A yab-yum icon is a meditational tool, one of many seemingly contradictory images of sex or death used to achieve the insight that leads to spiritual liberation.
There are several types of yab-yum, each depicting a tantric deity (compassion) in sexual union with his consort. (wisdom), each with its own layers of additional symbolism.
Like the Hindu Shatkona or the Taoist yin-yang, the image represents dual forces in union, which united, create a transcendent unity.
In the U.S., tantric yoga is primarily seen as a means of enhancing the sexual experience, but in reality tantra is more complex. As Dr. Judy Kuriansky explains in her illuminating guide to tantric sex, heightened sexual pleasure is but one possible effect of tantric meditation. It can serve equally well to create a sense of inner peace and interpersonal connection.
Why do so many people find tantric meditation helpful? At base, tantra serves to foster rhythmic synchronization, a pattern integral to personal identity in all its forms.