My husband Phil and I are only recently married, so we're still in the intense stage of our relationship. But when I heard about Diamond Light tantric sex workshop, which claims to transform intimacy, I admit I was intrigued.
Apparently, tantra brings couples extremely close emotionally, with not-to-be-sniffed-at results: full-body orgasms, climax during intercourse for women and men not needing to nod off afterwards.
Originating at some time in the 4th century, Tantra is a spiritual practice with roots in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Jainism. Despite being reductively understood in the West as a method of delaying and intensifying orgasm, it's actually a many-branched mystical tradition concerned with having greater cosmic awareness. Today, it is famously enjoyed by celebrities such as Sting and P Diddy, but has otherwise been relegated to the New Age self-help and candles market.
Arriving for the three-hour session in smart Maida Vale, I felt my heart start to pound. Through the door, I saw 30 people sitting in a circle. "What if I have to hug total strangers?" I thought or, worse still, "Will I get jealous if Phil does? And there's no way I'm taking off my clothes." To my surprise, there weren't any ageing, bearded hippies or women in flowing robes. In fact, everyone was fully-clothed, and there were normal-looking people aged from 20 to 60. We strangers sat in awkward silence as Leora Lightwoman, our elfin-faced tantra teacher and an Oxford Psychology graduate, explained that tantra is about becoming sensitive to feelings, to femininity and masculinity, and communicating desires honestly.
We were asked to introduce ourselves. It emerged that some were here with partners, others not. One fifty-something woman was looking for meaning in life after the death of her husband; there were several single men in their early thirties who said they were "just curious". In the middle of the circle, incense wafted around a statue of a goddess, and a box of tissues had been prominently placed. "Is that for bodily fluids or tears?" I wondered. "And which would be worse?"
We started exercises to New Age music: shaking and swaying on the spot with our eyes closed, while Leora asked, "What is your pelvis saying?" She exhorted us to let our inner child play. Several people began moaning and grunting like monkeys. It was a yoga class gone mad. I couldn't bring myself to emit any noises and I was relieved Phil didn't either. We all danced around the room catching eye contact with one another: it was excruciating. Then we had to stare into each other's eyes, holding hands and focusing on the "juiciness" in imaginary "bowls" in our pelvises. I was relieved I could stay with Phil, while singletons had to find partners. The couple next to us started fondling each other. I had never felt less aroused in my life.
This was just an introductory evening designed for tantric beginners. Diamond Light runs longer workshops, which, taken in sequence, initiate seekers from level one "opening to bliss" to levels four to seven "Deep diving training".
There are also gender-segregated workshops one for women who feel uneasy in a mixed setting and a residential "men's circle" where men discover their "sacred brotherhood".
At our tantra class, everyone else seemed to be connecting with their pelvises. But we were too cynical to take it seriously. I was sure that the tantric principles were potentially powerful, but couldn't get over my belief that such intimacy should stay private.
Only after the workshop, when Leora took Phil and me aside and showed him an exercise of stroking imaginary veils away from my face, did I get an inkling of how tantra could teach men how to touch women.
We left charmed by Leora and still intrigued by the idea of tantra as long as we never had to practise it in public again.