Penis sizes, ancient India's Viagra and more in Wendy Doniger's The Mare's Trap

FP Editors August 13, 2015 14:11:28 IST
Penis sizes, ancient India's Viagra and more in Wendy Doniger's The Mare's Trap

Editor's note: Wendy Doniger, author of The Hindus and the pin-up favourite of Hindutva trolls, is back. In The Mare’s Trap, Doniger writes about Kamasutra, analysing different facets of the ancient text and showing how it is much more than a list of improbable sexual positions. From alternatives to Viagra to the question of why there’s such an overwhelmingly zoological aura to sex in Kamasutra, sex is a complicated but pleasurable affair in Vatsyayana’s masterpiece. This excerpt from The Mare’s Trap tells us how much size mattered in ancient India.  

 

We have noted the ways in which the Kamasutra veers between attitudes that strike the contemporary reader as reasonable and others that seem to find no parallels in the modern world. One link between ancient India and the contemporary world is male anxiety about penis size, which remains a prevalent obsession on the Internet. And here again, as in so many of the other apparent parallels, we veer back and forth between conceptions of what is perceived as part of nature or part of culture.

SIZE MATTERS

The passage describing genital size, and its significance, is placed at a critical moment at the very start of the part of the Kamasutra describing the sexual act:

The man is called a ‘hare’, ‘bull’, or ‘stallion’, according to the size of his sexual organ; a woman, however, is called a ‘doe’, ‘mare’, or ‘elephant cow’. And so there are three equal couplings, between sexual partners of similar size, and six unequal ones, between sexual partners of dissimilar size.

Clearly the six paradigmatic animals are chosen for their size, and they do not match: a hare is smaller than a doe, a bull smaller than a mare, and a stallion smaller than elephant cow. (The elephant cow, the biggest, is the only animal to survive as a classificatory type in the much later Kokashastra, which speaks of four types of women: Lotus Woman [Padmini], Art Woman [Chitrini], Conch Woman [Shankhini], and Elephant Woman [Hastini]).

When the Kamasutra describes the possible positions, it uses these animal types as its basic referents for size. When the man is larger than the woman, the problem is relatively easily solved:

At the moment of passion, in a coupling where the man is larger than the woman, a ‘doe’ positions herself in such a way as to stretch herself open inside. A ‘doe’ generally has three positions to choose from: the ‘wide open’, the ‘yawning’, or the ‘Junoesque’.

In addition, a ‘doe’ may use drugs to expand herself: ‘An ointment made of powdered white lotus, blue lotus, “morningstar” tree blossoms, rose dammar blossoms, and marjoram makes a “doe” open wide.’

But the ‘doe’ is the favoured woman, the ideal erotic partner; it is in other couplings, when the man is smaller than the woman, that male anxiety about phallic size raises its head, and the problems are not so easily resolved. The initial passage defining the three sizes continues: ‘The equal couplings are the best, the one when the man is much larger or much smaller than the woman are the worst, and the rest are intermediate. Even in the medium ones, it is better for the man to be larger than the woman.’ Thus, there are two different, conflicting agendas set forth from the start: ideally, ‘equal is best’, but in fact the man has to be bigger, because women are by nature bigger: the biggest woman (‘elephant cow’) is much bigger than the biggest man (the ‘stallion’).

[big-image title="The Mare's Trap. Reuters" src="http://www.firstpost.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Book-excerpt-The-Mares-Trap_reuters.jpg" ]

The text gives only relative, not absolute, sizes, but the commentary spells it out:

The size of the penis is divided into the three categories of ‘hare’ and so forth, according to the length, in graduated order: six, nine, and twelve [fingers]. Its circumference should measure equal to its length. But some say, ‘There is no fixed rule about the circumference.’

The commentator is probably using the measurement of ‘fingers’, approximately ¾ of an inch each. The lengths therefore would be 4 ½", 6 ¾", and 9". Sir Richard Burton estimated lengths of 3", 4 ½", and 6", the latter ‘of African or Negro dimensions’. (We will simply note, in passing, the racist and Orientalist aspects of penis envy.) And that is why a man prefers a ‘doe’ to a ‘mare’ (let alone an ‘elephant cow’).

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And if the positions do not solve the problem, one can always resort to sex tools, drugs, and, in final desperation, surgery. The Kamasutra helpfully remarks, ‘If you are unable to pleasure a woman of fierce sexual energy, have recourse to devices,’and provides an extensive collection of methods to increase and enhance the size of the penis, a combination of dildos, drugs and surgical procedures. We have noted the use of sex tools between women in the harem; they are also useful in heterosexual encounters. When the man is smaller than the woman, Vatsyayana drily comments, ‘Sex tools may also be used.’(The commentator clarifies, ‘If he is larger than she is, there is no need for sex tools.’)

The ‘elephant cow’ may use drugs to contract: ‘An ointment made of the white flowers of the “cuckoo’s-eye” caper bush makes an “elephant-cow” contract tightly for one night.’ But drugs may have more extensive sexual powers:

If you make a powder by pulverizing leaves scattered by the wind, garlands left over from corpses, and peacocks’ bones, or pulverize a female ‘circle-maker’ buzzard that died a natural death, and mix the powder with honey and gooseberry, it puts someone in your power. If you mix the same powder with monkey shit and scatter the mixture over a virgin, she will not be given to another man.

Or:

If you coat your penis with an ointment made with powdered white thorn-apple, black pepper, and long pepper, mixed with honey, you put your sexual partner in your power. If you pulverize a female ‘circle-maker’ buzzard that died a natural death, and mix the powder with honey and gooseberry; or if you cut the knotty roots of the milkwort and milk-hedge plants into pieces, coat them with a powder of red arsenic and sulfur, dry and pulverize the mixture seven times, mix it with honey, and spread it on your penis, you put your sexual partner in your power.

And so on. The commentator’s comment on this (‘Do this in such a way that the woman you want does not realize, “A man with something spread on his penis is making love to me”’) has inspired at least one reader to remark, ‘Any woman who would let you make love to her with all that stuff smeared on you would have to be madly in love with you already.’

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Vatsyayana almost certainly inherited from his predecessors, as well as from the broader ancient Indian tradition, the animals, the mares and hares, as well as the male anxiety and the positional nomenclature as a whole. But the Kamasutra’s claim to fame is precisely its boast that it has found ways—positions, tools, drugs—to deal with the mind as well as the body, to satisfy women not only of any size but of any degree of desire. (There is an American expression for this approach: it is not the size of the wand, but its magic.) Vatsyayana’s words do not seem to reflect male anxiety at all; the women are depicted not as enormous monsters but as pliant and manipulatable sources of great pleasure.

And this is because the book insists that the sexuality of animals is different from that of humans. Despite its recurrent zoological terminology, the Kamasutra argues that people are not animals, and that human men and women have resources that animals lack. The very passages in which people are advised, for the sake of variety, to imitate the sexual behaviour of animals, or women are told to imitate the cries of animals, imply that such behaviour is therefore, by definition, different from ours. Vivé la différence: because we are not animals, we can use culture, more precisely the technique of the Kamasutra.

Excerpted with permission from The Mare’s Trap, Wendy Doniger, Rs 399, Speaking Tiger .

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