Travel; lifestyle; heritage and arts; books and miscellany

The pleasure sutra

Author: admin

Her name is preceded by the self-conferred title ‘Kamadevika’, meaning the goddess of love. Londonbased Seema Anand is a mythologist and narrative practitioner, working with the uses and implications of ‘oralness’, specialising in storytelling. “We are the stories we tell,” she observes.

An acknowledged authority on the Kama Sutra, Anand lectures on Eastern erotology, tantric philosophy and the mahavidya, among other subjects. Her work on the revival and reproduction of oral literature from India is associated with the UNESCO project for Endangered Oral Traditions. Her book The Arts of Seduction (Aleph Book Company; ₹ 499; 188 pages) draws inspiration from the Kama Sutra, and is a guide to making what has been reduced to an act of instant gratification into an art form. In an email interview with Srirekha Pillai, Anand talks about all things sexual. Excerpts:

How has the sexual act evolved over time with specific reference to India?

I’m not sure I would call our attitude to sex an ‘evolution’. As Indians, I find we live in a twilight zone when it comes to sexual attitudes.We are born of the soil that produced the Kama Sutra, considered the act of love to be a form of bhakti, that nurtured the leela of divine and mortal lovers, and believed sex should be refined to the level of an art form. But we are also all brought up on missionary attitudes, which considered sex to be the original sin, the work of the devil. And directly or indirectly, this is the attitude that pervades our thinking and colours our sexual behaviour. And it has screwed us up completely!

Look at our reaction to the language we use. The word ‘orgasm’ has undertones of the ‘dirty’, of something that shouldn’t be mentioned in polite society. The words kama or rasa, however, stir up feelings of deliciousness, images of sun-kissed bodies glowing with fragrant oils, perfumed hair wound around the lover’s neck…everything is poetic.

Why is the Kama Sutra groundbreaking?

This is the first book that acknowledged that both men and women have an equal right to pleasure. Till this point, which is around the 3rd CE, Hindu dharma had held that women did not have an independent source of pleasure. Unlike men, a woman did not have visible erections and orgasms; it was impossible to see either her arousal or satisfaction. So it was believed that a woman’s pleasure depended on the pleasure of a man—when he came, that was when she experienced orgasm too.

The Kama Sutra says that not only do women have an independent source of pleasure but they do not even need a man for it. It explains the intrinsic difference between the sexuality of men and women. The man’s arousal, says the Kama Sutra, is like fire, with his heat starting at the genitals and flaring upwards, easy to ignite, easy to douse.
A woman’s arousal is like water, beginning at the head (the mind) and flowing downwards. It takes much longer to bring to the boil but also much longer to cool down.

It explains how the nature of a woman’s orgasm differs from a man’s—something that even Freud, as late as the 19th century, wasn’t able to do. With understanding far beyond its time, the Kama Sutra explains that women are the recipients of pleasure and attention in equal measure to men. It says that it is the man’s role equally to learn and practise the arts of seduction; it is his reputation equally that depends on how well he can please his lover; and it is his job to make sure that he brings his lover to a satisfying orgasm—much as she would do for him.

What are the therapeutic effects of sex?

Sexual energy is the highest form of energy. During sex, every part goes into activity: breathing changes, blood circulation speeds up, every gland secretes hormones, literally every part of the body metabolises. In olden times they believed that with the help of breathing patterns and different sexual positions, you could move this energy around the body as a healing force. But, I think if we approach intimacy with an attitude of real pleasure and joy, and take our time to enjoy it, even that will have a therapeutic effect. Sex is good for you. Good sex is great for you!

How relevant is sex for silvers, given our whole emphasis on vanaprastha?

I think sex is something one should want to enjoy for the entire length of your life, like chocolate. Moreover, sex with a long-term partner has far more potential for pleasure. The Kama Sutra says lovers are not easy to come by and should not be discarded easily either. Good sex is developed over time with equal participation from both partners. Familiarity, comfort and a lack of instant arousal—all the things you think make things boring—are what make for the best sex. Because the longer it takes for arousal to happen, the more enjoyment and pleasure it leads to.

How can silvers keep themselves engaged in physical pleasures?

One of the most important reasons to have sex as you get older is that it is the best medicine ever. It keeps the body and brain working better; during sex your bodily functions are energised, which means your metabolism improves. Science has determined that sexual activity produces more grey cells! Sex is also the most effective way to stop boredom creeping into a marriage and keeping the relationship close and loving. So in an ideal world, we should all be enjoying sex or physical intimacy or at least the desire for it for the entire length of our lives. Desire and pleasure should be a state of mind. Physical intimacy should be a natural result of having shared a life with someone. It should be something that one wants, as opposed to a distasteful or annoying duty. The reality, however, is very different.

The kama shastra say ‘habit’ is the death of desire. For excitement to occur, one has to try something new; one has to feel that there will be some kind of surprise, even if it is a tiny little one, to look forward to. For most couples, as they grow older, sex becomes quicker and more habitual (if it happens at all), which leaves the men feeling dissatisfied and grumpy and women feeling dissatisfied and disinclined. And the weird thing is, even though the benefits of changing our attitudes towards sex are so great—and it’s not difficult to do—this is the one thing most people are unwilling to work at. It’s just too much effort and too much water under the bridge. But good sex is better than Vitamin-B complex and will save you a lot of money on doctor’s bills.

What are your top five tips and props for silvers?

Getting back into sex doesn’t mean doing it every night. Remember, it’s not a duty. Start with once a month. Make it a date night. Prepare for it: bathe, perfume yourself, change the sheets, put flowers near the bed, whatever makes you feel good. Make it special. Organise a few fantasies in your head to help you along, in case it doesn’t work at the beginning. Decide that you are going to enjoy it. Don’t jump straight into it. Lie in bed and watch TV together for a while as you kiss and chat. Let this be your foreplay. Don’t feel that you have to go all ‘hot and heavy’.

Relax completely and take it slow. Flirt with different types of paan. There is a whole vocabulary and set of traditions around paan in lovemaking. Explore it. It’s subtle, suggestive and sexy at the same time. Kiss each other more often. Kiss each other in passing for no reason—just a quick brush on the lips. Make your partner feel irresistible. Once a week, go out together and gossip. The Kama Sutra says that two lovers sitting together exchanging gossipy stories is a form of foreplay; it builds up intimacy and anticipation. Let there be pleasure….

Does sex have spiritual connotations?

We come from a culture that believes very strongly in the spirituality of sexual energy. We believe that body is god-like and pleasure divine. This is why the Kama Sutra insists on ever-increasing levels of refinement and elegance in our lovemaking—it was to elevate our minds to greater things. Osho used to say that the time of orgasm is when you are closest to god, but since most people cannot achieve great orgasms, they turn to meditation. Even Socrates has explained at length how all love for God must first begin with the physical.

Would you say women were sexually awakened and assertive in ancient times?

I wouldn’t label women as being more sexually aware or assertive in ancient times. I think it is more to do with the attitudes towards sex at that time. The Kama Sutra is an example of how society must have thought about sex at that time. This book was being written to instruct men and women on how to have really satisfying sex because pleasure was considered a good and sacred thing. It was to instruct them on the best ways of seduction, foreplay and arousal. Sex was not described as a duty or a sin, but a thing of beauty and divinity. Developing one’s sexual prowess was a noble pursuit—through the centuries, kings have commissioned kama shastra as part of their royal duties.

Can the Kama Sutra be considered a feminist text, given that it spoke of female pleasure like never before and after?

It is a feminist text, but not in the way that we think of the word ‘feminism’ today. It’s not as if women were autonomous or had the right to make decisions, etc. A woman was still subject to the man with all the restrictions that came with it. So, for instance, if the man travelled, it was the woman’s duty to stay home with the elders, serve them, look after the house and stay celibate. The man, on the other hand, could do whatever he wanted and could justify adultery with the word of the law books. It was also part of the woman’s duty to forgive his philandering and love him regardless of that. But, in return, it was the duty of the man to please her sexually and follow her wishes even if it meant restricting his own pleasures and desires.

In contrast, most Arabic and Eastern erotic literature has been heavily influenced by domestic slavery—wives, mistresses, maids were possessions and could be treated in any way the man wished; if she did not concede willingly, it was ok to rape her. In the famous Chinese novel Chin P’ing Mei, published in the 17th century, the wives and mistresses are expected to gratify the womanising hero with no thought to their own pleasures and are shown being manhandled, seduced, burned with incense, subjected to erotic experiments, savagely beaten if they displease him, etc.
Women were not given the right to express any aggression in sex or even initiate the act. It was her duty to feel pleasure and accept everything he did.

In direct contrast, the Kama Sutra encourages the woman to take on the aggressor’s role if she so desires, even if temporarily. She has the right to have tantrums that the man has to mollify; she can hit, kick, scratch with impunity; and if she feels the lover is being more violent than she likes and will not stop when asked, she is advised to do the same to him, twice over.

Would you rate the art of seduction above the actual act? And why?

As French philosopher Jean Baudrillard said, “Seduction is always more sublime than sex. That’s why it demands a higher price.” Seduction is the pleasure, the memories, the intimacy and the fun. That’s where relationships are made.

In modern times, people flock to sexologists for sexual problems. Were there such experts in ancient India too?

I think there were probably more sexologists in ancient times than we have now. We are told how young men and women were sent to courtesans to be taught the arts of love and love-making because good sex was a very important part of life. It was considered an art form, and like all art forms it had to be learnt. A deep understanding of how to give and receive pleasure was one of the essential secrets to a healthy and productive life. Although I should add that this was in all likelihood a practice for the wealthier sections of society. I don’t think this was a luxury the poor labourer on the road could have afforded or had the time for.

To quote from your book, “In ancient India, something as trifling as impotence was never an obstacle to sex.” Was it because the act of pleasing was given more importance than just penetration?

Impotence doesn’t get in the way of seduction and foreplay. That is a pleasure available to everyone. They believed impotence was a localised problem—it was one ineffective organ—and did not take away the desires of the man or his partner. And so, various types of devices and aids were suggested that could have helped them achieve satisfaction, from the simple handheld dildo to complex contraptions of such size as to make the mind boggle. But the most popular one was a sort of sheath-like structure, made of wood covered with leather, which was worn like armour over the impotent organ and secured to the waist with a belt of some kind which permitted the impotent man to ‘penetrate’ his partner in exactly the same way as one would normally do. This didn’t just solve the physical problem but was also extremely beneficial psychologically.

Check out the extended interview on

Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
November 2018