As Malcolm Bradbury, a British novelist and academic, once wrote, “Genitals are a great distraction to scholarship.” Likewise, they have also distracted readers from the study of the Kama Sutra.
In today’s context, the Kama Sutra has become synonymous with a manual for wild sex positions. What most people do not know, is that the Kama Sutra is a book that actually offers an alternate form of looking at the world. In a book written by Jacob Levy, Kama Sense Marketing, he notes that only 20% of the Kama Sutra actually about sex positions. Contrary to popular belief, Kama Sutra is actually a book that exemplifies an entire culture different from prevalent worldviews, and knowledge of this allows us to better understand the social structure of Hinduism in ancient India.
Written by Vātsyāyana, a celibate monk, the Kama Sutra provides a different way of looking at sex. The main prose of the book is about the treatises of Kama (pleasure), which in the context of Hinduism, represents 1 of the 4 goals of life. True to the nature of its goal, it explores sexuality in a non judgmental light, without qualms about taboo subjects. Some of these taboo topics are the proper conduct of prostitutes and infidelity.
On the subject of prostitution, it encourages courtesans to have a business-oriented attitude, by feigning attachment to retain a sense of control over their lives. It also advises that courtesans learn the art of reading men to identify and avoid danger, and even provides steps for them to get rid of lovers.
Although the ideas that these recommendations put forth are thought of as highly controversial, they do provide insight as to how believers of the book conducted themselves, especially in the context of which it was written, providing us with a more well-rounded understanding of this subset of Ancient people along the Indus Valley.
Unlike the conservative train of thought which concentrates on the role sex plays in procreation, the book portrays sex as a healthy means of seeking pleasure. This train of thought clashed with what other Western religions believed during that time, and it was not until the advent of oral contraceptives in the 1960s that people started being open-minded about the Kama Sutra, and questioning the role of sex. Although the Kama Sutra was not the only book on sexual freedom written available at the time, it is one of the more well known ones, and understanding that within it lies an entire culture allows historians to understand the influence of theologies of sexual freedom of Western culture today.
Unlike the concept of the female body as a vessel for reproduction in Ancient China, the cultural landscape within the Kama Sutra also emphasized the need for sexual satisfaction in both males and females. This finding is significant as it shows the relatively higher levels of gender equality found within the Hindu culture, as compared to women in other cultures.
From this perspective, the Kama Sutra is more than just a mere book for kinky sex positions. It is a literary work, which holds a rich amount information about the ideas of their culture, and contains more depth if one cares to analyse the contents beyond the shallow thoughts of it being a sex handbook.