Kama Sutra: What Is It and What Does It Talk About?

Medically Reviewed by Shruthi N, MD on June 18, 2024
6 min read

The term Kama Sutra comes from an ancient Hindu text written in Sanskrit called the Kamasutra. Little is known about its author, Vatsyayana Mallanga, other than his name. It was probably written sometime in the third century.

Contrary to popular belief, the Kamasutra is not only about lovemaking and sex positions. The book also covers topics such as the art of living well, the nature of love, finding a life partner, and managing relationships. The sexual concepts most people associate with the Kama Sutra became known in Western culture at the end of the 19th century, with an adaptation of the Kamasutra manual by a British explorer named Richard Francis Burton.

While many experts now consider Burton's version a wildly inaccurate and misleading translation, the sexual positions it described caught people’s attention. That’s one reason people still think of the Kamasutra as a book of exotic sex positions.

The Kamasutra was written in an abstract and vague form of Sanskrit, which has made it hard to accurately translate it to modern English. It's made up of 1,250 verses that are split into 36 chapters.

The overall book is separated into seven parts:

1. Dattaka — General principles

The book begins with an introduction and history of the four aims of Hindu life. It includes advice and philosophy on topics such as how to live an honorable life and how to acquire knowledge.

2. Suvarnanabha — Amorous advances and sexual union

Part two goes straight into the sexual content that many people associate with the Kamasutra. There are details on 64 different types of sexual acts, everything from embracing and kissing to love bites and scratching to oral sex.

3. Ghotakamukha — Acquiring a wife

Part three focuses on the life of a bachelor and ways of courting a woman for marriage. They are mostly based on astrological compatibility and the benefits of marriage for the families involved, in accordance with the social caste system in India.

4. Gonardiya — Duties and privileges of the wife

Part four discusses the author’s view of the traditional duties of a wife: cooking, cleaning, and catering to her husband. Since it was written thousands of years ago, this section seems out of place with modern relationships and views about gender roles.

5. Gonikaputra — Friends and family

Part five outlines the roles of different genders in nonsexual relationships. It teaches how to understand emotions and discusses ways to deepen bonds between family and friends.

6. Charayana — Courtesans

Part six explores a man’s use of courtesans, or prostitutes, to build confidence in his sexual abilities before pursuing a wife. It also gives advice on fixing relationships with friends and lovers, how to become wealthy, and what to look for in a committed partner.

7. Kuchumara — Occult practices

The book finishes with a section on sexual legends, myths, and practices. This includes personal grooming, the use of perfumes and oils, and homeopathic remedies for sexual problems.

While many poses described in the Kama Sutra are complicated, some are easy enough for many people to try. Examples include:

The tigress

This is similar to the reverse cowgirl position. To begin, one partner lies down on their back. The other partner climbs on top, sitting upright but facing toward their partner’s feet. The person on top rocks back and forth, controlling the pace and depth of the penetration.

The milk and water embrace

One partner sits in a chair, preferably one with no arms. The other partner sits on top of them, facing away.

Clasping position

This is a variation of the missionary position. Both partners lie down across a bed or other comfortable surface, their legs stretched out and aligned. One partner lies on top of the other, bellies touching, while the other partner thrusts from the bottom position.

Queen of heaven

One partner lies on their back with knees bent to the chest. The other partner positions their thighs on the outside of that person’s bent legs and leans forward.

Ballet dancer

One person stands and balances on one foot, then wraps their opposite leg around their partner’s waist for support.

Splitting the bamboo

One partner stretches out flat and shifts their weight to one side, then raises a leg and rests it on the other partner’s shoulder. Their other leg remains stretched out underneath their partner.

The padlock

One partner sits on a firm surface like a table and reclines back slightly. The other person leans in, lifting their partner's pelvis and cradling it securely. Then the seated person clasps their feet together behind the standing partner’s back.

Some of the most common myths about the Kama Sutra include:

The Kama Sutra is only a sex book.

Despite its reputation in popular culture, the Kama Sutra explores many aspects of love, marriage, and connection with a partner.

Only strong, very flexible people can do Kama Sutra sex positions.

While some Kama Sutra positions are pretty physically challenging, there are plenty that do not require more than average flexibility. 

The Kama Sutra is only for heterosexual couples.

The Kama Sutra discusses same-gender sex and what it calls the "third gender," which may refer to those we would now call LGBT people. While it describes sex positions for heterosexual couples, many could be adapted by same-sex couples.

Any time you want to try any kind of new sex position or practice, the most important step is to communicate with your partner. Before and during sex, talk to each other about your likes and dislikes, and what you do and don't feel comfortable doing. 

Experimenting can help you learn more about your partner and yourself. But if either of you isn't into a particular position or experience, you can say so and stop at any point.

To make a Kama Sutra position or any sex position more comfortable:

  • Take time for plenty of foreplay.
  • Use lube.
  • Use pillows or props for positioning.

If a position becomes tiring for you, switch to a different one that lets your partner do more of the work. Positions in which you lie side by side are comfortable for most people.

Most of all, keep an open mind. Whenever you try something new, there's a chance it won't work for you and your partner. What matters is the quality of the experience for both of you, not how complicated the sex poses are.

The Kama Sutra is an ancient Hindu text that discusses many aspects of love. It's perhaps best known in the Western world for the sexual positions it describes. While some positions in the Kama Sutra book are very challenging, many require only average flexibility.

What is the meaning of Kama Sutra?

"Kama" means desire, pleasure, or love in Sanskrit, and is also the name of the Hindu god of love. "Sutra" is translated as "threads" or "discourse." So, Kama Sutra means something like "book of love" or "threads of pleasure."

What religion uses Kama Sutra?

While the Kama Sutra discusses many elements of the Hindu belief system, it's not considered a religious text.