BOOK REVIEW: A South Indian Treatise on the Kamasastra ed. by Swami Sivapriyananda

A South Indian Treatise On The KamasastraA South Indian Treatise On The Kamasastra by Swami Sivapriyananda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page (note: they have a different edition, I can’t comment on its commentary and art.)

 

This book was originally entitled “Rati Ratna Pradipika.” It’s an unfinished manuscript penned by a member of the Wadiyar (Wodeyar) Kingdom over 350 years ago. The Wadiyars were a south Indian royal family that ruled out of Mysore from 1399 to 1950. Like the “Kamasutra,” which heavily influenced this text, it’s a sex manual. Readers of the “Kamasutra” will not find anything new herein. This book serves more as a window into sexuality, culture, and their overlap for the place and time written. That said, it’s a quick read to appease one’s curiosity. The edition I read was only slightly more than 100 pages and that includes extensive commentary, artworks, and front and back matter.

This treatise consists of seven chapters. Chapter one is largely about astrology and what sex acts are most auspiciously practiced on which days of the month, but it starts with a brief classification of women with regards sexual promise. There’s not much content in this chapter that has any validity outside of the culture and times of its writing, and one wouldn’t want to consider this information to be a relevant guide to one’s behavior in the present day.

Chapter two delves into greater detail in classifying women and men (by body type, demeanor, and genital size / characteristics.) Women are classified as gazelle, mare, and elephant and men as hare, bull, and horse. There’s a brief discussion of which classes are ideally paired. The influence of dosha (i.e. kapha, pitta, vata)–a three-fold classification scheme broadly referenced in yoga and ayurveda—is also described herein.

Chapter three describes “outer play” which—as the name suggests—consists of acts that don’t involve bodily penetration (at least not beyond the so-called “French kiss.”) There are subsections for embracing, kissing, nail marks, and bite marks. The nexus of pain and pleasure is seen in the discussion.

Chapters four and five both concern the practice of “inner love.” The first of these chapters discusses 27 styles of intercourse. The 27 ways of intercourse are functions of genital size, time to orgasm, and level of passion. Chapter five elaborates on the subject that most people think of when they think of Indian sex manuals, and that is the physical positions. As with the “Kamasutra,” these postures range from simple and straight-forward to contortionistic.

Chapter six describes sixteen varieties of oral sex (i.e. eight female to male, and the same number vice versa.) Perhaps reflective of the misogyny of the times, the male to female varieties reflect different physical approaches, whereas female-on-male oral includes varieties such as “post-quarrel.”

Chapter seven is sort of a miscellany chapter that describes approaches to “love blows,” sounds, and a tour of the traits of women of various regions of India. As with the rest of the book, there are some entries that read comedically. (e.g. “While the woman is either sitting on his knee or on a bed the man lovingly punches her with his fist.”… “In response to this cruel violence she will cry like a goose, cuckoo, or duck.” However, the commentary clarifies and reduces confusion over what is presumably an attempt to translate as literally as possible.

The edition that I read (ed. by Swami Sivapriyananda with art by Raghupati Bhatta) was well done. The commentary did a great job of elaborating on confusing elements in the text as well as clarifying points which are incongruous with what we’ve come to know about sex and sexuality through the lens of modern science.

As mentioned, the edition I read had artworks to help clarify the text. These paintings / drawings are exaggerated (not unlike Japanese erotic artwork) and stylistic, but give one the gist of what the author was trying to convey. Most of the pictures are in chapters five and six where they are most helpful, but a few are placed for aesthetic purposes in other chapters. There’s also a brief bibliography in the edition that I read.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who’s interested in the nexus of sex, culture, and yogic / ayurvedic thought.

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BOOK REVIEW: Perv by Jesse Bering

Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of UsPerv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us by Jesse Bering
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

“Perv” is an examination of human sexuality outside the norm. As one might expect from the back blurb mention of a woman who was aroused by the Eiffel Tower, the book provides many a revelatory “things-that-make-one-go-HUH?” moment. The author’s humor–and willingness to offer cringe-worthy personal confessions–makes the book all the more readable. (e.g. As an example of the author’s humor: “As an adolescent male, you’re basically an ambulant sperm factory with an incompetent foreman…”) The book is in the vein of Mary Roach’s “Bonk” (something about sexuality triggers the urge to go monosyllabic), but Bering carves out his niche in deviant territory, while Roach’s book provides a more balanced look at the subject (although both books exploit anomalies to make for interesting reading.)

There are two ways in which this book wasn’t the one I expected, one of which is entirely my fault for reading too much into some words in the book blurb while ignoring others. I think the author and/or publisher must take some responsibility for the other as the subtitle itself leads one to expect a different emphasis in the book beyond the first chapter. First, I expected more insight into why people engage in these behaviors. Are there explanations rooted in our evolution? Does a given act result from some cross-wiring in the brain? There’s a cursory mention of science in the book’s description which led me to expect it to go much further beyond a cataloging of anomalous sexual behavior. To be fair, the author does back load an interesting discussion on the role of theory of the mind into the last chapter and there is some of this discussion throughout. However, the book spends much more time on history and semantics than I expected. Semantics sounds boring, but there are some fascinating insights into how words came to be used, and how usages have changed over time. (Also, the reader may be surprised at the huge vocabulary of “-philias” [objects of love / attraction] that’s not unlike the more well-known one for “-phobias” [fears.])

The second way this wasn’t the book I expected was that—owing to the subtitle “the sexual deviant in all of us”—I expected much more discussion of widespread but unconventional sexual proclivities (e.g. exhibitionism, voyeurism, dominance / submission, role-play.) Instead, Bering spends a lot of time discussing rare fetishes for materials, animals, objects, etc, and also extremely high-profile (but also rare) proclivities such as pedophilia and vovarephilia (cannibalistic arousal.) One can see the appeal from the book selling perspective. Said emphasis provides a lot of WTF and giggle-inducing moments to keep up the reader’s interest. However, if you’re expecting drilling down into [no double entendre intended] why people engage in these activities, mostly you’ll get playful variants on “the heart wants what the heart wants” and not so much insight into whether there are unseen Darwinian mechanisms at work or whether there’s some synaptic cross-wiring. I doubt this is a conscious attempt to avoid dealing with the un-PC ramifications of finding some deviant behaviors to be explicable in terms of brains that are operating within expected parameters while others may only be explained in terms of something not working as usual. I doubt this because Bering seems quite willing to take the book in uncomfortable directions. I’m not certain that there’s not an unconscious bias away from considering the “why” questions because it risks putting one in the cross-hairs even if one reports in an objective and non-judgmental way. (Perhaps there’s a lack of scientific findings to report for the same reason.)

Still, while I didn’t get the book that I expected, there were some surprising bonuses to weigh into the mix. Bering provides interesting food-for-thought on a few topics. One of these is what he calls the “naturalistic fallacy,” which is the idea that whether an activity can be considered acceptable depends upon whether one sees it elsewhere in nature (i.e. besides humanity.) This has been used over the years to divide acceptable from unacceptable “perversions”—often by people who had little to no idea what activities are or aren’t seen across the animal kingdom. (We do, after all, see monkeys literally throwing their poop.) Another challenging area of consideration is whether society’s extreme distaste for pedophilia leads us to write laws that actually exacerbate child abuse and exploitation (e.g. completely CGI [computer generated imagery] pornographic material is illegal, and—according to the author—there is reason to believe that–were it not—exploitation of children would decline.)

The book consists of seven chapters. An introductory chapter sets up the idea of sexual deviance and its changing definitions. Chapter 2 is about the many ways in which people manage to overcome their instincts toward disgust in order to engage in sexual activities. Chapter 3 looks at various forms of hypersexuality (e.g. nymphomania) and the changing definitions over time—and the biases contained therein (i.e. it was once thought to be a condition only females could experience.) Chapter 4 considers various paraphilias—i.e. unconventional sources of arousal. Chapter 5 deals with the subjective experience of many of these sexual behaviors and how that brushes up against societal norms. Chapter 6 delves into the topic of age and attraction discussing pedophilia, hebephilia, ephebophilia, teleiophilia, and gerontophilia. Of these, the vast majority of people are teleiophilics (attracted to full-grown adults) with hebephilic and ephebophilic tendencies not being uncommon (i.e. attraction to pubescent or post-pubescent youths.) Much of the discussion is about pedophilia and the legal entanglement of pedophilia and ephebophilia. Chapter 7 delves into the science and psychology in a way that I wished the rest of the book had.

There are no graphics in the book. It does have both chapter end-notes and bibliographic notes (the former being more foot-note like elaborations and the latter being mostly sources.)

I found this book interesting. It was more historical and semantic (dealing in the terminology of deviant sexuality and its changing nature over time) and less scientific and psychological than I expected, but it was still loaded with interesting information and insights. I’d recommend this book with the provisos mentioned, i.e. that it might not be the book you expect and may deal much more in rare proclivities than one expects.

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POEM: The Mystifying Sex Life of Scootley-Wootleys

Scootley-Wootleys are not of this world.

They don’t come in 2 types–a boy and a girl.

There are 16 sexes, 64 ways to mate,

and 3,000 rules on who and whom may date.

Pop-too can’t date Wah-toh, and Wah-toh can’t date Plarks,

but Wah-toh can take Pop-too for Sunday in the park.

Blang-doos and Moracks can only date each other.

Unless a Plark and a Blang-doo have a common grandmother.

The Siskay and the For-noo can only date but once.

But that’s plenty enough, cause it takes the whole of 4 months.

Planning an orgy necessitates a complex algorithm,

plus: blocks, straps, and a composite pulley system.

Just keeping track of it all was making me witless,

til I struck on a policy of minding my own business.

The Puzzling Sexuality of India

India, land of the Kama Sutra, is prudish. America is known for being pretty puritanical–at least if you don’t compare it to Muslim countries. In the U.S., for some reason, we would rather a child see a human cleaved into eight individual pieces with a machete than to be witness to a nipple slip. Well, India censors the innuendo and sexual references  that sailed right past the FCC.

On the street, my wife and I can expect odd looks for holding hands and worse for a smooch. In the city, this rarely amounts to more than a sidelong glance, but we’re told in the countryside the people can be more vocal. (We’ll see, we’re planning our first trip into the countryside for next weekend.) On the other hand, young men routinely hold hands with other men, and the same is true of pairs of young women. Same-sex hand-holding is par for the course, but hand holders of the opposite sex are breaking mores. Some may say that the difference is same-sex hand holding isn’t sexually-charged, but I think it strains credulity to think both that different-sex hand holding is always inherently sexually charged and same-sex hand holding is never sexually charged.

Anyway, one would expect that a country that was so comfortable with same-sex public displays of affection (PDA) would have liberal views about homosexuality. No. Until 2009 homosexuality was a crime, and there is still rampant Ahmedinejad-style denial that homosexuality exists in this country. (Ahmedinejad is the Iranian president who– in an act of denial that was stunning, though in character–stated that homosexuality doesn’t exist in Iran.) To add another wrinkle, I’ve read that some men, who would be fighting-mad to be described as anything other than straight, routinely engage in behaviors that most would find indicative of homosexuality or bisexuality (we are talking well beyond hand holding or a kiss on the cheek here.)

There are a couple of reasons why young people who vehemently identify as straight might engage in sexual behaviors that are not. First, there are those who are homosexual and are either in the closet or in denial. One expects that there are many people who fit into this category in India because of the tremendous pressure to live a traditional family life–whatever else one may do on the side. In many countries, “denial” and “the closet” might cover the gamut of explanations for such anomalous behavior. However, in India there is a second reason that one might associate with places where men and women are strictly segregated over long periods of time (think a prison.) That is some of these the aforementioned people presumably are heterosexual, but have no sexual outlet because they don’t have any private interactions with people of the other sex who are not their blood relatives. So in an ironic twist, in society’s attempt to rigorously enforce and control a “traditional” paradigm of heterosexual familial units, more unions that do not fit that model are created than otherwise would be.

So you may be wondering whether I’ll be explicit about what I find “puzzling” about Indian sexuality. It’s a little puzzling that the culture that brought us the Kama Sutra and vast orgiastic bas reliefs on the temple at Khajuraho would have a problem with a couple hugging in the park or who choose for themselves with whom they are intimate. The overwhelming trend across most of the world is to become more tolerant of consenting adult’s freedom to exercise their sexuality as they see fit. Granted, there are certainly other examples where there has been a countervailing trend. Caligula’s Rome versus the Rome of today. Also, it should be noted that over a recent time span India seems to becoming more tolerant, and thus following the trend—if slowly.

Another thing I find puzzling is that by some measures the Indian approach seems to work. Following the incentives, I’d expect the Indian system of arranged marriage and limited premarriage intergender interaction to result in nothing but heartache. Indians will point out that their divorce rate is infinitesimally low. However, one then has to then consider other questions such as whether it results in more spousal murders, marriage related suicides, and vow-breaking. In other words, are there other means of marriage terminations that take place in a society that for all intents and purposes doesn’t allow divorce?

There is something particularly pernicious in Indian society called dowry murders. This is when a man and his mother set the man’s bride on fire so that they can erase the marriage and start all over in search of more bling. (That’s got to max out the bad karma.) Dowries were made illegal because of this, but both dowries and dowry murders continue. India does have a high suicide rate (though not as high as the US’s), but I have no idea whether any studies have been done to try to isolate the role of a bad marriage. I also can’t say whether there is evidence that “stepping out” on the marriage is higher in India. While there is plenty of evidence that this goes on, like anything related to sex, few Indians talk about it.

BOOK REVIEW: Story of O by Pauline Réage

Story of OStory of O by Pauline Réage

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page: See Here

I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey, but was surprised to hear that it began as Twilight fan fiction. From the descriptions that I’d seen, it seemed much more like a relatively softcore, commercial-fiction version of Story of O. I don’t whether the Story of O fits into this recent genre development called “mommy porn,” because the book predates that terminology.

In Story of O a successful fashion photographer named “O” is in love with a man whose tastes run to the extreme. Her lover, René, asks her to come into this lifestyle, and she willingly submits to his wishes. Submission involves some harsh tests of her willingness to endure.

I expect the initiated will point out that one major difference exists between the two works. 50 Shades seems to involve a monogamous relationship, whereas– in the Story of O— O is handed off from René to a more senior dominant for her “training.” O then begins to fall for her new master. Moreover, there is no monogamy in Story of O–whatsoever. (i.e. O is passed around like a doobie at a Greatful Dead concert.) I’m not saying they are the same books, just that they seem similar. They are both books about women who willingly surrendering to men with exotic (re: freaky) desires.

There also seems to be a difference in endings between the two story lines (vis-á-vis who walks), but I will not go into that.

Actually, one major fault of Story of O is that there is not a proper ending (completion of a narrative arc.) The version I have has a brief annotation that says the ending was suppressed. It goes on to give a description of two alternate versions of a similar ending. I suspect the drafts of those endings were lost to the ages because I have a copy of the 1973 edition (the book came out in the 50’s) and to my knowledge there is no subsequent edition.

Those who are freaked out by kinkiness will find Story of O hard to stomach. In terms of language, I’ve read that it’s calmer than 50 Shades…, but in terms of the actions carried out I suspect it runs a bit more toward the exotic. Another group that will find this book to not be their cup of tea are those who have strong feelings about women’s empowerment. If that’s you, you will likely find it hard to relate to a woman who has power in her life, but who willingly–nay, eagerly– relinquishes it. Moreover, O seems to thrive on being dominated. That is, she falls hardest for the man who will most forcefully enslave her.

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