4 Ways The Kama Sutra Is Surprisingly Feminist

by Wendy Doniger

The Kamasutra, written in the third century CE, in Sanskrit (the language of ancient India), was a revolutionary book. There is nothing remotely like it even now, and for its time, it was astonishingly sophisticated. In fact, it was already well known in India at a time when the Europeans were still swinging in trees, culturally (and sexually) speaking.

It focuses not purely on sexual positions, as it has been regarded in later years (and misunderstood both by scholars and in the wider world of readers), but as a guide to the art of living. It is a psychologically subtle book about finding a partner, maintaining power in a marriage, committing adultery, and much more. It is about peoples’ hidden motives for seeking or resisting sexual relationships, and about the ways to read those motives from their involuntarily gestures and facial expressions as well as their words and actions. Moreover, it displays a strikingly liberal and modern attitude to gender and sexual orientation, women’s education and sexual freedom

I decided to go back and reexamine the text in my new book Redeeming the Kamasutra . What I found was surprisingly forward-thinking ideas about the role of women in society — ideas that are still relevant today.

1. Education and the Understanding of the Text

It has only been in the modern age that education for women has become a matter of course in Europe and America. But Vatsyayana, the author of the Kamasutra, argues at some length that women should learn the contents of the Kamasutra: “A woman should study the Kamasutra and its subsidiary arts before she reaches the prime of her youth.” To the objection by unnamed “scholars” that, ‘Since females cannot grasp texts, it is useless to teach women this text,’ Vatsyayana replies that some women can in fact read Sanskrit, while women who cannot read the text can learn the practice from women who can.

2. Control Over Property

Though there weren’t many opportunities for financial independence for women in ancient India, the Kamasutra is very open-minded about the options they did have, such as women’s access to household funds. In the Kamasutra, the wife has absolute power in running the household’s finances.

3. Sexual Pleasure

Vatsyayana dismisses with one or two short verses the possibility that the purpose of the sexual act may sometimes be to produce children; one of the things that make sex for human beings different from sex for animals, he points out, is the fact that human women, unlike animals, have sex even when they are not in their fertile period. And it is clear that he assumes that women, like men, have sex for pleasure. He argues that women who do not find their husbands satisfactory sexual partners may leave them; widows, too, he insists, have a right to remarry in order to find partners who give them pleasure.

4. Female Orgasm and G-Spot

In his discussion of the sexual act, Vatsyayana asks men to put their women’s needs first: “the woman should be treated in such a way that she achieves her sexual climax first…When her eyes roll when she feels him in certain spots, he presses her in just those spots.”

Though we inevitably read the Kamasutra now very differently from the way it was read in its own day, it is clear that Vatsyayana intends women to be educated and in control of their lives, bodies, and pleasure in ways that we still strive for today.

Images: Bustle; Giphy (4)