The Kama Sutra is fairly well known in Western culture but it isn’t well 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 robust sex life that often integrated breathing, movement, ecstatic intimacy techniques, communion with the ‘Divine’ and lifestyle enhancements that boosted longevity.
From earliest records the Japanese, Chinese, Persians, Arabs, Hindis, Nepalese, Egyptian, South Pacific Islanders and even many Native American tribes had elaborate systems encouraging and promoting high sexual practices. The benefits of good, abundant sex are numerous. These books were manuals on lovemaking and they included guides for couples on kissing, touching, positions in lovemaking, attitudes, moral obligations, and much more. Let’s explore a few of these cultures and the ‘books’ they developed that 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 ‘aphorisms’ or short ‘sayings’ that introduced young men and women to the arts of love and relationship. The original Sanskrit version has been translated many times but its first translator was Sir Richard Burton who was 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 at his death (1890) his conservative wife burned the remaining translations and original manuscripts he had worked on. Only these few have survived.
The Perfumed Garden
The Perfumed Garden was written in Arabia in the sixteenth 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 many 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 counsels them to ask the woman for instruction on giving her pleasure. It also contains teaching stories of various sorts, uses humor to get points across and includes many intercourse positions.
The Ananga Ranga
The Ananga Ranga was written in the sixteenth century in India by a man named Kalyana Malla and first translated by Sir Richard Burton. Whereas the Kama Sutra was written for men and women the Ananga Ranga was written for husbands and not necessarily their wives. The middle-ages, in India, were more repressed and strict and a wife ‘belonged’ to her husband at this time in history. The Ananga Ranga details ethics and morals, seduction techniques, sexual positions, hygiene, rituals and sexual spells, aphrodisiacs, and other erotic concepts. It pays particular attention to the woman learning to control her pelvic floor muscles to heighten the experience between her husband and her self.
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 the prolific writing that included recipes for potency remedies, exotic positions and counseling in the ways of love. These books included: The Secret Methods of the Plain Girl, Handbook of Sex of the Dark Girl, Recipes of the Plain Girl, Secret Prescriptions for the Bedchamber, Principles of Nurturing 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 the books and by lovers. A Jade Stalk meant a man’s lingam, whereas a Jade Garden meant the woman’s yoni. Taoist practices like ejaculation mastery and breathing exercises were wide-spread and considered health benefits as well as sexual aids.
The Ishimpo was a detailed medical manual that originated in Japan. A portion of it was the erotic teaching manual for that culture as sex and health were intermingled in most Asian cultures. Similar to its counterparts in India and other parts of Asia, it depicted the sex act between man and woman as the essential force that controlled the universe. It expressed the importance of making love as the force in nature that keeps the earth circling the heavens and bodies healthy and vital. Taoism from China was influential to the book and the culture.
China, Japan, and most eastern cultures had what is termed “Pillow Books” in addition to the teaching manuals mentioned above. These books were used by couples as erotic stimulants and as reminders of a human’s vast sexual potential. The 1001 Arabian Nights tales, translated also by Sir Richard Burton, is one such book. They could be used when a couple got into a rut in their sexual and sensual relating. Pillow Books were adorned with beautiful erotic pictures, poetry, writings, and suggestions that couples could partake of together to stir their passions.
In the last fifteen years the availability of sexuality how-to and erotic educational books has become much greater. The interest in expanding sexual knowledge 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 coming forth to make these teachings available to others. Even as the Baby Boomers have carried the heightened sexual appeal of the 60’s forward so the next generations have brought up the energy to investigate and examine anew the benefits and experiences of great sex. With the principles of Mind/Body/Spirit driving the enthusiasm for health, wisdom and consciousness today, the inclusion of sexuality is being seen as the energy force behind the movement.