Kama Sutra

Kama Sutra Summary and Analysis of Book 3


According to the Holy Writ, a marriage involves the union of male to a female virgin of the same caste. Such a union results in the acquisition of dharma and artha, as well as the production of offspring, affinity, an increase in friends, and untarnished love. Moreover, a man should find a woman with a good family, whose parents are alive, and who is at least three years younger than himself. The author adds that if the woman is wealthy, well connected, has strong relationships with family and friends, and has good hair, teeth, breasts, and overall health, then the marriage will be even more auspicious. The man should possess all of these qualities as well.

To create a marriage with this virgin maid, the Kama Sutra encourages all manner of deceits and diversions. For instance, the friends of both families should extol the potential bride or groom to the other party's family, "even to exaggeration of all the excellencies," in order to be more convincing. One of the male's friends "should disguise himself as an astrologer, and declare the future good fortune and wealth" of the couple, should they get married. However, there are a number of "types" of girls that should be avoided. These include a girl with an ill-sounding name, a girl who has been concealed in the house for bodily defects, a girl who is engaged to another, a girl with white spots on her body, a manly or heavily-built girl, a hunchback, and a balding girl.

For the first three days after marriage, the girl and her husband should sleep on the floor, abstain from sexual pleasure, and eat their food without seasoning. For the next seven days, they should bathe amidst the sounds of auspicious musical instruments, dine together, and pay attention to their relatives. On the night of the tenth day, the man should begin gentle love play, but mainly using soft words to inspire confidence in the girl. Sexual pleasure must not begin until the male has her trust - for women, "being of a tender nature, want tender beginnings." Once he slowly builds this confidence, he can then teach her the "64 arts," tell her how much he loves her, and then, having overcome her bashfulness, "begin to enjoy her in a way so as to delight her."

A poor man should have his own ways of trying to win over a girl. He should spend time with the girl and amuse her with various games and diversions. They should play games together, but more than anything, the man should show great kindness to the girl in order to show that he is fit to be trusted. The man should go out of his way to show he is different by giving her gifts of playthings, revealing his many talents, and impressing her with his prowess. Once he sees that she loves him, he is on his way to winning her family over, as well.

Once the girl begins to show her love through outwards signs and motions, her lover should hold her hand, embrace her, and even rub and press against her to gain some sort of sexual fidelity. Finally, he should express his feelings and make the girl realize his lovesickness, "for though a man loves a girl ever so much, he never succeeds in winning her without a great deal of talking." A girl should hold out physically at first, especially when a man demands sexual intercourse, but when a woman is certain that she is truly loved and is convinced that her lover is devoted to her and will not change his mind, then she can be persuaded to give herself up to him.

There are several forms of marriage. There is the marriage according to religious law, when a girl is won over and acts openly with a man as his wife. This is a marriage done in the presence of the ceremonial fire: the Gandharva form of marriage. When the girl cannot make up her mind or will not express her readiness to marry, then the man should use deceit to acquire her.


The third book focuses almost exclusively on marriage, and "even if we disregard certain magical aspects, there is much to be said for paying some attention to the qualities that the Kama Sutra suggests are desirable in a wife" (Spellman 46). The most compelling of these qualities is "confidence," or the idea that a man must dispel the fear of sex in the virgin bride before engaging in sexual union. It's a remarkable diversion from what has come to be known as the ancient tradition of the "wedding night," where a virgin bride is deflowered after enduring pain and fear in the fulfillment of her "duties" as a wife. Instead, says Vatsyayana, a man must take his time with his new wife before even thinking about initiating sexual intercourse. They must spend a considerable amount of time together, getting to know one another. Then they should discuss sex using soft words, move on to subtle advances, and finally, after ten days or more, initiate the first sexual union.

For all its gentle treatment of the matter of sexuality, the Kama Sutra does depart from this approach to make categorical lists of undesirable qualities - even to the point of stipulating the types of girls who cannot be married. Some of these qualities include: an ill-sounding name, upturned nostrils, glandular enlargements, disfigurements, and sweaty palms or feet. These lists are enough to make any female reader angry, but the Kama Sutra is not in and of itself a misogynistic text.

What is perhaps more worthy of examination is the subtle deceit that the author encourages in men. The Kama Sutra, despite its occasional diversions into biological classifications (penis size, emission-amount matching, etc.), also rewards those who pursue their loves to no end. The author offers a laundry list of suggestions that a man should follow if he wishes to marry the woman he loves, not many of which are particularly ethical (sabotaging the competition, creating false witnesses to offer praise in front of the bride's family, etc.). The words "acquired" and "acquisition" are used several times, suggesting that it is a man's duty to "acquire" the one he loves through hard work. Far from urging men to wait to find their "one true love," the Kama Sutra argues that nothing can be achieved without careful negotiation.

As a result, wooing is given quite a lot of attention in the text, and the male is given a precise set of instructions to this end. If in previous books we saw the somewhat alarming list of things that women must be good at in order to attract a mate, now we see what a man must be able to do - procure gifts, show off his talents, teach his mate the 64 means of achieving pleasure, etc. More than anything, he must be a subtle observer of behavior, carefully reading his chosen female to determine when and if she loves him, when and if she's ready for further courtship, when and if she's ready for sex, and when and if she's ready for marriage. It is this emphasis on reading behavior that makes the Kama Sutra so remarkable - it is not a sexual manual, but rather a love manual. And the first step to finding love and maintaining (and consummating) it is being fully aware of a lover's behavior, and accounting for all insecurities, hesitations, and fears.

There is one odd ambiguity in this book: the question of when, exactly, a man is permitted to have sex with a girl. In the beginning of the chapter, especially in light of all the instructions for building confidence in a woman, there is the implication that sex comes after marriage - specifically, more than ten days after marriage. But later on, during the discussion about men who must convince women that they can be suitable husbands, the author seems to suggest that a man should have sex with a woman as a way of coercing her to marry him. These apparent contradictions might be traced to either the idea that Vatsyayana is collecting anecdotes and wisdom from different sources, or - perhaps more likely - that he is accounting for different ways of ensnaring a wife given different circumstances.