Coitus reservatus is an ancient technique promising bliss and longevity. Does orgasm data back up these tantric ideas?
Coitus reservatus, also known as ejaculation control, is the age-old practice of a man withholding ejaculation during intercourse, either through training or willpower. In our orgasm-obsessed culture, such an idea might seem counterintuitive and even perverse.
After all, the male orgasm evolved over millions of years to ensure that our species kept going. Climaxing bathes the male brain in reward neurotransmitters and releases tensions men didn’t even know they had. It is the reason, some say, why men have sex at all. To hold back during sex is, therefore, to go against an existential tide. What normal man would want to renounce something that equates such explosive pleasure with basic survival?
To find out, in 2014 I travelled to Thailand to attend an ‘Eastern secrets of love’ conference, the first of what was to become an annual event that represents the greatest gathering of coitus reservatus practitioners in the world. The conference, which was also billed as a ‘Meeting of the Masters’, took place at the Tao Garden resort near Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. There I met Charles Muir, the founder of the modern Tantra movement in the United States.
Tantrism is an ancient spiritual practice that focuses on sexual ritual to achieve transcendent states. Semen is considered a sacred fluid that must be withheld and reabsorbed into the body. In China, the tenets of sexual ritual are best summed up by the Classic of Su Nu, a kind of 4th-century Taoist marriage manual. In the book, Su Nu, a goddess-courtesan, instructs the mythical Yellow Emperor on the best ways to enjoy life and sex.
One should calm the mind, harmonise the emotions and concentrate the spirit before intercourse, she counsels. Then, having settled the body and composed one’s thoughts, ‘penetrate deeply and move slowly’. The male should avoid climax to stave off the inevitable bout of post-coital depression, however. ‘When ching [semen] is emitted, the whole body feels weary,’ she explains. ‘One suffers buzzing in the ears and drowsiness in the eyes; the throat is parched and the joints heavy. Although there is brief pleasure, in the end there is discomfort.’
By withholding semen, the emperor would not only stay healthy, but extend his life indefinitely. ‘Nine acts without emission, and one will enjoy unlimited longevity. Ten acts without emission, and one attains the realm of the immortals.’ Further, Su Nu says, he should have intercourse frequently, with as many partners as possible, while focusing on the pleasure of the female. In the end, the Yellow Emperor seems to have learned his lessons well. It was said he kept a harem of 1,200 women entertained, and achieved immortality.
When I met him, Muir was 65 and 6ft 4in, with blond hair, an affable expression and natural storytelling abilities. He told me he’d arrived at Tantra through a series of improbable chance events. He grew up in the Bronx in New York City, and as a teenager joined a tough Irish gang.
One day, according to Muir, he found a yoga pamphlet on the subway seat. He began to watch the TV shows of the yoga instructor Richard Hittleman, and eventually worked for him. As Muir’s interest grew, he studied under some of the original Indian yoga masters, including the swamis Satchidananda, Muktananda and Satyananda. These revered yogis taught him that the true path lay not only in disciplining the mind and body, but in celibacy. Muir struggled with sexual abstinence and he was stunned when, one after the other, these Indian gurus were exposed for having sex with their students. There he was feeling guilty each time he had an emission, while all of his teachers were hard at it.
Interesting article, but hardly ‘Tantric’ exclusive, as I write here: