What does authentic, ancient Tantra have to do with sex?
The question keeps coming up and there's a lot of confusion around this for those who study Tantra.
Hopefully this will help:
Tantra is one of many methods for attaining Liberation ('Moksha').
One thing that distinguishes Tantra from other traditions is its use of the life-currents (prana).
Breathwork is therefore a fundamental part of Tantra, but breath is not the only example of a 'life-current'.
Tantra works also with the other inner forces or 'winds' (vayus), as found also in Ayurveda - the ancient medical tradition of India.
Another element that can be considered particularly 'Tantric' is that it is not seeking to bring about only liberation from the 'cycle of death and rebirth' (what the Buddhists call 'the wheel of Samsara'). Liberation is considered to be possible here and now.
In other words Tantra is not only 'transcendental' - it is also seeking to bring about full liberation while living.
This embodied, liberated state, is known as 'Jivanmukti'.
Another dimension of Tantra, especially 'Left-hand' Tantra, is taking the conventional spiritual ideal of 'self-mastery' to the extreme.
If we can find the Divine in the forgotten or most rejected parts of ourselves, in the places we were taught were 'forbidden' or 'unclean' and in the places we have been afraid to go... if we can invoke and feel the Presence of the Divine, no matter what the external circumstances are, then, and only then will we be fully Liberated.
When we are rooted in the expanse of the inner Presence, then God is truly experienced as being everywhere and everything.
When we stop believing and living as if God's love and presence is conditional, then there is nothing from which the Divine is excluded.
Then, even if we break all social and moral conventions, we cannot be separated from what inherently Is.
Understandably therefore, in some forms of Left-hand Tantra nothing was held as taboo.
The challenge was, and is, that everywhere, and in everything, we can learn to recognize the Divine.
'Extreme' practices were used to emphasize this and to deepen the Realization of the 'Yoga' - the 'Union' - or 'non-separation' from the Divine.
Of course each culture has its particular taboos, and each person their hidden places. An authentic modern Tantra, like the ancient Tantra, requires powerful, compassionate, guidance to explore the inner realms - the inner prisons, the inner hells.
Instead of choosing to retreat and dissociate from life to experience inner peace, expansion and divine connection, Tantric approaches seek to take the profound yogic awareness (we could also use the Buddhist term 'Mindfulness'), to all dimensions of our life.
This is why Tantra uses pranayama (regulation of the life-currents), together with 'bandha' (energy locks), 'mudra' (energy seals), 'mantra' (vibrating energy with the voice and/or with the focus of the mind) and 'pranava' (consciousness-expanding and purificatory intonation of the primordial creative vibration 'Aum'), 'maithuna' (sacred union), and more, but the tradition as a whole is not limited to and does not depend exclusively on any one of these practices.
If we understand that Tantra is about Liberation from conditioning to attain the fullness of Being, or 'Self-Realization', we see that it is not really about 'sex' as such...
However, if we see that it inherently does involve working with the life-currents, and recognize sexual desire and sexual energy as being a primordial and potent expression of these, we also see that it cannot be separated from the subject of sex and sexual energy, whichever way one decides to work with it - whether in alone, in celibacy or in sexual activity with one's beloved.
- Peter Littlejohn Cook
If you want to explore the sexual aspects of Tantra see the course: