Kama Sutra

Kama Sutra Themes

Role of Kama

The Kama Sutra argues that part of the reason for the work's existence is to legitimize the role of kama in the lives of men and women. Too easily, kama - or the experience of pleasure from the five senses - is treated frivolously, even though it requires as much attention and skill as dharma and artha. Dharma is the duty that a man or woman has to fulfill over the course of their lifetime in order to dissolve their kama, while artha is the acquisition of material wealth. Whereas dharma and artha retain their importance over the course of a lifetime, kama is more important in the initial stages; it is thus crucial that young people be taught the lessons of the Kama Sutra. There is a defensive quality to the text, as it seeks not only to teach, but also to justify the necessity of learning about kama rather than just practicing it instinctively.


Perhaps the most important theme that is reflected in nearly every chapter of the Kama Sutra is "confidence," or the idea that it isn't sexual prowess or skill that makes a good lover, but rather his or her ability to build confidence in a partner. Indeed, the first part of the book, which is dedicated to men seducing their lovers and eventual wives, suggests that a man's primary responsibility is to build confidence in his partner in order to make her receptive to sex. To build this confidence, a married couple should abstain from sex for at least ten days after marriage, so that the man can educate his wife in the lessons of the Kama Sutra and help her feel at ease with the act of sex itself. A man must help a woman overcome her fears before consummation in order to earn her love. Later in the book, the roles are reversed in the discussion of the courtesan, whose primary responsibility is to build confidence in the male. Indeed, the author suggests that courtesans are necessary in society in order to help men build up their confidence.


The Kama Sutra does not believe in "easy" love, or the idea that a man has a natural mate, will gravitate towards her, and union will occur as the result of biological instinct - innately, swiftly, smoothly. Instead, it preaches persistence - the idea that a male must gradually wear down the female in order to win her affections. A woman, says the Kama Sutra, is infinitely discriminate by nature, and a man is innately indifferent to a woman once he is rejected. If left to their own devices, men and women will never come together. But if a man realizes that a woman requires persistent attention in order to win her heart - that he must use the lessons of the Kama Sutra to break down her defenses - then he can choose any woman he wants.


The Kama Sutra encourages men and women to manipulate each other in order to win the desired mate. There isn't any sense that love is destined in the "stars," or a process that requires tremendous integrity; love is rather a game, a dance, more in line with the idea of the deity Krishna's lila, or "play." Men, for instance, should show off, pretend not to like a woman, but then persistently offer signs of affection until she gains confidence in the idea that he has eyes only for her - even so far as fondling a child in front of her, so she can sense how he uses his hands and sensual body. A woman, meanwhile, in the role of a courtesan, should do all she can to manipulate a man to keep giving her money in exchange for her attention and sexual favors. In this role, a woman will pretend that the man is the only one for her long enough to extort him for everything he has or wait out any potential cooling in his affection, before moving on to the next. Both men and women must be extremely attentive to the other's behavior.

Attention to Behavior

The Kama Sutra does offer a cursory glance at the 64 sex positions for which it has become famous, but it's far more interested in behavior than in the raw mechanics of sex. According to the Kama Sutra, the key to finding true love is learning how to read the behavior of the opposite sex, specifically the person one desires, in order to ensure that behavior can be modified in order to achieve success in courtship. For instance, if a man sees that a woman is resisting him, there are a number of strategies he can employ to win her over (depending on how this resistance takes place). The Kama Sutra never advocates giving up on a woman - it merely suggests modifying one's behavior to compensate for whatever resistance she is putting up. In the case of the female, when a woman is married she must always pay careful attention to her husband's mood, for men tend to be less expressive of their feelings. Only by reading his desires and deportment can she truly fulfill her duties as a wife.


According to the Kama Sutra, there are four different types of love, each of which has its own place in the hierarchy of self-realization. There is love by habit, or love that results from constant and continual performance of some act (in accordance with the idea that by continually associating love with an action, a man or woman will come to love that action). There is love that proceeds entirely from ideas, which is called love "by imagination." There is mutual love, which comes when both parties look on the other "as [their] very own," and so this is agreed upon as mutual love. And finally there is love that isn't named as such, which is obvious to everyone but the lovers themselves. The author implies that this is the most powerful love of all, for love is not categorized, boxed, or burdened by expectations or judgment. For, as Proust says, if love is expected, then it will always live in the moment to come.


The lessons of the Kama Sutra, for all their apparent equality with regards to sex and behavior, also conform to a strict hierarchy. For instance, where most men and women are encouraged to take only one lover, one spouse, and to not consort with others, a king is encouraged to have multiple wives, expected to marry again as soon as he finds that a wife cannot bear him a child, and even permitted to kidnap or imprison a girl in order to satiate his desires. At the same time, there is the idea that a woman in a village occupies a lower status than a head man of the village, so if he demands sexual satisfaction, she must give it to him, as it is her dharma. In the household, a wife clearly occupies the domain of the home and must fully respect the will of her husband - but the husband must also respect her place as the head of the household.