The Kama Sutra is a third century Sanskrit text of Hindu erotic literature that translates as a treatise (sutra) on desire/love/pleasure/sex (kama). How does this book both uphold gender ideals but also expand upon them? What kinds of orientalist stereotypes do you think the Kama Sutra evoked in the minds of westerners when it was first published in English?

The Kama Sutra upholds gender ideals during courtship by presenting the male as active and the female as passive. In relation to sex, the Kama Sutra expands gender ideals due its holistic approach.

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To discuss how the Kama Sutra upholds and expands gender ideals, one should keep two main things in mind. They have to think about typical gender roles and stereotypes (i.e. ideals). They have to consider how the Kama Sutra adheres to, and departs from, these traditional tropes.

With regards to courtship, it seems reasonable to argue that the text upholds conventional gender ideals. The instructions present the manas the aggressor and the woman as the recipient of the man’s attention. The man “must amuse her with various games” and “get for her whatever she may have a desire to possess.” As with typical gender tropes, the man is active and the woman is passive.

When it comes to sex, it’s possible to claim that the Kama Sutra expands gender ideals. Sex is not only for procreation or the man’s pleasure. It’s a complicated, ongoing process that takes into account the pleasure of both parties.

When it comes to sex work, it’s also possible to say that the Kama Sutra expands gender ideals. The text doesn’t condemn or stigmatize courtesans but discusses their job as a legitimate, serious profession.

For additional ways that the Kama Sutra upholds and/or expands gender ideals, that about how it deals with adultery, LGBTQ+ identities, and the relationship between caste and sex.

As for stereotypes that this text might have evoked in the minds of Westerners—if this Western person was, say, a Christian with conservative views about sex—the Kama Sutra would have likely furthered their unfavorable view of Eastern religions like Hinduism.

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