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: 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: Jnana Sankalini Tantra by P. Prajnanananda

Jnana Sankalini TantraJnana Sankalini Tantra by P. Prajnananda
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Tantra is in a class with quantum physics as a topic that everybody likes to talk about but no one seems to understand. But the situation is worse because everybody can have an opinion about what Tantra is and who’s to say one is correct and another is not. Therefore, there are many conceptions of Tantra floating around out there. Unfortunately, I can’t say that this book will clear up the topic, though it does offer a great deal of information in a readable package.

In the West, Tantra is mostly about having longer and more satisfying orgasms during sex. In India, that is seen a great oversimplification, but there’s an entirely different muddling of the topic. If there were pro-Tantra and anti-Tantra parties, the topic could remain clear despite differing views on the validity of the approach. Everybody might agree about what Tantra is, but veer apart as they say why they like it or loath it. However, there’s another faction, and that’s the mainstream religious personalities who want to selectively utilize bits and pieces of Tantra that they find useful, while suggesting other parts of it are all just a misunderstanding. And, again unfortunately, that is where this book stands.

As my criticism may not make sense otherwise, I’ll try to explain something I was taught about Tantra. As it was described to me, Tantra (the yogic version, Buddhist Tantra may vary entirely) was—at least, in part–a practice of engaging in endeavors that might be considered distractions on the path to overcome them. Whereas, mainstream religion says, “x is bad, never do x,” Tantra says “x can be a distraction, and so I should engage in x in a mindful way so that it no longer controls me.” This is where the focus on sex comes in. It’s not that Tantrics were perverts; they just believed they could achieve some manner of transcendence through its practice.

My primary complaint is that this book selectively takes what it likes and strains credulity by suggesting the material it dislikes is all a misunderstanding of a selective code. So there is this idea of the five principles (panchatattvas or panchamakara) and they are five practices of Tantrics consisting of consumption of: alcohol, meat, fish, roasted/fried foods, as well as sexual activity. Now, most of these are objectionable to the modern Hindu, but the author says that these were all just code for a practice of breathing with one’s tongue pressed to a certain spot on the roof of one’s mouth. Why was kechari mudra so super-secret that one had to call it sex or fish-eating? (And why would one use a code consisting of activities one finds severely objectionable?) I don’t know, the reader is just left to believe that it makes sense.

Now, should I conclude that the entire work is in code? For example, when it says that finding a good teacher and following them is important, might they really be saying that I should “Find a river otter to take to Disneyland?” No. Because only the parts that the author and his sect finds contrary are encoded, everything else is to be taken literally.

Now, the offending section is only a small part of the book, and the topic of yogic Tantra. However, the degree to which it strains credulity makes it difficult to believe anything else the books says.

The book is in two parts. The first part is an introduction to jnana sankalini tantra (JST), and the second part is the 110 verses of the JST—said to be a dialogue between Shiva and Parvathi on Tantra—with analyses by the author.

I believe that this book contains a lot of interesting ideas, but, being a neophyte to the subject but with a degree of expertise in detecting faulty logic and religious dogma, I didn’t feel I could trust the book entirely.

If you are a mainstream Hindu who wants a palatable description of Tantra that doesn’t offend your sensibilities, this is probably a great book for you. If not, I don’t think you’ll have any better idea of Tantra is than when you started.

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