A few thousand years ago, when Indian writer Vatsyayana was putting pen to paper and writing the text that would be known as the
Kama Sutra, he couldn’t have foreseen the impact that his work would have on the world. In the modern era, the words “Kama Sutra” are a synonym for sex. A number of outlets have used “Kama Sutra” to signify “crazy ways to do it,” from the (very earnest) to the (highly unauthorized) parody Cosmo Kama Sutra ; go to kamasutra.com and you’ll find a company specializing in “luxury romance and intimacy products,” like edible body paints and dusts. Star Wars Kama Sutra
If it seems strange that a 2,000-year-old text continues to carry such impact on our erotic imaginations, it gets even stranger when you realize that most of the
Kama Sutra isn’t actually about sex. Unlike the many hot-and-heavy sex manuals that bear its name, the original KamaSutra is philosophical text offering musings on how to have a rewarding life and fruitful relationships; to the extent that it’s a sex manual, it’s mostly because it doesn’t shy away from the notion that sex (and interesting sex positions) is a healthy and normal part of life. (Of course, given that this is a 2,000-year-old text, it’s very heteronormative — while queer sex and non-normative gender identities do make appearances in the text, the general assumption is that the reader’s primary sexual relationship will be a heterosexual one.)
But somewhere down the line (and probably due to more than a little orientalism), the non-sex parts of the Kama Sutra got forgotten, and the sex parts got expanded upon — and, in some cases, totally reinvented (shocking as it may seem, Vatsyayana did not write about
sex acts involving detachable shower heads).
So what’s actually in the original
Kama Sutra? A wide variety of stuff — including, yes, lots of sex positions. Let’s take a look at the sex positions endorsed by the ancient tome.
We'll be updating this post with more KamaSutra sex positions, so once you've mastered these, check back for more.
The gap between what we learned in sex ed and what we're learning through sexual experience is big — way too big. So we're helping to connect those dots by talking about the realities of sex, from how it's done to how to make sure it's consensual, safe, healthy, and pleasurable all at once. Check out more . here
Blossoming (utphallaka) “The blossoming is realized by lowering the woman’s head and raising her vagina,” writes Vatsyayana of a position that’s somewhere between a Pilates bridge and missionary. What’s the point of elevating your vulva over your head (aside from getting a sweet core workout mid-sex)?
To understand that, it helps to learn a little bit more about one of the
Kama Sutra’s obsessions: relative penis and vagina size. According to the text, penises and vaginas both come in three variations. A penis might be a hare, a bull, or a stallion, while a vagina might be a doe, a mare, or a cow-elephant. If a penis and vagina aren’t well matched in size, that can spell doom — though positions like “blossoming” are intended to help a smaller vagina open up to accommodate a larger member. More
Queen of Heaven (Indranika) Another entrant into the catalog of positions intended to ease a vagina open and expand its capacity, the "Queen of Heaven" (which, the text notes, requires practice) involves a man wrapping his thighs around his female partner and forcefully opening the vagina with his hands. The name is apparently an ode to the wife of Indra, the King of Heaven, who is credited with inventing this position. Illustrated by: Paola Delucca More
Envelopment (veshititaka) But the Kama Sutra isn’t just concerned with helping wee little vaginas stretch to encompass massive penises; it also takes very seriously the task of helping more roomy vaginas and smaller penises find pleasure when paired together. There are a number of ways to do this, but one of the most interesting is "envelopment," which involves the woman crossing her legs, one over the other, while being penetrated.
Another fun tidbit? Midway through its section on cow-elephant vaginas matched with hare penises, the
Kama Sutra takes a minute to inform the reader that “in sleeping, the man must lie to the right of the woman: She should always be on the man’s left.” If this seems like an odd digression, the commentary explains that this is “in order not to cause difficulties if [the man] seeks [the woman] while asleep,” though how any of that makes sense I leave to you to figure out. Illustrated by: Paola Delucca More
Expanding (vijrimbhitaka) If you’ve ever taken a pilates class and thought to yourself mid-leg lift, Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if I were getting railed right now?, then this position is definitely for you. Another strategy in the catalogue of ways to help a vagina increase its capacity in anticipation of an extra package, expanding seems like it would get exhausting pretty quick. But maybe that’s why you’re doing all those leg lifts in the first place? Illustrated by: Paola Delucca More
Mare (vadavaka) Turns out "mare" isn’t just a term for average-sized vaginas: It’s also a complex sex position (one, the Kama Sutra commentary notes, that’s vulgar and mostly used by sex workers) wherein the vagina seizes the penis “without moving.” Confused? The commentary expands upon this description to note that, like a mare with a stallion, this position involves sliding the penis into the vagina without any kissing or embracing, apparently in cowgirl style. Illustrated by: Paola Delucca More
The broken flute (venudaritaka) After its lengthy exploration of how to have good sex (even if you’re struggling with a supposedly mismatched penis-and-vagina set), the Kama Sutra turns to a different realm of positions — one that might align a little bit more with the popular vision of wild and crazy Kama Sutra sex. One of my favorites would have to be the "broken flute," which involves a woman lying down, putting her foot on her male partner’s shoulder, and then taking it off and putting the other foot on his other shoulder, like some sort of mid-coital Rockette. Illustrated by: Paola Delucca More
Impalement (shulachitaka) No wait, I lied: "Impalement" is my actual favorite: “The woman places one foot on the boy’s head and, extending the other, allows herself to be penetrated.” The text notes that this position requires practice, which may be the most obvious statement ever uttered about a sex position.
More surprising? There’s a sort of proto-BDSM thing that gets outlined in the
Kama Sutra, with a section on the basics of erotic hitting. Good places to lay hands on your lover? The shoulders, the head, the gap between the breasts, the back, the genital region, and the sides; blows can be exchanged with the side of the hand, the palm of the open hand, the fist, and with the ends of the fingers joined (in case you were curious).
(Though it’s worth noting that best practices for impact play have come a long way since the days of the Kama Sutra — according to
the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, you should avoid the face, feet, hands, breasts, lower legs, and genitals when engaging in heavy impact play, and stick to places with high fat and muscle content, like the thighs and buttocks.) Illustrated by: Paola Delucca More
Lotus (padmasana) Think of a yoga lotus position. Now imagine pulling off that bodily contortion and simultaneously inserting a penis into a vagina. Finally, a new flexibility goal to work towards!
While you’re debating whether you’re flexible enough to pull off that sex act, consider this interesting tidbit: The
Kama Sutra does not endorse oral sex, unless you happen to be a “corrupt woman” (read: promiscuous lady) or a lesbian, servant, or sanvahika, which is a woman who does arduous work. Among the tome’s anti-oral prohibitions are lines noting that “one is defiled by the contact of the sex with the face” and “embracing the vulva as one embraces the mouth is not recommended” — though interestingly, these prohibitions don’t prevent the book from detailing a handful of blow-job techniques. Illustrated by: Paola Delucca More
The spin (paravrittaka) Delving further into the territory of “Wait, what?” sex positions is "the spin," which involves perching backwards over your seated paramour, then getting spun around 180 degrees, penis still inside you. If you’re starting to think that maybe female pleasure wasn’t the primary goal of the Kama Sutra, you wouldn’t be wrong. Early in the text, commentary notes that “only lesbians have no problems” — and while this is technically referring to the idea that heterosexual women supposedly didn’t have time to study religion, economy, erotic science, and music (because they’re too busy catering to their husbands’ needs), it seems like an apt response to some of these sex positions, too. Illustrated by: Paola Delucca More
Standing (sthitarata) Strange as "the spin" might seem, it’s actually considered a standard sex position in the Kama Sutra: The “unusual or special sexual practices” don’t start until we get to standing sex (why that’s considered weirder than putting your foot on your partner’s head has been lost to the ages).
In the basic version of this position, both partners stand while leaning against a wall or column. If you want to up the ante, however, there’s a variation where the woman lifts her legs, places her feet into the palms of her partner’s hands and holds on for dear life as he thrusts away. (Hey, there’s no aphrodisiac quite like the fear of someone dropping you mid-thrust.)
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca More
Hanging (avalambitaka) If that standing variation seems a little too risky, but you’re still in the market for a position that allows one partner to lean against a wall while the other’s butt waves in the breeze, the hanging position is here for you. It’s more or less the same as standing, but instead of relying on her partner’s capricious grip to support her entire weight, the woman rests her feet up against a nice, sturdy wall. Sure, it’s not easy, but it is easier. Illustrated by: Paola Delucca More
The cow (dhenuka) These days, we call it doggy style, but back in the era of the Kama Sutra, it was known as “the cow.” But lest you think there’s only one animal worth imitating in the sack, the text goes on to note that “one can imitate other animals, mounting the woman like an ass, playing with her like a cat, attacking like a tiger, stamping like an elephant, pawing the ground like a pig, riding horse-fashion. Thus, one learns a thousand ways to copulate." Because there’s no end to sexual innovation as long as you have access to the Discovery Channel. Illustrated by: Paola Delucca More
Peasant India’s long been a class conscious society, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that the Kama Sutra commentary divides sex into city and country styles. In the countrified version of sex, a woman sits on her lover’s lap and opens her thighs. Why is this the way peasants do it? I’ll let you decide.
The city/country divide isn’t the only geographic fixation found within the Kama Sutra. Throughout the text there’s a whole bunch of information about what kind of sex is popular with what kind of people in what area of the world. For instance, did you know butt sex is popular in the South (of India, I presume)? Well, now you do!
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca More
City Dweller What distinguishes a city libertine from a country one? Apparently, it’s all about eye contact. In city dweller style sex, the woman sits on her partner’s lap – face to face this time – and wraps her legs around him. How delightfully urban!
In other geographic insights, the
Kama Sutra notes that in certain country villages, as well as the area presently known as Tajikistan, women who are shut up in apartments sometimes hide young men away with them. If these women are highly sensual, they might even hide multiple men at once. What those women do with said men, I’ll leave up to your imagination. (Just kidding: the Kama Sutra makes clear that it’s group sex, offering up some directions on how a group of men should position their bodies when hoping to simultaneously pleasure a single woman.) Illustrated by: Paola Delucca More
Pitcher Nope, this isn’t like pitcher and catcher in the modern sex sense. It’s a way of doing it that — for reasons I’m still not clear on — gets presented as a third option alongside peasant and city dweller (are pitchers actually just ancient suburbanites?). The book describes this position as involving the woman being taken from behind while bent in three. Sounds like doggy style to me, but you be the judge. Illustrated by: Paola Delucca More
Lateral box (parshva samputa) Not every Kama Sutra position is particularly crazy, or even all that involved. Box — which comes in three variations — is merely defined as doing it face to face. In lateral box, the couple lies on their sides while making eye contact (and genital contact). There’s a good chance you’ve tried this one out on your own: Congratulations, you’re an unwitting Kama Sutra master. Illustrated by: Paola Delucca More
Closed box (uttana samputa)
The second variation on box style, closed box seems even more underwhelming than the lateral version, as it appears to be just the woman lying down, stretched out, with a man on top of her, pressing into her hips. But I might be missing some key bit of info about this position, since the commentary notes that “when both lie extended hip to hip, the instrument penetrates her, but sometimes injures her.” Does missionary style sex have some secret danger I didn’t know about?
The third version of box brings us back to (slightly) freaky sex territory: In this variation, the woman folds her knees against her breasts while the man faces her in a doubled-up position and presses his hips against hers. In this somewhat complicated-sounding position, the vulva can’t be contracted (presumably because the woman is opening her legs to accommodate the body of a doubled-up man), so, you know, if you’re rocking a cow-elephant vag, steer clear of those smaller penises.
Raise your thighs in the air like you just don’t care! Then clasp them with your arms, because holding your thighs up can get pretty tiring. From here, the male partner in this position is supposed to lift his knees, grip his partner, and go to town on her. Sounds good to me.
More VIDEO Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here? Why "If You Love Someone, Set Them Free" Is A Good Adage To Live By What’s A Hooded Clitoris & How Can You Tell If You Have It? Why I Will Never Lie To My Future Children About My Career In The Sex Industry