clad in leather, whips him repeatedly, leaving red, raised welts on his back.
This scene may seem like the antithesis of a Tantric sex ritual. Isn’t Tantra all about softness and a deep mutual understanding? How does BDSM fit into that? You might be surprised to discover that submission and domination are actually perfectly aligned with Tantric teachings.
The key message here is: Tantra embraces the adventurous and non-conforming.
BDSM, like Tantra, is a sexual practice centered around consciousness and consent. While the man getting whipped may seem like a victim, he’s actually the one who has control. BDSM scenes are minutely negotiated before they begin. Any exchange of power is consensual. And the pain people might experience in these rituals often grounds them and makes them even more conscious.
So Tantra and BDSM aren’t that far apart; they’re like beloved cousins who have a lot to learn from each other. When Tantra is practiced openly, with no dogma, there is space for the most unlikely pairings.
The Urban Tantra movement has shown that Tantra can be practiced just as powerfully in a dank dungeon as in a lush forest. It can be practiced by people of all genders and sexual orientations. And it doesn’t have to be performed exclusively alone or as a couple. If Tantra is all about the exchange of sexual energy, then imagine how much energy could arise in a group where everyone played together.
The author once went to a weekend-long Tantric sex party with a group of friends. They dressed up, feasted, took long baths, and used strap-ons with each other. It was blissful and irreverent and showed the author new ways to expand both her friendships and her practice of Tantra.
Tantra can be made to fit around your life and needs, whatever those may be. It can be used for expanding your connections, healing, or just having some fun. So get out your silk scarves – or your handcuffs – and start experimenting!
The key message in these blinks:
Urban Tantra can be practiced by anyone, anywhere. You don’t need to follow any dogmatic rules or memorize sacred texts. Tantric practices like mindfulness, breathing, and dance awaken your body and allow you to connect to yourself and others. By redefining what it means to have sex and orgasm, you can vastly expand your sexual repertoire and discover new forms of pleasure.
Short on time? Have a “conscious quickie.”
We all know what it’s like – you want to spice up your sex life and learn to have whole-body orgasms, but you simply don’t know how to fit it in. Between looking after the kids and working long hours, you don’t have much time for sex marathons. The good news is that you can practice Tantra in as little as 20 minutes a day. You can do just part of a ritual, perhaps some breathing exercises. Or you can get yourself off to a favorite song. Working with erotic energy is like exercising: a short 20-minute run every day is much better than one long marathon on the weekend.
About the Author
Barbara Carrellas is an author, sex/life coach, sex educator, university lecturer, workshop facilitator, motivational speaker and theater artist. Her most recent books are “Ecstasy is Necessary: A Practical Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Oh So Much More,” “Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the Twenty-First Century” and “Luxurious Loving: Tantric Inspirations for Passion and Pleasure”. Barbara’s pioneering Urban Tantra® workshops were named best in New York City by TimeOut/New York magazine. In 2016 she was awarded a Sexual Freedom Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Video & Podcast
Thanks for reading this book Urban Tantra By Barbara Carrellas, checkout out book summaries categories for more book summary.