• jonsknowles

One wonders how a sex manual that’s 1,600 years old has so many readers today. The Kāma Sūtra emerged from an oral tradition even older. The Hindu Practice of Love — kāma shāstra began 3,500 years ago. The ancient Hindus believed that sexual desire formed the universe and that kāma shāstra was one of the three basic goals of life.

When Vātsyāyana wrote all of the teachings down, the anti-sex Catholic church ruled Europe. Even coitus in marriage, for the sake of having a child, was a venial sin. “Fornication”, any kind of sex outside of marriage, was a mortal sin. If it was sex play that couldn’t cause pregnancy, like solo sex or same sex sex, it was a grave sin, worse than rape or murder. The church’s punishment, penance, included fasting, public shunning, and homelessness for up to 11 years. The practice went on for about half a century. As we know, this sex-negative view survives today in all kinds of guilt and shame about sex.

While Vātsyāyana compiled the Kāma Sūtra, elucidating the wide-ranging varieties of sexual pleasure, the Catholic church compiled penitentials to be used in confession to reveal all sex play as sins, assigning each of them a different penance. For example, the Kāma Sūtra acknowledged oral sex on a penis as a great pleasure, and it offered detailed instructions. Around the same time, Theodore’s Penitential, Poenitentiale Theodori, condemned anyone to seven to 12 years or a lifetime of penance for taking semen in the mouth. And in 1948, because of this ancient Christian stigma, Congress passed the 1948 Miller Act, making it illegal to take anyone’ sex organs into the #mouth or #anus. The punishment was 10 years in prison, or 20 if done w/anyone under 16.

The teachings of kāma shāstra were mostly unheard of in the Western sex-negative world until the age of exploration when Western Christians tried to convert the “pagans” and “heathens” of the Eastern World. But many Christian members of the East India Company in India adopted the Indian life, building harems and enjoying all kinds of sex forbidden in England.

In the 19th century, Sir Richard Burton traveled across India, discovering and translating the Kāma Sūtra. In 1882, he and some friends founded the Kama Shastra Society. They claimed it was in India to avoid English censorship laws. They published 250 copies of Kāma Sūtra secretly and sold them with other exotic sex texts to private subscribers for the equivalent of today’s $200. They made $25,000 in the currency of the 1890s, but the text remained largely unknown.

The Baby Boom generation of hard-rocking flower children rescued the Kāma Sūtra from Victorian obscurity in the middle of the 20th century. Their chant was “Make love, not war!” In the wake of Kinsey, the anti-war, civil rights, reproductive rights, women’s rights, and gay rights movements that shaped the U.S.A.’s second sexual revolution, the Kāma Sūtra and kāma shāstra held honored places. Eastern views of sexuality had began to move West. In 1989, Charles Muir published Tantra — The Art of Conscious Loving. Tantra was a path of Yoga that used sex for extended meditation. It harked back to the Kāma Sūtra. It increased sexual pleasure in three ways. It increased intimacy. It increased focus and allowed partners to be fully present during sex. And it increased passion and pleasure with “esoteric kissing,” “transformative touching.”

Women and men in the West still get a kick out of Kāma Sūtra because many of us, especially in the USA, still live in sex-negative cultures. The U.S.A. is unique amongst them in spending billions to promulgate the idea that people shouldn’t have any kind of sex until they are married. The Kāma Sūtra provides us with a different view of a world in which sex play and sexual pleasure are good in and of themselves. Many, perhaps most, readers revel in the descriptions of the different positions possible for coitus. Here, for example, is Alain Daniélou’s 1994 translation of the position called the cow — dhenuka, in the section on having coitus in his The Complete Kāma Sūtra:

The woman places herself on all fours on the ground, in the posture of the cow ready for the bull’s assault. This is the position of “the cow.”

The boy holds her by the waist in order to take her. He enjoys her from behind, like a bull.

What is generally done between the thighs is in this case done from behind.

In the same fashion, one can imitate other animals, mounting the woman like an ass, playing with her like a cat, attacking like a tiger, stamping like an elephant, pawing the ground like a pig, riding horse-fashion. … So when inspiration is lacking, the boy can find models for his amusement [among the quadrupeds].

The five chapters of Part One of the Kāma Sūtra are about

about the contents

  • realizing the three aims of life

  • about common sense

  • an educated man’s behavior

  • how a lover can use a go-between

The 10 chapters of Part Two are about How to Make Your Moves:

  • knowing and feeling the possibility of the moment

  • the many ways love appears

  • embraces and caresses

  • kissing

  • scratching

  • biting

  • the way people do it in other countries

  • having intercourse

  • unusual tastes

  • slaps and sighs

  • women who are like men

  • anal intercourse with boys — the third sex

  • oral sex

  • how to behave before and after

  • variations on intercourse

  • lover’s quarrels

There are nine chapters of Part Three — Finding a Wife:

  • the choices

  • deciding to marry

  • inspiring confidence in the girl

  • making the first moves on the girl

  • how to know what she wants by the way she behaves

  • being a one-man woman

  • arousing her desire

  • getting her ready for intercourse

  • marriage

There are two chapters with eight subjects in Part Four — A Wife’s Duty and Opportunities:

  • loving none but her husband

  • living in his home

  • respecting his chief wife

  • how to behave toward his younger wives

  • accepting a new wife

  • dealing with being rejected

  • final duty

  • how to cope with having many wives

There are six chapters that deal with 10 subjects in Part Five — Having Other Men’s Wives:

  • building mutual affection between a man and woman

  • obstacles

  • the kind of men women find pleasing

  • women who can free themselves

  • knowing when you can get to know each other

  • meetings

  • understanding your feelings

  • paying someone who can get you his wife

  • rich lovers

  • dealing with the harem’s guards

There are six chapters that deal with 12 subjects in the Part Six — About High Priced Sex Workers:

  • about possible customers

  • why have sex

  • ways to seduce

  • behaving like a lover

  • how to get what you’re looking for

  • signs you’re losing him

  • how to reel in the guy who gets away

  • how to get rid of a lover

  • starting over again

  • special profits

  • about the advantages and disadvantages of relationships

  • different kinds of high-end prostitutes

And there are two chapters that deal with six subjects in Part Seven — Using Magic:

  • making yourself attractive

  • being seductive

  • improving your sex drive and how to keep going after orgasm

  • improving your sex organ

  • how to revive a failing impulse

  • uncommon intercourse

To fulfill the kāma shāstra, women and men ensured the reproduction of their people through erotic practice. But observing the kāma shāstra also led to something else, something equally profound. At the height of ecstasy, lovemaking transformed itself into mystical insight. In their sexual ecstasies, lovers caught glimpses of the divine. This was the supreme pleasure. In this world, unlike the world of Christians, poverty and deprivation of the senses were not virtues.

For the people of India, the good life, the moral life, was sensuous and luxurious. Luxury made morality possible. It was not something that the very poor could afford. And not everyone could afford to pursue the art of love. Lovers needed to observe the kāma shāstra in comfortable beds, baths, and gardens. They needed to surround themselves with flowers and intoxicating odors, shimmering curtains and lavish decor. They needed tasty foods and stimulating drink. They needed everything that the Stoic Christians of Europe damned as the work of the Devil.

All in all, the Kāma Sūtra was romantic and optimistic about love: “Whether they continue having sexual relations or live chastely together, true love never decreases, even after one hundred years.”

Folks in the West increasingly see a lot of sense in that view.

Written for Lovers' Guide

  • Jon Knowles

This is from a seventh-century icon of Serge and Bacchus. Christ is the “best man”.

Two fourth-century soldiers, martyrs, and saints, Serge and Bacchus, were married. Catholic liturgies invoked them for same-sex marriages until the 16th century. Their feast day is October 7. But they were not the first.

Among the Hittites, one same-sex partner paid a bride price for the other. Men who married men in ancient Crete earned more social privileges than those who took women. Romans, including some emperors, married men, too. Same-sex marriage — parigraha — was also common in India and in the Muslim world of the first millennium.

Until the 13th century, marriage was a private oath. The church took it over to stop the marriage of priests. It outlawed private, “common-law” marriages. It imposed three-month banns, church services, and witnesses. Even as 17th-century cities such as Venice burned men alive for same-sex marriage, Michel de Montaigne attended a same-sex marriage in Rome. In Dalmatia, they called women who married women prosestrime. Men were probatimi. Same-sex marriage was so common in Fujian that the Chinese called it nanfeng — “southern custom”.

Caribbean pirates of the 18th century had same-sex marriages — matelots. They pledged their property and lives to one another. Some of these buccaneers took oaths to die together and some did. At the same time, scores of men in London’s molly houses married — many by the Reverend John Church. Celebrities such as Charles Darwin and Queen Charlotte thronged to Wales to visit the “Ladies of Liangollen”, two married women. (London’s “mollies” — married or not — went to the stocks, the gallows, or were driven to suicide.)

Most Americans had common-law marriages without public ritual. This led some communities to accept same-sex marriage. Lincoln knew about them. He wrote this little ditty in the 1830s:

Rueben and Charles have married two girls

But Billy has married a boy.

The girls he had tried on every side

But none could he get to agree.

All was in vain he went home again

And since he is married to Natty.

This was the time, for example, when Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake’s neighbors knew them as “husband” and “wife” in Weybridge, Vermont. They belonged to the Trinitarian Congregational Church.

But after the first national law about marriage, the anti-polygamy Morrill Act of 1890, common-law marriage began to become illegal across the country — in all but eight states and the District of Columbia.

Most of us have lived through the rest of this history: In 1996, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act to allow states to specifically outlaw same-sex marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court overthrew the Act in 2013. And in 2015, the Court decided to protect same-sex marriage. So, the whole history is much longer than any of us have lived through.


Book One: 74, 91, 114, 176–7, 204, 265, 276, 290, 296, 340–2, 396, 430, 526, 657, 724, 726–8, 742, 800–1, Wiki

Book Two: 208–10, 609 Wiki

  • Jon Knowles

Thanks to Jackie Rotman (NYT, June 26), vibrators are in the news again. Here’s a little history about them: Plato taught that a wandering uterus caused hysteria. Doctors began to stroke the clitoris to relieve it. By the 17th century, most believed the uterus wandered if a woman didn’t get enough sex or wasn’t pregnant often enough. But very few of them would admit they gave women orgasms when curing hysteria.

Most doctors of the 19th century believed that women could not have orgasms. But they still believed that the uterus was a “furious and insatiable animal”. So, professional stroking was necessary — for a fee. And they invented vibrators to make their work easier. In 1889, the Butler Electro-massage Machine appeared. By 1899, the vibrator was the second most used electrical appliance in the home (The sewing machine was the first.) But women knew better than to talk about the joys it gave them.

For the first 20 years of the 20th century, ads for these “Delightful Companions” ran in women’s magazines such as Home Needlework Journal, Women’s Home Companion, and the Sears and Roebuck catalog. In 1910, The American College of Mechano-Therapy ran this ad in Women and Men: “Your Hands Properly Used are all you Need to Earn $3,000 to $5,000 a Year.”

Film porn at the end of the ‘20s, such as Widows Delight, let the cat out of the bag. Ads for vibrators disappeared entirely from mainstream media. In the ‘70s, Eve’s Garden and Good Vibrations opened to sell women sex toys — for pleasure, and a lot of women still used them, but on the Q.T.

They remained a forbidden subject. In 1991, Professor Donald Silva lost his job at University of New Hampshire. He had quoted Little Egypt to describe metaphor: “Belly dancing is like Jello on a plate with a vibrator under the plate.” And in 1998, Clarkson University refused to continue its contract with Rachel Maines. She had published her landmark book, The Technology of Orgasm — “Hysteria,” the Vibrator and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction. Clarkson feared its success would interfere with alumni funding!

Today, Walmart, Amazon, and other retailers sell vibrators as part of the growing “femtech” market — worth $50 billion by 2020. But mainstream advertisers —not at all shy about erectile dysfunction — refuse to acknowledge them.

For citations see:

Book One — 40, 150, 666, 825, 828

Book Two — 14, 111, 129, 157, 314, 441–2, 513, 684, 695

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