Sex Manuals, India

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Sex Manuals, India

Sexual references, symbolism, and discussions of the erotic are common in Indian literature, where the erotic is often expressed in divine consort figures and in human couples in ritual embrace (maithuna). In this context intercourse for ritual purposes, sexual activity for pleasure (rati) within the institution of marriage, and a specialization of Āyurvedic study on sexology are key. In the Atharvaveda, for example, there are spells to win a woman's (or man's) love, to recover a man's virility or to make a man impotent, and to rally Kāma, the god of love, in some cause. In the Gṛhyasūtras (domestic practices) there are detailed prescriptions for what is to happen sexually on the wedding night, as well as ritual mantras for successful coupling; in the Dharmasūtras (law), there are rules covering when, how, and under what circumstances sexual intercourse can take place between husband and wife; and in the Yogasūtras, there are techniques for controlling the energy of male and female sexual organs.

The Kāmasūtra (known in Europe and North America as the Kama Sutra) is the most important Indian sexual manual, being an educational book on kāma or sensuality, to be studied by men and women as part of the development of the other three aims of life, that is, dharma (personal duties), artha (worldly affairs), and mokṣa (liberation). Kāma covers aspects of courtship such as choosing a bride, gaining her confidence, useful games and tricks, and various types of adverse marriage—for example, gandharva vivāha (by theft—a love marriage opposed by the parents of bride and groom), Āāsura vivāha (by purchase), paiśāca vivāha (by drug or alcohol intoxication), and rākṣasa vivāha (the violent seizure or rape of the woman after the defeat of her relatives). Giving advice primarily for the well-off, the Kāmasūtra details a wife's running of the household and the politics of harem women—including wives, mistresses, servants, and slaves, all of whom are involved in hierarchies of status, economics, and sexual favor. There is counsel for the wife who is neglected, and for illicit love—adulterous relations between men and married women, courtesans, or loose women, most of which are handled with the help of a go-between.

What the Kāmasūtra is most known for, however, is a chapter on lovemaking that details issues of compatibility, various types of embraces, kisses, nail marks and love bites, positions for lovemaking, love blows and love cries, and oral sex. The manual ends with a section on aphrodisiacs and spells and the admonition that, even though the text details various sexual practices, it must always be used with wisdom and with mindfulness of the appropriateness of the context.

While not exactly sex manuals, Hindu Tantras describe and illuminate the use of sexual union (maithuna) for spiritual progress. Maithuna, or a couple in close embrace, is one of the five m's used in the ritual indulgence of Tantra, the other four being madya (alcoholic drink), māṁsa (meat), matsya (fish), and mudrā (symbolic hand gesture). Hindu Tantra cultivates activity that arouses the libido, awakening dormant energies for expression in sexual intercourse. This energy is then yoked to rituals, yoga, and meditation in order to propel human consciousness toward blissful enlightenment. In some Hindu Tantra orgasm is an analogue to the fire sacrifice: the rubbing of sexual organs is the friction of the fire sticks, male ejaculation is the poured oil, and the female vagina is the altar on which the oil is poured. Moreover, each of the four Hindu ages of time has corresponding religious literature for orthodox Hindus, and Tantra belongs to the last age, the Kaliyuga.


Rawson, Philip Rawson. 1973. The Art of Tantra. London: Thames and Hudson.

Sinha, Indra, trans. 1981. The Love Teachings of Kama Sutra. New York: Crescent Books.

Urban, Hugh B. 2003. Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics, and Power in the Study of Religion. Berkeley: University of California Press.

                                        Ellison Banks Findly