Review of The Art of Sexual Ecstasy

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review by Vamp

The Art of Sexual Ecstasy
by Margo Anand
J P Tarcher, 1989

Can we talk tantra?

The author claims to teach "High Sex" in this book and bases most of her exercises on things she has learned about tantra. I have seen tantra explained many ways, but the author describes it as basically being an eastern science of spiritual enlightenment that involves connecting sexual experience with spiritual experience. She goes on to explain that tantra means "weaving" and "expansion" and helps to unify contradictory aspects of the self and grow and expand personal energies and joy. She explains her quest for learning and says she has met many "extraordinary teachers, shamans, mystics, and saints" in her journey. I would have loved to hear more about her training and some of these people she claims to have met (she does goes into it slightly in the acknowledgement at the back). One of the only teachers mentioned by name is the Osho Rajneesh, and I personally got a chuckle at thinking about how he might have done some of these things in the book. I personally would have paid good money to hear Michael Jackson singing and crotch grabbing in the background (his song "Bad" was recommended for this exercise in the Appendix in the back) as the Rajneesh beat his chest like a male gorilla and did the dance of Shiva. The Dance of Shiva is one of many exercises in the book that is meant to connect us to our higher selves. As much as I think dancing can be a tremendously ecstatic experience the exercise was somewhat ruined for me when I saw the music selection in the back. It may be possible to experience religious ecstasy while listening to Michael Jackson or even while listening to Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" but I think the only thing I'd be doing at that point is giggling. So, skip some of the music suggestions and you'll be better off I think.

So beyond interesting musical taste, what does the book teach?

The basic thrust of most of the lessons in the book could be boiled down to:

All in all, some good stuff!

All of this is done in mostly western terms and explained... and explained... and explained about how it will be explained. In fact, there is so much explanation in this book and personal preparation for doing things that by the time you get to an actual exercise you may have raised infants to adulthood first. Worse yet, the spiritual context and rich historical well of knowledge that the exercises have been somewhat adapted from is pretty much ignored. Instead a great emphasis seems to be on learning to accept pleasure and not feel guilty. This may be very useful if someone has a lot of shame issues, but since I don't it rather annoyed me to read it was okay all the time. I wanted to scream out, "Well of COURSE it is okay!" I also was rather annoyed that only heterosexual sex was really spoken about and the transgendered and same sex couples were spoken about for less than a page in this book. Happy fetishists and sadomasochists like myself were not even mentioned.

Let's forget those misgivings for a moment though, and simply look at the idea that through sexuality a person can attain spiritual ecstasy and enlightenment. I certainly wouldn't argue with that premise, though I would argue that by translating the more traditional tantra into the easy to read "high sex" western banter she puts forth in this book there are several big problems.

The biggest problem that struck me instantly is that of safety issues. She is basically writing about how to do energy work that is probably something that a lot of people may never have a problem with, but she doesn't mention that there ARE dangers when doing such work. If you do have a belief in chakras (as I do) then it is really important to understand they are much like our other organs. Would you do something that would involve altering your kidneys without knowing the dangers? I don't think so. Here, she is advocating doing all sorts of work with your chakras without any concept of what can go wrong or how to correct it if it does. If you harm yourself it can have very devastating and long lasting or possibly permanent results that could potentially destroy your ability to feel a lot of pleasure at all. I was especially annoyed at her mention of kundalini (a particular type of ecstasy in tantra in which you basically become one with the universal energy). She mentions it, but doesn't mention the terrible jeopardy that some have found themselves in while trying to achieve such a thing or after achieving it. This led me to some side research in which I read Kundalini for the New Age: Selected Writings of Gopi Krishna edited by Gene Kieffer. In that book the Gopi Krishna speaks about some of the dangers of this practice and the affects he has felt since achieving kundalini. The difference between reading the Gopi Krishna's work and Margo Anand's was much like the difference between reading a book called Advanced Pyrotechnics for Professionals and another book titled Fun Things That Blow Up!

After safety issues, my next major worry would be one of ethics. She is teaching a system of energy work that she doesn't seem to set forth any ethics for. I feel uncomfortable with that, since combined with the safety issues and the removal from traditional cultural context this could make for some pretty freewheeling behavior. There are many potentially damaging actions that someone who reads this book and suddenly thinks they are a "High Sex" expert and ready to play with people's "energy flutes" could take and not even think twice about because the ethics and responsibility had not been pounded into them first. I shudder to think what kind of potential damage a person could do by introducing a partner to this stuff and then leaving them hanging or damaging their energy and feeling no sense of responsibility to help repair it.

I shudder to think of who might decide they could go messing with other's energy without even asking them first since they don't think it could hurt anyone. She doesn't really describe ways to help you ground yourself or your partner or what kind of responsibility you are taking on when you start to follow this path. Negotiation skills are not really discussed and physical limitations and emotional landmines seem to be completely ignored throughout most of the recommended exercises.

As I started to have a lot of misgivings about this book, I was wondering if I was being too harsh on Margo Anand's writing. I thought perhaps feeling a certain inner nastiness about her seeming lack of appreciation for same sex couples, the transgendered, and those of us that find fetish or pain to be ecstatic might have led me to have an "attitude". On top of that, I hate not liking someone's book and I really wanted to try to like it. So, I contacted a few friends that know a lot more about tantra and energy work than I am ever likely too. Most of them had read her book and agreed that the practices (though mostly harmless and dumbed down to the point of being barely worth the time to crack the book) could potentially be dangerous and they felt the material was irresponsible for not mentioning those dangers and some basic guidelines of acceptable treatment of your partner during energy work (like CONSENT for instance).

Now that I've griped, exactly what is this book good for and who would like it?

I'd say that if a person has a lot of issues with guilt, has a really hard time talking about sex, or is trying to think of sexuality as spiritual for the first time it may be worth a read. I would say it is a good idea to supplement your education with other serious books on tantra and to pay special attention to potential risks, however. The book did tend to spark new ideas of how to approach lovemaking or scene work. I think bits and pieces of it are brilliant and can be adapted to anyone's life. You just have to be willing to crawl through a lot of tedious reading to find the rough cut gems.

One of these gems is the Sensory Awakening Ritual that I think is of use to everyone.

It involves exploring the different senses with your partner. Your partner is blindfolded and basically you lead them through a sensory experience. They listen to music as you slowly explore smell, hearing, touch, taste, and sight. You start by introducing different scents to your partner and allowing them to connect with the experience centering only on that one sense of smell. She recommends a sprayer of water with a bit of peppermint or eucalyptus oil. Then moving from those clarifying scents to deeper and sweeter scents like gardenia and ylang-ylang. Next she recommends you move to the sense of hearing and ring bells, play music, or use Tibetan singing bowls. Basically the idea is to connect someone with the process of really listening and feeling those sound vibrations deeply. The ritual continues and encompasses all the senses and I think it is a very good exercise for lovers (no matter what their sexuality). I know I have used a variation of this for over 10 years and I think that it has always been extremely beneficial. One thing she does not mention but I have run into personally while doing this ritual with partners is that it can be a very poignant experience. It is particularly powerful if you have a partner who is very disconnected from their body. When you are calling them back into their body and nurturing and exploring with them in a safe and trusting manner you can end up bringing up many emotions. I really would have liked it if she had included more about the kind of after care that someone might need after such a deeply trusting and open experience. She seems to assume that she knows what a person will feel during all of her exercises and exactly how they should be resolved, I think that is a cool idea but I doubt her ability to know how all people will react. My suggestion would be to speak with your partner and negotiate about how things should be dealt with if certain emotions, flashbacks, or issues come up. It would probably be beneficial to process exactly what they felt (and what you felt) during exercises instead of assuming you both had the same experience and that it lined up perfectly with what the author said it would be.

Aside from the author's writing and interesting musical suggestions the book is full of line art illustrations that are somewhat helpful and lots of interesting quotes are written in the margin. I actually enjoyed the margin quotes extremely and found many were very thought provoking and beautiful. I think the quotes will lead me to reading a lot of other material that I might have missed otherwise, so if nothing else pick up the book to get turned on to some of these other authors.

I can't say I had any great revelations while reading and practicing the exercises in the book, but it did have simple terms and some very helpful ideas that I could adapt. If you try the energy work, be careful and responsible. I once had a working go wrong and I had a seizure. I am now fairly sure that I encountered a problem due to trying to force energy out of an inappropriate chakra for the working and that I could have avoided such a problem had I educated myself more about the risks. There are real life consequences to messing with these "ideas". Make sure to do your homework before you start tinkering too much. I would feel a lot better about this book if it would have driven that point home at least once.

Vamp :)=

This review is Copyright © 1999 Vamp Ire.

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