How the West Reduced ‘The Kama Sutra’ to Sex

The ancient Indian manuscript has long been a guide to love — and life.

Sadaf Ahsan

December 19, 2022

How the West Reduced ‘The Kama Sutra’ to Sex
A Mughal lady (possibly Farzana Begum) Mughal, c.1730–50 (portrait c.1650) (Royal Collection)

In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, as he tries to woo his friend Sheldon’s hot sister, Missy, Raj (Kunal Nayyar) clumsily asks her if she’s ever heard of The Kama Sutra. She responds, “The sex book?” In return, he purrs, “The Indian sex book. In other words, if you ever wondered who wrote the book of love… It was us.” Groan. 

That’s probably not the first time you’ve heard The Kama Sutra serve as a salacious punchline. Composed in Sanskrit sometime around the third century, The Kama Sutra is one of the most widely circulated ancient Indian texts in the world. Over the years, largely due to the British, it’s become reduced to an encyclopedia of sex and, specifically, sex positions. But The Kama Sutra was never a guide for just sex — it’s also about love and the art of living.