Kama Sutra, Sunny Leone & The Politics of Sex

“I think there is risk in every form of self expression. You are putting yourself out for the world to judge.” Sunny Leone

Because how else do we approach the topic of sex-positivity without quoting India’s most celebrated porn star, Sunny Leone?

So let’s get into it. Let’s talk S-E-X — the forbidden three-letter word that most brown women are groomed to be unfamiliar with from birth until their wedding night.

In a country home to approximately 1.3 billion people and (most importantly) the Kama Sutra, it can be quite difficult to believe that the topic of sex is at the top of the social taboo ladder. However, the correlation between ancient India’s erotic manifesto and the taboo of sex is far more nuanced and misunderstood than you may think.

The Gist

Somewhere and sometime between 400 – 200 BCE India, a philosopher named Vātsyāyana Mallanaga composed the oldest surviving literary text on sexuality, eroticism, and enlightenment. Based on one of the four permissible goals of Hindu life kama (pleasure), artha (prosperity), dharma (piety), and moksha (salvation) — the Kama Sutra underlines the importance of seduction, sexuality, and sexual freedom. The text acknowledges that not only is it okay to seek desire but it is also an inherent part of life.

Flash forward a couple of hundred something years and you’ll find that the rich, philosophical meaning of Kama Sutra ends up getting lost in translation over and over again. From the early interpretations of an English army officer named Richard Burton who threaded patriarchal Victorian views into the text, to contemporary media publications like Cosmopolitan who pump out products like Cosmo Kama Sutra, it is safe to assume that the ethos of Kama Sutra has been forgotten.

The Taboo

Which brings us to today. The now…and the taboo that has been soaking regressively in the mindset of current India for centuries. Sex. A word perhaps that is just as foreign to the ears as is Kama Sutra within Hindu households. 

Picture this. It’s third grade and you have a crush on a boy three desks down. You don’t even know what that means but you do know that whenever he says hello, you feel all flustered but warm with excitement at the same time. Then you come home and find yourself in the heart-stopping, world-twirling moment where your mother finds out about the boy you like in school (thanks to your snitch of a sibling). From here on out the lesson of “stay away from boys” raises an eternal itch always nipping at your neck.

Third-grade crushes shift to pent up teenage insecurities and guilt-ridden masturbation. Erotic thoughts and romantic fantasies are left outside to wander — never truly penetrating the purity of your home. The lesson “stay away from boys” turns into “be careful of men”. Then it manifests into “make sure your character isn’t tainted” which in layman terms is “you must stay a virgin until holy matrimony”.

Thus, when you grow up in a household where the very idea of sex, desire, and love is deemed almost criminal — you are inevitably wired to become a convict.

Under these implicit rules, usually driven by fear, you kind of lose yourself as an emerging adult.

After you gain a sense of freedom and when you’re far from home, you start to explore your twisted yet sheltered sexual dimensions and learn about intimacy. Through trial and error, you find yourself sharing beds with strangers, maybe feeling an ounce of confidence for every one-night stand. Then you come down to reality. Maybe you’re wondering why you still feel empty when you learned to satisfy your cravings? Maybe you wonder if you’re tainted? If you’re damaged goods from all the indecent sex you’ve had or from the lovers you shared your emotions with? You hold on to whatever fabric of guilt and sexual anxiety you have as an adult and pray it doesn’t stem from the pressures of “being a respectable, Indian girl”.

The Point

If we can discuss culture and religion, then we can also discuss the politics of sex. We turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to topics of rape and sexual harassment at the dinner table. Yet, we are eager to discuss the controversial policies of our government, the latest cricket match, or the newest Bollywood movie.

The idea of sex-positivity is not to spearhead a movement of careless “hook-up culture”, non-consensual experiences, or promote false notions of sexual liberation.

The idea is to decimate any stigma targeted towards women seeking pleasure. The idea is to stop hiding behind the wall of saanskari. The idea is to raise social debates and conversations about sex freely and inclusively.

The idea is to live confidently and find comfort within our skin, in our desires, and in our society.


Featured Artwork: Laura Berger

Source: The Real Kama Sutra: More Than An Ancient Sex Manual

Prathigna Yerakala

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