In yoga, there is the tree, the cobra, and the crow. In ballet, there is first, second, third, fourth, and fifth. In sex, there is missionary, doggy-style, woman-on-top, and well, some more basic positions and an infinite number of variations. While every movement in ballet is highly structured, love-making is pretty much free-form. We like to think that the dance of love is only restricted by the limits of the imagination. But such freedom is a relatively modern luxury.
When it comes to the ways in which men and women join hips in the naked shuffle, protean lovemaking has been long in coming (no pun intended). Our evolutionary ancestors mated more canum (as dogs do). But as our stooped predecessors straightened up, a new skeletal structure allowed for face-to-face sex. The intimacy (eye-contact, kissing, etc) that face-to-face sex affords and the separation of sex from procreation is part of what makes us uniquely human.
Though human beings have outgrown, by 7 million years or so, the confines of the "two-backed beast", they have since been frozen into other positions. But not necessarily for reasons of anatomy. There were teachers when the Church was very young who held certain ideas about how men and women should join in bed. It is possible that St. Paul, who claimed that a woman should be subordinate to a man during sex, and St. Augustine (354-430), who believed that others positions were a sin against nature, were primarily responsible for this. St. Augustine, for one, lived a significant battle between celibacy and the fires of sexual desires. Of his lover of 13 years, he says, "and so I muddied the clear spring of friendship with the dirt of physical desire and clouded over its brightness with the dark hell of lust." Evidently, this guy wasn't what we today would call comfortable with his sexuality. But St. Augustine's sex-life influenced that of thousands. Christian missionaries taught that sex should be performed face-to-face, with the man on top of the woman with his legs in between hers. Any other position, claimed the missionaries, was unnatural. (1) Today, we know this tried and true classic as the missionary position.
In the West, during medieval times, messing with the natural order of things was a major concern. Having sex from the behind (doggy style) had (and obviously still has) animal connotations. And acting animal-like was definitely considered a perversity. But these ideas were not universal. The Kama Sutra (an Indian 'sex manual' written by Vatsyayana 2,000 years ago) associates most rear-entry positions with animals (the cat, the dog, the elephant, the ass, the deer), but although the lover explicitly loses "all human nature", there are no negative undertones:
If the lady, eager for love,
goes on all fours, humping her back like a doe,
and you enjoy her from behind,
rutting as though you'd lost all human nature,
it is "Hirana" (the Deer). (2)
To those living in the West in Medieval times, oral and anal sex were also considered acts against nature since one can't conceive children this way. The only clear motive for engaging in such sexy activity is (and was) good ol' sexual gratification. Not exactly a legitimate cause. Once again, Vatsyayana didn't see any problems here. In fact, here he gives detailed instructions for satisfying a woman in one of many ways:
Now spread, indeed cleave asunder,
That archway with your nose and let your tongue
Gently probe her "yoni" (vagina),
With your nose, lips and chin slowly circling
It becomes "Jihva-bhramanaka" (The Circling Tongue). (3)
While the Kama Sutra goes into the minutest detail to describe many obvious and some not so obvious positions, one famous 13th Century book called De Secretis Mulierum (The Secrets of Women) suggests that kids conceived from certain 'unnatural positions' might have birth defects. In fact, there were some harsh punishments suggested (by the church) for those who dared to be wild in bed: three years penance for woman on top, oral sex, and sex from the rear. (4)
Things didn't get much better in ensuing centuries. One Victorian sex manual instructs: "ladies, don't move". (5) In contrast, the Kama Sutra endorses a little more action from the female:
If long lovemaking exhausts you
before your lover has reached her orgasm,
you should allow her
to roll you over your back
and sit astride you, taking initiative. (7)
India wasn't the only country whose citizens didn't necessarily regard sex as a fearsome monster cloaked in mystery and embellished with suffering. In China, the ancients chose artful names for different positions: The Galloping Horse, Swallows in Love, Silkworm Spinning a Cocoon, Butterflies in Flight. These poetic names suggest that the Chinese saw beauty and art in the different ways humans would entangle themselves in passion. (7)
Historically, the West has had a certain amount of trouble finding beauty in sexuality. In fact, we associate sex with things 'dirty' and forbidden. And now we react against the roles that have been set up by our ancestors. For example, the missionary position has gotten a bum rap. It is often considered a cop-out for modern-day women since it is not adventurous or assertive enough. Whether one is confined to the missionary position because of what society says or rejects it because of what society says--one is equally enslaved. The missionary position has lots to offer and infinite variety doesn't mean infinite enjoyment. But with thousands of positions out there, it might be a shame to never venture further. In this series we are going to learn all about the physical dynamics,the psychological and emotional impact and the experience of our visitors with major sexual positions. And we are going to offer up some creative poses that almost anyone can do. The following might seem a little daunting to most:
She lies on her front,
grasping her ankles in her own hands
and pulling them up behind her:
this difficult posture is known to experts
as "Mallaka" (the Wrestler).
Though they say that "east is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet", this Sex-Files series will attempt to fuse the two poles...in bed.