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These Are The Real Kama Sutra Sex Positions

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    Photographed by Natalia Mantini.

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    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) Cosmo Kama Sutra to the (highly unauthorized) parody Star Wars 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.

    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.



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    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.

  3. Illustrated by: Paola Delucca

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    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.

  4. Illustrated by: Paola Delucca

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    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.

  5. Illustrated by: Paola Delucca

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    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.

  6. Illustrated by: Paola Delucca

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    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.