The only reason I am taking time out of my life to write this review is because I want to save at least one person from feeling the total frustration I have felt. Don't waste your money on the book I am about to review!
Let me further preface this review by saying that I pride myself on usually seeing books to their bitter end--no matter what. Sometimes it happens that a book looks super awesome: perhaps this book got great reviews on Amazon, or maybe a friend said "you just gotta read it!" But, as it sometimes happens, a few pages or chapters in, I realize that the book is causing more confusion, stress, anger, irritation or some other negative emotion rather than helping me gain insight. Yet, even when this happens, I often force myself to finish the book. Why, you ask? Why would I torture myself in that way? Well, because I'm a writer. Thus, I have this complex feeling of empathy for other writers; I finish their books because I hope that, one day, when I get a book out there into the world, that my readers will be as gracious as I am. Also, another reason I often finish books that I don't like is because I think it's a good practice not to insulate myself from ideas that I might find wrong, stupid, annoying, misguided, etc.--so I finish the books because I want to keep an open mind...and one of the ways to do that is to practice considering other viewpoints, to not keep feeding myself words that I already agree with. What I am trying to say is that I have thought long and hard about why I think it's important to read books in their entirety, and why I often do so.
But, for the love of all that's holy, I had to stop reading Brad Warner's Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between by page 66. I just had to stop. Here's why.
Warner is...well, he is misguided, to say the least. He warns his readers straight up that he has absolutely no personal experience with polyamory (except that he read a handful of books, such as The Ethical Slut) and that he has no experience with the spiritual-erotic path of Tantra, except to attend, "for research," what seemed like a single visit to some sort of daylong workshop in San Francisco, where they teach OM (orgasmic meditation). Yet, despite his repeated frank admissions that his experience and wisdom/knowledge level with these practices are next to nothing, he goes ahead and starts to mercilessly mock both. His tone is condescending, snarky, bitchy, and, at times, downright cruel. I realize that his book is attempting to be humorous. But he's seriously NOT funny, because what he's doing is making judgments about what he knows barely anything about--and then those judgments are wrong! Repeatedly, he gets his facts wrong. For example, he writes about how tantric/sensual practice is all about chasing the highs of orgasm and about escaping the world, which is seriously not what Tantra is about. Then, on top of presenting the wrong information, he places his knee-jerk condescending judgment on it, in attempt to gain a laugh: For instance, he writes, "I've never seen a single person advocating tantric sexual meditation who didn't strike me as mainly just wanting to get his or her rocks off" (62).
There were so many things I underlined, out of pure shock. I really don't understand his ethos as an author. Consider this mean-spirited passage about polyamory: "Just because you think you're so cool that you won't have any notions of commitment or betrayal or jealousy or any of the rest of that stuff doesn't mean your partner(s) won't" (42). Um, WHAT? Being poly doesn't mean running from commitment or denying that commitment can be a good thing, in certain times and with certain people. And, poly people talk CONSTANTLY about how jealousy comes up! How it's totally going to happen, and that that's ok. After a lot of snipes, Warner presents his conclusion on polyamory, writing that poly is basically too utopian--that it's a great concept in theory, but that he can't imagine how it could ever work in real life for real people, because, unlike pair bonding (about which he says: "I'm fully convinced that human beings are basically pair-bonding animals" ), polyamory is far too "unstable" (43) of a way of being, but then he doesn't really explain how he has come to this conclusion; he just tosses around vague warnings about jealousy and instinct and...bla bla bla...
It's seriously weird how much he mocks practices like Tantra and polyamory, yet then he (often in the same paragraph) dares to write things like "I have no interest in trying to convince anyone to live the way I think is best" (42). Really, Brad??? REALLY? On top of all these problems, too, when he talks about Zen Buddhism, he does so in a way that, to me, comes off as extremely dogmatic. In one instance, for example, he writes how one should "never" do guided meditation. I'm not kidding. He writes "never." To quote him, he writes, "I'm not a fan of guided meditation. Mediation should never be guided" (60). In the 66 pages I read, Warner repeatedly praises the specific practice of zazen meditation--in a way that borders, to me, on obsessive and preachy.
Like I said, I only read to page 66. I did flip ahead at one point and noticed that he makes fun of BDSM culture, too. I just scanned it, but I can feel pretty safe guessing that, along with polyamory and tantra, he probably has little to no experience with that either. And, I can tell his stance on it pretty easily, as his chapter is called "BDSM and Cult Behavior." Really, Brad? You are going to compare BDSM to being in a cult?
I bought this book because I assumed (silly me!), that any write who would put the term polyamory in the very title of their book would mean that they had at least a modest level of experience with it, at least in theory if not practice. But, no. Despite the title of his book, there are only six measly pages devoted to the topic. Six! And Warner, despite knowing virtually nothing on the topic (again, at his own admission!), he obviously takes great relish in trying to knock it down and call it out as being foolish and unrealistic, and, even dangerous. Again and again, Warner cautions his readers, asking them to think of sex as a risky business. In his ramblings about how dumb tantra and other mystical approaches to sex are, he writes, "my problem with sex as meditation is that, as a method, it's much too prone to abuse and danger" (63). Basically, Warner is a person who clearly has not much experience with alternative sexualities and then writes his fear onto the page. The fear I can handle and empathize with! Sometimes the power of sex does seem scary! I know that the first time I attended a workshop on Tantra, I felt a bit dizzy, a bit overwhelmed--and not in a good way! I felt like I was stepping into something very deep, something very...otherworldly. And, frankly, I didn't know what to expect.
I write this review as both a Buddhist, a polyamorist in both practice and theory (I have two partners and I am writing a dissertation on polyamory), and I have a moderate knowledge about Tantra both practical and theoretical (I've attended workshops, read books, and talked to others about the topic--a lot!). I want to stand up to Warner and put my 2 cents out there, as a way to perhaps allow people to know that this book is not for them if they don't want to engage a writer who uses humor in sarcastic, mean ways. And, like I said, I only read to page 66. It is always possible that the rest of the book somehow gets better, that he stops being so dang mean. I don't know. If you want to find out, I'll give you my copy. Have at it.