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The Sunny side of India's sexuality

Sunny Side of India's sexuality
Dutch documentary maker Sunny Bergman went to India to learn about sex. For her series Sunny side of sex, she visited the Bauls of Bengal, mystic minstrels who integrate sex in their spiritual lives.

The film-maker travelled the world to find good-news stories about sexuality for her Dutch TV series. She set out to find cultures with a positive take on sex she could learn from.

In Uganda she visited a traditional sex teacher who gave her hip-swivelling lessons and taught her how best to croon sexy encouragement in her lover’s ear. She heard how for sensual Cubans, sex is as much an everyday necessity as food. And in India, with yoga teacher Smriti she learnt breathing techniques to help her reach intense, multiple orgasms.

“The Kama Sutra is India’s best known export,” sex writer Sandhya Mulchandani told Sunny Bergman on the Indian leg of her series. Yet the book’s second-century take on sex contrasts starkly with modern Indian attitudes.

In India today there’s a lack of sex education, says yoga teacher Smriti, and an uptight attitude to sex has replaced the Kama Sutra’s celebration of sexuality as divine. “In the country of the Kama Sutra, there is not a good sexual culture,” her Italian partner sums up.

Heathen practices
It was the British with their Victorian morality who put a damper on the traditional Indian view of sexuality, Kama Sutra expert Sandhya Mulchani explains. The colonisers were horrified at the explicit images of spiritual sexuality in Hindu temples, and did their best to stamp out what they saw as heathen practices.

Only now is India beginning to explore a new morality, says Mulchandani. “We’re relearning all about sexuality all over again – which is a bit ironic considering we taught the world what sexuality is all about.”

Religion and sex
Today, the best people to teach you about ancient tantric practices are the Bauls of Bengal, says series researcher Tamara Vuurman. “They have a very traditional, ancient way of living that’s closer to the ancient Kama Sutra teachings than the rest of India,”

“They live together singing and practicing yoga,” Vuurman says. Renowned as singers and musicians, their songs hold hidden meanings that teach about sexuality. “And for them sexuality is also very important in their religion – which was interesting for us because in the West obviously religion and sex don’t always go together.”

Sex yoga
Sunny quickly found that a visit to a Baul guru wouldn’t provide a quick fix for her sex life. As a disciple you have to go through years of training, the Bauls told her. And though she found a guru willing introduce her to the first principles of sex yoga, the Bauls saw it as disrespectful just to ask him about sex techniques.

“In the West we perhaps feel drawn to tantric practices because we hope to give our sex lives a quick impulse,” Sunny says. “But for the Bauls, it’s the other way round. The whole of life is a spiritual exercise, with enlightenment as its goal, the highest form of consciousness. Sex also serves this purpose.”

Sexual freedom
While making the programme, Sunny Bergman found that the sexual attitudes of modern India clashed with her own experiences of teenage casual sex in the Netherlands. But here too, she felt there was something she could learn. Even laced with Victorian prudishness, sexuality in India perhaps has a deeper meaning than it does in the West.

“Although I’m glad I wasn’t expected to stay a virgin till I was married, perhaps the unbridled sexual freedom in my culture isn’t only positive,” she says, “because freedom without content can also be empty.”

Is India still sensual, or just uptight? What do you think?