A brief history on an ancient guide to sex: The Kama Sutra

The “Kama Sutra” (sometimes displayed as one word, “Kamasutra”) is believed to be written in about ADE 320 to 550 India (during the Gupta Golden Age) by a religious student and philosopher named Vatsyayana. The title translates roughly to “The Aphorism of Desire,” or “The Formula of Lust,” depending on who you ask. (Roberta Cortese/Flickr Creative Commons)

Even if you don’t want to admit it, I think a lot of people out there would really appreciate having a Guide to Sex –- no, not your high school sex-ed teacher awkwardly sticking a condom on a banana, or late-night, misspelled Google searches on incognito mode–a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to love, sex, passion and everything in-between. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Well, I have news for you. It exists! And it’s actually been around longer than you think. A LOT longer.

The “Kama Sutra” (sometimes displayed as one word, “Kamasutra”) is believed to be written in about ADE 320 to 550 India (during the Gupta Golden Age) by a religious student and philosopher named Vatsyayana. The title translates roughly to “The Aphorism of Desire,” or “The Formula of Lust,” depending on who you ask.

Most people know it as the naughty book you found in your hippie aunt’s house, and that it’s mainly comprised of a list of ludicrously athletic-looking sexual positions. Nothing could be farther from the truth.    

First of all, the book is based in Hinduism, which means that it’s technically a religious text. In Hinduism there are four tenets, or goals, of human life that all people must achieve;

Dharma (Duty and virtue),

Artha (purpose and essence),

Kama (Desire and passion) and

Moksha (self-actualization).

The Kamasutra was essentially a guide to achieving the “desire” goal of these tenets.

Only about 20 percent of the book –one chapter, to be exact– deals with the topic of sexual positions. The rest of the books deal with the topics of desire, lust, seduction and the philosophy of love.   

Now, keep in mind that in ancient India, sex and sexuality was a large part of Indian culture. Polygamy and polyamory were common, especially in the upper classes. Nudity in art was plentiful, and sex was considered a marital duty–not just for the wife, but for the husband too. Though it was a private affair, both partners were expected to pleasure each other in the act.

The Kama Sutra is mostly written in prose in the verse form, divided into 36, sometimes 35, chapters and seven parts. The first section, divided into four chapters, goes over love in general, along with the role of “intermediaries,” or wingmen, to assist in the acquisition of a lover and life goals.

The second part is the most well known, and contains 10 chapters on sexual positions, sexual techniques such as oral sex and anal, biting, moaning, slapping and foreplay.   

The third and fourth sections are seven chapters in total, detailing the intricacies of obtaining a wife, marriage, wifely duties and the care and treatment of a wife. The fifth chapter, in retrospect, discusses the techniques of seducing other people’s wives.

The sixth section has six chapters that go over courtesans, or mistresses, the acquisition of such and friends with benefits. The seventh and final section includes two chapters on attracting people and using sexual prowess to improve physical attraction.

The Kama sutra was first translated and published in 1883 by Indian archaeologist Bhagwan Lal Indraji, and has since been reprinted multiple times. Newer translations began to pop up in the 60’s and 70’s during the sexual revolution, and in the 90’s the most tantalizing part of the book, the 64 sexual positions, started to make their rounds on the early forums of the Internet. Thus, most people think that this is the only component of the book.

If you have a chance, pick the Kama Sutra up. It’s a bit archaic in terms of gender equality, but it has some nuggets of wisdom here and there. And remember: Always stretch before you exercise, and if it looks painful give it a pass.


Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.