I've decided to write my essay for Tibetan Buddhism on 'What really is Tantra' - a topic I'm sure will draw some attention from the 'uninitiated'. Well, just to cool your appetites a bit: only about 2% of Tantra has anything to do with Sex and Death. The rest is heavily abstinence, purification, concentration, etc based. Of course that is the Tantra of India and Tibet... Tantra in America is ALL about sex and death! Shows you what can happen when Westerners get ahold of things they don't understand!
Another aspect of Tantra is secrecy, based on the idea that while Tantra is enormously powerful, it is also exceptionally dangerous and difficult. The practitioner either shoots up to or near complete enlightenment, or down to the deepest hells (yes Buddhism has Hells).
There is also a stress on the connection between one practitioner and the next as the only possible way that Tantra can be passed on. Tantric texts are very difficult to make sense of, and a reader needs guidance to understand what in them is literal and what is figurative. There is a tension, therefore, in calling anything a Westerner reads in the bookshop 'Tantra'. The book may be by an enlightened practitioner, it may include ancient 'root texts', but it dismisses the teacher-student relationship by simply being put out there for mass consumption.
True Tantra, if we are to speak of such a thing, can only come from a teacher in a Tantric lineage directly to a student. Further, it can only come after ENORMOUS amounts of preparation. The stress on the danger of Tantra seems to have been forgotten by Western popularizers of it.
In any case, I would think that 99.9% of Westerners who come across Tantra will lack either the knowledgeable teacher or the preparation necessary to understand and implement Tantra. In my case, I take very seriously the fact that what I study in the classroom and in books is simply 'about Tantra', lacking the heart of actual Tantra. I have a 'book knowledge' of Tantra in much the same way one can get a 'book knowledge' of Tai Kwon Do and yet still get his ass kicked in a match. I would not dream of teaching or implementing my 'book knowledge' in the real world. Someday, maybe, I'll have the knowledgeable teacher and the preparation (mastery of Buddhist ethics and meditation) necessary for REAL Tantric practice, including that fun 2% of Sex and Death!