Women holding hands with men in a circle during a Ko Pha-Ngan transfiguration ceremony
The transfiguration ceremony. Photo: Adrian Choa

I Went to 'Tantra Island' to See If I Could Reach Sexual Nirvana

Ko Pha-Ngan is better known for its full moon parties and backpackers, but a ‘conscious tantric community’ promises a different kind of enlightenment.

Ko Pha-Ngan is the Thai island known to many for its full moon parties; a pit stop for travellers on their gap year – glow sticks, vodka buckets, lots of vomiting and horny tourists. But on the other side of the island lies a secret community – a self-described “conscious tantric” community that claims to have reached sexual nirvana. 


You’re probably wondering what a conscious tantric community is. I didn’t have a clue either, but I went with the VICE World News documentary team to find out. For just over a week, I enrolled myself in every course and class that the tantric practitioners had to offer. Would I manage to reach enlightenment and become a true sex goddess?

My initial perception of tantra was that it is very much a sex thing, meaning open relationships, multiple orgasms and prolonged intercourse (see: Sting’s now-debunked comments about a seven-hour marathon with wife Trudie). After a bit of research, I soon learnt that tantra refers to both the philosophy and set of spiritual practices that emerged in India around the sixth century, encompassing things like merging with the divine, being present and the sacred union of the masculine and feminine. Still not entirely sure of its definition, I also learnt that tantra can be used to heal sexual trauma. 

The trip couldn’t have come at a more poignant time. I’d just ended an extremely toxic relationship that triggered traumatic memories from my childhood and prompted me to seek therapy for the first time in my life. But it was already damaging my relationships with other men in my life, and I wanted some kind of help or solution. In a way, I wanted these experiences to make me a better person. So when I heard of a place that offered a more radical approach to sexual healing, I thought: ‘Sign me up.’


 To get to the island, you need to take a flight to Koh Samui, then a bus to Koh Samui Pier and a ferry across to Ko Pha-Ngan, said to be the inspiration behind the paradise depicted in the 200 Leonardo Dicaprio, The Beach. And the island is dangerously beautiful: golden sands and clear seas. You can understand why the tourists who come never want to leave. 

The beach at Ko Pha-Ngan

The beach at Ko Pha-Ngan. Photo: Adrian Choa

As I crossed land and sea in search of health and happiness, I closed my eyes and channelled my inner Leo from the movie, hoping for a little less murder and insanity along the way. 

When I arrived, I was greeted by some of the main tantric practitioners on the island – including Natalie Abraham, a practitioner from Israel who was going to, quite literally, show me the ropes. My first class would entail me getting tied up for five hours in a shibari rope workshop. 

A woman ties up a man during a shibari rope workshop

Two participants in the shibari rope workshop. Photo: Adrian Choa

I joined a group of people – including tourists and some people who had lived on the island for years – who were told to pair up and experiment with the ropes. As the soundtrack from Fifty Shades of Grey played on repeat, my hands were put behind my back and tied up by my female partner. As the music got more dramatic, Natalie shouted instructions at us: “Can you bring out your sexual energy, are you feeling your genitals?” I verbally communicated to my partner that my genitals were strictly off limits. 


 Soon I was lying on the floor blindfolded, with only Natalie’s voice guiding me through the rest of the workshop: “The body is uncomfortable and that begins to open up the mind… Meet those wounds, meet those pains and let them fucking go.’’  

As I lay there being tickled all over my body with a feather, all I could think about how was how uncomfortable I’d feel if a male stranger was doing this to me. “We want to reach our edge!’’ Natalie shouted. Luckily for me, my edge wasn’t reached: My female partner was extremely platonic and respectful.

A woman with arms crosed and held back in shibari rope workshop

I verbally communicated with my partner that my genitals were strictly off limits. Photo: Adrian Choa

Over the next few days, I attended a series of back to back workshops in a quest to improve my life and fix myself. I sat in on a women’s one-to-one pleasure session, where one person lay face down and a female practitioner used instruments from the hardware store, including some chains and bolts that she kept in her freezer, to stroke and spank her all over – the idea being that she’d be able to better assert where she liked and disliked being touched in the bedroom.

I attended an all-female dance workshop led by a former stripper, which made me feel both confident and uncomfortable at the same time. I participated in “sensual couples dancing”, where I was held for an uncomfortably long time by an older man who looked a little like a wizard. 

I met Roxy, a tantric goddess who specialises in giving tantric massages to a list of rich male clients. And I finally began to learn about setting boundaries – something, to be fair, I needed a little help with anyway.


The longer I spent on Tantra Island, the more it became apparent why the term “boundaries” kept getting repeated and taught in every class that I attended. The island has its own history of abuse. In 2018, Agama – one of the world’s largest yoga schools – was forced to close its Ko Pha-Ngan headquarters after its leader, Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, was accused of endemic sexual abuse.

An old man with white hair holds a younger woman in athleisure during a sensual couples dancing workshop

My partner from the "sensual couples dancing" workshop. Photo: VICE World News

 But that wasn’t the end of the story. After Agama closed, women in the tantra community still reported sexual assault and rape happening on the island – there was even a Facebook group with hundreds of posts warning others to stay away from certain men and practitioners. 

Sex abuse scandals have often overshadowed the practice of tantra itself. As detailed in Netflix’s Wild Wild Country, one of the gurus who popularised tantra in the West – Bhagwan Rajneesh – was later exposed as the head of a “sex cult”. OneTaste, the orgasmic meditation organisation that preached female sexual liberation, is currently being investigated by the FBI for sex trafficking, prostitution, and labour law violations. 


 All the tantra fans I spoke to stressed that it was an amazing gift – but it can also give cover to those who seek to take advantage of a highly tactile spiritual practice. It is true that tantra can entail genital touching – lingam (penis) and yoni (womb) massages, which are said to clear sexual trauma and clear your sacred chakras. I’d heard of it happening on the island, though we weren’t granted permission to attend one due to the sensitive nature of the act.  

 Some of the men on Ko Pha-Ngan had responded to the allegations by teaching or joining all-male workshops where they worked on themselves as tantric men and discussed how best to help safeguard their community. It was the first time I’d seen such a large number of men in a vulnerable setting, sharing their emotions and feelings.

“This island does not have a regulated industry,” Steffo Shambo, the relationship coach leading the workshop, told me. “There’s no code of conduct. Someone could take a two-day workshop and then become a massage therapist. I want to teach men about integrity and how important it is to integrate your sex with your heart and the head. That way, we won’t step over boundaries.’’

 Steffo told all the men in the group chant and physically release their pain and emotions. “Gotta have a hard dick!’’ he shouted at them. “Been told not to cry… Shake it out… Let’s not be predators!’’


While I can only commend men coming together to work on themselves, I was no closer to solving my past trauma – if nothing else, knowing that Ko Pha-Ngan still struggles with its own problem of abuse made me feel more hopeless. Even on an island renowned for spiritual enlightenment, sexual misconduct rarely results in real justice for survivors or accountability.

A woman lying down during a breathwork ceremony

During the breathwork session. Photo: VICE World News

 After the all-male workshop, Steffo invited me to participate in a one-to-one trauma breathwork session. I was told that this could bring up memories of past events and release trauma from the body. ‘’There may be sadness coming up and you don’t even know why… or anger… You might even laugh,” he warned. 

I was instructed to take deep breaths very quickly while lying down with my eyes closed. After ten minutes, I began to hyperventilate and felt nauseous, but I was instructed to keep going. As I lay there, feeling like I’d just gunned ten laughing gas balloons in a row, I felt a surge of insanely strong emotion come over me. I mean, this was partly because I was stressed from working and being on camera all week – but I also knew that I didn’t want to have a breakdown on film, so I stopped the session and got up, nearly falling over because I was too dizzy.

Had I finally reached breaking point? Does breathwork really eliminate trauma or was I just deprived of oxygen? Chalk it up to: Not sure. But I didn’t have time to think, as I had my final send-off to attend.


Satayama, a workshop facilitator I’d meant on the island, wanted me to participate in a “transfiguration ceremony”. It was a full moon and I was told to dress in all white (very Midsommar). I was greeted by Satayama and a group of female tourists and locals, some of whom I’d already spent time with. We were taught a dance that consisted of us holding a mudra, a symbolic hand gesture that is supposed to produce joy and happiness. Then we got to freestyle and incorporate our own moves (very rhythmically, I should add).

We were told that some tantric men were coming to meet us. I was paired with a British guy called Ross – another resident who’d arrived on the island, got drawn into the community lifestyle and never wanted to leave. After chatting to him about roast dinners and the royal family, the men left us and took a perch in a circle on the beach.

As the moon lit the sand in a faint glow, the women descended into the middle of the circle. Someone cued up a song that sounded like something out of a medieval banquet for Henry VIII. We performed the dance and were told to only stop if Satayama hit the gong.

After what felt like a lifetime of string music, the sound of the gong pulsed through the night. I sat down in front of Ross, held his hands and looked him in the left eye (no idea why) for 15 minutes until Satayama hit the gong – again, no idea why. I wanted to break Ross’s gaze, laugh or pull a funny face. Instead I was at the mercy of the fucking gong. The worst part was that I had to do the whole routine – dance, sit, hold hands and look a stranger in the left eye – with every man in the group. Some of them rocked back and forth and moaned as I held their hands. It felt like tantric speed dating – by the time I made my way around the group, I was exhausted.

One thing I’d underestimated was how uncomfortable the male gaze can be – staring a stranger in the eye for a prolonged period of time made me feel extremely tense and vulnerable, even a little bit sick. The men I met probably didn’t intend to make me feel nauseous, but the whole thing brought up memories of being forced to do things I didn’t want to and boundaries that had been violated and disrespected. 

When the cameras were off and I returned to my room, I cried and chain smoked a pack of cigarettes. If the classes and workshops were supposed to lead me to discover something about myself or uncover pent-up emotion, then the transfiguration ceremony was the thing that worked best. It’s also the one I viscerally hated the most.

 As for my trauma? Well, maybe it’s something I’ll never fully get over. Sexual situations with men or instances that make me feel out of control might always trigger unwanted memories, but I’m learning to deal with it in my own way and learn from it. I still learnt plenty about myself on Tantra Island – I practiced confidently stating my boundaries and I’ll be bringing that lesson home, and I’ve learnt to tune into any uncomfortable gut feelings of “this isn’t right” and listen closely to it. And I absolutely will not stare into a stranger's eyes for more than a couple of minutes at a time. 

Oh, and I learnt that one of the best places to get sex toys is the hardware store – although I don’t think you need to go to a remote Thai island to figure that one out.

Watch Tantra Island on YouTube now.