Monday, November 19, 2012

The Tantra SSC FAQ

As a tantrika and a person with some experience in bdsm, I'm shocked by the fact that, among tantrikas, there seems to be virtually no public debate about safety, how to decide whether a specific course or seminar is good for you, whether a tantric teacher is worth their money, etc. People attend tantric massage with astounding naiveté. (Yes, I know, "it has little to with real tantra", yadda yadda, but that doesn't make it less risky, regardless of whether it's true or not.)

I think that there should be some guidelines as to what constitutes a good tantra institute, what is or is not to be expected in a tantric massage, etc.

On a more generic level, I think that we should take the highly bdsm-specific idea of SSC, adapt it for tantra - and for sexuality in general - and advocate that amongst the general "vanilla" public.

I have since decided to move the FAQ to seperate location where other related documents might reside in the future.

The document you're reading right now might become outdated at some point. I only update the version which you can reach at the following location: Sorry for the inconvenience.

That said, without further ado, here's the first draft:

The Tantra SSC FAQ

Please be aware that I, betlamed, the original author if this FAQ, am in no way a medical or legal expert. Any proposition about legal and medical facts is purely my personal opinion based on my limited knowledge of the legal code and practice in my own country (NOT the U.S.!), and whatever life experience I have. Before you act on the information given, please make sure to take counsel from a trained professional in the respective area!

Also, this FAQ is written purely from a customer's / client's perspective. I'm sure that there are lots of issues that the providers / tantrikas / instructors should be aware of, too. This is not about bashing tantra or tantrikas in general, nor any specific school, tradition, institute, or religion - this is about ensuring the best, healthiest and most beneficial experience for all of us. I wholeheartedly believe that tantra can enrich your life, that everyone can benefit from it, and that almost all practitioners adhere to the highest moral and professional standards. I want to encourage this positive state and contribute to its continuing existence.

Most of what you read below is really just common-sense. The reason it is still useful to spell them out is that in the heat of excitement of receiving your first tantric initiation, it is surprisingly easy to forget the most basic precautions.

1. Tantra in General

1.1. Who is fit for tantric massage?

  • Every person who participates in tantric practices needs to be adult and physically as well as mentally fit. Every participant needs to agree to the practices out of their own free will and without any coercion or pressure. Children, people with mental disabilities, and - to some degree - people with deep emotional issues should not take part in tantric practices.
  • Animals have no place in human sexuality.
  • If you point out a perceived issue with the above, and the practitioner or instructor brushes the issue aside or refuses to acknowledge that there might be a problem, this is a huge red flag that you should never ignore. Alarm the authorities; at the very least remove yourself from the place as fast as possible.

2. Massages

2.1. What is or is not a legitimate part of a tantric massage?

  • In a professional tantric massage (meaning, one that costs money), there is no sexual intercourse, kissing, oral sex, or other sexual act besides the following:
    • A manual whole-body massage
    • Manual genital massage
    • Genital massage to the point of orgasm
      • For males: to the point of ejaculation
      • For males: Manual prostate massage
    • (I'm not sure about manual vaginal penetration - I will look it up)
  • All of the elements above HAVE to be explicitly negotiated before the act
  • In a non-professional/private context, it is of course up to the participants whether hey want penetrative sex or not, but if you plan on doing so, do yourself a favour and negotiate it beforehand. Everything else might be seen as a breach of trust, and there is nothing less erotic than that.
  • Before the start of the first massage with a new client, there HAS to be a comprehensive introductory talk that explicitly covers and clarifies all of the above.

2.2. What are the customary organizational conditions of a tantric encounter?

  • It is customary for the client to take a shower before the massage. Facilities should be provided on the premise, and the client should take up the offer. It is rude and gross to present a dirty body to a person whose job it is to treat you like a god for one and a half hours.
  • A preparatory or introductory talk is not part of the massage and can not be counted in the massage time. Usual offers are for 90-120 minutes. That is the time of the actual massage itself, not the introductory talk, the shower, etc.
  • In a tantric massage, the focus lies solely and completely on the receiver. The giver may or may not be aroused, their arousal is simply not the point, and it is their responsibility to deal with that. If a male practitioner is visibly aroused by the massage, that does not imply any obligation on part of the receiver to "take care of that".
  • Be aware that a masseur/masseuse will sometimes urge you not to produce too much noise. This is contrary to what tantra is really about, but it is a sad reality that in today's western culture, tantrikas can get in trouble if the neighbours find out what they do for a living. So please indulge them.
  • Do not try and explore/reveal the true identity of the giver. They treated you with respect and gave you a form of love, or at the very least provided their part of a fair business transaction amongst adults - you should not actively try to get them into trouble.
  • Do not try to fondle or touch the giver. Your role in a massage is to be passive. There is usually nothing to be said against some light touching in a socially acceptable manner, and it's probably a good idea to talk about its limits beforehand. A skilled professional will know how to deal with an unwanted touch gently but firmly if you try, but it is better to avoid the issue in the first place.

2.3. What emotional issues may arise?

  • The very basis of a tantric massage is trust. If you don't think that the giver is absolutely and completely trustworthy, move out there immediately!
  • The above goes for men as much as for women. Contrary to popular misconceptions, men can be raped, abused and otherwise mistreated. I'm not aware of any cases like that, but what can happen does happen, so it figures that they do exist.
  • During the session, unexpectedly intense feelings may arise. Those feelings may or may not constitute a form of love, but rest assured that they will subside shortly after the session. Don't confuse lust for everlasting love.
  • Okay, this is strictly my personal subjective opinion, but I know at least one professional masseuse who strongly agrees with me, and I just think it bears mention: You never ever EVER try and start a romantic relationship with your tantrika. Chances are that you're just overwhelmed with your hormones, and the risk of ending up in some abusive entanglement of power are extremely high - that goes for both parties! If your tantrika is prepared to engage in romantic encounters with you, s/he will probably do the same for the next client - is that something you'd want?

3. Courses and Seminars

3.1. How can I decide whether a given course is for me?

  • Ask lots of questions beforehand! A good instructor will be very open about what they do, with the possible exception of a few elements of surprise where it would take away from the experience if you knew them beforehand.
  • As far as I'm aware, there is a spectrum of tantric courses ranging from the therapeutic to the purely physical group sex. To further complicate matters, many of those offers deal in religious or esoteric language and ritual to varying degrees. All have their place, all are legitimate if that's what you're looking for. A legitimate instructor will be open and honest about what they're offering. If there is any hesitation on their part to explain exactly what they have in store, that is a very bad sign.
  • Do they think that chakras, chi, energy fields, devas, "higher beings", angels etc. are real, or just useful metaphors? Make sure that the instructors' ideas resonate with your personal worldview, and that they are reasonably tolerant of opposing views.
  • There are courses only for men, only for women, or for both. Also, some courses are only for singles, only for couples, or both. Be sure to ask the instructor beforehand.
  • Money is an issue of course. As a rule of thumb, a weekend course may cost just about what other kinds of self-awareness courses might cost.

3.2. What are some criteria to separate the wheat from the chaff?

  • Do you recognize any signs of guru worship? While guru worship is an intrinsic part of hindu religion and has its firm place in hindu culture, it is not normally part of the more western forms of neo-tantra. It is up to you whether you want to participate in religious practices like that.
  • More often than not, guru worship can be a sign of a cult. If you have any suspicion that you might have gotten into a cult, run as fast and far as you can.
  • If the instructors claim any therapeutic knowledge, are they prepared to show their credentials?
  • Can they explain their therapeutic method to you in terms that you actually understand?
  • Does their method resonate with you? Do the ideological foundations on said method sit well with you?
  • Tantra is never a replacement for actual psychotherapy. Nor does it heal cancer or bestow you with supernatural powers. A legitimate instructor will be aware of the fact and make sure that all participants understand this, too - they will not simply let you sign off some disclaimer just to cover their backs, but actively call the participants' attention to that fact.
  • Good instructors will refuse to accept participants who seem to have mental or emotional issues. Of course, depending on the therapeutic knowledge and experience of the instructor, there is some leeway here.
  • In a good mixed-gender course, there are at least two instructors, one male and one female. Some institutes even employ assistants for the organizational tasks, but also for any issues that the students might have.

3.2. Will I be expected to be nude?

  • Absolutely and positively NO. There might be some practices in advanced courses where it makes sense that people strip off their clothes, and an instructor might then suggest so, or it will just naturally happen this way. In a beginners' course, it most definitely will not happen. Despite what many people think, nudity is neither the point of nor a prerequisite of tantra.
  • The general basic rule which applies under any and all circumstances is that nobody is ever to be forced into any one particular practice. No means no, and it is to be respected. You have to decide what is good for you, or where your limits are.
  • Having boundaries is not a sign of weakness, or that someone is "not advanced enough", or anything of the sort. Every human being has boundaries and limits, and is perfectly entitled to enforce them under any and all circumstances. This is an integral and immutable part of any legitimate tantric activity.
  • You never have to stand by your "no" against opposition. This is not an assessment center or a management coaching, this is a recreational activity that should serve your fun and help you be more self-accepting, and you have to feel absolutely comfortable at any time.
  • If you witness or are the victim of any coercion into nudity or any other practices that you feel are inappropriate, then it is time to get out of there, and probably inform the authorities. Your own safety should be your top concern. Any attempt at breaking or bypassing your personal judgment is amoral at least and criminal at worst.

3.3. What about this odd non-disclosure agreement they want me to sign?

  • The instructors will often have the participants approve some kind of non-disclosure agreement. The laudable intention is to ensure confidentiality for all participants. However, sometimes a malignant instructor will use this legitimate practice to keep people from talking about illegitimate or outright criminal activities.
    • In some countries, such a non-disclosure agreement is implicit in participation anyway. If the instructor possesses a therapist's certificate, they may well declare the course a form of group therapy, in which case the participants implicitly become co-therapists and are thus bound by doctor-patient confidentiality. It is a good idea to remind people of the fact that they are supposed to be discreet about what and whom they hear and see, but it is not strictly necessary.
    • Such a non-disclosure agreement is limited by customer protection laws. Of course the customers have a right to compare notes on different offers, as long as they do not commit slander or libel.
    • A non-disclosure agreement of any sorts can never cover any criminal activities. If a client becomes a witness to psychological or physical abuse or coercion, they have every right to report this to the authorities. Discussing this in public chats or forums, or otherwise talking or writing about it in public, may constitute slander or libel, but this is not related to the non-disclosure agreement.

3.4. What's with the weird "left-hand/right hand path" stuff?

  • Both terms stem from the western occultist tradition, and are sadly ill-defined (as probably is to be expected in this context). Both may or may not refer specifically to sexual magic, or to magic in general. The left-hand path mostly refers to black, i.e. malicious magic, the right-hand path to white, i.e. benevolent magic. At any rate, both terms have absolutely no place in western secular therapeutic tantra.

3.5. Is tantra a form of therapy?

  • The simple answer: No, in and of itself, tantra is not a therapeutic method. If an instructor claims that it is, then they are either misinformed to a degree that renders them unfit for their job, or something is distinctly fishy.
  • Some instructors claim therapeutic knowledge. This may or may not be legitimate. In any case, it implies that they are bound by the laws regarding psychotherapy in your country, and they can be held responsible to those standards.
  • As soon as they are trained therapists claiming to perform therapy, the instructors are bound by doctor-patient confidentiality.
  • If they claim to perform therapy, but are not trained therapists, that is a criminal offense which should be reported.

3.6. Miscellaneous

  • Please be aware that peer pressure is an astoundingly strong force. It is scientifically proven that everyone of us tends to underestimate its influence. At the first sign of peer pressure, leave the place immediately, or at the very least take a long walk all on your own to clear your mind.
  • If the course takes place in some remote rural part, make sure to take provisions that allow you to leave the place at any time you choose to do so. Nothing is worse than being stuck with an abusive religious guru and their faithful followers for a whole week, just because you didn't come with your own car.
  • If you attend a course as a couple, do not assume that the course will magically heal your relationship issues. Chances are, if your relationship is somewhat broken already, the course will accelerate the process of breaking up.
  • If you attend a course as a couple, talk with your partner about what you can imagine them doing with other people, and what you would rather not see them do.
  • If you can't stand someone looking at your partner with obvious sexual arousal and intentions, do not attend a tantra course, period. The same goes the other way, too. Your partner will be aroused, and you will not always be the direct cause of that arousal.
  • If you attend a course as a single, do not assume that you will find a partner, or will effortlessly get tremendous amounts of sex. The basic rules of attraction that hold in everyday life will also hold on a tantra course.

This FAQ is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Feel free to share and modify, as long as you grant the same freedom to others and mention the original source.

Feedback is, of course, welcome.

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