The Kiwi couple running a Tantric sex retreat

''It's about learning and teaching the art of love. We believe we can change the world with it.''
Franko Heke and Nikki Rhodes

When you walk into Franko Heke and Nikki Rhodes’ South Auckland home, you might be offered fresh tea and a cuddle with their pet chicken.

You’ll be greeted by smoky incense and relaxing background music and, if you’re one of their Airbnb guests, quite possibly a naked eyeful.

“I’m always naked – some guests give us rave reviews and some terrible!” laughs Nikki, 33.

“For me it’s about sensuality, beauty and feeling ok in your body.”

The Spanish beauty and her musician partner Franko, 36, are teachers of the ancient practice Tantra, a form of spiritually-driven intimacy and sex education.

They run retreats and workshops in Aotearoa and Bali, with the goal of helping people become “epic lovers”.

“I’d never had a conversation about my sex life until I met Nikki,” says mediation and yoga teacher Franko, who once struggled with drugs, alcohol and depression.

“This woman keeps me on my toes, to say the least!”

When he was introduced to the striking brunette at a festival four years ago, she’d left a marriage with the father of her daughters Sophia, 12, Ruby, 10, and Amelie, seven. Franko, notorious for never settling down, had moved on from his earlier rock ‘n’ roll partying lifestyle.

“I was like, ‘Who is this tattooed musician telling me I’m beautiful?”’ Nikki laughs. “I was enjoying my freedom and just said hi and bye.”

Nikki, also a yoga teacher, was 20 when she became a first-time mum. While being a devoted “earth mother”, she also took classes in teaching, psychology, classical studies and childbirth education, and lectured on ancient medicine at the University of Auckland, covering women’s health and sexuality.

She ran a successful children’s dance school and worked at a teen parent unit in Mount Eden, teaching young mothers between 11 and 15. But she still wasn’t fulfilled.

Nikki explains, “I thought I should be happy with the kids and the degrees. My husband was an international human rights lawyer and we were going to go all around the world, which could’ve been great. But that was his dream, not mine.”

She yearned for a deeper purpose. “My ex is an amazing man, but how could I look my girls in the eye and say, ‘Go for your dreams’ if I wasn’t?” she recalls.

“There’s a great gift in watching your mother follow her heart.”

When Franko – dad to girls Mazey, nine, and Amala, almost three – met Nikki for a second time at a festival, a year after their first encounter, she made an impact.

“I was telling my dad about this woman I met, who was the first to absolutely get all my attention,” he enthuses.

“I was just so happy a woman like her existed. She opened up a hope in my heart that I could be with someone like her one day.”

After Nikki messaged Franko – who’d rigged a giveaway for tickets to a festival he was playing at – the two spent the night dancing and conversing.

“We sat down at this yoga festival and realised we were both in the same place and ready for something quite different,” Nikki beams. “We met in the middle and there was this big beautiful collision.”

The couple with their daughters (from left) Amelie, Ruby, Mazey and Sophia.

Eventually, the smitten couple found themselves travelling to India to learn about Tantra.

Now, along with running alcohol-free festivals including NZ Spirit Festival and the New Year’s Eve event Resolution, the besotted pair teach Tantra principles to clients from all backgrounds.

“A lot of women say, ‘I just don’t know how to relax – we used to have a great sex life but now I’m so wound up that I need to have a wine,'” Nikki tells.

“As humans we’re taught life is a struggle and you’re not doing enough unless you’re stressed. But that’s a big lie. Your birthright is bliss. A lot of Tantra is about letting go.”

Part of Nikki’s work is empowering mothers to own their sexuality. She has a large following online, where she posts candid truths about sex and womanhood. “I’m standing up for the feminine,” she asserts.

“Your body isn’t just for baby-making. It has the innate ability to experience pleasure on a phenomenal scale. But we’re taught so much guilt and shame around it.”

For Nikki, being nude is “about sensuality, beauty and feeling ok in your body”.

Franko often works with men who say they’ve lost confidence in their ability to pleasure their partners. He tells them to take time to adorn the woman in their lives, using flowers, incense and oils.

“It’s about honouring women, not objectifying them. We don’t see this in society, just porn,” he explains.

When it comes to conversations about intimacy with their daughters, the couple have an open-door policy and Nikki says, “We want the girls to know there’s no part of you that needs to be denied and that you should follow your heart. That affects who they’ll choose to be with later on.”

Franko says Tantra is far more than physical sex.

“It’s about learning and teaching the art of love,” he smiles. “We believe we can change the world with it.”

Nikki’s top Tantra tips:

  • Look your partner in the eyes – they reveal so much. Sit opposite each other for 60 seconds without speaking, just looking.

  • Offer gratitude. Let your partner know what you appreciate about them at least once a day. When we feel seen, our heart opens to deeper levels of love.

  • Make intimacy a priority. It can be kissing, holding or massaging one another – anything to get the love hormones flowing.

  • Create a sex/intimacy ritual. Light candles, burn incense, invest in beautiful oils and set the scene for sacredness.

  • Express your desires – this is sexy! You can play a game and take turns to speak your desires whilst the other person fulfils them.

  • Change it up! Don’t sleep on the same side every night. Be playful and spontaneous.

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