BOOK REVIEW: Adventures of a Tantra Girl by Liberty Storm

Adventures of Tantra GirlAdventures of Tantra Girl by Liberty Storm
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Let me begin by addressing the standout titular word: Tantra. Please forgive this diversion, but I do so because tantra means different things in different contexts, and I review a lot of books on yoga – a domain in which it has a vastly different meaning than it does in the book under review (particularly in India, where I currently reside.) What is meant in the context of this book is what is called “neotantra” or “Western neotantra.” (The author uses “neotantra” at various points for clarification.)

Before moving on with the review, let me clarify the connection. The original Tantra was (and is) a ritual- and practice-centric (versus scriptural-centric) system that is said to predate (and serve as basis for much of) yoga. In old school tantra, there are right- and left-handed practices. The latter involve activities that had the potential to be addictive distractions but which, practiced mindfully and conscientiously, were also seen to be routes to an elevated state of consciousness (i.e. activities normally prohibited and / or frowned upon by mainstream religion.) The left-handed practices include, but are not limited to, sexual practices that build bodily and mental control as part of the act of sex. Having been around for over a millennium, Tantra has experienced a number of break-away schisms (e.g. Buddhism has a set of Tantric practices that began from Tantra and was adapted to the uniquely Buddhist needs.) The most recent of these schisms is neotantra, which took the sex-based practices from among a much broader body of practices, and then added to them (both from other systems, e.g. Taoism, and by way of practices invented by present-day practitioners.) While Tantra isn’t well-known in the West at all, when it’s spoken of it’s almost entirely in the context of this sex-centric collection of practices – hence the fact that it’s often called “Western Neotantra.”

Now, to the point: This book consists mostly of exposé style stories about the author’s life as a tantric masseuse, with a few poems and artworks peppered in here and there. I gradually warmed to the book over the course of reading it. My early feeling was that, for an exposé meant to show one a behind-the-scenes look at an environment most of us have no interaction with, it felt guarded. In part, this might have been because the book goes from more to less idyllic events, but it also felt like there was an attempt to give the reader more of what they wanted to hear rather than to expose them to reality. For example, there is a scene involving one scantily (or un-) dressed girl feeding another a banana, and one thinks, “I see what you’re trying to do here, and it’s more an attempt to appeal to what a horny man-child thinks beautiful women do in each other’s company than what they actually do.”

That said, it did feel that the author opened up gradually over the course of the book. The last few chapters deal more with the author’s personal relationships than with her work and these parts seem to be both more emotionally open as well as more sexually adventuresome (as the limits of activity in her relationships presumably surpass those in her work.) There are few places in which the author seems judgmental for someone for whom one might be inclined to think should “judge not lest she be judged,” but there is an intriguing insight in which she is going to tell a co-worker about her own (daddy issue-related quasi-taboo kink) when she is mortified to find herself shut-down by said co-worker [who thinks it’s over-the-line.]

The core of the book tells stories of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the author’s clientele. She starts with clients she enjoyed working with, then those that she didn’t, and then those with whom the experience was some form of waking nightmare.

The drawings and poetry I will leave be as expressions of author’s personality. The inclusion of them is a bold choice, and I don’t know whether they are meant advance the impression that one is reading a diary or not, but add to an amateurish feel. That said, they also don’t account for much of the page space and may offer some psychological insight that is beyond me.

If you’re curious about what the life of a sensual masseuse is like, you’ll certainly get a taste of it from this book. I found it interesting and educational.

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5 Historical Figures You May Not Realize Were Super-Freaky

5.) Jean-Jacques Rousseau: This French philosopher is probably best known for his ideas about social contract in governance. At least that’s what I knew him for when I was a student of the social sciences.

Unlike the Marquis de Sade, whose philosophy and sexual proclivities were intimately intertwined, one wouldn’t necessarily guess that Rousseau was a masochist into getting spanked by dominant women from his political theories. Although, all interest in governance is about who holds the whip and what the whipee gets in exchange for being subjected to it — figuratively speaking, of course.

 

4.) Peggy Guggenheim:  This  heiress  to  an  

artistic empire had a legendary libido — and not just in her youth. What interests people is not so much that she was sexually promiscuous, but that age didn’t seem to curb her desire for sexual conquest.

Even though her memoir is filled with discussion of her sexual dalliances, she is still more well known for discovering important 20th century artists and saving art from thieving Nazis.

 

 

3.) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: One of the all-time greatest musical minds, his genius for composition may have helped to keep him from being known for his scatological obsession.

This may seem far-fetched (not to mention grosser than the other proclivities discussed herein) but there’s even a Wikipedia page about it — so it must be true.

I knew from discussion of the movie “Amadeus” (which I, sadly, haven’t seen) that there was something unexpectedly scandalous about Mozart, but I never would have guess this was it.

 

2.) King Edward VII: It may be well-established that King Edward had some wild times, but the fact that he had custom sex furniture made tells you just how all-consuming his passions were.

 

1.) H.G. Wells:  The author of “War of the Worlds,” “The Island of Doctor Moreau,” and “The Time Machine,” Wells was all for free love, long before there was a free love movement. He is said to have had sex atop bad reviews. While I knew him as an early sci-fi author who famously predicted the atomic bomb (Physicist, Leo Szilard, cited Wells’ “The World Set Free” as an inspiration), he was — unknown to me — legendarily promiscuous.

BOOK REVIEW: The Coitus Chronicles by Olive Persimmon

The Coitus Chronicles: My Quest for Sex, Love, and OrgasmsThe Coitus Chronicles: My Quest for Sex, Love, and Orgasms by Olive B. Persimmon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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In the midst of a five-year dry spell of sexlessness, Olive Persimmon decides not only to put an end to her inadvertent celibacy, but to turn her sex life around in a big and bold way. Besides a confessional of her varied adventures with boyfriends, ex’s, friends with benefits, and one-night stands gone awry, Persimmon describes a broader sexual education. Said education included workshops in bondage and domination as well as squirting (an eruptive glandular discharge that a small percentage of women experience naturally and that some others – apparently — go to workshops to learn to coax out.) Persimmon also learned one-on-one from an expert pickup artist as well as from a foot fetishist. She engaged in new-age sexual practices, including OMing (orgasmic meditation) and Western Neo-tantrism, and she even gave platonic cuddling a try (sexless cuddling between individuals who aren’t in an intimate relationship.)

Besides humorous and amusing sex stories, the book shines a light on the psychology that exists around sex and sexuality. The reader is granted access to both Persimmon’s therapy sessions and her internal monologue as she experiences these uncommon practices. Her pursuit of therapy resulted from a phobia about venereal diseases that was stifling her ability to have sex even with someone she trusted and while using protection. But what was more intriguing (not to mention being a source of much of the book’s humor) was the disconnect between how the reader is likely to see Persimmon, and how she sees herself. Many readers will feel that a person who would have an OM practitioner over to diddle her nethers, or who would hire a stranger to cuddle her, would be fearless and without boundaries. However, Persimmon presents herself as an endearingly awkward young woman, nervous and thinking that nervousness is apparent to all. In the process of presenting her adventures, Persimmon offers some insight into the differences between the way men and women see the world and how they communicate, and how those differences can cause tensions.

I found the book to be humorous and informative. I didn’t think that – by this point in my life — I was particularly unworldly or naïve, but there were a few things I learned about in this book that I hadn’t known existed [e.g. OMing and careers in cuddling.] With sexual subject matter (especially with such strange practices) there is plenty of room for humor, but it’s also nice to read books that challenge the generally uptight view of sex. I’d recommend the book for readers who read humor, memoirs, and who aren’t disturbed by discussion of sexual activity.

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BOOK REVIEW: Bonk by Mary Roach

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and SexBonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Mary Roach specializes in nonfiction on quirky topics that offer plenty of opportunities for humor – if of an uncomfortable variety of humor. Few topics hit those marks better than sex, especially when it is juxtaposed with science. Sex has a long history of being on the fringes of scientific study because the value judgments society applies to the topic makes it hard to attract both scientists and subjects, and when neither are lacking there is the matter of convincing agencies and institutions to fund one’s work. On the other hand, there is both demand for better information about sex and a great deal of potential for earnings to be gained by making both the experience and result of sex better or more reliable (more or less fertility as is desired.) All this has led to sex and science becoming strange bedfellows — that have sometimes let in pseudo-science for an awkward threesome.

Roach presents a wide variety of studies from famous early scholars like Kinsey and Masters & Johnson to obscure present-day scientists like the Egyptian researcher who has to find prostitutes to have intercourse with inflated condoms in order to study nerve reflexes in the female nether regions. Sometimes, the research involves animals, as in the case of researchers trying to determine whether the female orgasm draws semen up further toward the Fallopian tubes by studying pigs, or studies of mating rituals of monkeys and how they compare and contrast to those of humans. Though most often the studies are human-centric and ask questions such as: why do a few women orgasm with excessive (and, unfortunately, embarrassing) ease, while too many others have difficulty achieving that result at all? And, why aren’t sex toys better designed to achieve their objective?

I give Roach bonus points on a couple of grounds. First, there is the plentiful combination of humor and fun facts that make the book extremely readable. Second, Roach takes some personal risk when, for example, taking part in an imaging study with her husband that involved intimacy in an MRI. That is not even to mention the many things she must have seen that she can never unsee on her global tour that took her to places like Taiwan and Egypt as well as to conventions and research parks across the US.

It should be pointed out that there are important and serious topics being addressed by the science in the book, issues like: erectile dysfunction, sexual dissatisfaction (and its adverse effects upon relationships), and fertility difficulties. So, it’s not all jokes and quirky facts. Solutions to problems (surgical, pharmaceutical, and even psychological) are discussed, though there is a lot of basic science to consider as well. (For the less scientifically oriented, basic science is that which doesn’t have a specific objective, but is rather to enhance understanding so that further down the road economically and practically viable solutions can be achieved. The lack of specific objective means this type of science can be particularly tricky to get funded. It also makes for some of the more amusing anecdotes because – unlike painful issues of persistent genital arousal disorder or erectile dysfunction – its easier to form jokes about penis cameras and romancing a sow.)

The book consists of fifteen chapters. As is common in Roach’s book, there’s not an obvious organizational schema – except the first chapter which is a bit more general and the last which answers the old question, “who has more fun, and why?” [except the answer isn’t “blondes or redheads” but rather heterosexual or homosexual couples.] That said, there is a grouping of male genitalia (ch. 6-8) versus female genitalia (ch. 9-12) studies. There are some photos (not particularly graphic) as well as endnotes and references.

I found this book to be fascinating and highly readable, and would recommend it for anyone with an interest in anatomy and physiology, or in sex for that matter.

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BOOK REVIEW: Lila Says by Anonymous

Lila SaysLila Says by Chimo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Lila Says is the tale of a star-crossed odd couple. The lead, Chimo, is an unemployed, 19-year-old, Arab man living in a Parisian government housing complex. Chimo’s life revolves around writing stories and getting by however he can. A fair amount of the book is about living a life of poverty in the ghettos of one of the world’s most expensive cities, but the core of it is about Chimo’s relationship with Lila.

While Chimo is awkward with girls and uncomfortable in sexual matters, Lila is an exhibitionist and – it seems at first – a nymphomaniac. She is a pretty blonde girl being raised by a Catholic aunt. Over the course of the novel, it becomes less clear that Lila is a nymphomaniac, and it’s possible that she just gets excited by causing arousal in others – particularly Chimo. In other words, it’s not so clear to what degree she is having sex, versus telling erotic tall tales. At any rate, the interplay between Chimo’s repressed nature and Lila’s unrestrained nature is at the center of the story. It soon becomes clear that part of the reason Lila has chosen Chimo is because he’s simultaneously safe and interested. That is, he can control his libido but doesn’t reject Lila’s flirtations. Chimo is surprised to find that Lila doesn’t talk to any of his friends the way she does to him, and – in fact – she doesn’t talk to them much at all.

This book is hard to rate. It’s definitely rough around the edges. However, as it’s presented as the journal of a young, unemployed man with minimal education that roughness contributes to an authentic feel. I have no idea whether it’s really a case like Go Ask Alice. (Go Ask Alice was presented as an anonymous manuscript written by a teen-aged girl whose life fell apart due to drug use, but it turned out to be written by a middle-aged woman whose life experience was nothing akin to Alice’s – though she was a therapist and youth counselor and thus had access to stories of those like Alice.) However, the text feels like it could have been hand-scrawled in the ruins of an abandoned building by candle light as described. (That is, if one discounts the British slang which takes one away from the “Arab man in a Parisian housing project,” but the book was originally published in French and so the English edition translation was made to invoke the same class level in its readership.) There are even a few footnotes about the state of the pre-edited manuscript that sell the meta-story of the book.

It’s also a great oversimplification to classify the book as erotica. It’s true that there is a great deal of sexual content in the book, and most of what Lila says, except toward the book’s end, is intended to be titillating. However, the book is also about living in poverty, selling blood to get grocery money and such. Furthermore, the book’s end ventures away from eroticism and into the realm of tragedy.

I found this book to be incredibly and surprisingly engaging. I might say I liked it warts and all, but I think it’s truer to say its warts contributed to making it more engrossing. I would highly recommend it for readers who don’t mind adult themes and who aren’t attached to happy endings (no pun intended.) I don’t mean to give anything away or to beat a dead horse. It’s just that if one picks the book up thinking of it as romance or erotica, one might feel betrayed. Better to think of it as a gritty work of fiction.

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5 Myths of the Mind

 

I wrote a post a while back about six persistent brain myths that has some overlapping relevance to this one.

5.) A person is a unitary actor (the spherical cow of social sciences.) When I was a graduate student studying International Relations, a popular theoretical assumption was that nations were “unitary actors.” This meant that no matter how schizophrenic a government (and a nation’s civic institutions) might appear, they ultimately always pursued a national interest via a solitary hand. Like physicists assuming spherical cows, this makes life easier — even if it bears little resemblance to reality.

The full extent of the folly of the rational unitary actor assumption became apparent when I discovered that an individual isn’t even a unitary actor systematically pursuing its best interest. An individual is a collection of impulses, thoughts, feelings, etc. that seems like its under the command of a central authority only because that “central authority” [our conscious mind housed in our Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC)] is really good at forming post-hoc rationalizations and making up stories that let us feel unitary. The reader may think I’m just talking about some slim segment of the population with a multiple personality disorder, but no. I’m talking about anyone who has ever agonized over whether or not they should have an ice cream treat or take the healthy route. At the end of an internal battle that ends with the levers of action being operated by parts of your nervous system beyond your conscious control, you walk away with your conscious mind building a nice story that explains how it chose to either treat its taste buds or take it easy on its pancreas by keeping insulin production stable.

To consider how the conscious and subconscious mind can be on two entirely different pages on a subject, we’re going to veer into controversial and provocative territory. [So be warned, and if you’re sensitive about sexuality and particularly coercive sexual fantasy, you may want to skip down to the next paragraph.] Across a series of studies, an average of 40% of subjects (generally, or maybe exclusively women) admitted they’d had a fantasy about being raped. Many readers will react with incredulity, perhaps suggesting that there must be something wrong with such a person. However, obviously numbers like that aren’t describing a lunatic fringe. The next response one might here is, “Why doesn’t a person with a rape fantasy know how horrible and decidedly unsexy rape is?” If you’re following my gist, you know the answer is that said person knows very well. Consciously, she is aware that rape is violent and horrific, and moreover she probably even knows that it’s about commanding power rather than sexual desire for the rapist. This knowledge doesn’t undermine the fantasy [unless, perhaps, she really forces herself to think about it intensely] because the arousal is driven by a more visceral part of the mind that FEELS that the act is about the rapist being overwhelmed with sexual attraction even though the person KNOWS that that’s not the case.

[Note: I do realize that it might theoretically be possible that a much more complex collection consisting of many individuals and organizations might behave in a more unitary fashion than an individual. That is, even though a nation his made up of many non-unitary actors, perhaps the nature of the game forces it to behave in a unitary fashion. I don’t buy it. I’ve been reading a great example in a biography by Ingrid Carlberg about Raoul Wallenberg where both the Soviets (who had Wallenberg in custody but wouldn’t admit it) and the Swedes (who didn’t know whether Wallenberg was alive and sent mixed signals) were befuddled by varying actors sending mixed messages and collectively behaving ineffectively. It’s hard to come away thinking that Stalin and his Ministers had a rational and unified decision process. Instead, it seems like a perfect storm of incompetency and incorrect assumptions resulted in an outcome that wasn’t ideal for any of the parties.]

 

4.) Everyone can be hypnotized via instant induction and then commanded to do anything that’s asked of them.  Hypnosis is among the most misunderstood activities around. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that hypnosis is a favorite device in movies and fiction, and people draw information from these fictitious sources. The “Now You See Me” movies (see above) offer many such displays of a person being instantaneously hypnotized against his will even when the person is an expert himself, and made to do things against his interests. Misconception also flowers when people hear real or fictitious accounts of Cold War programs like America’s MK Ultra or the Soviet’s psychotronics. The lesson to be taken away from those expensive and morally-dubious programs is that it may be possible to break a person’s mind, but you can’t force someone to do something they abhor while programming them to forget all about it afterwards.

Another reason for the misunderstanding, is that there’s a disreputable group of stage hypnotists and others who love to spread these ideas because it’s more intriguing if people think they can do it to anyone at any time than if they understand that their subjects have been carefully selected to be among the more readily prone to achieve trance states and to be responsive to suggestion. It’s true that most people are hypnotizable and will respond to suggestions to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do (as long as it’s not something that they don’t want to do.) But highly hypnotizable individuals are only about 15% of the population, and there’s another 15% at the other end that are virtually impossible to hypnotize. The video below has more detail on the science.

 

3.) One has no access to one’s subconscious mind. The conscious mind is like the loudmouthed drunk who swears he invented the potato chip bag clip, the envelope-wetting sponge, and Velcro. That is, it’s hard to hear over the din of incessant yapping, and since the conscious mind claims credit for everything, it’s easy to be fooled that there’s nothing else to listen to in the mind. However, if you can knock the drunk out, you start to become aware of what the subconscious has to say. Those who don’t meditate may be aware of subconscious imagery as they are falling to sleep (the hypnogogic state), as they are waking up (the hypnopompic state), or sometimes even during dreams (i.e. so-called lucid dreams or dream yoga.) Those who do meditate will be well aware of images that spontaneously form and fade in the meditative mind, and which can give rise to conscious thoughts if left unchecked.

 

2.) Memory is a recording of life events.  I’ve been reading Julia Shaw’s “The Memory Illusion” recently. It’s a fascinating look at false memories. There are many famous cases of false memory, but what is most interesting is Shaw’s success in planting false memories of criminal activity. “Planting” isn’t the best term to describe this. It’s more about getting the subject to visualize events such that they create the false memory. While I stand by what I said about the myths of hypnosis, there have been a number of cases of false memories being implanted while an individual was in a hypnotic trance, and so one shouldn’t disregard the power of hypnosis altogether.  The fact of the matter is that what we remember isn’t the occurrence of the event itself, but the last remembrance of said event. This means that there’s a great deal of room for memory degradation over time, and for a false transcript of events to form in the mind.

 

1.) Emotions get in the way of good decision making. I just posted a review of Antonio Damasio’s book “Decartes’ Error,” which examines this subject in great detail. Damasio found that patients who had damage to parts of the brain responsible for emotion often became victims of paralysis by analysis. That is, without emotion to give them a kick, they can’t make decisions. Reason doesn’t always provide a clear answer because the world is filled with uncertainty. When there’s not enough information, we still need to make decisions, and this is accomplished by emotional “gut instincts.”

BOOK REVIEW: A Brief History of Vice by Robert Evans

A Brief History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built CivilizationA Brief History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization by Robert Evans
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This book’s title and subtitle suggest its central theme, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. As the title suggests, drugs, sex, and sundry bad behavior aren’t just the abhorrent actions of a marginalized few who society seeks to reign in. In some cases, culture and civilization are built on said behaviors. Evans devotes a fair amount of space to discussing research on vices’s role in the growth of civilization. These hypotheses and theories run a gamut from the non-controversial and well-established to more sweeping claims such as that the agricultural revolution was largely driven by the dictates of beer production (i.e. both the need to produce a lot of grain and to be homebodies through the fermentation process) and that the dawn of religion may be linked to the ingestion of mushrooms of the magic variety. Despite the book’s light and humorous tone, it should be noted that the author treats the latter type of claims with the requisite skepticism.

But this isn’t just a book of history, anthropology, and evolutionary biology as pertains to the origins of vice and its linkage to civilization and culture; it also offers humorous anecdotes of the author’s experiments into how to replicate some of the vices of the ancients – as well as offering step-by-step directions for readers to conduct their own such investigations. As might be expected, there’s a lot of humor in the book. Just the idea of debauchery building civilization offers plenty of opportunity for the subversion of expectations that makes comedy, but then one adds in stories of people (and occasionally other species) making decisions under the influence of mind and mood altering substances (or even under the influence of horniness) and one enters territory ripe for hilarity.

The book consists of 15 chapters that cover both expected and unexpected topics. Not surprisingly, discussion of drugs – legal and illicit — takes up a large portion of the book. [I should make clear that the discussion of illegal substances is purely historical, and the “how-to” sections describe “experiments” that were legal in the author’s jurisdiction and that will be for most readers.] Ten chapters are about various consciousness and mood altering substances including: alcohol (ch. 1 & 4), psychedelic substances (ch. 7, 8, and 10), tobacco and marijuana (ch. 9; treated together because historically they had more in common than in their modern use / legal status), the ephedra shrub and derived products ranging from Mormon tea to Methamphetamine (ch. 11), coffee and caffeine (ch. 12), designer drugs ranging from ayahuasca [made from two different plants that don’t live together and which only work when used together] through pain killers and on to the dangerous scourge of synthesized substances created in labs to get around drug laws for a few days until they will be added to the schedule of illegal substances.) The final chapter (ch. 15) is devoted to the search for the mythical salamander brandy of Slovenia (claimed to have hallucinogenic qualities owing to a toxin emitted by the submerged reptile.) I should point out that I have oversimplified with this division of chapters for simplicity’s sake. Some of the chapters dealt with more than one type of substance. For example, Chapter 10 is really about drug cultures and how they kept people safe in, for example, shamanic tribal societies, and how the loss of such culture is part of the reason we have a more severe problem with substances in modern society.

No investigation into the role of vice on civilization would be complete without discussing sex, though there are only two chapters about it. The first, chapter 6, discusses prostitution / sex work. There’s a widespread tongue-in-cheek reference to “the world’s oldest profession” that hints that sex work is both ancient and that past civilizations sometimes viewed these activities in a much different light than do we in modern, Western society. The second chapter on sex, chapter 13, addresses a different question altogether, but one which has captured the attention of many a scholar (as well as being fruitful territory for humorists), and that’s why there’s such a vast range of sexually titillating activities. It’s not difficult to figure out the evolutionary advantage of extreme pleasure being linked to sexual intercourse. However, it’s much less clear why there are such a huge range of fetish behaviors that are intensely arousing for some while ranging from being boring to disgusting for others. [It’s not cleared up by thinking that there is just a tiny fraction of the population that is into everything. A person who gets excited by wearing a head-to-toe rubber suit while being failed with a halibut might find a foot fetish utterly disgusting.]

For those who are counting, that leaves three chapters on miscellaneous forms of vice. Chapter 2 discusses music, particularly as a lubricant of social activities, and it presents an intriguing theory that Stonehenge may have been built for its acoustic qualities – i.e. to facilitate ancient raves. Chapter 3 explores celebrity worship, an activity which we tend to think of as both recent and as harbinger of doom for humanity, but which actually has a long history – so long that it may date back further than humanity, itself, does. That leaves chapter five, which delves into a grab-bag of bad habits that would today be collectively labeled “douchiness.” This includes narcissism, inexplicable overconfidence, and a tendency toward lying, bragging, and delusions about self or others.

The book has a range of graphics from photographs to diagrams. Some are for educational purposes (e.g. to help the reader conduct their own experiments) and some are mostly for comedic effect. The “side-bar” discussions of how to reproduced the results of the ancients (and the author, himself) are presented in text-boxes for the sake of clarity. There are one or two of these text-boxes in most chapters. As mentioned, the subjects for these “hands-on” activities are chosen to avoid running afoul of the law.

I enjoyed this book. It’s at once amusing and thought-provoking. I think the author hits a nice medium between doling out humor and educating the reader. I’d recommend reading it (though not necessarily conducting every one of the experiments) for anyone who finds the subject intriguing.

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BOOK REVIEW: Tantric Yoga by Gavin and Yvonne Frost

Tantric Yoga: The Royal Path to Raising Kundalini PowerTantric Yoga: The Royal Path to Raising Kundalini Power by Gavin Frost
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Whenever I review a book about tantra, I have to start by clarifying which tantra I’m talking about. For tantra is one of those concepts that everybody thinks they know the meaning of, but few agree about what it is exactly. There are at least three broad interpretations of tantra. Among old-school Indian Tantrics, tantra involves the use of practices and rituals to elevate one’s consciousness, and at least some of said practices involve activities that mainstream religions (i.e. Hindu, Buddhism and others) consider vices. Two alternatives can be considered in contrast to that baseline view. The first of these is the mainstream religious view of tantra that keeps the unobjectionable practices and dismisses those practices that the fly in the face of religious prohibitions, saying that they are just misunderstandings or misinterpretations and not to be taken literally.

The second view, and the one relevant to his book, is the modern and mostly Western notion of tantra as being all about sex. This isn’t to suggest that these modern Tantrics are just guided by base desire and are only seeking tips to be better in the bedroom. Most of them see tantra as a road to an altered state of consciousness, but that alpha and the omega of that route is in sexual activity. I’d like to read a book dealing in the first view, but either that is dying out or those kind of tantrics don’t write books. This has left me with books on the alternative perspectives. I’ve already reviewed one on the mainstream religious perspective, and so here is one on the modern / Western sex-centric approach. It should be noted that the authors are aware of the differences in strains and refer to the branch they are offering as “Reconstructed Yoga” or “Neo-Tantric Yoga.”

The book that Frost and Frost deliver is designed to be one-stop shopping for those who would like to join or start a “tantric house.” A tantric house is sort of like an ashram, but smaller and focused on the “Neo-Tantric Yoga” (sexually-oriented) practices. Needless to say, there is a great deal of protocol to consider when living under such conditions. The book is logically organized. It starts with sort of philosophical and conceptual background and progresses to delving into the specific details of various practices. The ten chapters are arranged into three parts that deal, respectively, with basic precepts, preparation, and the details of the practices.

I should point out that it’s not just in the emphasis on sexually-based practices that this book differs from the traditional view of tantra. One of the best examples of this can be seen in the first sentence of a preface entitled “How to Use this Book” which says, “Many believe that teaching requires gurus, but that belief became obsolete centuries ago with the invention of printing. This book will be your personal guru…” In the old-school view of tantra, the importance of an actual teacher is considered paramount both because ritual and practice are so central to the activity and because there is so much opportunity to lose oneself in the weeds.

The book includes a great deal of ancillary matter. There are many black-and-white line drawings and diagrams. There are two appendices. The first appendix delves into the logistics of a tantric house from pet ownership to floor plans to issues to consider in considering applicants (needless to say many of these items wouldn’t be appropriate – or legal – to ask about when considering a prospective roommate or employee.) The other appendix is offered for gay participants because the rituals described throughout the book anticipate heterosexual coupling. There is a short bibliography and some brief assorted front matter as well.

This book is well written and organized for delivering what it’s intended to deliver. While it covers a lot of background information, it’s put together in a “how-to” format. This means that there are a lot of step-by-step instructions that could be useful if you intend to carry out the practices, but aren’t the most pleasant reading if one is trying to get a feel for the subject and / or to compare and contrast it to approaches with which one might be more familiar. There is certainly some intriguing food-for-thought peppered throughout, but it’s a how-to manual through-and-through.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who is interested in getting insights about life in a tantric household – particularly if one is interested in the details of ritual as well as the logistics and practical issues of such living. I’m sure there are more entertaining accounts of living in such a house, but which will not provide as much systematic explanation.

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BOOK REVIEW: A South Indian Treatise on the Kamasastra ed. by Swami Sivapriyananda

A South Indian Treatise On The KamasastraA South Indian Treatise On The Kamasastra by Swami Sivapriyananda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page (note: they have a different edition, I can’t comment on its commentary and art.)

 

This book was originally entitled “Rati Ratna Pradipika.” It’s an unfinished manuscript penned by a member of the Wadiyar (Wodeyar) Kingdom over 350 years ago. The Wadiyars were a south Indian royal family that ruled out of Mysore from 1399 to 1950. Like the “Kamasutra,” which heavily influenced this text, it’s a sex manual. Readers of the “Kamasutra” will not find anything new herein. This book serves more as a window into sexuality, culture, and their overlap for the place and time written. That said, it’s a quick read to appease one’s curiosity. The edition I read was only slightly more than 100 pages and that includes extensive commentary, artworks, and front and back matter.

This treatise consists of seven chapters. Chapter one is largely about astrology and what sex acts are most auspiciously practiced on which days of the month, but it starts with a brief classification of women with regards sexual promise. There’s not much content in this chapter that has any validity outside of the culture and times of its writing, and one wouldn’t want to consider this information to be a relevant guide to one’s behavior in the present day.

Chapter two delves into greater detail in classifying women and men (by body type, demeanor, and genital size / characteristics.) Women are classified as gazelle, mare, and elephant and men as hare, bull, and horse. There’s a brief discussion of which classes are ideally paired. The influence of dosha (i.e. kapha, pitta, vata)–a three-fold classification scheme broadly referenced in yoga and ayurveda—is also described herein.

Chapter three describes “outer play” which—as the name suggests—consists of acts that don’t involve bodily penetration (at least not beyond the so-called “French kiss.”) There are subsections for embracing, kissing, nail marks, and bite marks. The nexus of pain and pleasure is seen in the discussion.

Chapters four and five both concern the practice of “inner love.” The first of these chapters discusses 27 styles of intercourse. The 27 ways of intercourse are functions of genital size, time to orgasm, and level of passion. Chapter five elaborates on the subject that most people think of when they think of Indian sex manuals, and that is the physical positions. As with the “Kamasutra,” these postures range from simple and straight-forward to contortionistic.

Chapter six describes sixteen varieties of oral sex (i.e. eight female to male, and the same number vice versa.) Perhaps reflective of the misogyny of the times, the male to female varieties reflect different physical approaches, whereas female-on-male oral includes varieties such as “post-quarrel.”

Chapter seven is sort of a miscellany chapter that describes approaches to “love blows,” sounds, and a tour of the traits of women of various regions of India. As with the rest of the book, there are some entries that read comedically. (e.g. “While the woman is either sitting on his knee or on a bed the man lovingly punches her with his fist.”… “In response to this cruel violence she will cry like a goose, cuckoo, or duck.” However, the commentary clarifies and reduces confusion over what is presumably an attempt to translate as literally as possible.

The edition that I read (ed. by Swami Sivapriyananda with art by Raghupati Bhatta) was well done. The commentary did a great job of elaborating on confusing elements in the text as well as clarifying points which are incongruous with what we’ve come to know about sex and sexuality through the lens of modern science.

As mentioned, the edition I read had artworks to help clarify the text. These paintings / drawings are exaggerated (not unlike Japanese erotic artwork) and stylistic, but give one the gist of what the author was trying to convey. Most of the pictures are in chapters five and six where they are most helpful, but a few are placed for aesthetic purposes in other chapters. There’s also a brief bibliography in the edition that I read.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who’s interested in the nexus of sex, culture, and yogic / ayurvedic thought.

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BOOK REVIEW: Submission by Marthe Blau

SubmissionSubmission by Marthe Blau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This book describes the life-cycle of one woman’s submissive relationship with a dominant man. Her relationship with the man isn’t sexual in the conventional sense–though she participates in lots of sex and he commands her to engage in various sexual activities. It’s a relatively tame and more modern variant of the tale told in the famous “The Story of O” written by another Frenchwoman, Pauline Réage (a.k.a. Anne Desclos.)

While “Submission” is like any number of stories of submissive individuals being dominated by a dominant and / or sadistic partner, it does carve out a unique space. The female lead is a highly regarded lawyer who is married with a family. She isn’t on the weak side of some power dynamic (i.e. it’s not a secretary / boss or employee / employer kind of tale.) That’s not that different from “Story of O” in which the lead is a successful photographer, but it does add complexity to the lead’s motivation.

It also makes the story’s main question a little bit more intriguing. That question being, how long can the relationship go on with the demands on her becoming progressively more intense (re: degrading) while the intimacy of the relationship isn’t increasing as she’d like? This tension builds to a climax at a point where the man momentarily shifts from the cool dominant to an angry abusive.

It goes without saying that the book contains graphic sexual scenes and won’t be the cup of tea of puritans or those with delicate sensibilities. Included among acts described are bisexuality, public nudity, wearing of sex toys in public settings, and mostly mild sadism.

“Submission” is interesting both as a work of erotica and as a psychological sketch. There seem to be many books out there that tell similar stories, so it’s hard to place this one. I wouldn’t call it exceptional in any way, and I found “The Story of O” to be more intriguing and intense. That said, while I haven’t read the “50 Shades…” books, from what I heard about them, this one likely surpasses them in terms of writing and the building of characters of verisimilitude. [That said, the “50 Shades…” books have obviously been immensely popular for a reason, and that reason—near as I can tell—is they tap into a fantasy in which a man who is extraordinary in every way (genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist-with-six-pack-abs) falls for a woman who is mediocre in every way because she submits to his will. “Submission” won’t scratch that itch.]

The book is short, clocking in at a less than 220 pages. It does have a discernible plot, though it’s more character-centric. A little more depth with the lead character and her dominant could be interesting. As it is the reader is left to draw many conclusions about the characters’ motivations—which, admittedly, has its advantages.

If you know what you are getting into, I’d recommend this book.

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