This week we debrief with Robyn Vogela couple’s intimacy therapist and sex coach, certified sex educator, mother, entrepreneur and all-around love-adventurer. Her workshops include: “An Introduction to Tantra,” “The Energetics of Intimacy,” “Sex After Kids,” “Shy About Tantra,” “The Dance of Intimacy,” “Communication as Foreplay” and a weekend workshop, “Awaken the Fire Within.” She is also a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

created at: 2014-01-20I grew up in the arms of the Jewish hippies in the mid-to-late 1970s. NFTY, the Reform Jewish youth movement, wrapped its arms around me, bestowed love upon me in the form of acceptance and curiosity, and provided a safe community in which I could explore who I was and who I was becoming. We sang, we danced, we ate challah, we kissed. Luckily, the adults who ran the programs were always available to answer our questions. And what did this teenage girl want to know about? Sex, of course! And God.

Fast-forward 33 years and I would argue that, in many ways, I’ve recreated what I experienced in NFTY through my sex therapy practice, as well as in the Tantra workshops I teach. I hold sacred space for people to gather and study. I invite curiosity and acceptance as a spiritual practice, bestow love upon others and teach them how to do the same, and, most of all, provide an open-hearted and safe place to explore any and all kinds of sex and intimacy questions. The only thing we don’t do is eat challah.

My practice focuses on sacred sexuality. While I didn’t necessarily learn this term in my youth group days, NFTY laid the foundation for what I value deeply in my life—what I impart to my children and what I teach the couples I work with. The sacred is found in everyday life through the presence of respect, reverence, integrity and divine love. Sex and relationships are sacred when these four components are felt by all involved.

We use the words “sacred sexuality” in tantric philosophy to refer to methods for bringing spirituality into sexual activity. Spirituality may mean a connection to God, or may be explicitly about that mixing of respect, reverence, integrity and love. For some partners, sacred sexuality means creating a ritual together, a doorway to enter the sacred space of their connection with each other. This ritual could be as simple as lighting a candle, or as elaborate as beautifying the room with silks, scarves, candles and incense and then taking a ritual bath together (sound familiar?). Some people speak a prayer or a poem aloud, deliberately calling in divine presence. Other people use certain breath patterns to absorb a moment of embodiment and inspiration.

I explore these options, and many more, with couples who come to me for therapy or intimacy coaching.

People come to couple’s therapy for a variety of reasons. I personally believe it would benefit any couple during the process of committing to partnership and then perhaps a standard check-up every few years. We don’t learn foundational relationship skills in college or grad school. We mostly learn by trial and error. Couple’s therapy, and sex therapy in particular, can provide support in reigniting a relationship, bring back erotic energy and heal past hurts. It can be a way to explore the emotional and sexual aspects of a relationship in tandem, within a structured process.

Intimacy coaching, which includes Tantra education and couple’s therapy, helps couples identify why they feel separate, alone and unhappy, and together we determine the best approach to healing these long-standing hurts. People carry resentments for a long time, tucking them away with the belief that if they don’t pay attention to them, they’ll disappear. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those wounds just fester. And after a while, all they feel is wounded.

Conscious communication is the art of clearing resentments, making apologies and appreciating each other. It takes practice, but over the course of their time working with me, couples can experience their separate and distinct lives beginning to intermingle. They come back into rhythm with each other. They look into each other’s eyes again. And if they are ready and interested, I teach them Tantra practices that can deepen their connection and open up an experience of intimacy and sexuality that brings more blissful, orgasmic energy than they’ve likely experienced before. That is sacred.

Just as we sang in NFTY every night during our song sessions—Shalom Rav, or “grant abundant peace (love), for you are the source of all peace”—I bring this intention into my coaching relationships with couples. I hold the hope that peace and love can be restored between them knowing that they, and I—and all of us—are the source.