The Kama Sutra is one of the most recognizable titles in much of the literate world. The reasons for this, however, are largely misinformed. Thanks, in large part, to both common misspelling and mispronunciation many assume the text’s title is actually Karma Sutra. However, the book is not about karma. Additionally, due to publications like The Cosmo Kama Sutra: 99 Mind-blowing Sex Positions, Kama Sutra: A Position a Day, and other such titles readily available in a Chapters bookstore or on the Amazon website, it is also widely believed that the Kama Sutra in its entirety is all about sex. Again, this is not true. Rather, it is better regarded as a guide to the pursuit of sensory pleasure. Kama refers to more than simply sexual pleasure (Rodrigues 152).
Nevertheless, this article is indeed about the segment of the Kama Sutra that is dedicated to sexuality. Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar offered their translation of Vatsyayana Mallanaga’s ancient text in 2002. Although this is not the first or only translation, it will be the translation used throughout this article. The entire text is divided into seven “books”, each with its own chapters. For the purposes of this article, the word “book” will refer to the portion of the Kama Sutra which Doniger and Kakar title as “Part Two: Sex”. The purpose of this book is educational in nature. Richard Shusterman contends as much, indicating that it was created with the understanding that “human sexual performance therefore can and should be rendered more enjoyable and rewarding through the application of knowledge, methods and refinements introduced by learning, thought, and aesthetic sensitivity” (Shusterman 61). As such, the pages of this book are divided into chapters providing information on everything from genital size to sexual positions to the manner in which an encounter of sexual intercourse should be ended. The rest of this article will be spent examining each chapter.
The first chapter deals with “sexual typology.” Men and women are categorized according to the size of their genitals, and regarding the joining together for sexual intercourse, it is suggested that “among these, the equal couplings are the best” (Doniger and Kakar 29). Additionally, temperament and endurance are discussed in terms of their variations. The author discusses a variety of arguments regarding differences in orgasm for men and women. He concludes that “the woman should be treated in such a way that she achieves her sexual climax first” (Doniger and Kakar 35). Different types of love are said to take four forms, listed as “arising out of habit, erotic arousal, transference, and the objects of the senses” (Doniger and Kakar 37).
Chapter 2 is titled “Ways of Embracing.” These ways are divided into two categories, the first of which occur “when a man and woman have not yet made love together”, and are intended to “reveal the signs of their love” (Doniger and Kakar 40). Some of the descriptions are very specific and provide an incredibly intimate understanding of the culture (Doniger 2007:75). The second category describes embraces that are meant to be used during the act of lovemaking. Vatsyayana specifically notes that massaging does not qualify as a form of embrace, as it “takes place at a particular time set aside, has a different use, and is not enjoyed by both partners” (Doniger and Kakar 41).
The next three chapters discuss kissing, scratching and biting. The author argues that there is no specific order in which these three actions must occur, because they all involve passion; “Vatsyayana says: Everything at any time, because passion does not look before it leaps” (Doniger and Kakar 42). Having said that, kissing is the first topic discussed. Despite noting the near endless variety of kisses, Vatsyayana argues that varying local customs permit specific types only and, as such, not all types of kisses are for all people (Doniger and Kakar 42). Types of kissing are outlined, as well as the best kisses to be used depending on how comfortable and familiar the individuals are with each other.
Following the chapter on kissing comes a chapter on scratching. Vatsyayana is careful to note that scratching is not for everyone, and not meant for all times: “Scratching is for their first time together, or on a return from a journey or a departure for a journey, or for a woman who has just relented from her anger or is drunk” (Doniger and Kakar 45). He discusses different sized fingernails and the types of scratching the sizes are capable of. Additionally, he suggests that illicit lovers ought to leave marks only in concealed places, so as to “increase their passion and make them remember” (Doniger and Kakar 47). It is worth noting that, right before this remark, he contends that variety can help keep the passions alive. This variety extends beyond the imaginations of a monogamous couple; indeed, an entire portion of the Kama Sutra is devoted to showing men how to win other men’s wives. This chapter ends with the words “there are no keener means of increasing passion than acts inflicted with tooth and nail” (Doniger and Kakar 48).
Biting is the next topic discussed, in chapter five. It is said that all “the places for kissing are also for biting, except for the upper lip, the inside of the mouth, and the eyes” (Doniger and Kakar 48). Vatsyayana briefly notes that there are both good teeth and bad teeth; he then discusses the types of biting. Ultimately, when a man scratches or bites, “he is making advances” (Doniger and Kakar 49). However, it is important that a man “treat a woman according to the nature of the region she comes from” (Doniger and Kakar 49); Vatsyayana then outlines the different sexual demeanors of women from a variety of areas in and around India.
Chapter six is the chapter that spawned the idea of the Kama Sutra as a guide to sexual positions. Indeed, this chapter discusses the “Varieties of Sexual Positions” (Doniger and Kakar 51). Sexual positions are described largely in terms of the size of one’s genitals. For example, a woman thought to have a small vagina, in terms of both depth and circumference, is referred to as “doe” (Doniger and Kakar 28). Vatsyayana says, “A ‘doe’ generally has three positions to choose from”; he then proceeds to outline three positions in which, one assumes, it would be easier and more comfortable for such a woman to receive a larger penis into her vagina (Doniger and Kakar 52). It could be said that at least some of the information presented surely must have been intended to teach readers how to give a woman pleasure (Doniger 2003:30). Further general positions are mentioned, some of which “can only be done with practice” (Doniger and Kakar, 54). Doniger suggests that even Vatsyayana himself regarded some of the positions as “over the top” (Doniger 2007: 77). Vatsyayana then mentions “unusual sexual acts”, some of which simply include different sexual positions; however, he also mentions threesomes and group sex. The final unusual sexual act mentioned is “sex below”, that is, anal sex (Doniger and Kakar 56).
Chapter seven of the book is entitled “Modes of Slapping and The Accompanying Moaning.” Much of the chapter is devoted to outlining manners in which a man might strike his lover during sex. While some of the described acts seem rather violent and might elicit cries from the woman, there is no mention of stopping the action. Doniger suggests that this passage “inculcates what we now recognize as the rape mentality – ‘her mouth says no but her eyes say yes’” (Doniger 2007: 70). Vatsyayana does warn of the dangers of certain regional customs and practices, mentioning two women who had died and one who had been blinded as a result of certain slapping techniques (Doniger and Kakar 59).
The next chapter begins with “The Woman Playing the Man’s Part.” It briefly discusses the woman-on-top position during sex, before delving into the various movements a man might make with his penis while having intercourse. Of note, there is mention of certain movements causing a woman’s eyes to “roll when she feels him in certain spots” (Doniger and Kakar 62). This could represent an ancient recognition and understanding of what we refer to as the G-spot (Doniger 2007: 75). There is further discussion of a multitude of manners in which a man may thrust during intercourse, along with a brief mention of movements a woman can make whilst on top, or “playing the man’s part”. It is said that “a man can learn everything – a woman’s personality, what sort of sex excites her – from the way she moves on top” (Doniger and Kakar 64). At the same time, Doniger argues, Vatsyayana “acknowledges a woman’s active agency and challenges her stereotyped gender role” when he discusses women taking on the “man’s role” during sex (Doniger 2003:29).
Chapter nine discusses oral sex, in terms of both the act itself as well as the type of people who like to engage in it. Eight acts of oral sex are outlined when it is performed by a “person of the third nature” (Doniger and Kakar 67). This “third nature” may be reference to cross-dressing men and women, and Doniger discusses this particular portion of text at length in a separate article (Doniger 2003: 26-28). Ultimately, though Vatsyayana himself seems opposed to the idea of oral sex, he nonetheless suggests that, “since learned men disagree and there are discrepancies in what the religious texts say, one should act according to the custom of the region and one’s own disposition and confidence” (Doniger and Kakar 68).
The tenth and final chapter of the book begins by discussing the “start and finish of sex.” Vatsyayana mentions a specific room in a man’s house, “dedicated to sex” (Doniger and Kakar 70). There is mention of friends, alcohol, music, and touching, utilizing “the embraces and so forth that have already been described” (Doniger and Kakar 70). When it has been determined that the woman is aroused, and at which point the friends have been sent away, the man loosens the knot of the woman’s waistband; “that is the beginning of sex” (Doniger and Kakar 70). The end of sex is outlined in great detail. The man and woman leave the room separately, to bathe, “embarrassed, not looking at one another, as if they were not even acquainted with one another (Doniger and Kakar 70). Upon returning from bathing, they are no longer embarrassed. Indeed, they relax and enjoy some food and drink, sometimes retiring to the rooftop porch to “enjoy the moonlight and tell stories to suit their mood” (Doniger and Kakar 71). Furthermore, “as she lies in his lap, looking at the moon, he points out the rows of the constellations to her; they look at the Pleiades, the Pole Star, and the Garland of the Seven Sages that form the Great Bear. That is the end of sex” (Doniger and Kakar 71).
Before the chapter is complete, Vatsyayana mentions the “different kinds of sex” according to levels of passion or levels of class (Doniger and Kakar 72). He finishes the chapter, and this book, with a brief discussion of the causes of “lovers’ quarrels”. How might one avoid such quarrels? The solution comes in studying the sixty-four arts alongside the Kama Sutra. Indeed, “the lover who employs in this way the sixty-four arts of love that Babhravya taught is successful with the best women” (Doniger and Kakar 73).
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Betageri, Ankur (2011) “Books at a Glance.” Indian Literature 55, No. 2: 222-224.
Doniger, Wendy (2007) “Reading the ‘Kamasutra’: The Strange and the Familiar.” Daedalus 136, No. 2: 66-78.
Doniger, Wendy (2003) “The ‘Kamasutra’: It Isn’t All about Sex.” The Kenyon Review 25, No. 1: 18-37.
Grant, Ben (2005) “Translating/’The’ ‘Kama Sutra’” Third World Quarterly 26, No. 3: 509-516.
Kureishi, Hanif (2011) “It’s a sin: the Kama Sutra and the search for pleasure.” Critical Quarterly 53, No. 1: 1-5. Accessed February 4, 2016. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8705.2011.01984.x
Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism – The eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.
Shusterman, Richard (2007) “Asian Ars Erotica and the Question of Sexual Aesthetics.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 65, No. 1: 55-68.
Vatsyayana. (2002) Kamasutra. Translated by Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Related Topics for Further Investigation
Alternate translations of the Kama Sutra (Richard Burton, Alain Danielou)
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Article written by: Eric Selles (2016) who is solely responsible for its content.