Winter 2003 • Vol. XXV No. 1 Nonfiction |

The “Kamasutra”: It Isn’t All about Sex

The Kamasutra, which many people regard as the paradigmatic textbook for sex, the sex text, was composed in North India, probably in the third century C.E., in Sanskrit, the literary language of ancient India. (Virtually nothing is known about the author, Vatsyayana, other than his name and what we learn from this text.) There is nothing remotely like it even now, and for its time it was astonishingly sophisticated; it was already well known in India at a time when the Europeans were still swinging in trees, culturally (and sexually) speaking. The Kamasutra is known in English almost entirely through the translation by Sir Richard Francis Burton, published well over a century ago, in 1883.1 A new translation that my colleague Sudhir Kakar and I have prepared, for Oxford World Classics,2 reveals for the first time the text's surprisingly modern ideas about gender and unexpectedly subtle stereotypes of feminine and masculine natures. It also reveals relatively liberal attitudes to wom

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