• Netflix's new docuseries "(Un)Well" delves into various subsets of the wellness industry, including tantric sex: slowed-down sex that focuses on full-body pleasure and mindfulness.
  • Tantric sex is a practice inspired by ancient Indian spirituality, and proponents say it can make you have the best orgasms and sex of your life.
  • But the practice has been mired by accusations of sexual assault and using the promise of sexual enlightenment to manipulate followers.
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When Sasha Cobra, a tantric sex and energy healer, hovers her hands over a man's belly and moves them up and down the length of his entire body, he groans and his stomach convulses. 

The man, who said he felt self-conscious while having sex with his wife, grunted and convulsed some more, tears rolling down his cheeks. Then he said he felt like he went through an exorcism and is a brand-new person. 

"You just feel this wave of energy coasting through your body. There were sparks coming out from my fingertips," he said to the camera in an episode of the new Netflix docuseries "(Un)Well.

Cobra explains she has plenty experience "treating" people with what she calls "orgasmic healing," using her hands to "release" pent-up energy in their body so they can be more in touch with their sexuality.

Her work is a strand of tantric sex — the 115-year-old philosophy of slowed-down sex that focuses on full-body pleasure and mindfulness.  

But, as the series lays out, scholars of "tantra," the ancient Indian philosophy it is derived from, say it has nothing to do with sexual technique and more to do with Westerners misusing Hindi words.

That's an accusation leveled by people who've attended tantric sex retreats, too. In the episode, Saskia Mahler, a woman who attended a tantric sex retreat in Thailand, said the leader of the retreat raped. She said he told her he could only heal her with a technique using the "lingham," which, it turned out, is the Sanskrit word for penis.

What is tantric sex?

Intimacy coach Michaela Boehm instructs a woman to massage her husbands feet to create a greater sense of intimacy in their relationship.

Ancient Indian spirituality inspired tantric sex, a concept philosopher Pierre Bernard brought to the United States in 1905 when he founded Tantrik Order of America.

"Tantric" is derived from the Hindu word "tantra," which literally means "technique," according to David Gordon White, a professor of comparative religions at University of California, Santa Barbara who was featured in the Netflix episode.

At tantric sex retreats and one-on-one sessions, students learn mindfulness practices and apply them in sexual ways with their partners or by themselves. During these sessions, students are told to focus on sensations of pleasure, which can take many forms other than orgasm, which is often considered the end goal of sex.

But there isn't just one way to practice tantric sex, and different teachers employ different methods to help their students connect their minds to their bodies.

It can involve breathing in sync with your partner, maintaining eye contact during sex, and focusing on the deep connection you feel towards each other. If you want to have a solo tantric-sex experience, you could set the mood with candles, experiment with touch in different areas of your body, or let yourself make whatever noises you wish.

According to sex educator Emily Nagowski who was also featured in the "(Un)Well" episode, taking this slowed down and mindful approach to sex and sexuality is what allows some people to have the more intense, and even full-body, orgasms.

It's not that tantric sex itself creates full-body orgasms, Nagowski said. But tantric sex forces a person to tune into their entire body, and that can "release the obstacles trauma has built between a person and the pleasure their body is capable of experiencing," she said.

Scholars say true tantra has nothing to do with sex, and this is Western appropriation

Tantra, in ancient India, was originally used to control the energy of demons and demonesses and sometimes involved drinking sexual bodily fluids, which were thought to make men immortal.

Bernard viewed sex as a way to get in touch with your spiritual side, despite the fact that is just one small part of ancient tantric practices, White said in the "(Un)Well" episode.

The tantric sex taught today also isn't based on ancient tantric scriptures, said White.

For that reason, those who study true tantra often refer to tantric sex as "neotantra," and many see tantric sex as cultural appropriation.

Bernard peppered themes and words from ancient tantra practices into his new tantric sex practice. "Yoni," for example, means "divine feminine" in Sanskrit, but is used to refer to the female genitalia in the world of tantric sex.

Sessions involve meditating, moaning, and laughing

Sasha Cobra does "orgasmic healing" on a client.

In one "(Un)Well" scene, participants of Cobra's all-women tantric sex workshop are instructed to sit cross-legged, close their eyes, and focus on whatever sensations overcome them, similar to a meditation practice.

Then Cobra told them to physically release any emotions they felt. Soon, the entire room was filled with women swaying side to side, laughing, groaning, and crying.

Following Cobra's session, one woman said she felt more in touch with her body and sexuality..

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