In A Nutshell
If there’s any book that you would think would make anyone blush it’s the Kama Sutra. But in truth, only a little bit is actually about what we think it is—sexual positions. The book is actually about human sexuality, which is quite different than the act itself. Included in the Kama Sutra are huge sections on how a woman should behave when her husband is away, how the furniture in the house should be arranged, how husbands and wives should interact with their in-laws, and how a man can attract a woman if he’s not so handsome.
Editor’s note: The image above is an illustration of Kama, the Hindu deity of love. Though he is not entirely related to this article, none of the pertinent illustrations from the Kama Sutra are all that appropriate.
The Whole Bushel
Don’t get us wrong, there are some things in the Kama Sutra that make it completely unsuitable for a coffee table book . . . unless you’re a very particular sort of person, that is. When we think of the Kama Sutra, we usually think of it as being full of elaborate and colorful illustrations of sexual positions that make us feel out of shape and inflexible, and instructions on just how to achieve whole new levels of pleasure.
That’s in there, certainly—but it’s not the whole book. In fact, it’s not even the majority of the book.
The Kama Sutra is actually something of a how-to on human sexuality, and that’s a much, much different thing than just being about sex.
The book is designed to tell young people everything they need to know about the opposite gender, providing a window into the minds of men and women, hints on how to find the perfect match, and what to do with them—and their family—once you’ve gotten them. And it’s all written from the point of view of someone who’s trying to help you attain the three virtues (Kama, Artha, and Dharma), so it’s not written with the goal of being the smutty work we think of today.
The book takes its name from the virtue that it’s mostly concerned with: love. Kama is the enjoyment of earthly pleasures and is complete only when all five senses can enjoy something. And it’s the least of the three virtues, too.
So what would you learn if you read the Kama Sutra?
One of the first things you’d learn is how to live a virtuous life as a regular citizen. That means not just what kind of hobbies you should have (honoring the deities, attending parties, having picnics, and drinking) but also how one’s house should be laid out. (That includes the layout and presentation of the bed, boxes for various purposes, garlands of flowers, and bird cages.) The Kama Sutra tells you when you should shave, when you should eat, and what times of the day are best for training your singing birds and your fighting birds. There’s picnic etiquette (always go on horseback), specifics on the proper alcohols to drink, and reminders on public bathing and swimming (the most important of which is to make sure that all dangerous animals have been taken out of the water first).
The Kama Sutra instructs that in order to be happy in a relationship, all 64 “arts” of the book should be studied, learned, and practiced, but other skills shouldn’t be neglected. For a full life, one should also learn things like mimicry, fighting with a sword and staff, storing water, creating stained glass pieces, tattooing, teaching birds to speak, the art of disguise, and making artificial flowers.
And when it comes to romance, the Kama Sutra also provides a look into the mind of a woman and hints at how how to better understand her. It’s a little bizarre, for sure, especially since one of the ways that a man knows the woman is open to a relationship is her willingness to shampoo him. But, one of the first ways a man should introduce himself to a woman is in conversation.
And on the off chance that the man doesn’t have much going for him in the looks department, the Kama Sutra can help him fix that, too. There are lists of powders and potions that can be applied to the body to make the man more attractive, along with concoctions to help along a flagging libido.
So, perhaps it all comes back to sex after all.