New Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition Available Now!
Barbara is celebrating the 10th Anniversary of her bestselling book with this updated edition. This new edition includes a brand-new introduction, up-to-date references and resources, a new take on the possibilities and responsibilities of Tantra in today’s world, plus new and cutting-edge information to reach an expanded community—added information on multi-partner play, more intersections for Tantra and BDSM, practices for asexuals and aromantics, expanded practices for trans and gender nonconforming people—and more.
Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the Twenty-first Century
Urban Tantra is a book about consciousness cleverly disguised as a sex guide. It’s for everyone who would like to have a more sexual and spiritual ecstasy in their lives. Urban Tantra shows you how sacred sex can be practiced anywhere from ashrams to a lap dancing parlors and in the time you actually have available in your busy life.
Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the Twenty-first Century
Urban Tantra is also the first queer, trans, and BDSM friendly Tantra book. Whether or not you have a partner and no matter what your age, sexual preferences, gender or abilities, you can begin to live a more joyful conscious life by learning how to practice joyful conscious sex. You can explore Urban Tantra step-by-step, as if attending your own private workshop, or you can jump in anywhere, trying out any of the 100+ exercises and techniques that appeal to you at the moment.
Urban Tantra is an invitation to live life more deliciously and make the world a more sexually satisfied, enlightened, and inclusive place.
Many people think Tantra can only be learned and practiced in peaceful, wooded, New Age retreats. But most people don’t live in quiet forests. They live in big, boisterous cities and suburbs. Fortunately, Urban Tantra®is a bold new practice that can be used anywhere and by everyone—inexperienced, young, old, queer, edgy, pierced, differently-abled, tattooed—you name it.
Urban Tantra, the book, is based on Barbara’s popular series of Urban Tantra® workshops (named Best in New York by Time Out/New York magazine), in which she created a radically updated Tantric sex practice for modern sexual explorers that Annie Sprinkle describes as “a fresh, new, inclusive, smart, hip, bold, and very fun version of Tantra.” With its juicy mix of erotic how-to and pleasure-centered spiritual wisdom, Urban Tantra will guide you through more than 100 techniques and positions for expanded orgasmic states, erotic massage, and more.
Combining the principles of ancient Tantra with contemporary sex positivism, Urban Tantra includes sections such as How to Touch, Conscious Quickies (Twenty-Minute Tantra), Solo Tantra, Discover What Truly Turns You On, Take Yourself on a Tantric Date, and even Tantra for the Adventurous (Tantric BDSM, How to Throw a Great Ritual/Sex Party, and Group Tantra). Urban Tantra can be explored step-by-step, as if attending your own private workshops, or you can jump in anywhere, trying out the exercises that appeal to you at that moment.
Forget about the common myths, such as Tantra requires a heterosexual partner, it takes too long, there’s no real sex, a guru is necessary, etc. With Urban Tantra, you do not have to devote your life to the study of Tantra, buy expensive products, or learn to speak Sanskrit. Everyone is welcome to enjoy the good stuff right away! Urban Tantra is a fun, irreverent, thoughtful and intelligent guide to mind-blowing sex in the twenty-first century—an invitation to live life more deliciously and make the world a more sexually satisfied, enlightened, and inclusive place.
With a warm heart and devilish good humor, Barbara Carrellas has written the first how-to guide to ecstatic sex for people of any and all genders, all combinations of gender, and even no gender at all—Urban Tantra is a much needed upgrade to tantric sex for generations to come.
—Kate Bornstein, author of Gender Outlaw
If you ever thought Tantra wasn’t for you—too foreign or gimmicky or New Agey, or not edgy enough for your radical sex explorations—Barbara Carrellas will cure you of all misconceptions and bring you an Urban Tantra to unite your sex, your spirit, your erotic wanderlust, your edge. —Carol Queen, author of Real Live Nude Girl
Any book on Tantra that begins by describing a professional lap dance as a divine sexual experience is one I will definitely read. Written with wit and humor, Barbara’s Urban Tantra keeps sex real, and, best of all, the rituals are fun. —Betty Dodson, PhD, author of Sex for One and Orgasms for Two
Urban Tantra offers a daring, delicious, profound, courageous, and altogether magical celebration that will teach us all to dance to the rhythms of the universe. Barbara Carrellas has written the ultimate how-to book that unites sex with spirit, healing with philosophy, and the animating force of the cosmos with each and every one of us. So if you’d like to live your sex life on a galactic scale, you must read this book!
—Dossie Easton, coauthor of The Ethical Slut
Urban Tantra is a courageous book by Barbara Carrellas, one of the pioneers in contemporary American Tantra. This engaging and comprehensive guide includes numerous powerful exercises as well as moving personal anecdotes that reveal how the conscious exploration and embrace of sexuality can function as a tool for transformation. —Mark A. Michaels (Swami Umeshanand Saraswati) and Patricia Johnson (Devi Veenanand), authors of The Essence of Tantric Sexuality
Everyone needs to rejoice in their own sexuality, and Barbara shows us how in this very informative, easy-to-use book. It would be nice to practice Tantra in a lovely remote garden or high atop a mountain, but the reality is that in today’s world many of us don’t have that luxury. Barbara demonstrates that it doesn’t matter where you practice, as long as you’re conscious when you do. Now, let go and enjoy Urban Tantra.
—Louise Hay, author of You Can Heal Your Life and Heal Your Body
Barbara Carrellas, whose Urban Tantric sex workshops combine Eastern sex techniques with the postmodern methods of SM practitioners, is a trailblazer.
—Tristan Taormino, author of Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships
Urban Tantra gives me hope that the world will become a more sexually satisfied, ecstatic, enlightened and inclusive place.
—Annie Sprinkle, PhD, author of The Explorer’s Guide to Planet Orgasm
Read More Reviews
This handy how-to promises mind-blowing, toe-curling, highly spiritual sex for humble beginners, BDSM aficionados and everyone in between. Sex educator Carrellas is on a mission to bring Tantra—the ancient practice of sacred sex, in which interpersonal connection and transformative ecstasy are the norm—to the modern world, to reclaim sex from “messed-up, sexually-dysfunctional, judgmental, and ignorant culture,” and to shift the urban sex paradigm from recreational activity to a sumptuous, impassioned way of life. Not that one necessarily needs that kind of ambition: Carrellas offers ways to enhance any old sexual encounter (with techniques like breathing, stroking, prodding and piercing), techniques for solo play and countless uses for a trunk full of toys. Same sex, transgender, and multi-partner play is encouraged (if not highly recommended), and the text is peppered with illuminating, try-this-at-home anecdotes. Pictures and diagrams are whimsical but instructive, making Carrellas’s cheerful descriptions of unusual concepts—”gigglegasms,” “rainbow rubs” and “the mushy puss” among them—easy to grasp. A final chapter, on “Sex Magic,” examines the power of Tantra to achieve a number of effects, from back pain relief to a happier office to world peace; however far you’d like to take your sex life, this friendly guide will likely show the way.— Publishers Weekly
Sex educator Carrellas takes tantra out of the exclusive domain of white New Age heterosexuals and makes a compelling—and hot, and damp—argument that tantra is for all of us. Her frank how-to offers suggestions for incorporating tantric principles into queer couplings, with a healthy respect for putting sex back at the center of our lives.”—Out Magazine
Read an Excerpt
Here’s the Prelude from Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the Twenty-first Century: The Temple of the Sacred Lap Dance, or Ecstasy Is Where You Find It
August in New York is legendary for its soupy heat. Steam swirls up out of the subway gratings into the still, humid air and holds in an uneasy embrace everyone who can’t escape to the swank beaches of Long Island and the Jersey Shore.
New York’s financial district is even more claustrophobic in the August heat than most places in the city. The narrow streets and toweringly tall buildings prevent even the tiniest breath of cool air from finding you. In 1992, long before anyone could imagine that this neighborhood would ever be called Ground Zero, young financial whizzes not yet successful enough to spend these dog days in cooler climes dashed from air-conditioned tower to air-conditioned tower in their suits and ties. The mere sight of these tightly buttoned beings in the heat of the downtown streets made me gasp for air. The financial district was not a part of town I frequented, but I was going where the money was: I’d packed my best black lace bra and most expensive garter belt and G-string. The extra-long black stockings that completed my outfit were not expensive. Lap dancing is a sure way to go through several pair in a single shift.
I’d only done lap dancing once before, but I’d learned fast. One, wear stockings; they hold the cash more securely than garters. That way you can give all your attention to the customer on whose lap you are gyrating, which in turn leads to a longer dance and more tips. Plus, stockings make your legs look longer and more alluring. Two, pick a persona that works for you and stick with it. In this club, I am “Alexandra,” a high-class, uptown–call girl type. A cool, sophisticated-looking blonde is unique in this dark, seedy place. We all base our personas on sexual stereotypes. The Latina women I work with favor the Charo, coochie-coochie look. The black women favor Uptown Saturday Night. The few white women who work at the Harmony favor a sporty, well-toned, athletic look. Alexandra is an oddity here, and that’s always a plus in this business. Her what-if-Grace-Kelly-were-a-hooker quality appeals to a sizable clientele in this part of town.
I am working at the Harmony Burlesque because I need money—fast. My girlfriend is in Australia looking after her sick mum and has invited me to join her for a couple of weeks. She has even sent me a ticket. But I am so short of cash at the moment I can’t even come up with spending money. Besides, I liked working here the last time. The owner of the place, Dominique, is a woman I admire greatly. She is tough and smart. You have to agree to a long list of rules to work here (beginning, quite sensibly, with no drugs and no hooking, as both are against the law in New York), but in exchange there is a lot of creative freedom. And you can come and go pretty much as you please.
I am genuinely surprised at how much I enjoy working here. Perhaps it’s the sense of balance it gives me. The kind of sex work I usually do is of the nurturing and healing variety—very yin. This place is about as down and dirty, in your face—yang—as it gets. Plus, I simply love being Alexandra. She’s the archetypal opposite of Amara, my sensitive, new age goddess persona. I also love the exercise. If I could have this much fun at a gym, I’d join one. I also enjoy hanging out in the back room with the other women, imagining that this is actually a modern temple of the sacred prostitute. I even like a lot of the clients. The ones I don’t like are either bearable or ignorable, and there are always enough women working here that you can easily disappear when you want to avoid someone who’s just too creepy.
So I’m looking forward to today. The entrance to the Harmony is discreet. Only a small sign above the door identifies it as a place of pleasure. I walk through the door and then through the same turnstile the paying customers must pass through. I wait for the cold blast of air-conditioning. Instead, the air is only slightly cooler than the air outside.
“What’s up?” I ask the burly doorman.
“Da air conditionah,” he replies in fluent Brooklynese, “is deceased.”
The heat gets to me. It’s very hard to maintain Grace Kelly–perfect makeup and hair in 100 degree heat and 90 percent humidity. Especially while you’re dancing on someone’s lap and he’s even sweatier than you are. Thank goddess it’s dark in here. After about four hours, I abandon any hope of maintaining the look. I retire to the back room and wipe away all my makeup except what little is left of my mascara. I put on some fresh lipstick and pull back my damp hair into what I hope might pass in the darkness for a chic chignon. I wipe the sweat off my body with a damp paper towel and head back to the floor.
I see the Cowboy even before he actually passes through the turnstile at the entrance to the club. He stands out like a cool Montana breeze against all the sweat-soaked business shirts and briefcases. The Cowboy is cute. He looks authentic. He’s wearing faded jeans; scuffed, pointy Western boots; a pale, lightweight plaid shirt; and, of course, a well-worn cowboy hat. He reminds me of an older, more weathered version of Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy. I am intrigued. I move in. He spots me only a few moments after I see him.
“Hi,” I say.
“Would you like a dance?”
We find a chair. He sits. I sit on his lap. Well, not sit, actually. Half my weight is on my feet. If you actually sit on a client’s lap, you can’t move as well. (Then there’s my ego—I wouldn’t want him to think I’m that heavy.)
I start the dance the way I start every dance. I take a deep breath and I gaze into his eyes, specifically his left eye. I learned this technique in Tantra. A person’s non-dominant eye (the left eye if the person is right-handed, the right eye if they are left-handed) is considered the gateway to the soul. You don’t have to worry about accidentally glimpsing their soul without their permission or allowing them unintentional access to yours. That gateway stays pretty firmly shut unless you really want to open it up. Besides, most people can’t take too much eye gazing. It’s just too intimate. I use it for a couple of reasons. First, it gives me a point of focus. (As a dancer and performer, you always do better work when you have a focus.) Second, eye gazing, even if it isn’t returned or doesn’t last more than a couple of moments, keeps me compassionate. When I look into someone’s eye, I see them as so much more than a tip machine. I see their vulnerability, their hunger, their humanness. It makes the dance more of a healing experience, for me at least.
The Cowboy seems experienced at this lap dance ritual and at the same time a bit shy. He isn’t hesitant, but he lacks the bravado I’m accustomed to from the Wall Street regulars. I smile. He smiles back. My eyes find his eyes. The Cowboy catches my gaze and holds it. Tight. The stripper on the stage behind me is working to a rhythm and blues tune I particularly like, and my hips pick up the beat like a wave. My breath goes along for the ride. The Cowboy’s gaze stays right with mine.
The song is almost over and we’re still eye-gazing. This is great! This almost never happens. Please, please, let this continue for another song, I plead silently. As the song ends and the next begins, I realize that the dance will indeed go on. But where’s the money? Damn. He should have offered something by now. Shit, now I’m going to have to bring it up. As I’m about to speak, I feel the unmistakable touch of currency sliding between stocking top and thigh. I have no idea where that bill came from. I never saw him get it out. Thank goddess. Let’s rock and roll. And that’s just what the next song is, a hard-driving Springsteen tune. The wave that we have become together transforms into a tsunami. His breath matches mine as intensely as his gaze. It feels like we’re held in a transparent, egg-shaped capsule that contains all our accumulated energy and feeds it back to us. My eyes are glued to his, his to mine.
Then the hallucinations start. The features of his face begin to change. Like a scene in a science fiction movie, he appears to morph into another person—and then another. I can tell from the look in his eyes that he’s having similar hallucinations about me. I have had this happen to me numerous times in Tantric rituals, but I’m surprised that he doesn’t find it more frightening—I did, the first time it happened to me. But he likes it. Now he’s rocking back and forth with me so intensely that I think the chair will break. I have long since stopped worrying about holding back my weight. We’re entwined as one sweaty, wet, multi-armed dragon, and that dragon can fly. We’re in the club, but beyond it. We hear sounds and see stars from other dimensions. Every atom in our beings vibrates with bliss. We are part of all that we can perceive and simultaneously at the center of it all. We know everything about each other and we have known each other forever in that moment. And that moment just keeps rolling.
This simply can’t be happening—not here, not in this place—but it is. I’m having an authentic Tantric, full-body orgasmic, fly-me-to-the-moon-and-see-the-goddess, erotic experience on a stranger’s lap in a low-rent lap dancing parlor. The second this thought flashes across my mind, I let it go. Experience has taught me that the only thing guaranteed to end a magic carpet ride like this is a critical mind. I take a big breath and look more deeply into his eyes. Our tether to the earth is cash. At the end of each song, somehow, a folded bill finds its way into my stocking top. It doesn’t dampen our enthusiasm. It doesn’t fuel it. It’s simply part of the ritual.
Eventually we land. Perhaps he was running low on cash. Perhaps I was running low on energy. Most likely, the twenty minutes of highly aerobic activity simply burned the erotic energy out of both of us in the triple-digit heat. We sit through one more song, with me still perched on his knees, facing him. Silently. Gently rocking. Smiling. Our eyes speak our complete and utter awe at what just happened. The music still blares around us. We do not speak. He tries to pay me one more time; I push the bill back into his hand. I stand up. So does he. I want to hug him, but it just doesn’t feel right. I reach out and place my right hand on his heart and give a little squeeze. He puts his left hand over mine and squeezes back. I bow my head ever so slightly and step away. He walks slowly to the exit, steps through the turnstile, and moseys off into urban Tantric history.
I was not often in the city in August. I was usually in the woods somewhere, either facilitating or participating in a workshop. I loved my long, warm workshop days. They were filled with the kind of fun and wonder you can only appreciate after too many adult years spent longing for the simple joys of summer camp. So, my workshops were actually summer camp for adults—adults who just happened to be captivated with sex, spirituality, and healing, that is. We held workshops on every imaginable new age subject: Tantra, Taoism, Shamanism, erotic massage, breathwork, rebirthing, herbalism, Reiki, chanting, dancing, channeling, clairvoyance, clairsentience, and clariaudience. We may have been new age, but we weren’t wimps. We were workshop warriors. There was nothing we wouldn’t look at, breathe through, chant out, process, or massage. We looked at our shame, our grief, our boundaries, our wounds, and our joy. We forgave, we accepted, we hugged, we orgasmed, we loved.
We lived intensely. We were grateful to be living at all.
Years of AIDS had taken their toll on all of us. We were gay, lesbian, queer, heterosexual, bisexual, Two-Spirit. (We weren’t yet transgendered—that wouldn’t come along for another five or ten years.) We were sex workers, artists, teachers, massage therapists, nurses, writers, accountants, marketing directors, corporate vice presidents, astronomers, and herpetologists. Some of us had been sexually abused; some of us hadn’t. Many of us were recovering or practicing Catholics. Most of us should have been dead by now. Some of us would be soon. What we shared was a longing to reclaim our spiritual and sexual selves from the Judeo-Christian scrap heap we had landed on when “sex equals death” became the new the urban motto. Most of us had lost dozens, if not hundreds, of friends and coworkers to the AIDS epidemic. And they were still dying.
I had come to this New Age out of sheer desperation. The AIDS crisis had stripped away everything I thought I could take for granted in life: my friends, my sexual freedom, my sense of safety in the world. I needed help. I needed a space to grieve and to regain my strength. Most of all, I needed a new deity. I’d pretty much lived without one since I’d run screaming from Catholicism when I was fifteen. I needed a deity who was on my side; who loved and approved of the world my friends and I lived in. I needed a deity who was queer and weird and paradoxical and kind and funny and very, very sexual. Just like me.
This desire for deity was new for me. I’d always been interested in mysticism and sex, but I kept pretty quiet about both. When I told my mother I was no longer going to pretend to be a Catholic, she was horrified. She told me I couldn’t just resign. “You’ve been baptized!” Through her tears of anguish she warned, “You’ll go to hell!” Somewhere down deep I carried that message. If I was too mystical and too sexual, that big, angry, vengeful god I’d escaped from would spot me and there would be hell to pay. Literally. So I downplayed both my sexuality and my spirituality for nearly twenty years. But the AIDS crisis forced me to confront both. In metaphysics, we say that no matter how bad things get, there is always something to be grateful for. I’m grateful to the AIDS crisis for Tantra.
In the course of my workshop summers, I became a Tantrika. (All that means is someone who practices Tantra.) To be precise, I didn’t actually become a Tantrika, I simply realized I had always been one. I didn’t need to convert to Tantra and I didn’t need to find a church to do it in. All I needed were open eyes, deep breaths, and a sense of adventure. I didn’t need a new anthropomorphized deity at all; I simply needed a sex-positive spiritual practice. I became a Tantrika because it was both logical and practical. (I may be a Pisces, but I have Virgo rising.) Tantra took me up out of the grief and the pain and the helplessness to someplace powerful and ecstatic. Tantra made me clear and strong in the face of chaos. Tantra made me wet. Tantra cut through the crap. When I shared Tantra with others, it did the same for them. And now, after my ecstatic moment with the Cowboy, it seemed Tantra worked even in lap dancing parlors.
Although I learned Tantra in lovely, peaceful, wooded retreats, I don’t live in one. I have a penchant for big, boisterous, loud, overwhelming cities. I love my periodic retreats to the beach or the woods, but I can’t seem to stay away from the big city. Sadly, it’s very hard to do a three-day, under-the-stars, open-air Tantric ritual with a hot tub in New York City. It just doesn’t happen. So whenever I tried to create a ritual like that in New York, I would inevitably feel frustrated and stupid. There had to be a way to practice Tantra authentically, effectively, and ecstatically in environments of concrete and steel.
Before I could figure out how to practice Tantra in urban (and suburban) environs, I first had to ask, “What is the essence of Tantra?” I knew it wasn’t just about being in nature. Being in the midst of quiet woods or by a roaring ocean was healing and nurturing, but it wasn’t nature alone that produced the passion, creativity, and ecstatic peacefulness I had found in my workshops. Nature provided me the opportunity to slow down, breathe more deeply, drop my emotional armor, and simply be more conscious of the beauty in each moment of the day.
Consciousness. That was it! The difference between my ordinary urban life and my wooded Tantric retreats was consciousness. If I could be completely conscious and present in each moment, it wouldn’t matter whether I practiced Tantra in Bali or on the Bowery. Not only would location not matter, neither would strict adherence to “traditional” Tantric practices. Anything I performed with complete consciousness would be completely alive, authentic, and transformative. It was this theory that launched my search for a new kind of Tantric practice. In the pages to come, I’m going to share with you what I found: a flexible, conscious, urban Tantric practice that you can use, enjoy, exploit, adapt, expand, fold, spindle, or mutilate, as long as it works for you and brings you joy.