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Book Review: Sex Shamans

Updated: Sep 23, 2022

SEX SHAMANS is a collection of 20 stories (or “mini memoirs”). While the writers are all from diverse backgrounds, they do have one thing in common: ISTA. The International School of Temple Arts (ISTA) puts together festivals and trainings for the spiritual, sexual, shamanic experience.

SEX SHAMANS was edited by KamalaDevi McClure. They’ve taught tantra, sacred sexuality, and temple arts around the world for almost 20 years and even starred on Showtime’s reality TV series, Polyamory: Married & Dating. They’ve also been featured on Dr. Drew, Tyra Banks, and the award-winning documentary, Sex Magic (2010). This book claims that it was written to demystify sex shamanism and empower people to question their sexual woundings, as well as to explain what happens in their sessions.

Most of the stories are entertaining. If you’re looking to consume media that incorporates both sexuality and spirituality, this is a fun book to pick up. But take everything you read with a grain of salt. As someone who works in marketing and communications, this book resembled the kind of publication that we would suggest to a client who is trying to sell a product or service that requires a high level of credibility. It felt like the goal of the book was to sell the reader on ISTA. The climax to many of these sex shaman stories were situations that occurred at ISTA events.

WHAT IS SHAMANISM The editor of this book addresses their use of the terms shaman and shamanism and how some people accuse them of cultural appropriation. I’ll be honest, I don’t love how they use the terms because of how this vocabulary is associated with indigenous people. It’s because of this association that it makes me uncomfortable when they say things like: “My favorite interpretation of the word shaman is ‘self-healed madman.’”

However, their defense that the word shaman is from Siberia and is just someone who is an intermediary between the human and the spirit is technically not wrong. That’s the definition given by Viktor Mikhailovskii when he wrote the article “Shamanism in Siberia and European Russia” in 1982. What this book fails to provide is context. These terms were about a specific group of people from the Tungusic region.

In the 1950s Mircea Eliade offered another, and arguably more influential, definition of the term shamanism: “the mastery of the techniques of ecstasy.” With this definition, a shaman is someone who has the ability to enter an altered state of consciousness. And sure, you can combine both of those and find a direct line to the term sex shamanism. But here’s the missing context: western scholars created the term.

Western scholars have changed the term to fit their theories and viewpoints so many times that it’s become a label with no real meaning. When a new group pops up and calls themselves shamans, they’re as accurate as a new food item that has a sticker that says “natural.” (There is no legal definition for the word “natural” when it comes to food; literally, any food company can use it without providing evidence for what natural means to them.) Modern groups calling themselves shamans are and should be scrutinized for evidence of indigenous fetishization. A lot of spiritual practices involve some form of channeling or altering your consciousness to connect with the spirit world, but not all of them describe those practices as shamanism.

The book claims that the term sex shaman was popularized by Kenneth Ray Stubbs, who was, of course, also involved with ISTA. According to Stubbs’ website, he started on his journey to understand the sex shaman in 1968 while working as an intern at Planned Parenthood. He went on to study energy, erotic massage and put together an anthology titled WOMEN OF THE LIGHT: THE NEW SACRED PROSTITUTE.

UNAWARE MISOGYNY What I’m about to say next doesn’t apply to all the stories included in the book, but it does apply to at least two written by male authors. People who brand themselves as shamans, typically have to establish that they’ve gone through some form of enlightenment. And for being such enlightened people, at least two of them are apparently teaching courses about sacred sexuality and don’t realize that they have misogynistic views. If you read this book, you’ll notice that one of these stories is so incredulous, that it reads more like a sexy Aesop fable. As a woman, I can’t even say that I was offended, but it was bad, it had me cracking up for a good five minutes. So, if you’re looking for an unintentional comedy, you can find one or two stories here.

CONCLUSION It may seem like I came down hard on this book, but I honestly don’t feel too strongly about it. I am a deeply spiritual person who believes that there is power in our sexuality and I’m glad to see stories that combine both of those topics out in the world. I don’t doubt that some of the writers included in this book truly believe what they practice, but it would’ve been nice if they had the space to develop it into its own thing, its own category, without having to attach itself to a loaded term like shamanism. It’s also disappointing that while the title of the book implies that it’s only about sex shamanism, it’s really about this one specific organization and the festivals and workshops it’s trying to sell.

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