In any period of life in which one of the elements of the trivarga – dharma, artha, kama – is the primary one, the other two should be natural adjuncts of it. Under no circumstances, any one of the trivarga should be detrimental to the other two.
—Kamasutra 1.2.1,Translator: Ludo Rocher
Across human cultures, states Michel Foucault, "the truth of sex" has been produced and shared by two processes. One method has been ars erotica texts, while the other has been the scientia sexualis literature. The first are typically of the hidden variety and shared by one person to another, between friends or from a master to a student, focusing on the emotions and experience, sans physiology. These bury many of the truths about sex and human sexual nature. The second are empirical studies of the type found in biology, physiology and medical texts, focusing on the physiology and objective observations, sans emotions. The Kamasutra belongs to both camps, states Wendy Doniger. It discusses, in its distilled form, the physiology, the emotions and the experience while citing and quoting prior Sanskrit scholarship on the nature of kama.
The Kamasutra is a "sutra"-genre text consisting of intensely condensed, aphoristic verses. Doniger describes them as a "kind of atomic string (thread) of meanings", which are so cryptic that any translation is more like deciphering and filling in the text. Condensing a text into a sutra-genre religious text form makes it easier to remember and transmit, but it also introduces ambiguity and the need to understand the context of each chapter, its philological roots, as well as the prior literature, states Doniger. However, this method of knowledge preservation and transmission has its foundation in the Vedas, which themselves are cryptic and require a commentator and teacher-guide to comprehend the details and the inter-relationship of the ideas. The Kamasutra too has attracted commentaries, of which the most well known are those of 12th-century or 13th-century Yaśodhara's Jayamaṅgalā in the Sanskrit language, and of Devadatta Shastri who commented on the original text as well as its commentaries in the Hindi language. There are many other Sanskrit commentaries on the Kamasutra, such as the Sutra Vritti by Narsingha Sastri. These commentaries on the Kamasutra cite and quote text from other Hindu texts such as the Upanishads, the Arthashastra, the Natyashastra, the Manusmriti, the Nyayasutra, the Markandeya Purana, the Mahabharata, the Nitishastra and others to provide the context, per the norms of its literary traditions. The extant translations of the Kamasutra typically incorporate these commentaries, states Daniélou.
In the colonial era marked by sexual censorship, the Kamasutra became famous as a pirated and underground text for its explicit description of sex positions. The stereotypical image of the text is one where erotic pursuit with sexual intercourse include improbable contortionist forms. In reality, according to Doniger, the real Kamasutra is much more and is a book about "the art of living", about understanding one's body and a partner's body, finding a partner and emotional connection, marriage, the power equation over time in intimate relationships, the nature of adultery and drugs (aphrodisiacs) along with many simple to complex variations in sex positions to explore. It is also a psychological treatise that presents the effect of desire and pleasure on human behavior.
For each aspect of Kama, the Kamasutra presents a diverse spectrum of options and regional practices. According to Shastri, as quoted by Doniger, the text analyses "the inclinations of men, good and bad", thereafter it presents Vatsyayana's recommendation and arguments of what one must avoid as well as what to not miss in experiencing and enjoying, with "acting only on the good". For example, the text discusses adultery but recommends a faithful spousal relationship. The approach of Kamasutra is not to ignore nor deny the psychology and complexity of human behavior for pleasure and sex. The text, according to Doniger, clearly states "that a treatise demands the inclusion of everything, good or bad", but after being informed with in-depth knowledge, one must "reflect and accept only the good". The approach found in the text is one where goals of science and religion should not be to repress, but to encyclopedically know and understand, thereafter let the individual make the choice. The text states that it aims to be comprehensive and inclusive of diverse views and lifestyles.
Flirting and courtship
The 3rd-century text includes a number of themes, including subjects such as flirting that resonate in the modern era context, states a New York Times review. For example, it suggests that a young man seeking to attract a woman, should hold a party, and invite the guests to recite poetry. In the party, a poem should be read with parts missing, and the guests should compete to creatively complete the poem. As another example, the Kamasutra suggests that the boy and the girl should go play together, such as swim in a river. The boy should dive into the water away from the girl he is interested in, then swim underwater to get close to her, emerge out of the water and surprise her, touch her slightly and then dive again, away from her.
Book 3 of the Kamasutra is largely dedicated to the art of courtship with the aim of marriage. The book's opening verse declares marriage to be a conducive means to "a pure and natural love between the partners", states Upadhyaya. It leads to emotional fulfillment in many forms such as more friends for both, relatives, progeny, amorous and sexual relationship between the couple, and the conjugal pursuit of dharma (spiritual and ethical life) and artha (economic life). The first three chapters discuss how a man should go about finding the right bride, while the fourth offers equivalent discussion for a woman and how she can get the man she wants. The text states that a person should be realistic, and must possess the "same qualities which one expects from the partner". It suggests involving one's friends and relatives in the search, and meeting the current friends and relatives of one's future partner prior to the marriage. While the original text makes no mention of astrology and horoscopes, later commentaries on the Kamasutra such as one by 13th-century Yashodhara includes consulting and comparing the compatibility of the horoscopes, omens, planetary alignments, and such signs prior to proposing a marriage. Vatsyayana recommends, states Alain Danielou, that "one should play, marry, associate with one's equals, people of one's own circle" who share the same values and religious outlook. It is more difficult to manage a good, happy relationship when there are basic differences between the two, according to verse 3.1.20 of the Kamasutra.
Intimacy and foreplay
Vatsyayana's Kamasutra describes intimacy of various forms, including those between lovers before and during sex. For example, the text discusses eight forms of alingana (embrace) in verses 2.2.7–23: sphrishtaka, viddhaka, udghrishtaka, piditaka, lataveshtitaka, vrikshadhirudha, tilatandula and kshiranira. The first four are expressive of mutual love, but are nonsexual. The last four are forms of embrace recommended by Vatsyayana to increase pleasure during foreplay and during sexual intimacy. Vatsyayana cites earlier – now lost – Indian texts from the Babhraya's school, for these eight categories of embraces. The various forms of intimacy reflect the intent and provide means to engage a combination of senses for pleasure. For instance, according to Vatsyayana the lalatika form enables both to feel each other and allows the man to visually appreciate "the full beauty of the female form", states S.C. Upadhyaya.On sexual embraces
Some sexual embraces, not in this text, also intensify passion; these, too, may be used for love-making, but only with care. The territory of the text extends only so far as men have dull appetites; but when the wheel of sexual ecstasy is in full motion, there is no textbook at all, and no order.
—Kamasutra 2.2.30–31,Translator: Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar
Another example of the forms of intimacy discussed in the Kamasutra includes chumbanas (kissing). The text presents twenty-six forms of kisses, ranging from those appropriate for showing respect and affection, to those during foreplay and sex. Vatsyayana also mentions variations in kissing cultures in different parts of ancient India. The best kiss for an intimate partner, according to kamasutra, is one that is based on the awareness of the avastha (the emotional state of one's partner) when the two are not in a sexual union. During sex, the text recommends going with the flow and mirroring with abhiyoga and samprayoga.
Other techniques of foreplay and sexual intimacy described in the kamasutra include various forms of holding and embraces (grahana, upaguhana), mutual massage and rubbing (mardana), pinching and biting, using fingers and hands to stimulate (karikarakrida, nadi-kshobana, anguli-pravesha), three styles of jihva-pravesha (french kissing), and many styles of fellatio and cunnlingus.
The Kamasutra, states the Indologist and Sanskrit literature scholar Ludo Rocher, discourages adultery but then devotes "not less than fifteen sutras (1.5.6–20) to enumerating the reasons (karana) for which a man is allowed to seduce a married woman". Vatsyayana mentions different types of nayikas (urban girls) such as unmarried virgins, those married and abandoned by husband, widow seeking remarriage and courtesans, then discusses their kama/sexual education, rights and mores. In childhood, Vātsyāyana says, a person should learn how to make a living; youth is the time for pleasure, and as years pass, one should concentrate on living virtuously and hope to escape the cycle of rebirth.
According to Doniger, the Kamasutra teaches adulterous sexual liaison as a means for a man to predispose the involved woman in assisting him, as a strategic means to work against his enemies and to facilitate his successes. It also explains the signs and reasons a woman wants to enter into an adulterous relationship and when she does not want to commit adultery. The Kamasutra teaches strategies to engage in adulterous relationships, but concludes its chapter on sexual liaison stating that one should not commit adultery because adultery pleases only one of two sides in a marriage, hurts the other, it goes against both dharma and artha.
The Kamasutra has been one of the unique sources of sociological information and cultural milieu of ancient India. It shows a "near total disregard of class (varna) and caste (jati)", states Doniger. Human relationships, including the sexual type, are neither segregated nor repressed by gender or caste, rather linked to individual's wealth (success in artha). In the pages of the Kamasutra, lovers are "not upper-class" but they "must be rich" enough to dress well, pursue social leisure activities, buy gifts and surprise the lover. In the rare mention of caste found in the text, it is about a man finding his legal wife and the advice that humorous stories to seduce a woman should be about "other virgins of same jati (caste)". In general, the text describes sexual activity between men and women across class and caste, both in urban and rural settings.
Same-sex, group-sex relationships
The Kamasutra includes verses describing homosexual relations such as oral sex between two men, as well as between two women. Lesbian relations are extensively covered in Chapters 5 and 8 in Book 2 of the text.
According to Doniger, the Kamasutra discusses same-sex relationships through the notion of the tritiya prakriti, literally, "third sexuality" or "third nature". In Redeeming the Kamasutra, Doniger states that "the Kamasutra departs from the dharmic view of homosexuality in significant ways", where the term kliba appears. In contemporary translations, this has been inaccurately rendered as "eunuch" – or, a castrated man in a harem,[note 1] a practice that started in India after the arrival of Turkish Sultans. The Sanskrit word Kliba found in older Indian texts refers to a "man who does not act like a man", typically in a pejorative sense. The Kamasutra does not use the pejorative term kliba at all, but speaks instead of a "third nature" or, in the sexual behavior context as the "third sexuality".
The text states that there are two sorts of "third nature", one where a man behaves like a woman, and in the other, a woman behaves like a man. In one of the longest consecutive sets of verses describing a sexual act, the Kamasutra describes fellatio technique between a man dressed like a woman performing fellatio on another man. The text also mentions same-sex behavior between two women, such as a girl losing her virginity with a girlfriend as they use their fingers, as well as oral sex and the use of sex toys between women. Svairini, a term Danielou translates as a lesbian, is described in the text as a woman who lives a conjugal life with another woman or by herself fending for herself, not interested in a husband. Additionally, the text has some fleeting remarks on bisexual relationships.
The Kamasutra also mentions "pretend play" sadomasochism, and group sex.