Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 11, July 27, 2008


The Essence of Tantric Sexuality

By Mark A. Michaels & Patricia Johnson

Llewellyn Publications, 2006, 240 pages

Click on cover to buy this book from Amazon.com for $12.21

Review by Ruth Neustifter, MSSW-MFT

Reading The Essence of Tantric Sexuality was not my first experience with material related to Tantra, but it was my first exposure to an academic approach to the philosophical and theoretical background of traditional Eastern Tantra (compared to American Neo-Tantra). Michaels & Johnson have crafted a solid, detailed, and highly readable brief text intended for those with a moderate or greater background in yoga or other Tantric practices. They approach their content with the dual purposes of bridging the gap between Western and Eastern understandings, and informing the reader of the basics of the Vama Marga practice of Tantra. The source material for this text is drawn primarily from the presentations of Dr. Jonn Mumford (Swami Anandakapila) at the 1976 Gnosticon 5 conference. Readers begin with several chapters of densely informative source-book writing on Vama Marga and Tantra in general, which compares and contrasts the regional differences in practice while tracing the history of the spread of neo-Tantra in America. The material then shifts to specific practices and suggestions for various forms of sexual magic, from masturbatory to perfume-related, culminating of an exploration of sacred partnered sexual tantric practice. However, the focus remains on theoretical understandings, which is the main strength of this book and what makes it stand out from the legions of Tantric sexuality books crowding bookstore shelves and websites. Michaels and Johnson have opted to offer their readers a grounded and respectful exploration of the spiritual practices and foundations of Tantric sexuality. The book is not intended for light reading, and the authors suggest that chapters be approached in the order of greatest interest. Therefore, this should be considered a reference text instead of a self-help or erotica book.

As the chapters unfolded, I found myself gaining a greater (though far from perfect) understanding of the complex theoretical background for Tantric sexuality, which gave me an appropriate grounding for attempting several of the exercises and suggestions on my own, as well as with my partner. Those who bring a more extensive knowledge of Tantra to their reading will doubtlessly benefit even more. Of particular note was the engaging focus on etymology and comparisons across Eastern and Western traditions. Readers who are offended by un-Christian interpretations of the celebration of the eucharist will want to avoid later chapters, although I found the material fascinating and thought-provoking. It is also worth noting that some partnered activities seem to require heterosexual pairings (with male/ female illustrations), although the authors also reflect a Tantric belief that we all contain both male and female aspects, regardless of biology.

The Essence of Tantric Sexuality is an excellent and brief book for those seeking philosophical and historical background material on traditional Vama Marga Tantric practices, especially as they relate to Neo-Tantric practices in the United States. Conversely, those looking to pick up quick tips on novelty sex positions and activities without gaining awareness of their origins or purpose may be better off with a different book. I look forward to reading Michaels & Johnson's most recent publication, which focuses on application: Tantra for Erotic Empowerment: The Key to Enriching Your Sexual Life.

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