What kind of understanding does the Kamasutra, the so-called complete treatise of human sexuality, have of female sexuality? To begin with, it asks this question, “Do women even enjoy sexual intercourse?” In dialectic fashion, the argument proceeds as follows,
“Women do enjoy it” says the first person. “But they cannot tell you the nature of the pleasure they feel.”
“Women emit from the beginning of the act to the end, which is proof that they enjoy it” says the next, “besides, if they have no semen, they cannot have an embryo”.
“But in the beginning a woman does not seem very excited,” says another.
“Excitement builds up in a woman like a potter’s wheel that goes around slowly at first and gains speed later” says someone finally.
Any student of literature would recognize this series of half baked comparisons as “false analogy.” This so called “knowledge” is nothing but assumption. The assumptions go several folds deeper, touching upon many misconceptions prevalent today:
That woman naturally knows about sex: “Sometimes people train horses or dogs instinctively, without knowing the science of training animals. Similarly, many women are found to be instinctively versed in Kamasutra.”
That women dress provocatively to attract men: “When woman likes a man, under some pretext or other she shows her limbs to him.”
That women say no when they mean yes: “When a man first makes up to her she naturally shrinks from him, even though she may be willing to unite herself with him. She hangs down her head and speaks in indistinct words. But when attempts are repeated, she consents.”
In a carrying over of social values into the bedroom, women are also naturally assumed to be the submissive partners: “Men are the actors, and women are the persons acted upon”, because “The characteristic of manhood is roughness, while weakness is the mark of womanhood.”
And so it follows, that it is okay to use force sometimes: “If she meets him once, and again comes to meet him better dressed than before, or comes to him in some lonely place, he should be certain that she is capable of being enjoyed with a little force.”
But again and again, one goes back to the first question and the damning assumption it leads to, that when a man enjoys sex, a woman also necessarily enjoys it: “When two things strike each other, like two apples, or two rams, both feel the same shock. Similarly, men and women feel similar pleasure in sex.” That female sexuality is more than mere penetration seems not to have penetrated the writer’s blinkers. The prevalent misconception that a rape is somehow a lesser crime because the victim also enjoys it, finds the backing of this and other such statements in our “venerable” scriptures.
It is not that the Kamasutra has nothing positive to say about women. “When women are forcibly approached by men, they sometimes suddenly become haters of sexual connection, or even of the male sex,” says the treatise wisely. However, muddled by the stereotyped gender roles of its times, most of Kamasutra’s “positive” nuggets are limited to wishful romanticizing, impossible for a normal woman to attain: “Woman is a monogamous animal, and loves but one” or “Woman loves without regard to right or wrong.”
It is clear that the writer never consulted a woman to find out what exactly she experiences. As a result, though the Kamasutra is well informed about a variety of sexual behavior including so-called “foreign imports” like homosexuality, use of objects, and oral and anal intercourse, its knowledge of female sexuality is woefully scant. What actually is female sexuality? What turns a woman on? Or off? What is a woman thinking when she is “showing her limbs” and a man makes advances? Do women feel the same pleasure as men? Do women “emit” (and is “emission” the only proof of pleasure)? And if not, then does she not have an embryo? Many young women have no clue. With the doors of communication closed between (most) women due to social taboos, many women turn to mass media, but mainstream erotica is unfortunately just as misguided as the Kamasutra. Reading and writing being out of women’s reach, erotica before the last century had been exclusively by and for men. No wonder, mainstream erotica is but a compilation of male fantasies with little reality check, the description of female behavior in such literature coming across as either speculation or romanticizing (both laughably off the mark).
Armed with a confused attempt to live up to their idealized images, and cloaked in layers of misconceptions, most young women approach intimate relationships with trepidation. When reality does not match assumptions from scriptures, and women end up manifesting a mindboggling variety of behavior, it leads to the ultimate misconception, that women are “mysterious creatures.” In fact, as my cousin, a student of literature, put it, mystery is nothing but lack of communication. Women just need to communicate more to the readers of Kamasutra and its ilk. But to have enough confidence and knowledge to refute these dominant ideas, women first need to learn about themselves.
Women need to know how their body functions, and not through mirrors of idealization or false analogies with inanimate objects like a potter’s wheel. Women need to inform people, that they do not naturally know about sex, that women choose their clothes for various reasons—none of which is an invitation to use force, that they usually mean “no” when they say “no”, that being acted upon may not be pleasing to every woman, and finally, that no two women are the same. Women need to resurrect their images from the morass of “mystery” in which it has sunken.
What women need is a corpus that tells them like it is (ninth grade “health and population” is a step in the right direction, but as yet, it is too medical to convey how society construes sexuality). Women need unbiased sources which they have been hitherto denied: narratives from experienced women. No wonder, women are flocking to buy Fifty Shades of Grey, a book worthless as a piece of literature, but nonetheless highly educational, giving an insides view of a woman’s mind and body like never before. Even though it is fairly regressive in terms of values, its phenomenal success has opened the floodgates for women’s erotica, with hopefully more realistic storylines. With a body of realistic literature to lean on and quote, hopefully, the next generation of women will be better informed and more confident of their sexuality.
All references from Richard Burton’s 1883 translation of Kamasutra
P.S.The Kamasutra quite a vast and comprehensive treatise with lots of themes to write about, but this is just what leaped to my eye.