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The Kama Sutra and Beyond: Sacred Sexuality Texts from Ancient Cultures

The Kama Sutra is quite well known in Western culture, but it is not known that there are many other erotic books from the past. Well-established cultures throughout the world have had an integrated sex-science-spirit connection. Healthy living included a strong sex life that often integrated breathing, movement, ecstatic intimacy techniques, communing with the ‘Divine’, and lifestyle enhancements that increased longevity.

From the earliest records, the Japanese, Chinese, Persians, Arabs, Hindus, Nepalese, Egyptians, South Pacific Islanders, and even many Native American tribes had elaborate systems that encouraged and promoted high sexual practices. The benefits of good, abundant sex are numerous. These books were manuals on lovemaking and included guides for couples on kissing, caressing, lovemaking positions, attitudes, moral obligations, and much more. Let’s explore some of these cultures and the ‘books’ they developed and continue to inform us even today.

The Kama Sutra

A man named Vatsyayana wrote the Kama Sutra in India sometime between 200 and 400 AD It was originally an oral tradition and went through several iterations before being written in the form of short “aphorisms” or “sayings” that introduced young men and women in the arts of love and relationships. The original Sanskrit version has been translated many times, but its first translator was Sir Richard Burton, an adventurer and scholar living in Victorian England. He traveled, studied and translated many erotic manuals, but today we have very few of his original translations because on his death (1890) his conservative wife burned the remaining translations and the original manuscripts on which he had worked. Only these few have survived.

The scented garden

The Scented Garden was written in Arabia in the 16th century by Sheikh Nefzawi and translated by Sir Richard Burton. He finished the translation the day before he died. It includes a treatise on the different sizes and shapes of penises and vaginas (lingam and yoni in Sanskrit). Accordingly, it details thirty-five types of lingams and thirty-eight types of yonis. Written primarily for men, it advises them to ask women for instructions on how to pleasure them. It also contains teaching stories of various kinds, uses humor to convey points, and includes many sexual positions.

The Ananga Ranga

The Ananga Ranga was written in 16th century India by a man named Kalyana Malla and was first translated by Sir Richard Burton. While the Kama Sutra was written for men and women, the Ananga Ranga was written for husbands and not necessarily for their wives. The Middle Ages, in India, was more repressed and strict and a wife “belonged” to her husband at this point in history. The Ananga Ranga details ethics and morals, seduction techniques, sexual positions, hygiene, sexual rituals and spells, aphrodisiacs, and other erotic concepts. Special attention is paid to the woman learning to control the pelvic floor muscles to enhance the experience between her husband and herself.

The secrets of the jade bed chamber

Many erotic books were written in China during the 28 years of the Sui dynasty. A return to Taoist practices fueled prolific writing that included potency remedy recipes, exotic positions, and advice on the ways of love. These books included: The Simple Girl’s Secret Methods, The Dark Girl’s Sex Manual, The Simple Girl’s Recipes, Secret Bedroom Recipes, Parenting Principles, and The Secrets of the Jade Chamber. As with many societies that included eroticism in their cultural heritage, there is symbolism in the words selected for use in books and by lovers. A jade stalk signified a man’s lingam, while a jade garden signified a woman’s yoni. Taoist practices such as mastering ejaculation and breathing exercises were widely disseminated and considered health benefits as well as sexual aids.

The Ishimpo

The Ishimpo was a detailed medical manual that originated in Japan. One part was the erotic teaching manual of that culture, since sex and health were intermingled in most Asian cultures. Similar to his counterparts in India and other parts of Asia, he described the sexual act between man and woman as the essential force that controlled the universe. He expressed the importance of making love as the force of nature that keeps the earth circling the skies and healthy and vital bodies. Chinese Taoism influenced the book and culture.

Pillow books

China, Japan, and most eastern cultures had what are called “pillow books” in addition to the teaching manuals mentioned above. These books were used by couples as erotic stimulants and as reminders of the vast sexual potential of a human being. The Tales of the Arabian Nights, also translated by Sir Richard Burton, is one of those books. They could be used when a couple gets into a rut in their sexual and sensual relationships. The pillow books were adorned with beautiful erotic images, poetry, writings, and suggestions that couples could share together to spark their passions.

In the last fifteen years, the availability of erotic educational books and instructions on sexuality has become much greater. Interest in expanding sexual awareness and investigating new erotically stimulating practices is fueled by DVDs, books, audio programs, and a growing body of workshops. Teachers from many different traditions are emerging to make these teachings available to others. Even though Baby Boomers have brought forth the greatest sex appeal of the 1960s, generations to come have gathered the energy to research and re-examine the benefits and experiences of great sex. With Mind / Body / Spirit principles driving enthusiasm for health, wisdom, and awareness today, the inclusion of sexuality is seen as the energetic force behind the movement.

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