The Kama Sutra (Sanskrit: कामसूत्र Kāmasūtra) is an ancient Indian Hindu text widely considered to be the standard work on human sexual behavior in Sanskrit literature written by Vātsyāyana. A portion of the work consists of practical advice on sexual intercourse. It is largely in prose, with many inserted anustubh poetry verses. "Kāma" which is one of the four goals of Hindu life, means desire including sexual desire the latter being the subject of the textbook, and "sūtra" literally means a thread or line that holds things together, and more metaphorically refers to an aphorism (or line, rule, formula), or a collection of such aphorisms in the form of a manual. Contrary to popular perception, especially in the western world, Kama sutra is not just an exclusive sex manual; it presents itself as a guide to a virtuous and gracious living that discusses the nature of love, family life and other aspects pertaining to pleasure oriented faculties of human life.
The Kama Sutra is the oldest and most notable of a group of texts known generically as Kama Shastra (Sanskrit: Kāma Śāstra).
Historians attribute Kamasutra to be composed between 400 BCE and 200 CE. John Keay says that the Kama Sutra is a compendium that was collected into its present form in the 2nd century CE.
Vatsyayana's Kama Sutra has 1250 verses, distributed in 36 chapters, which are further organized into seven parts. According to both the Burton and Doniger translations, the contents of the book are structured into seven parts like the following:
- 1. General remarks
- five chapters on contents of the book, three aims and priorities of life, the acquisition of knowledge, conduct of the well-bred townsman, reflections on intermediaries who assist the lover in his enterprises.
- 2. Amorous advances/Sexual union
- ten chapters on stimulation of desire, types of embraces, caressing and kisses, marking with nails, biting and marking with teeth, on copulation (positions), slapping by hand and corresponding moaning, virile behavior in women, superior coition and oral sex, preludes and conclusions to the game of love. It describes 64 types of sexual acts.
- 3. Acquiring a wife
- five chapters on forms of marriage, relaxing the girl, obtaining the girl, managing alone, union by marriage.
- 4. Duties and privileges of the wife
- two chapters on conduct of the only wife and conduct of the chief wife and other wives.
- 5. Other men's wives
- six chapters on behavior of woman and man, how to get acquainted, examination of sentiments, the task of go-between, the king's pleasures, behavior in the women's quarters.
- 6. About courtesans
- six chapters on advice of the assistants on the choice of lovers, looking for a steady lover, ways of making money, renewing friendship with a former lover, occasional profits, profits and losses.
- 7. Occult practices
- two chapters on improving physical attractions, arousing a weakened sexual power.
Pleasure and spirituality
- Dharma: Virtuous living.
- Artha: Material prosperity.
- Kama: Desire
- Moksha: Liberation.
Dharma, Artha and Kama are aims of everyday life, while Moksha is release from the cycle of death and rebirth. The Kama Sutra (Burton translation) says:
Dharma is better than Artha, and Artha is better than Kama. But Artha should always be first practised by the king for the livelihood of men is to be obtained from it only. Again, Kama being the occupation of public women, they should prefer it to the other two, and these are exceptions to the general rule.
—Kama Sutra 1.2.14 Of the first three, virtue is the highest goal, a secure life the second and pleasure the least important. When motives conflict, the higher ideal is to be followed. Thus, in making money virtue must not be compromised, but earning a living should take precedence over pleasure, but there are exceptions.
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. The Kama Sutra acknowledges that the senses can be dangerous: 'Just as a horse in full gallop, blinded by the energy of his own speed, pays no attention to any post or hole or ditch on the path, so two lovers, blinded by passion, in the friction of sexual battle, are caught up in their fierce energy and pay no attention to danger'(2.7.33).
Also the Buddha preached a Kama Sutra, which is located in the Atthakavagga (sutra number 1). This Kama Sutra, however, is of a very different nature as it warns against the dangers that come with the search for pleasures of the senses.
Many in the Western world wrongly consider the Kama Sutra to be a manual for tantric sex. While sexual practices do exist within the very wide tradition of Hindu Tantra, the Kama Sutra is not a Tantric text, and does not touch upon any of the sexual rites associated with some forms of Tantric practice.