It’s not just about switching positions.
Since the dawn of time, humans have been inventing ways to make sex more thrilling—it would be a deeply misguided assumption to think that millennia ago, people were only getting it on in missionary. Perhaps the most widely known ancient evidence of sexual innovation is the Kama Sutra, a Vedic text dated around the second century CE, and attributed to the Indian philosopher Vatsyayana. If you’ve looked around any “New Age” store (or even that section of your local Barnes and Noble), you’ve probably seen at least one book that promises to reveal all the different sex positions in the Kama Sutra. But it’s a mistake to think that this text is just that.
As The New York Times explained in 2015, the over-sexualization of the Kama Sutra most likely stems from the time the text was first translated into English in the 18th century. It’s more of a guide to wooing wealthy men. As The Guardian reported in a review of a new translation in 2011, it includes hygiene advice, sex positions, and specific social advice based on long-outdated class and gender norms. To some, this can read as awkward—as The Guardian author points out, the text neglects to comment on finer points of seduction, like eye contact and tone of voice.
But to some readers, the Kama Sutra, in a contemporary reading, is pretty empowering. Professor Wendy Doniger points out that the text focuses on sex for pleasure, not procreation, and places importance on the female orgasm, appears non-judgmental about homosexuality (though is still largely heteronormative), and, generally, offers a much more liberal view of sexuality than anything that would follow it for centuries. (Granted, it does still give lots of tips on committing adultery, among plenty of other flaws—so Doniger wouldn’t go so far as to call it feminist).
So, the Kama Sutra isn’t a straightforward manual to lovemaking—and it’s not a progressive manifesto on sexual freedom, either (at least, not by today’s standards). It does still have some tips you can apply to your own love life. The text talks about the impact of aphrodisiacs, the importance of moving into a relationship gradually and gently, and how to flirt: Apparently, by throwing a party during which you recite poetry and compete with your friends to recite the last part of the verse (according to The New York Times’s 2002 review of another translation). Or, if you’re at a pool or lake, you can dive into the water far away from your crush, then swim over to them, touch them, and coyly swim away. Sure, the Kama Sutra’s sex positions may help you mix things up with your partner. But there’s something to be said for the art of seduction, too.