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Sex, Sin, and Zen by Brad Warner (a book review)


Brad Warner’s new book, Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between, discusses a topic I’ve honestly never seen covered in detail in the Buddhist world. I’m sure there are some that touch on the topic, but not like this. When I’d heard even the name I knew I was in for a good time.

The book arrived and instantly it began to challenge me. Even the cover is done in a fashion that made me think, ‘Is this really a “Buddhist” book’? The Vegas style logo, the girls half-dressed across the bottom, laid out on a bright pink (of course) design. I don’t know if that was intentional, but if so, well done. Grabs the attention and starts your lesson.

Brad wastes no time in getting to the meat of the topic; beginning with “The Piece of Ass Chant”, a tongue in cheek translation of a very well known chant. He relates something we recognize and know to the topic at hand. “Most of us don’t take sex as lightly as we take eating. But we do often come to it with very little awareness of how very special it is.” This is a great point to begin with and sets the tone for the adventure we’re about to embark upon.

Next, we get a virtual bamboo stick upside the head and go directly in for “Are Buddhists Allowed To Jack Off?” Turns out that this was a question asked of Brad during a talk he gave. This chapter is excellent and easy to relate to for those who of us who grew up Christian and the baggage that path seems to pile on sex. I’m not meaning this in a negative, but often in the biblical sense it is seen as a form of cheating. Brad discussed the different view Buddhism takes on the topic, “Right Action” coupled with a healthy dose of the “Middle Way”. Which is to say, if you do it too much you’ll go blind. Kidding. I’ll quote what he says, as it is a great example of many areas discussed: “Not being a total sex freak doesn’t mean you have to swing the completely opposite direction and try to live your life as a sexless robot. Deal with the sexual desires you have in the most reasonable way you can.”

Throughout the book Brad has chapters devoted to [Sexual Angles on Buddhism] where he’ll get a bit more serious into the Buddhist’y type info and you know, as I read on, I thought they were less and less necessary. This isn’t to say they weren’t good, but rather, as I read on I saw that my view was just that, my view, my practice, my path to figure out. Another reason I’m a Buddhist — I am responsible for everything about my own path. So, as I read through the book, I appreciated when he goes into a more Buddhist-like explanation, but, I also appreciate that there really is not “wrong” way or “right” way to discuss the topic (within reason of course).

Also, Brad offers his hilarious footnotes throughout the book which may be a bit for some readers, but I quite enjoy them. I think the approach works for this topic, if you stay too serious about this topic, you’ll start getting — well,,, too serious. Not sure if that makes sense but read the book and I think you’ll see my point.

Brad interviews ‘The Real Porno Buddhist’, adult star Nina Hartley, who has a fascinating perspective on the topic. Not only is she a porn star, but, also grew up with Zen priest parents and spent a lot of time in Zen centers. They go into a perspective of how one can be ok with certain aspects of sexual activity as a Buddhist and what is ‘ok.’ She presents a very well rounded outlook but I’ll be honest, I’m not positive being a porn star as well as a Buddhist would really work; but, this is due to my own outlook on things, and my own life experiences.

From there the book gets a bit more serious in my opinion. He goes into STDs, AIDS, when ‘Spiritual Teachers go Bad’, and the big topic of abortion. There are real world examples offered of both a negative and positive background that really work to make you think. The perspective on abortion is a good chapter that I would recommend anyone read. It really does make the case for what is different between a Christian outlook on the topic vs. a Buddhist outlook. I have to agree with what is stated but rather than sum it up here, recommend you read the book; even if it just this chapter.

I enjoyed Brad’s new book; there really is no other ‘Buddhist book’ I’ve seen that covers these topics in length. I recommend it as a read; I’m not positive I would personally loan a copy to Venerable, but again, that’s likely just my own hang up I guess.

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Special thanks to Kim from New World Library for sending me the book to review. I truly appreciate the opportunity.

…joining palms

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