‘Teach Yourself The Kama Sutra’

Excerpt from Teach Yourself The Kama Sutra, published by Teach Yourself, an imprint of Hodder Headline, 2006.02. the sensual world of Vatsyayana.

In this chapter you will learn:

  • The nature of the society in which Vatsyayana lived
  • How the Hindu religion could give rise to a sex manual
  • Sexual attitudes in ancient India.

Man, the period of whose life is one hundred years, should practise dharma [religion], artha [the pursuit of wealth] and kama [the pursuit of pleasure] at different times and in such a manner that they may harmonise, and not clash in any way…pleasures, being as necessary for the existence and well-being of the body as food, are consequently equally required… Thus a man practising dharma, artha, and kama enjoys happiness both in this world and in the world to come… Any action which conduces to the practice of dharma, artha, and kama together, or of any two, or even of one of them, should be performed…

The Kama Sutra

In ancient India, the gods themselves had sex. It was a place and time of sensuality, seldom approached in the West even today. A time of pleasure. Of kama.

Kama, as we saw in the last chapter, could mean the enjoyment of the senses. But it was more than just that. Because that enjoyment had to be ‘assisted by the mind together with the soul.’

That’s how it came about that a religious student by the name of Vatsyayana wrote the Kama Sutra. Because sex, far from being something to feel guilty about, was an aspect of religion.

Who was Vatsyayana?

Actually, we don’t know. We don’t even know for sure when he lived. The best guess is in the third century of the common era, or in the fourth century, when the Gupta family began to rule an ever growing slice of India.

That certainly fits with the tone of the Kama Sutra. It was an era of prosperity (there were even free hospitals) when the wealthy and middle classes would have had the time for pleasure, including music, art, dancing, plays, entertainment, parties, wine and spirits (despite religious prohibitions) and, of course, sex.

Vatsyayana seems to have been a Brahman, that’s to say, born into the caste of scholar-priests. His home town of Pataliputra was then one of India’s greatest cities, on the banks of the Ganges. Today it’s known as Patna, which is short for Pataliputra Nagara. But at some point he went to Benares (now known as Varanasi) as a religious student and it was there he wrote the Kama Sutra.

Sex and religion

To understand why a religious student would write a sex manual you have to understand the Hindu outlook of his time (very different to the Hindu outlook of today).

Hinduism covers every aspect of life and, in Vatsyayana’s time, that included not only love but also sex.

Note, for example, the use of the words ‘mind’ and ‘soul’ in Vatsyayana’s definition of kama. Sensual pleasure wasn’t the mere satisfaction of brute desires but was intimately connected with spiritual things. Vatsyayana was providing the ‘rules’. And these weren’t, by and large, rules of the Christian sort, telling people what they couldn’t do. Quite the contrary. Vatsyayana told people which positions were the most delightful, which movements created the most excitement, which aphrodisiacs worked best and so on.

There were broadly three obligations for a Hindu:

  • Kama, which, as we’ve already seen, covered desire, pleasure, love and sex.
  • Artha, which was economic and political activity. Artha might seem as unlikely a religious ideal as kama but the ancient Hindus took the view that when people made money for themselves they also brought benefits to the whole community.
  • Dharma, which was religious activity.

Properly done, the three together could lead to:

  • Moksha, or release from the cycle of death and rebirth.

You could say the ancient Hindus saw human sex as a kind of microcosm of the Creation, the union of Purusha (matter) with Prakriti (energy), or of Shiva, the male god, with Shakti, the goddess.

One of the positions of the Kama Sutra is even known as The Position Of Indrani, the wife of one of the gods. It’s unthinkable that in the Christian tradition sex positions might be named after the Saints. The difference is fundamental and massive.

Where did these ideas come from?

Well, in fact, from the Vedas which were the ‘Bible’ of the Hindus:

  • Rig Veda – the oldest text, written down around 1500 BCE.
  • Sama Veda – a rearrangement of the Rig Veda to be sung.
  • Yajur Veda – sacrificial prayers.
  • Atharva Veda – magic, charms and incantations.

After the Vedas came:

  • The Upanishads – over 100 texts composed between 800 BCE and 1400 CE.

Followed by popular epics which illustrated the earlier teachings, especially:

  • The Mahabharata which contains within it the famous Bhagavad Gita.

Veda simply means ‘knowledge’ while Upanishads conveys the idea of ‘learning at the feet of a master’. I say the Rig Veda was ‘written down’ rather than ‘written’ because Hindus believe the Vedas are shruti, that is to say, revealed texts that have always existed (apaurusheya). They weren’t created by prophets but heard by rishis (seers) during meditation.

The Vedas explain the origin of the universe. And rather beautifully, too. They are the key to the ancient Hindu view of sex. They say there was neither what is nor what is not. That darkness was hidden in darkness. But in that infinite peace, the ONE was breathing by its own power.

The ONE, or the Divine Consciousness, which for convenience is pictured as a male god and given the name Shiva, was lonely. So Shiva created Shakti, the female. That was the moment the visible universe came into being and everything in it works on that same principle of opposites. Male and female, positive and negative, matter and anti-matter, wet and dry, hot and cold and so on.

Essentially, the whole universe is powered by Shiva and Shakti’s lovemaking. Which is why people must make love, too.

In the Chandogya Upanishad it explains that a woman is the ‘hearth,’ the penis is the ‘fire,’ that caresses are ‘smoke,’ the vulva is the ‘flame,’ penetration is the ‘ember,’ and pleasure is the ‘spark.’ The gods ‘sacrifice semen’ and a child is born.

The Upanishads also tell us that the sexual organs are ‘the ultimate source of pleasure’. And according to the Mahabharata, pleasure is ‘the basis of all the other aims of life.’ In other words, without sex there’s no dharma, no artha and no moksha

Sex and ceremony

The Kama Sutra comes from a culture that was also very different in other ways. The ancient Hindus loved a certain theatricality. They loved rituals. In the West we’ve possibly never been very theatrical. In ‘northern’ culture, especially, we’ve made a cult of the ‘stiff upper lip’. Understatement is one of our principal forms of humour. We love to come in from a torrential thunderstorm and announce (something like): ‘It’s a trifle damp out there.’ And we’ve now done away with a lot of ritual. We don’t have time for it. We always want to ‘get to the point’ as quickly as possible. In sex we want to go straight for the orgasm.

Vatsyayana, by contrast, was writing for people who loved embellishment. Who had ceremonies for many aspects of their daily lives. Who enjoyed acting a role. Who loved intrigues. Who loved to play games of sending messages. Who used pretend quarrels as a standard feature of foreplay.

Lad’ culture in ancient India

One of the reasons for this was that Vatsyayana’s was such a young and vibrant culture. Girls were, quite literally, displayed for marriage at puberty and the young men who chased them were probably only a few years older. So Vatsyayana was writing largely for the ‘lad’ culture of his time. For the more sophisticated and wealthy end of it, for sure. But, certainly, for the kind of well-heeled young guy who today would be getting his advice from Esquire, FHM or GQ. Vatsyayana’s grihastha or householder would, translated into our era, spend his mornings playing the stock exchange on his laptop, his afternoons roaring around in his sports car, and his evenings throwing parties with the intention of pulling someone to spend the night with.

In fact, if you could time-travel back to ancient India you wouldn’t find life too bad at all. You might even decide to stay there. Fourth century Pataliputra, where Vatsyayana seems to have lived, might not have been 21st century London or New York but it was a substantial town all the same. It had a nightlife. A man could have taken his girlfriends to concerts and the theatre, possibly to see Abhijnanasakuntalam, the masterpiece by Kalidasa, one of India’s greatest poets (the dates more or less match). And in the society Vatsyayana was writing for, both men and women would have had servants to take care of just about everything. In that respect, life might have been even better than today.

Getting rid of guilt

If you feel guilty about enjoying yourself, and particularly about enjoying yourself in sex, it’s hardly surprising. Western religions, in complete contrast to ancient Hinduism, see physical pleasure as a sin. And even if you’re not at all religious it’s hard to escape that guilty feeling. Parents live in fear of their children having sex. Children live in horror of their parents having sex. And governments pass laws about what you can and can’t do, as a consenting adult, in the privacy of your own bedroom. Consider that famous advertising slogan: ‘Naughty but nice’. To an ancient Hindu it would have been utterly incomprehensible. No one then would have understood how a cake could ever be ‘naughty’. But, instinctively, we do.

If you now wish to enjoy the teachings of the Kama Sutra then you, too, will have to rid yourself of any sense of guilt about sex.

Have a go: Entering the world of the Kama Sutra

The point of this exercise is to try to look at the world through the eyes of an ancient Hindu.

1. Sculptures of couples enjoying sex, known as maithunas or ‘unions’, were a normal decorative feature of Hindu temples from about 200 BCE to 300 CE. Later, whole temple facades were carved with erotic scenes. Now imagine visiting a church, perhaps your own church, and finding, in addition to the usual symbols, stained glass windows depicting couples in various sexual positions. Hold on to that idea.

2. Imagine that a leading politician has appeared on TV. This is what he or she has to say: ‘Sex education in our schools will now include all the positions of the Kama Sutra. All laws governing sexual behaviour between consenting adults are to be repealed. In addition to tea/coffee breaks, all workers are to be given time off daily for sex. Given the benefits to mental and physical health from regular sex the government will be distributing sex toys and erotica free to all households.’

3. Imagine that you’re just about to have sex when the telephone rings. You answer it and instead of saying, ‘Look, I’m tied up in a meeting. Can I phone you back?’ you actually say, ‘I’m just about to have some really lovely sex so I’ll ring you back in an hour.’

Are you ready for kama?

Tick the statements you agree with.

  1. I think we should eat to live and not live to eat.
  2. I never masturbate.
  3. When I masturbate I feel guilty afterwards.
  4. I believe that sex should only happen in marriage.
  5. I sometimes feel guilty after sex.
  6. I feel guilty about using contraceptives.
  7. I feel that sex should only be for procreation.
  8. I think it’s true that nice girls don’t really enjoy sex.
  9. I don’t think people should have sex from behind because it’s the way animals do it.
  10. I believe that sexually transmitted diseases were sent by God to punish promiscuity.
  11. I think it’s polite to keep our genitals hidden from view, even while having sex.
  12. I think the use of things like vibrators is unnatural and wrong.
  13. I think sex shops should be banned.
  14. I believe that pictures of people having sex are disgusting.

How did you score? 10 – 14 ticks: the Kama Sutra is not for you. 5 – 9 ticks: you have a lot of guilt about sex which you need to work on. 0 – 4 ticks: you’re an ‘ancient Hindu’.

Ancient sex secrets

In the last 60 years or so we’ve discovered an enormous amount about sex. We’ve attached electrodes to penises and put cameras up vaginas and asked people to make love in body scanners. But the ancient Hindus didn’t have those things, so how could they have anything to teach us?

In fact, their scholars were just as curious as we are and, if they lacked technology, they made up for it by careful observation, practical investigation, a degree of intuition and by:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation

Yoga was much more than a form of exercise. Going back 5,000 years, it was also a way of studying the body. Yogis can slow their heart rates, reverse the movement within their digestive tracts, and achieve incredible control of their sexual organs.

Meditation, which was part of yoga, was a way of developing the mind. Of concentrating its power. Of focussing that power not on a distant star, as scientists might concentrate their telescopes today, but of focussing it internally. Meditation was nothing short of a scientific procedure.

The Vedas, the seminal books of the Hindu religion, tell us of three levels of ability:

  • Dharana was concentrating the mind on a single thought for 12 seconds. It’s already quite difficult.
  • Dhyana was concentrating the mind on a single thought for twelve dharanas – in effect meditating for nearly two and a half minutes.
  • Samadhi or superconsciousness was the state of union with the divine energy that could be achieved by meditating for 12 dhyanas – almost half an hour.

Meditation could be aided by:

  • Mantras

Now, if you ask how the ancient Hindus could possibly know very much about sex, I might answer you with another question. How could the ancient Hindus possibly know the universe was composed of nothing more (or less) than vibrations? Western science has now confirmed this. Hence the importance of mantras, which are words and phrases that, when pronounced correctly, vibrate in a special way.

Just as they discovered some of the secrets of the universe, so the ancient Hindus discovered some (but, as we’ll see, not all) the secrets of sex. And as for sex between a yogi and a yogini, well, it must have been the ultimate.

Have a go: Meditating on your body

Meditation is a technique that would have been used by Vatsyayana all his life. In order to learn the truth about the universe he would have been looking not outside but inside. Because, in Hindu belief, every person is a microcosm of the universe. And in those days, the only way of understanding the macrocosm – the universe and its Creator – was to explore the microcosm which was the body.

The are essentially three stages in meditation:

  • Shutting off the external world
  • Shutting down your own thoughts
  • Focusing on your inner world

Dawn and dusk are good times to meditate. Find somewhere you can sit comfortably with your back, neck and head in a straight line. It isn’t essential to sit on the floor in the half lotus but if you can manage it without strain then it helps – if your knees don’t reach the floor a cushion under the rear of your buttocks will help by tilting you slightly forwards. Put your hands on your knees, palms up, with the thumb and forefinger of each hand touching to form a circle.

A well-known practice is to concentrate on an object, gazing steadily at it (tratak). A candle flame can be a good thing for beginners, but you could also gaze at a star or even the end of your own nose. When you can’t stare any longer, close your eyes and try to visualise what you’ve been looking at. When the internal image fades away, look back at the real object again. As a variation, some people sit close to a blank wall and stare at that.

But we want to shut off the outer world even more completely than that. Some people like to do it physically by, for example, covering their eyes, ears, nose and mouth with their fingers (instead of putting their hands on their knees). But it’s better to do it mentally if you can. To make it easier, shut doors and windows against noise and disconnect the telephone. Invite all flies to leave the room.

A powerful technique, which already existed in Vatsyayana’s time, is the use of a word or phrase (mantra) whose vibrations have special qualities. Repeating the mantra over and over is known as japa. Every mantra has its own effect, which you won’t achieve unless you’re taught the special way of doing it by a guru. But, even without a guru, you can use mantras in a simpler way to help you meditate. Any short word ending in ‘m’ is good (Om is the best-known). Whilst sitting as described with your eyes closed, breathe in steadily, feeling your stomach expand. Then say your mantra, letting your breath out slowly. Just concentrate on the sound and on your own slow, steady breathing. As the ‘m’ hums on its way, note the vibrations through your skull, down your neck and into your chest. Eventually, you should be able to feel the vibrations reaching the ends of your fingers and the tips of your toes. You’re in touch with your whole body.

Now concentrate on your heart until you can hear it beating. Once you’ve tuned into it, try slowing it down. See what happens when you become tense and what happens when you let all that tension go by exhaling. Next concentrate on your genital area. Try to sense the different parts, the inner and outer labia, the clitoris and the vagina if you’re a woman, the testicles, scrotum, shaft of the penis and glans if you’re a man. See if you can make yourself lubricated or erect by visualising it happening (not by thinking erotic thoughts).

Sex and the caste system

Most Westerners reject the idea that you could be trapped into a particular position in life through an accident of birth. It’s against everything we believe in. But, then, to a Hindu, there’s nothing accidental about it.

Hindus believed (and many still do) that you were given a role in society for that lifetime. (Remember that in the Hindu view there will be more lives to come.) Your task was to perform that role to the best of your ability for the good of society. By so doing you could be reincarnated in a higher role. And, of course, a prince could equally be a pauper in his next life, too.

There are four main castes:

  • Brahmans (scholar-priests)
  • Kshatriyas (kings and warriors)
  • Vaishyas (farmers and merchants)
  • Shudras (workers, artists and foreigners)

As a general rule, you did not socialise outside your caste, nor fall in love, nor have sex (although Vatsyayana does point out exceptions). The reason was clear. If everybody was the same, there would be no dynamism and, therefore, no universe. Above all, there could be no marriage across castes.

The Kama Sutra and marriage

According to the Kama Sutra, a man should only marry a virgin of his own caste. That was the way of ‘acquiring lawful progeny and good fame.’ The idea of children being of mixed-caste, mixed-race or mixed-anything was against Hindu belief. It was that, more than anything, that could destroy that all-important diversity.

But in Vatsyayana’s time, marriages weren’t so much arranged by parents as facilitated. The Kama Sutra tells us that:

‘When a girl becomes marriageable her parents should dress her smartly, and should place her where she can be easily seen by all. [They should] show her to advantage in society, because she is a kind of merchandise.’

The Kama Sutra also advises that the girl should be:

  • Born of a highly respectable family
  • Possessed of wealth
  • Well connected
  • Beautiful
  • Of a good disposition
  • With good hair, nails, teeth, ears, eyes and breasts.

Just so things aren’t too one-sided the Kama Sutra also adds that ‘the man should, of course, also possess these qualities himself.’ It may sound like the proverbial ‘cattle market’ but it’s no different in essence to the whole idea of debutantes ‘coming out’, which was a standard part of the aristocratic social scene in the West until very recently.

So physical attraction, passion and lust could count just as much as other factors (but mainly on the man’s part). Much harder was love, because the couple probably wouldn’t have known one another in any meaningful way.

How deep is your love?

Vatsyayana says that there are ten degrees of love. Which are you?

1. Love of the eye

2. Attachment of the mind

3. Constant reflection

4. Destruction of sleep.

5. Emaciation of the body.

6. Turning away from objects of enjoyment

7. Removal of shame

8. Madness.

9. Fainting.

10. Death.

The Kama Sutra and feminism

If you’re a woman who believes men and women are equal then you’re going to get pretty angry with parts of the Kama Sutra. But don’t stop reading yet because, in fact, the Kama Sutra gives you plenty of opportunity to get your revenge (as we’ll see).

There’s no hiding the fact that in Vatsyayana’s India, women were very definitely not equal. The modern Western notion that men and women are interchangeable, both equally capable of and suited to looking after children or working on a construction site, would have been utterly incomprehensible in that culture.

In fact, even if you could time-travel to ancient India to explain feminist thinking to women, they probably wouldn’t be interested. In the Hindu view, as we’ve seen, equality is death. The end of the universe. The greater the ‘inequality,’ on the other hand, the greater the force of attraction between men and women. Which both sexes apparently rather enjoyed.

Have a go: Being manly and womanly

Making love in accordance with the Kama Sutra doesn’t mean returning to the idea that women aren’t equal to men. But it does mean returning to the idea that men and women are different and that the differences should be celebrated.

If you do believe that men and women are the same and should be treated the same way then try to suspend that notion for a little experiment. If you’re a woman, revel in being a woman. And if you’re a man, revel in being a man. Accentuate those (undeniable) physical differences and those (debatable) mental differences as much as possible. Don’t play them down.

  • Women. Put on some really feminine clothes that give plenty of emphasis to your curves. Accessorise with jewellery and perfume. Underneath, wear sexy lingerie.
  • Men: wear clothes that emphasise the power of your shoulders. Maybe grow a moustache – a sign of virility to the ancient Hindus. Work out at the gym to develop your muscles.

The 64 arts

Vatsyayana was no feminist but his attitude to women was relatively enlightened for his time. The prevailing male view, for example, was that women couldn’t study any science. Vatsyayana, on the other hand, argued that women should study the ‘64 arts’ as well as his Kama Sutra.

In fact, 64 was a special number for the ancient Hindus and there were two very different lists of the ‘64 arts’. One list covered the sexual arts, which is the subject of this book. The other, the one we’re concerned with here, covered practical things.

Looking down the list of the 64 ‘practical arts’ today, many skills remain desirable although others seem irrelevant and even laughable. But the overwhelming feeling is awe that anybody, man or woman, could have been an expert in them all.

The list is given in full because it provides a fascinating insight into life at the time. There are all the things connected with the home, such as arranging flowers, cushions and carpets, the making of drinks and cooking. There are games that we still play today. There are surprises such as skill with a sword and a bow and arrow. And, of course, there are all those things to do with a woman making herself seductive, such as colouring her hair and body, creating perfumes and making jewellery. Knowledge of gymnastics was also included – which might also have been a preparation for sex.

Have a look down the list and see how many are still relevant to you today. If you were making a list of a modern 64 arts what would you include?

1. Singing.

2. Playing on musical instruments.

3. Dancing.

4. Union of dancing, singing and playing instrumental music.

5. Writing and drawing.

6. Tattooing.

7. Arraying and adorning an idol with rice and flowers.

8. Spreading and arranging beds or couches of flowers, or flowers upon the ground.

9. Colouring the teeth, garments, hair, nails and bodies, that is, staining, dyeing, colouring and painting them.

10. Fixing stained glass in a floor.

11. The art of making beds, and spreading out carpets and cushions for reclining.

12. Playing on musical glasses filled with water.

13. Storing and accumulating water in aqueducts, cisterns and reservoirs.

14. Picture making, trimming and decorating.

15. Stringing of rosaries, necklaces, garlands and wreaths.

16. Binding of turbans and chaplets, and making crests and topknots of flowers.

17. Scenic representations. Stage playing.

18. Art of making ear ornaments.

19. Art of preparing perfumes and odours.

20. Proper disposition of jewels and decorations, and adornment in dress.

21. Magic or sorcery.

22. Quickness and dexterity in manual skill.

23. Culinary art, that is, cooking and cookery.

24. Making lemonades, sherbets, acidulated drinks, and spirituous extracts with proper flavour and colour.

25. Tailor’s work and sewing.

26. Making parrots, flowers, tufts, tassels, bunches, bosses, knobs, and so on, out of yarn or thread.

28. A game, which consists in repeating verses, and as one person finishes, another person has to commence at once, repeating another verse, beginning with the same letter with which the last speaker’s verse ended. Whoever fails to repeat, is considered to have lost and to be subject to pay a forfeit or stake of some kind.

29. The art of mimicry or imitation.

30. Reading, including chanting and intoning.

31. Study of sentences difficult to pronounce. It is played as a game, chiefly by women and children, and consists of a difficult sentence being given; and when it is repeated quickly, the words are often transposed or badly pronounced.

32. Practise with sword, single-stick, quarterstaff, and bow and arrow.

33. Drawing inferences, reasoning or inferring.

34. Carpentry, or the work of a carpenter.

35. Architecture, or the art of building.

36. Knowledge about gold and silver coins, and jewels and gems.

37. Chemistry and mineralogy.

38. Colouring jewels, gems and beads.

39. Knowledge of mines and quarries.

40. Gardening: knowledge of treating the diseases of trees and plants, of nourishing them, and determining their ages.

41. Arts of cockfighting, quail fighting, and ram fighting.

42. Art of teaching parrots and starlings to speak.

43. Art of applying perfumed ointments to the body, and of dressing the hair with unguents and perfumes, and braiding it.

44. the art of understanding writing in cipher and the writing of words in a peculiar way.

45. The art of speaking by changing the forms of words. It is of various kinds. Some speak by changing the beginning and end of words, others by adding unnecessary letters between every syllable of a word, and so on.

46. Knowledge of languages and of the vernacular dialects.

47. Art of making flower carriages.

48. Art of framing mystical diagrams, of addressing spells and charms, and binding armlets.

49. Mental exercises, such as completing stanzas or verses on receiving a part of them; or supplying one, two or three lines when the remaining lines are given indiscriminately from different verses, so as to make the whole an entire verse with regard to its meaning; or arranging the words of a verse written irregularly by separating the words from the consonants, or leaving them out altogether; or putting into verse or prose sentences represented by signs or symbols. There are many other such exercises.

50. Composing poems.

51. Knowledge of dictionaries and vocabularies.

52. Knowledge of ways of changing and disguising the appearance of persons.

53. Knowledge of the art of changing the appearance of things, such as making cotton to appear as silk, coarse and common things to appear as fine and good.

54. Various ways of gambling.

55. Art of obtaining possession of the property of others by means of muntras or incantations.

56. Skill in youthful sports.

57. Knowledge of the rules of society, and of how to pay respects and compliments to others.

58. Knowledge of the art of war, of arms, armies, and so on.

59. Knowledge of gymnastics.

60. Art of knowing the character of a man from his features.

61. Knowledge of scanning or constructing verses.

62. Arithmetical recreations.

63. Making artificial flowers.

64. Making figures and images in clay.


As we’ve seen, a couple might have married because a man was physically attracted to the girl who was ‘merchandise’. But she would usually have been little more than a child with no experience of sex or anything else. In fact, she was likely to be so inexperienced that the Kama Sutra advises the man to wait until ‘the night of the tenth day’ after the marriage to attempt intercourse. Such relationships could grow into love, of course. But if they didn’t, there was no easy escape for a woman. For a man, on the other hand, there were always the ‘public women’.

There was no sort of stigma attached to prostitution in Vatsyayana’s time. Since sex itself was sacred, and since making money was revered as artha, so putting the two things together was perfectly in keeping with the ancient Hindu moral and religious outlook. Courtesans, as opposed to ‘water carriers’ who might be forced into sex, were highly respected. Those who had mastered the 64 arts (both sets, presumably) were known as ganikas and, the Kama Sutra tells us, would even receive ‘a seat of honour’ wherever men were gathered.

But the Kama Sutra mostly advises about – as we might say nowadays – kept women. That’s to say, there was a relationship of sorts. For the woman it was based on money. But for the man there would have been a genuine attraction and maybe even love.

Goodbye to paradise

The Hindu culture of ancient India was a sexual paradise that lasted for thousands of years. It reached its climax with the beautiful and fabulously erotic sculptures on the temples of the Chandella kings at Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh. But even as the stonemasons were putting the finishing touches to the yonis and lingams and entwined couples, so people with a very different view were gathering their armies on India’s frontiers.

Sex and the Muslim invasions

For a lot of Hindus, the good sex life started to unravel in the 11th century with the first of the Muslim invasions. Geography dictated that they came from the north and west which is why, today, the area that’s now Pakistan is strongly Muslim whereas the south of India remains almost entirely Hindu.

Muslim ideas were very different to the Hindu. Overt sensuality became wrong. Everybody had to be covered to prevent sexual temptation. Women who had sometimes gone bare-breasted were shrouded from head to foot and shut away. So that was a big change. Sex was confined to marriage. Sometimes special taxes were imposed on non-Muslims, forcing the Hindus to convert. The age of the Kama Sutra was over.

Sex and the British invasion

The situation got even worse when the British arrived. What had just begun with trade culminated in 1818 in a settlement that gave Britain’s East India Company control of much of India. Britain remained the colonial power until 1947.

Those Indians who wanted to prosper under British rule adopted British ways. Queen Victoria was born one year after the settlement, became Queen of Great Britain and Ireland in 1837 and was proclaimed Empress of India in 1876. It wasn’t her personal fault, but unfortunately for their sex lives, the Anglicised Indians were buying into a culture that thought sex was dirty rather than beautiful – the Victorian culture. In the next chapter we’ll see how the Victorians had sex.


  • The ancient Hindus believed that sex (kama) was a sacred part of their religion.
  • Although certain sexual practices were forbidden, there was no guilt about kama.
  • If you want to enjoy kama you, too, must rid yourself of any guilt about sex.
  • The ancient Hindus used yoga and meditation to intuit all kinds of things that Western science has now proven to be true.
  • Yoga and meditation can be ways of discovering and controlling your own body.
  • The ancient Hindus believed that opposite forces provided the universe with its energy.
  • Therefore they believed men and women should be as opposite as possible.
  • Prostitution was sacred in ancient India.
  • The relatively free sexual attitudes of the ancient Hindus became more restrictive under Muslim rule and more restrictive again under British rule – the world of the Kama Sutra seemed to be over.