Neotantra is a term used to describe the modern, western use of the word Tantra. The term refers to both the New Age and modern Western interpretations of traditional Indian and Buddhist tantra. Some of its proponents refer to ancient and traditional texts and principles, and many others use tantra as a catch-all phrase for “sacred sexuality”, and may incorporate unorthodox practices. In addition, not all of the elements of Indian tantra are used in neotantric practices, in particular the reliance on a guru, guruparampara.
As tantric practice became known in western culture—a development that started at the end of the 18th century, and that has escalated since the 1960s—it has become identified with its sexual methods. Consequently, its essential nature as a spiritual practice is often overlooked. The roles of sexuality in Tantra and in Neotantra, while related, are actually quite different, reflecting substantial differences in their cultural contexts.
In Neotantra the most important features of sexual practice revolve around the experience of subtle energies within our sensual embodiment, and the accessing of these energies both to enhance pleasure and to challenge our egotism into its dissolution. Thus, tantric sexuality often cultivates ecstatic consciousness as well as increased spiritual awareness of the erotic consciousness that pervades one’s human embodiment as well as everything that contextualizes this embodiment.
Tantric sexual methods may be practiced solo, in partnership, or in the sacred rituals of groups. The specifics of these methods are often kept secret, and passed from practitioners to students in an oral tradition. It must be remembered that genuine tantric spiritual practice is merely one aspect of a comprehensive spiritual path of meditation—and that the sexual and erotic aspects of tantra cannot be authentically engaged in without adequate preparation and discipline.
In sum, tantric sexuality is just one dimension of a spiritual path that is devoted and dedicated to the challenge of becoming aware, in every moment of our embodied lives, of the supreme flow of the sacred lifeforce itself—the Sacred Unity of Love.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, tantric sexual practice (Sanskrit: Maithuna, cf. Tibetan:Yab-Yum) is one aspect of the last stage of the initiate’s spiritual path, where s/he, having already realized the voidness of all things, attains enlightenment and perpetual bliss.
Teachers of this version of tantra frequently have the belief that sex and sexual experiences are a sacred act which are capable of elevating its participants to a higher spiritual plane. They often talk about raising Kundalini energy, worshiping the divine feminine, activating the chakras, and experiencing full-body orgasms. The word “tantra,” in this context, often refers to the set of techniques for cultivating a more fulfilling sexual or love relationship. On the other hand, there are also some truly dedicated scholars and teachers in the field of modern tantra.