Mention the Kama Sutra to just about anyone in the Western
world and they will snigger to themselves and say something like: ‘Smutty sex
book, innit? Full of all saucy pictures and whatnot.’ To which you can say,
with great authority, ‘Well, no. The pictures are someone else’s later
interpretation of that one chapter of the book. The original had no pictures
whatsoever, and it was never designed to be a sex book.’ And you would be one
hundred per cent correct to do so!
It was written in the last half of the 3rd century AD, by a man who wanted to help young wealthy men to get on in life. It is part etiquette guide, part parental wisdom, and, yes, the reason for its reputation, part sex manual.
That it was written by a man for men is clear from the wording used: it addresses men, and speaks of the mystery of women and what they want from a partner, be he a mere acquaintance or a potential suitor.
But it is not as sexist or misogynistic a text as Western translations would have us think. While there are certainly lines about sometimes having to insist on having one’s way, there are also huge amounts of detail on how to ensure the satisfaction of both parties. This might be because there is a persistence – across all of humanity through time – that a woman needed to orgasm in order to conceive. There is also advice for young women in the Kama Sutra, and the writer recommends that girls read the text before marriage and – with her husband’s blessing – after it too, in order to understand the intricacies of dating, touching and physical contact with a potential suitor.
The sex guide does detail sexual positions, but unlike the illustrations so often associated with the text, there is little in the way of titillation intended in the wording. It is, instead, rather earnest and would be dry and clinical were he not writing about sex and how to reach orgasm most effectively.
Does the text have any worth now, to modern young lovers? Of course, many things have changed in the 1700 years since the text was written, and it was intended for young men living in a certain, rather constrained, area – women from a certain distant tribe are disdained as being dirty! – but overall, there is much in the text that can be repurposed for modern living. Many of the sexual positions can help with ease of penetration, the writer even mentions using ‘an unguent’ (ie lube) should a women be very tense, and there are some mentions of both anal sex and same sex relationships of both genders.The writer of the Kama Sutra was a forward thinking man who tried to encourage young men to live a well balanced life, aware of and thankful for their privilege, and able to enjoy a well-rounded life with all its attendant joys. Sex, of course, being one such joy!