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What Is Kama Sutra?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 29, 2021

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

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

While considered in retrospect a wildly inaccurate and misleading translation, the sexual positions described in Burton’s version are what caught people’s attention. That’s one reason people still think of the Kama Sutra as only a book of exotic sex positions.

How Does it Work?

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 is made up of 1,250 verses that are split into 36 chapters. The overall book is separated into 7 different 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 more aggressive acts like grabbing and slapping. 

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. This section seems out of place with modern relationships and views about gender roles, but keep in mind that it was written thousands of years ago, in a different time and place.

5.Gonikaputra — Friends and Family

Part five outlines roles of different genders in non-sexual 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 past 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. 

Sex Positions of the Kama Sutra

While most of the poses are complex and difficult, there are some that are easy enough for most people to try. Examples include: 

The Tigress

This position is similar to the reverse cowgirl position. To begin, one partner lies down on their back, and the other 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 position is a variation of the missionary position. Both partners lie down across a 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 the other 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 person stretches out flat and shifts their weight to one side, then raises a leg up and rests it on their 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 partner leans in, lifting the other person’s pelvis up, and cradling it securely. Then the seated person clasps their feet together behind the standing partner’s back.

Myths about Kama Sutra

The Kama Sutra is only a sex book.

Contrary to popular belief, the Kama Sutra explores many aspects of love, marriage, and a connection with a partner. 

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

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

How to Try Kama Sutra Safely

Make sure you and your partner are physically able to try some of the Kama Sutra’s positions. If you feel any pain or discomfort in a pose, stop and try something else.  

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Doniger, W., Sudhir, K. Kamasutra, Oxford University Press, 2003.

The Oprah Magazine: “9 Rewarding Kama Sutra Sex Positions for Couples to Try.”

Women’s Health: “13 Sex Positions from the Kama Sutra That You Absolutely Can (and Must) Do.”

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