Once while cleaning up the storage room with my family, a book fell down on the floor right next to my feet. There was a word on the cover that caught my eye - 'Kama Sutra'. I would have been able to read the title too, had my mother not frantically grabbed the book as if it was a well-guarded secret. A few days after my 13th birthday, out of sheer curiosity and a golden opportunity, I sneaked my way into the locker and got the book out. "Positions to try from the Kama Sutra...", I slowly read the title in my mind while skimming through the pages. My hands stopped as soon as I lay my eyes on two naked figurines of what I recall were a male and a female body in a very PG-13 pose. My heart stopped, and I felt my insides tingling and strange chaos unfolding down there. I think that's how a lot of us learned about the term Kama Sutra - through a book, a condom ad, a film, or even porn.
What was missing though was how we had no idea about the Kama Sutra being so much more than just a 'sex book'. That, even in the land of the Kama Sutra, we all have been miles away from the charmingly bold, elegant, and vast perspectives on sexuality, female pleasure, and sensuality. All these years, we've been deprived of even the most basic conversations around sex & intimacy, so breaking down Kama Sutra can always feel a few steps ahead on that road.
In her empowering 2012 TEDx talk, Seema Anand, a renowned storyteller, sexual health educator, and the author of ‘The Arts of Seduction’ tried to reintroduce the principles of Kama Sutra in a contextual sense. Here's an enlightening excerpt: “I'll let you into a quick secret”, she said. “According to ancient wisdom, the complete knowledge of the arts of seduction and the ability to practice it was known as the elixir of youth. You know, when Cleopatra decided to seduce Julius Caesar, she didn't just want him for one night, she wanted him for keeps, and she wanted him to the exclusion of every other woman. This is Caesar, the emperor of the largest known empire of the time. He's rich, he's spoiled, he can have anybody he wants, he can do anything he wants, and she wants him all to herself forever. Do you know what was the tool of seduction she chose to use? Aside from the obvious. She decided that he was going to - well, she was going to be completely happy for every single minute that he spent with her. So he would associate her with just the happiest moments in his life. She decided that he was going to laugh with her more than he had ever laughed with any other woman. And, we know from history that it worked.”
I knew long before picking up the book how it’s an extensive breakdown of the ancient Indian texts that made up Vatsyayan’s Kama Sutra. What I didn’t anticipate was how it would completely transform the way I understood ‘seduction’ and everything this term comprises. ‘The Arts of Seduction’ is a timeless, intricately woven contemporary account of the archaic, long-lost principles of seduction, intimacy, and pleasure as highlighted in the Kama Sutra. In the book’s introduction, Seema Anand shares her primary motivation behind writing this book, which was to extend Vatsyayan’s understanding of seduction into our everyday lives in the modern Indian context.
“Seduction is not an 'event' - it is not about 'doing' it for your partner, nor is it the exclusive property of people in relationships - seduction is for yourself, it should be a state of mind. Something that puts a spring in your step, a lilt in your voice, and the fun into sex.”I realized how all this time a lot of us associated the idea of seducing someone or being seduced with just sex. On a subliminal level, we have internalized the notions around seduction as portrayed in the mainstream media we tend to consume - films, series, books, and music - and reduced it to limited avenues. There’s always a partner in the picture when you think about seduction. And, that’s the normative ideal that Seema Anand has attempted to challenge through this book, and succeeded at doing so.
Another important aspect that the book 'The Arts of Seduction' highlights is the careful and empathetic use of language. For example, the clitoris was known as the Madan-chhatri (love umbrella) while the vulva was the Chandan-mahal (fragrant palace). As cheesy as these may sound to the layperson, had the use of such positive & youthful terms to describe the female anatomy been normalized in the common parlance, they would have greatly contributed to more girls and women embracing their genitals instead of feeling ashamed. As feminist and celebrated author Naomi Wolf put it: "Just imagine how differently a young girl today might feel about her developing womanhood if every routine slang description she heard of her female genitalia used metaphors of preciousness and beauty, and every account of sex was centered on her pleasure—pleasure on which the general harmony depended.'
What REALLY works well…
From perfumes to love bites, and dildos to the subtle art of thrusting—there’s a certain elegance and sophistication that Seema Anand always manages to bring forth with her words. Emphasizing the importance of considerate and elongated lovemaking in a world that runs on instant gratification, Seema talks about how most people are unaware of the fact that Kama Sutra happened to be one of the first pieces of literature to focus on female pleasure and foreplay - two concepts that most philosophers, researchers, and practitioners have failed to acknowledge over the past many decades. Seema elaborates on the self and beauty (Shringar), and how to best embrace and maximize one’s pleasure potential by tapping into the different aspects of your personality, parts of your body, and phases of your relationship.
There's more to seduction than 'swipe left, swipe right'—and Seema proves her point by digging deeper into the rituals that made up the Kama Sutra. Starting from the mouth, a complete chapter has been dedicated to the ancient art of inviting mates by the use of paans, an Indian delicacy in the form of a wrap made with betel leaf and areca nut. From a Kaushal paan (for those who wish to express their desperation of being in love) to the Ankush paan (symbolic for hooking up with someone for the night) - these were all the various forms of communication that entailed exchanges of 'paans of invitation'. In fact, what really gripped me was how there were ways to make your paan differently so as to respond to your lover's request. A paan with cardamom meant 'I love you' and as dramatic as this one might sound, breaking up meant that you'll be receiving a paan torn in the middle and tied with black thread. Who needs those confusing emojis, am I right?
Dildos (sex toys), or artificial devices and sexual aids have been recognized and deemed important by the Kama Sutra as tools that lovers could use to elevate pleasure and ignite passion. It wasn't just for masturbation or self-pleasure. There are in fact 10 different Dildo strokes elaborated upon in the Kama Sutra—the Manthana (churning) technique wherein you hold the dildo in hand turning it round and round as though churning the insides of the vaginal canal and then there's Chitakavilasa or Love Game of the Bird (alternating between deep and shallow thrusts). In the author's own words: "Sex should be joyous, full of fun and games and filled with laughter."
The book also brings forward some historical anecdotes and narratives from different parts of the world including India. There are mentions of rare Indian erotic texts such as The Rati Manjari by Jayadeva while discussing the erogenous zones. It’s noteworthy to mention how there’s a chapter dedicated to aftercare, an idea that has been practiced for several thousand years but lost its relevance in the chaotic ups and downs of our everyday life struggling with the patriarchal and penis-centric ideologies of pleasure and intimacy.
The book is loaded with religious, spiritual, and sanctimonious references that sort of bring you into the here and now. In a way, it also makes you think how sex is also about being mindful of your body and that of your partner and what makes it wriggle with excitement and joy.
What COULD have been better…
It hardly comes as a surprise how adept Seema has been at encapsulating the essence of the age-old learnings from the Kama Sutra and contextualizing them in the modern dating scenario. I’d have to say that even though as a reader I’ve been enamored with the writing and the way the book slowly flows, becoming more and more passionate with each chapter, I would personally find it difficult to meaningfully translate the takeaways in my own life, given my relationship orientation. Since a lot of examples in the book are coming from a cishet-mononormative stance, as a queer woman, I found myself getting lost in the binaries of man and woman across several instances throughout the book. That said, The Arts of Seduction is a beautiful attempt at normalizing partnered pleasure by exploring self-pleasure and decoding the power of seduction on the way.
Note for the Readers
I remember having a good laugh at my partner's keenness towards reading this book and ‘taking notes’ to keep on his bedside table. But in all seriousness, I would recommend ‘The Arts of Seduction’ as an enlightening read if you’re someone actively looking to make sense of the big, bold world of romance, love, intimacy, and sensuality, and have the age-old wisdom of the Kama Sutra be a part of your modern dating experiences. With Valentine’s day just around the corner, gift this book to your special someone, maybe even read it together, or take it one step ahead by trying out a seduction ritual of your own!
In the spirit of the author’s charisma, here’s a powerful quote from her dedication that will continue to define who Seema Anand is and the vision she’s actively working towards: “The right to feel pleasure. The right to tell your story. And, the right to choose to do so…Here’s to changing the world, one little story at a time.”
Juicy Reads by That Sassy Thing is an initiative where we will review books that align with our vision of making the world a safer, more pleasurable space.
We'll start with reviewing 2 books every month and as we grow, we'll have lots more coming your way!
About the Author
Anuja (she/her) is our Creator-in-Residence. After exploring all the different ways she could talk about who she identifies as, this is the closest she could get: “I’m your quintessential dog hoomum with a blue typewriter, living three blocks away, probably writing about you."