The sixth book of the Kama Sutra discusses the courtesan, delineating her role, her responsibilities, and even the workings of her mind. According to Vatsyayana, the courtesan (or vaishika) has long been a key element of human society, and particularly Hindu culture. Indeed, as long as they behave with decency and propriety, they can often earn considerable respect, unlike in the West, where they are treated with brutality and contempt. Courtesans in the Hindu culture are not considered "prostitutes" as such, and in the past have been educated and trained to become amusing escorts for high-class men. Indeed, says the Kama Sutra, seeming to wink to its audience, every woman "has got an inkling of the profession in her nature," for as a general rule a woman aims "to make herself agreeable to the male sex."
Intercourse with men offers courtesans not only a livelihood, but also sexual pleasure. If a courtesan takes up with a man for love, she can slip back into the role of a lover, but when she takes up with a man only for money, her lovemaking is artificial, even forced. However, it is a courtesan's duty to act as if she is in love during every encounter, as her partner's confidence relies on the idea that she is in love with him, regardless of the circumstances under which they have come together.
A courtesan should sit or stand at the door to her house and look out on the outside world, like an object on display for sale. At the same time, she should make friends with people who will protect her, such as guards of the town, police officers, court members, astrologers, and powerful men. A courtesan should try to take up with young, handsome men who are free from any ties and already have their livelihoods. They can even take up with a man who has feminine traits and wants to be thought of as a man. A courtesan should be beautiful, enjoy sex, have a firm mind, be interested in meeting new people and acquiring experience and knowledge, and be free from avarice. A courtesan should avoid men who are sickly, affected by parasites, have bad breath, are greedy, are thieves, or are conceited. A courtesan should not sacrifice money for love, because money is her top priority. If she does fall in love, however, she should be careful not to immediately consent to a union, for men are "apt to despise things which are easily acquired."
When a courtesan is with a lover, she should behave like a chaste woman and do everything for his satisfaction. At the same time, she should give him pleasure without becoming attached to him. She can do this in a number of ways, and can even invent a harsh or nagging mother who can forcibly take her away from her lover whenever he's drawing too close. The courtesan can "show pretended anger, dejection, fear and shame" at having to leave him on the account of such a nag, but in private she should continue these schemes in order to ensure her independence. When she is with a man, a courtesan should show him the 64 kinds of pleasure, conceal her personal feelings and reveal only her love for him, follow his lead in terms of mood, express curiosity about his wives, give him confidence by revealing how attractive he is to women, and attending on him with praise and wit.
A courtesan makes money either through natural/lawful means, or through artifice. Sages reveal that a courtesan should not use artifice unless she absolutely has to, or can get double or triple the money from her lover. Artifice can include taking money from her lover ostensibly to buy clothes, flowers, or food, and then using less than the amount given, or praising his intelligence so that he must give her gifts connected with the vows of the holidays. She can also claim that her body or home has been robbed, contract debts that her lover must pay, or demand the assistance of her friends and family.
A courtesan can easily see when a man's desire is cooling, as he will give her less money than she wants, make false promises, forget her promises, or sleep with someone else under the pretense of doing something for a friend. When a courtesan finds that her lover's disposition is changing, she should get possession of all his best things before he becomes aware of her intentions and then get rid of him by belittling his pride. A courtesan should only return to a former lover if he has acquired new wealth and is still attached to her enough to want her back.
A courtesan should not confine herself to a single lover, lest she risk losing valuable money. However, if she can obtain tremendous financial gain from a single lover, she may consort with him alone. She should also, according to Vatsyayana, value gold over all other objects, since gold cannot be taken back, and can be exchanged for gifts. A courtesan may often find that she has to choose between two lovers - one who is generous and rich, and one who is attached to her. Sages differ on which one she should choose, but Vatsyayana argues that she should take the one who is more attached to her, for he can be made to be generous. If a courtesan receives money from a man who is not her current lover, she risks falling out of her lover's good graces, forced union to a lower person, and even universal hatred.
An entire book dedicated to the courtesan is certainly a surprise, given the fact that up until this point the Kama Sutra has focused on how an understanding between the sexes fosters love. A discussion about prostitution not only seems bizarre, but also antithetical. Right away, however, the author addresses this apparent contradiction, arguing that courtesans are crucial to the functioning of society, for they help men to gain confidence. It is a man's responsibility to give his partner confidence in the days after marriage, but how do men develop this confidence themselves?
This is the task of the courtesan: to develop her partner's confidence. She not only has the powers of the 64 sexual positions at her disposal, but also possesses a keen insight into a man's psychology. A courtesan's primary objective is the acquisition of money, while a man's primary objectives are satiation of lust and love. In the gap between these two objectives there is room for negotiation, and the author lays out a series of strategies to help the courtesan determine exactly how to handle a male. Notice that the audience for this chapter is not the male, but rather the courtesan herself. As she is responsible for driving the action in this situation, it is natural that men are left out, just as women are essentially ignored in earlier portions of the work.
In many ways, the courtesan is responsible for a reversal of gender roles. For example, when the subjects of long-term attachment or a man's wives come up, it is her duty to act as the male typically would - nonchalant, impossible to pin down, uninterested in commitment. Even if she loves one of her partners, she would be wise to invent circumstances that would prevent her from being with him too frequently. She is, in many ways, a pillager, solely concerned with financial gain. If the courtesan falls in love, however, she must deal with the fact that the object of her affection is likely to harbor a deep mistrust towards her, and she must thus earn his confidence rather than vice versa.
Vatsyayana raises the question of what, exactly, a courtesan wants from an ideal lover: generosity? Extreme wealth? Obsession? He argues that a different goal characterizes each interaction. Generosity is the most useful, because a man who is generous to a courtesan will shower her with wealth without counting pennies or expecting favors in return. Extreme wealth is also useful, but if a man's attachment to a courtesan overwhelms his wealth, then he is likely to expect the courtesan to pay back every gift with some sort of sign of affection, which reduces the courtesan's power and ultimately ties her to one man.
Artifice - the idea that a woman must deceive her man in order to keep him happy - returns as a central concept here. We saw elements of this earlier in the section that dealt with how a wife must approach her interactions with her husband, but this book suggests that a courtesan must employ all manner of deceit in order ensure that her lover continues to shower her with gifts and money. Because it is wealth, and not love, that is at stake, a courtesan must be extremely conscious of whether or not her lover's feelings are cooling off, and then quickly end the relationship before he can. These lists of signs that signal the cooling of affection, and suggestions as to what can be done are amongst the most compelling and insightful sections of the Kama Sutra - here, we come to understand just how much the author respects the power of feminine sexuality and its ability to rid men of their judgment, regardless of their power or wealth.