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Erotic Spirituality
An Interview with Dr. Deborah Taj Anapol
by Carl McColman

CM: How did you become involved in your quest to reclaim the sacred dimension of sexuality?

Dr D: My quest started as a teenager in a typical repressed New England village. As a newcomer to puritan New England, having been raised in slightly more liberal circumstances, I was not about to allow my sexuality to be taken from me. I instinctively knew that sex was the source of my spiritual power, and through early explorations discovered it was a way to contact my core Self—that inner spark of the Divine. Through sexual encounters I was able to access ancient memories of energy pathways within the body that could open the heart and induce altered states of consciousness. But how to make those around me understand that a sexually awakened woman is not a slut but rather a priestess and a healer? How to overcome the double standard that applauds a sexually active man for being stud while judging his consorts as whores? How to transform the cultural view of sexual pleasure as sinful and dirty into a realization that sexual pleasure is sacred and potentially a source of peace and harmony and healing?

These questions led me to graduate school at the University of Washington where I was trained in Masters and Johnson style sex therapy in the late seventies. At that time the UW psychology department, under the direction of the late Dr. Nathaniel Wagner, was accomplishing much pioneering work in human sexuality, but the spiritual dimensions of sex were not being addressed in academia. I wanted to go study in India, but fortunately it wasn’t feasible for me. I say fortunately because as Daniel Odier relates in his beautiful book, Tantric Quest, it took him many years of searching to find a Tantric master in India. As it turned out I discovered incredible teachers right here in the Pacific Northwest!

CM: What is the difference between "sacred sexuality" and "Tantra"? How would you define Tantra?

Dr D: Tantra has become synonymous with Sacred Sexuality since its recent popularity in the West, but sex is only one leaf on the tree of Tantra. Much of Tantra has little to do with sex. Rather it’s a spiritual path that blends aspects of Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. Traditionally, the "left-hand path" or "Red Tantra" included ritual sexual practices along with sophisticated forms of meditation, breathing, yoga, and purification practices. The goal was enlightenment. According to Miranda Shaw in her wonderful book, Passionate Enlightenment, Tantra was created over a thousand years ago by women who felt the need for a spiritual movement which embraced the body, the earth, and everyday life and which honored women, rather than limiting spirituality to celibate monks. Today’s Feminist Spirituality and Sacred Sexuality movements come from much the same place.

Sacred Sexuality, or Erotic Spirituality, as I prefer to call it, is a part of many spiritual traditions around the world. In the last couple of decades elements of Tantra have been blended or fused with elements from Taoism, Native American, African, Christian, Pagan, and Jewish paths as a basis for re-visioning sexuality. Sacred Sexuality, like Tantra, implies an awareness that sex is the inception of life, of all that is. Without the sexual act, none of us would exist—at least not as incarnate bodies. Sacred Sexuality acknowledges that our life force and our sexual energy originate from the same source. It’s an expression of awe and wonder that transcends any particular culture.

CM: Why do you think Tantra and Sacred Sexuality are so popular these days? What are people looking for when they become interested in these things?

Dr D: Humans have an innate need for peak experiences of bliss, oneness, and ecstasy. We have a deep longing for the (re) union of sex and spirit. People are looking for a way to validate and expand their intuitive sense that sex can be worship and that worship can be erotic. Meditation and spirituality of all kinds are increasingly popular these days, as we begin to realize that the material world cannot meet our heartfelt needs. But Sacred Sexuality has a special appeal for those of us who delight in intimate relating with others, who crave spiritual development but also feel drawn to the earthly pleasures. Tantra and other paths of Erotic Spirituality teach us to embrace and honor the body as a temple of Spirit, rather than trying to deny our natural sexual impulses.

Tantra and Erotic Spirituality are also increasingly popular with couples who want to deepen and expand the sexual aspect of their relationship. Tantric sex can help couples to explore new territory together instead of becoming bored with routine physical sex. The Tantric attitudes of slowing down, awakening all of the senses, tuning in to subtle energy, letting go of judgment and blame and other insidious habits of the ego, expressing gratitude for the gift of life, and savoring the present moment are wonderfully supportive tools for intimate relating.

CM: What advice do you have for a person or couple who is interested in learning about Tantra or Sacred Sexuality? What steps should they take?

Dr D: Our video, Erotic Spirituality, is an excellent place to start because it offers an overview or context for sacred sexuality with teachers from many different traditions. Our website has a bibliography of other videos, books, workshops and internet sites with information on this topic. The tantra.com website is also an excellent gateway. But books and tapes are only a first step. Any form of spiritual practice, as well as those which work more with the body and internal energy such as yoga, chi kung, aikido or other internal martial arts, is good preparation. But ultimately, in order to progress on this path you need to find an authentic teacher or spiritual friend, someone who can guide you in the direction that’s appropriate for you. Each person’s journey is unique, so individualized attention from someone familiar with the territory is essential.

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© Deborah Taj Anapol

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