Sex. Even typing this word out makes me feel odd. But why? If there is one thing quintessential to our humanity, is it not our ability to reproduce? Then why have we tabooed it so? Undeniably, sex has been the cause of countless mishaps over time, but in its purest form, the act is one of life’s arts: the art of love.
Although people have to think twice before mentioning the subject, the artistic nature of sex makes it an incredibly lucrative matter to write about. Book shops boast their own corner for all sorts of books relating to sex: informative books, guide books, erotica, and so on. But when we consider sexual literature, there is one enigmatic text which always makes an appearance – the Kama Sutra.
The Kama Sutra (literally, the Science of Sexual Vitality) was compiled in the second century AD by a Vedic scholar, Vātsyāyana. What this book is not is a “sex manual”. It goes well beyond the physiology behind having the best orgasm and into the realms of sociology and deep spirituality, a concept so often forgotten when discoursing about intercourse.
Further, it teaches its reader about the whole notion of social love: who is an appropriate lover, how to approach the lover, what to do with the lover, and pretty much everything else needed for a man to seek pleasure with a woman. In summation, it’s not the one-stop shop for all things sex, but for all things love.
Of the seven cantos into which the Sutra is divided, only the second deals explicitly with the actual exercises and positions leading to orgasm. The remaining six relate to behaviour and attitudes about sexuality and love. I think Vātsyāyana is making a notable point here. Carnality is only one small aspect of the entire institution that is social love.
Having established that the text is not solely a sex-guide, we can look to some of the other gems it edifies. A theme that runs throughout the composition is the significance placed on the courting stages of a relationship. Writing in a pre-Facebook “seen” icon time, the art of courtship was probably easier in Vātsyāyana‘s day. But that doesn’t mean that his lessons are not time-pervasive.
“Where the lovers are yet somewhat unacquainted, let them embrace in darkness,” he suggests.
“Mr Wolf,” I respond.
“Don’t mess around with a leper,” he suggests.
“Wear protection,” I respond.
“Drink milk with sugar and liquorice to increase vigour,” he suggests.
“Double tequila shot,” I respond.
But the Sutra also delves into a space far beyond material and bodily pleasure. In Vedic literature, a living soul is given four ultimate goals in its lifetime: to fulfil its duty (dharma); to attempt to understand its purpose (artha); to seek pleasure (kama); and to finally attain salvation from the cycle of rebirth (moksha). The Kama Sutra elucidates the third of these goals. The union of two lovers can be a divine experience; where the yin and the yang come together to become a whole. More so than merely a pleasurable pastime, enacted properly, sex can be so much more.
So there you have it – as much as the Kama Sutra is a guide to sex, it presents the subject as a natural and spiritual phenomenon worth revering and respecting. Perhaps this is the lesson we should take from it.