Photo by Lydia Daniller
For a lot of women, having an orgasm requires hours of foreplay, a bottle of wine, and a British period drama (I recommend Age of Innocence). For tantric sexpert Barbara Carrellas, all it takes is a couple of deep breaths. Carrellas has the rare ability to “think-off,” meaning she can climax anytime, anywhere, simply from focused breathing with no “down there” special touch at all. Basically, she’s winning at life. Orgasm scientists (!!!) have even studied her brain to learn more about the neurological pathways of pleasure.
As a sex educator, university lecturer, and author, Carrellas dedicates her life to helping people experience deeper pleasure. Her new book, Ecstasy Is Necessary, guides you to authenticate your erotic self, even if that self is asexual and just wants to hang out with cats. She teaches workshops on everything from “Erotic Pussy Massage” to “The Tao of Pain.” I had to meet this woman.
When I reached out to Carrellas, she suggested that we meet at her place. I was stoked—a real sex guru’s house! When I arrived at the apartment, Carrellas greeted me warmly at the door. She had a Betsey Johnson thing going on: like 30 ear piercings, streaks of hot pink in her blond hair, and kooky zebra-striped glasses. She looks fantastic for her age (early 60s), which is obviously related to decades of mind-blowing nookie.
Her house reminded me of Mira Sorvino's apartment in Mighty Aphrodite. It had the bare bones of a normal house (big cozy couch, carpet, huge TV) but the details were super smutty. There were tons of little ceramic sex figurines lining all the shelves everywhere, and piles of books with titles like Zen Pussy. There was also a picture framed on the shelf of this super-gorgeous man. I asked her if it was her dad, and she told me it's her partner back when she was a man, before she transitioned. I thought it was really cool that they kept the picture there, kind of poetic, like the person she once was just sitting on the shelf.
As we settled on the couch to talk, I noticed her two dogs were behaving strangely. One was running in circles while the other one kept falling off a chair. “They are mentally disabled,” she explained. “I rescue handicapped pugs.” Of course you do, I thought, because that is fucking weird and awesome.
So how does a middle-class Catholic girl from Rhode Island suburbia end up teaching sex magic in New York City? Let’s find out.
VICE: Tell me about the first time you practiced “thinking off”?
Barbara Carrellas: I was like, “OH...MY...GOD! Why did no one tell me about this before? How could I have lived this long and not have known about this? Why doesn’t everybody do this?” It was a feeling of utter awe and amazement. It’s like I found what I had always been looking for.
Do you think that growing up Catholic affected your views on sex?
No, because I stopped being a Catholic early on. I went through the motions until I was about 14 because I didn’t want to cause a nuclear flare with my mother. When the hormones hit and I reached puberty, religion went right out the window.
Do you remember your earliest sexual experience?
Absolutely, I lost my virginity when I was 15 to a man who was in his late 30s with whom I carried on a relationship for quite some time. It was not a one-off, it was completely consensual. It was one of the best relationships of my young life and I thank goddess everyday that it was him.
So you had a positive first time?
Yes, absolutely, it was fabulous.
Wow. I’m jealz. How did you go from years of working on Broadway as a theater manager to full-time sex educator?
I went into the study of sex and spirit during the AIDS crisis in the 80s for the simple reason that I wanted to find ways for us all, especially my gay male friends, to have really hot sex, safely. The spiritual component was really important to me because there was so much grief and death. There was a time that I was literally going to group funerals because so many of my friends were dying. And you needed something to counteract that, “Well you know, if you didn’t have sex with other men, god wouldn’t have punished you” attitude that was so prevalent. So when Annie Sprinkle and I met at the New York Healing Circle and started exploring tantra it really served a lot of purposes.
What is tantra?
Tantra, as we know it in the West, is a spiritual practice that includes sex as a path to the divine. Basically, tantra says that enlightenment can be found by going mindfully into any earthly pursuit. We are not separate from the divine, we are just in flesh suits.
What do they teach you in a tantra class?
Breathing. Just like I teach everybody now. How to reclaim the breath, how breath can send you into waves of bliss, how everything rides on the breath, how it will transform everything you do. Also, eye-gazing and learning how to get quiet and present. Breathing with someone and gazing into their eyes without feeling self-conscious, giggly, and looking away, is a skill and it’s not easy to do. It is utterly profound. Breath and eye-gazing can change absolutely everything in a relationship.
Did it change your view on sex?
Completely. I remember once I was doing oral sex on a girlfriend and she was moaning and I deliberately focused on bringing energy up her spine and down and around and I watched her energy rise and rise and her reaction get bigger and bigger. Then I very, very consciously withdrew my visualization of the circle and kept my tongue doing exactly the same thing and sure enough, her energy just sank like a stone. I thought, “There’s really something to this.” Hanging out with me in those days was like being in an erotic lab experiment.
Did you ever date someone who was freaked out by your sexual adventurousness?
Not really. I also worked as a prostitute and an escort in those years in order to practice techniques and see how they worked. It was a way for me to get a lot of experience quickly.
I did it because I wanted to try these techniques in the field and I went into it with the notion of the sacred prostitute. I thought, “What if this was healing? What if this was transforming? What if this was handled with a different consciousness?” And of course, I was completely enraptured with this romantic notion of the legend of the sacred prostitute. Other people think romance is finding a guy and having a couple of kids and having a house upstate; my romantic vision was the temple of the sacred prostitute. So I was an escort, I also did lap dancing and stripping, and I did some sexually explicit films, and I took these higher intentions into everything I did.
Do you remember the first time?
The first client I saw was with a friend. That’s how I got into it. She had called me one day and I had done everything else at that point, nude modeling, stripping, teaching, but I had not done actual prostitution. And my friend called one day and said, “I have a client at noon who wants another woman and I thought of you. Want to get over here?” And I was a few blocks away so I said, “Sure.”
That’s pretty spontaneous.
I didn’t have much time to think, which was good.
Do you remember how you felt afterwards?
High as a kite. Ecstatic, thrilled, flying. I had a fabulous time with my friend and this fun guy and I had a lot of money in my hand. It’s a powerful combination.
How did you end up walking away from that?
I started teaching in Australia more and more. And when I wasn’t traveling to teach sex workshops, I still had my theatrical business. Between the two there wasn’t a lot of time left for seeing clients. It was very much part of a learning experience. It was a lesson I needed to learn. It was much like my first experience with sex, I was very fortunate. It was an incredibly positive experience and then it just went away.
As a sex educator and healer what is the most common thing people come to you for?
Most people are looking for deeper orgasms. A lot of people say something like, “I know there is something more out there and I want to be able to let go and find it.” Another common issue is women asking how they can have orgasms with their boyfriends. Seventy percent of women can’t easily orgasm through penetration. A lot of women say, “I want to be able to have an orgasm with my boyfriend inside me.” Not everybody can. It is anatomical. It could be how two bodies are fitting together, or the clitoris isn’t well positioned for that. So let’s figure out other ways to have an orgasm.
What is your mission?
I would say my mission is to inspire people to discover their totality of erotic and spiritual possibilities. I use sex as the gateway drug to spirit, which can then inform all of people’s lives.