I first met Nadja Eriksson at a mixer for bisexual and bi-curious women put on by our affiliates at the incomparable Skirt Club. We were milling about over cocktails and exchanging pleasantries like everyone else when we arrived at the inevitable “so what do you do for a living?” After ten years in New York, I fancy myself rather adept at observing people and shunting them into likely categories (trustafarian, banker bro etc.) so based on Nadja’s bearing and chic attire I was anticipating she worked in fashion or the art world. What I did not anticipate was her reply:
“Oh, I’m a tantric sex and love coach. Did you know women can have seven different kinds of orgasms?”
Suffice to say my interest was piqued. Nadja offers free two-hour coaching sessions for prospective clients to evaluate her services and agreed to have me over to her Brooklyn studio for one. I arrived several days later, entirely unsure of what to expect but brimming with curiosity. How does someone fall into Tantra? What do practitioners think of Sting? Head swirling, I knocked on her door.
I don’t know if I had been expecting some sort of sex dungeon but her place was light, airy, and so beautifully well-appointed it could have been a home furnishings magazine spread. When we had both sat down in the living room, I eagerly launched right in with a million questions - “So how did you get involved with Tantra and sex therapy? What are your clientele typically like? Would you say there’s a pseudo-religious component to it?” She politely raised her hand to stop me. “You came here for a coaching session right? Let’s get to that and we can conduct the interview after. And I’m not a therapist - they try to 'fix' people. I’m a coach - I help people get what they want. And I prefer to start with a moment of silence. Please close your eyes.” Feeling a bit sheepish for my over-eagerness, I dutifully complied.
When we resumed, she was asking the questions. I was initially reluctant, as I am someone who doesn’t put a ton of stock in therapy, life coaching or that “talking cure” jazz, but Nadja’s approach was distinct from that. Her questions were more pointed, and after she posed them, she didn’t ease back into her chair to scribble in a notepad - she engaged me with follow-ups and even relatable examples from her own life. She asked me what I was looking for in my ideal sex and love life and figuring I may as well try to get the most out of the time I was pretty forthright. I mentioned that I'm looking for someone with enough confidence in themselves and in me to ask for what they want in bed as well as accord me the freedom to have sex with other people. Rather than shower me in bromides and platitudes like I was anticipating, she literally drew up a highly pragmatic blueprint for how to negotiate and build up that kind of relationship brick by brick, candidly citing challenges and triumphs from her own open marriage (with a man she had met practicing Tantra). I loved her no-bullshit, expletive-sprinkled, action-oriented approach that focused on eliminating barriers to what I wanted but which stopped short of imposing a value judgment on whether that was “good” or “bad,” provided it made me happy.
Feeling oddly recharged and encouraged (and taken aback by how the time had seemingly evaporated) we then segued to talking about Tantra. Nadja had first heard of it back in Sweden when some friends had posted on Facebook about a “New Tantra” class they were excited to attend. Something spoke to her about it and on a lark, though somewhat nervous, she decided to join them. I asked if she were always sexually curious and she countered that on the contrary much of her young adult life found her rather introverted, unsure, “almost asexual.” A handful of disappointing relationships in her late teens and early twenties had left her almost averse to sex, but after that initial workshop, she happily reflected, everything changed.
Tantra focuses on unlocking “kundalini” energy, which is stored at the base of the spine and which can be channeled throughout the body by various sexual and meditative practices to induce higher states of consciousness and spiritual satisfaction. Certain yogic practices also center on freeing this energy but according to Nadja, “they can take years to unlock it- The New Tantra (the Tantric school where she trained) can do it in a weekend.” While traditional Tantric techniques first emerged around the 5th century, modified “neo-tantric” practices began to gain traction in the West closer to the 1960s in step with a mounting western fascination with eastern culture and spirituality. Nadja explained that new or “green” Tantra differs from more traditional “white” Tantra in that sex plays a far greater role and is far less constricted in the former (most acts and implements seem to be fair game, provided there is consent).
The New Tantric practice evolves its practitioners over ten levels, with level one involving basic techniques performed with one’s clothes on, to the higher levels which can get… pretty intense. For instance, there is a higher level exercise where participants list their darkest fantasies (gangbang, e.g.) on a board and others in the room volunteer to help them enact them. Meditation is interwoven throughout- at different mezzanine levels there are kava-kava ceremonies (kava is a plant used to produce a drink with sedative, anesthetic, and euphoriant properties) and even weeklong retreats where practitioners sit in total darkness, consuming only one meal a day and meditating on their life’s purpose (incidentally how Nadja realized she needed to become a love and sex coach).
Sessions at The New Tantra run about 80 participants (singles and couples of all ages) and follow a cadence of a lecture on theory followed by a praxis segment. Throughout the entire course of the session, all parties are expected to abstain from what is known as “peak orgasm” or complete release, as it is believed there are a host of deleterious spiritual and physiological effects brought on by this. For women, it is believed that orgasm will contribute to vaginal dryness and a release of prolactin- a breastfeeding hormone that tells a woman’s body to go into maternal (i.e. non-sexual) mode. For men it is thought that given their hard-wiring to spread seed and propagate the species, ejaculation can undercut their ability to connect spiritually with a partner due to a natural instinct to immediately look for another. For both, pleasure hormones dopamine and oxytocin spike at the moment of orgasm then plummets dramatically - inducing a kind of "hangover" that can leave people standoffish and averse to intimacy without knowing why- in some cases for up to two weeks. She referred me to a website called 21daychallenge.com which teaches Tantra neophytes about the impacts of peak orgasm and coaches them through how to build the discipline to deny oneself orgasm for 21 consecutive days to build intimacy and connection.
Before one can engage fully in Tantric practice it is apparently necessary to “de-armor” the parts of the body where tension is stored and which have become accustomed to an unnatural lack of sensitivity – for men, Nadja mentions, the butt is key. For women, the vagina and cervix all need to be re-sensitized. Once this process is complete and the sacral kundalini energy liberated to flow freely through the body, a world of higher level pleasure and the quested after “satori” elevated state of consciousness (resembling a kind of ego death and childlike innocence) can await. For instance, Nadja offered, once the womb is de-armored is capable of producing a 20-minute orgasm that can be 10x more pleasurable than a clitoral orgasm.
Most exercises are performed in pairs (though some can involve larger groups). Practitioners are urged to get to know each other and communicate comfortably and informally to build trust. Consent is a pillar of the practice and “charity” (or participating in something out of pity) is vehemently discouraged. A lot of the exercises focus on experimentation with masculine/feminine “polarities” - as it is believed that the greater the disparity between the masculine energy and the feminine energy in a partnership the more heightened the attraction and passion can be. These polarities need not necessarily align to the sex of the practitioner- indeed when men are allowed to embody the feminine (as by being penetrated, etc.) it can greatly “recharge” the spiritual energies they expend each day being alpha and masculine and in so doing leave them hornier than before. At more advanced levels (post level 5 or so), there is an expectation of more constructive critical feedback - e.g., when someone’s ego appears to be inhibiting them from full engagement it is expected that their partner or the instructor call them out on that. For some, Nadja mentioned, this can prove a rough adjustment.
Ultimately, Nadja insisted Tantra isn’t a formalized practice but rather a way of life and a flexible set of tools to help form deeper human and spiritual connections through the medium of sex. While I’m not sure if I’ll be next in line at the kava-kava ceremony, anything that helps people be more attuned and connected to each other during sex (to say nothing of the 20-minute womb orgasms) can’t be entirely without merit.
To learn more visit www.nadjaeriksson.com for more information or to book a free coaching session (she can work over Skype so you needn't necessarily be in NYC).