(9/30/13) As sex-positive educators and activists, we tend to aim for the cutting edge when it comes to strategies for improving sex lives, but we try not to rule out ways to update classical approaches when it’s viable to do so. In this vein, one of the earliest and most comprehensive works on the subject for its time, the Kama Sutra (K.S.) certainly qualifies as a classic, but looking at how it might be modernized made us wonder: Are approaches that have roots in exceptionally outdated social mores better boxed up and left in the dust rather than tweaked for today’s use?
Keeping in mind that it was created as religion-based lifestyle advice for a specific, male-oriented culture existing in ancient times, it’s pretty easy to see how much of its approach could be viewed as sexist (and perhaps even racist) by modern standards. Interpretations of it over the years, including the later addition of artwork depicting a variety of positions, may have diffused some of culture-specific effect and attempted to broaden its appeal as an aid for improving sex lives, but even those efforts were still a product of their times and difficult to relate to today. None of this is to suggest the K.S. is completely worthless, mind you. As an ancient literary work, it does have some intrinsic value today if one is interested in exploring historical cultures. If that’s the goal (or you just happen to be a rabid fan of Sanskrit), one might easily find it fascinating. Beyond that, however, updating the concepts in order to keep it as a proverbial go-to-guide for practical erotica is a bit like trying to strap a jet engine on a Model-T. Yeah, it’ll probably work to some extent, but…well, you get the idea.
Here’s the rub: Without doubt, the basic premise is a good one–Sex is an amazing part of the human experience, so learn how to enjoy your sex life. Okay. No sweat there. By all means, bring that little nugget forward. However, it’s not the “what” but rather the “how” that’s at issue. Style-wise, it’s wonky at best and incredibly pompous at worst, but more to the point, it’s hardly a panacea for improving sex simply because “it’s the original recipe” so to speak. That recipe may have worked well in a time of clay ovens, but it has no place in the microwave age.
It’s actually a validation of our modern sensibilities that the K.S. has gone the way of the Dodo and lost its place in the hierarchy of sex manuals. Today’s interpretations of it are really more of a marketing ploy to take advantage of a well-known name associated to erotic education–and some of these, actually, are quite useful. For example, our good friends at Adam & Eve have a wonderful take on the K.S. that’s perfectly great today. But that’s where the comparisons should end. As a tool for positive sex education, let’s just say it had its day and leave it for a dignified burial. Sure, in many cases, what’s old is new again and indeed, sometimes that’s a “good” thing (hint: lava lamps). More often than not, however, what’s old is old for a reason–and is better left in the rear view mirror.
The Kama Sutra fits in that bin. R.I.P.