Sex, Sin and Zen [a review]

image Brad Warner’s new book Sex Sin and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between is now available in bookstores and online.

I got a review copy a while back and read it over the course of a few days. If you read Brad’s blog or columns he wrote on the Suicide Girls website some of the material will be familiar though considerably expanded and polished up.

But there’s lots of new stuff in here too.

So let’s begin.

I like the style of the cover art work. It has an appendix at the back that describes how to do zazen as well.

The tone of the book is all over the map like his other books. Now and then the Bart Simpsonesque footnotes appear (“Hey, hey, I said *whatever*!”) which may be sorta cute to some people the first couple of times, but after 4 books and dozens of these it’s getting a little stale. And some of the other predictable stuff continues also:

-explanatory sections with weak references, but at least there are some references so he studied up a bit.

-Genpo bashing

-“my dick” has been here, there etc.

-Brad is not gay, in any way. This cannot be emphasized enough.

-playing music is sometimes like zazen (I find this with writing sometimes-just let it flow)

The criticisms of other schools and techniques, which he admits he doesn’t know that much about,  is in keeping with the usual viewpoint. On page 60 he writes in a footnote:

By the way I’m not a fan of guided meditation. Meditation should never be guided.

Certain kinds of meditation in certain schools have certain kinds of guides for certain purposes. Lack of structure may not be suitable for some people especially when they are just starting out. And for clearing certain obstacles this approach can be incredibly valuable even for someone with lots of experience. So I’m disagreeing.

Criticisms of sources appear as well, including those he himself uses. One such instance is on page 61.

According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, which is the very best place to go when searching for answers about Buddhism**

**This is sarcasm. But so many people use the darned thing as their main source of info that I’m using quotes from it to illustrate general understanding about certain things. Plus I’m too damned lazy to look this up in a more reliable source.

Actually Brad maybe you should check this article on cnet entitled Study: Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica. If you check the discussions and history of articles you can discover which aspects are under controversy and research those in other sources. That’s more than Britannica or many scholarly references offer. And information in articles is referenced. Where that is not so it is indicated. This kind of public oversight is helpful as are the many credible reference links that are often provided so original sources can be checked as well. OK so that’s my personal little quibble with that.

He does take on a lot of issues but other people have done them before and sometimes better. These include abortion (do it, don’t do it, your choice-though the story he included of one woman’s experience was rather compelling and in her own words) , prostitution (never tried it from either side), masturbation (nobody cares what you do with yourself), celibacy (not for him and innuendo that it’s kinda unnatural, difficult etc.), AIDS, STDs, monogamy (A-OK, anything else is too messy), BDSM (dangerous and ill-advised seemed to be the message but again it’s each individual’s choice).

Glad he included a lot more of the Nina Hartley interview. Her viewpoint regarding polyamory, BDSM, homosexuality, stripping, pornography is quite refreshing compared to his tepidness towards anything non-vanilla. Her parents were Buddhist priests. She knows that territory quite well too. I’m inclined to think that perhaps she is the one who ought to write a book on these “advanced” topics. They do require a certain amount of sexual maturity to see them clearly.

The whole thing is a little odd. He discusses things which he admits he has no experience with and until recently little contact with in many cases, including homosexuality, BDSM, abortion, monastic celibacy, prostitution, polyamory in such a roundabout way that he doesn’t really engage the topics. It smacks of opportunism a little bit sometimes.

In the chapter Sex with All the Lights On: Sex and Enlightenment there is a discussion of both enlightenment and sex. He does make a good point about some who pursue either to the exclusion of having a life or interacting and understanding what else is going on. They seem rather empty to paraphrase. I’m inclined to agree with that viewpoint. We don’t live in a vacuum.

I do like his writing style. It’s a pretty quick read. And it is entertaining for the most part. His personal anecdotes are somewhat engaging and he does have a certain warmth and way of expressing acceptance of even those things he is uncomfortable with or even tacitly disapproves of. So there’s not a lot of real pretentiousness or distancing from the reader. I like that he’s honest and seems to just write like himself and not try to be somebody else or particularly care who is impressed with him (except maybe the babes sometimes). So that’s kind of comfortable to read. It feels like a conversation one would have with their little brother sometimes.

When he gets into the Dharma and it’s relationship to social aspects these are quite good. That would be my favorite parts of the book. His psychological and sociological explanations are not abstract and come across as pretty well grounded. I would like to see him explore those kinds of themes a little more in the future.

And I’m glad he made the effort to try to address some very complex issues. The Dharma parts are quite engaging and for the most part fairly accurate. And a little more mature than the sex parts.


Read it for the Dharma but not so much for specific sex advice.

4 comments on “Sex, Sin and Zen [a review]

  1. hey – i have to say that the cover automatically makes me wanna raise an eyebrow… but this is a very interesting review. I might check it out… thankyou!

  2. I just ordered the book from Amazon, so it should be arriving soon. I like Brad’s work, “Hardcore Zen” the most. The cover (and title) looks a bit racy, so I’m curious as to what Brad has in store. Personally, I thought the book was a continuation of “Karma Dipped in Chocolate…”, but it sounds like it’s more diffused than that. Which makes me wonder, if he’s not writing about personal experiences per se, then why choose this topic? I’m interested either way.

  3. Pingback: Tricycle » Sex, Sin, and Zen

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