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 unauthorised) parody Star Wars Kama Sutra; go to kamasutra.com and you’ll find a company specialising 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 realise 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 Kama Sutra 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).