The preservation of an adherent’s Dharma, Artha and Kama are an essential aspect of the sexual ethics of Hinduism, which assist adherents in obtaining “mastery over [their] senses,” and preventing adherents from becoming “slaves of [their] passions.” Such mastery and control will result in adherents obtaining ‘success in everything that [they] may do.’ Influenced by both Eastern and Western principles due to colonisation, adherents can find guidelines for sexual ethics in the Bhagavad Vita, the 10 Yamas, Kama Sutra, and Dharmashastras. Sexual ethics on marriage, premarital sexual relations and homosexuality vary depending on the gender of the adherent, however all revolve around the preservation of adherent’s Dharma, Artha and Kama.
Living in accordance with Hindu sexual ethics enables adherents to preserve their Dharma, defined as moral and religious law (virtue/religious merit). Regarded as the most important of the three, Hindu sexual ethics focuses on the preservation of behaviours that uphold moral law through the Dharma, which through rigid adherence, will lead adherents into Moksha. Known as a state of liberation from the cycle of life and death, such a state can be achieved when adherents have ‘regard to the customs of the people.’ Marriage within a Hindu society is regarded as the normal path an adherent takes, and is considered a permanent state that cannot be dissolved. Without marriage, and without offspring resulting from the marriage, adherents violate their dharma, thus preventing adherents from entering Moksha. Historically, sons have been perceived as more valuable than daughters as sons remain within the family, and sons are required to perform the funeral ceremonies of his parents, hereby ensuring the preservation of the adherents’ Dharma through the completion of a Hindu burial, while daughters are required to leave their parents’ home and live with her husband’s family. In addition, Marriage is also seen as a samskara, a reflection of the divine, and a ritual that serves as a rite of passage and indicate various stages of the human life. Most importantly, Marriage had three objectives, which included the promotion of religion, procreation, and the expression of sexual pleasure. Consequently, premarital sexual relations are considered immoral and violate Dharma as such sexual relations occur outside of a marital context, an ideal largely based on conservative Victorian ideals. Cautionary tales are often being told of ancient women who bore children when they were not married and faced incredible hardship, including watching their sons go to war against one another. Such acts are clearly prohibited under Yama 4, which teaches divine conduct that is defined as being celibate until marriage. In modern Hindu societies, premarital sex is still condemned, and many parents watch their children closely to prevent such acts from occuring. Moreover, homosexuality is generally considered immoral, and while the Dharmashastras understand homosexuality as a temporary solution, remedied by a heterosexual marriage, same sex relations inhibit an adherents’ ability to fulfil their duty to bear and raise children and as a result, adherents would violate their dharma. Homosexuality is clearly prohibited under Yama 4, which outlines that the only relationship acceptable in the eyes of Gods’ and deities is a heterosexual relationship. Thus the Hindu sexual ethics regarding marriage, premarital sexual relations and homosexuality assist and enable adherents to preserve their Dharma through regulation of behaviour that will lead to Moksha.
Similarly, a preservation of Artha, defined as the journey to materialistic advantage (materialistic wealth), is achieved through the observance of Hindu sexual ethics. Considered a higher priority than Kama, Hindu sexual ethics also focus on the importance of materialistic wealth and profit as a basic human necessity in order to sustain a moral life. Such values can be seen in a Hindu marriage, where a bride’s father will be expected to provide money and gifts to the groom’s family, known as a dowry, and will be expected to assume the financial burden of the wedding costs. While modern society considers the practice of dowry has commoditised married women, in ancient India, the dowry system provided an economic security for brides, in the event of ill treatment and abuse of the groom’s family, with the dowry being revoked and returned to the bride’s family in such an event. Arulmozhi Ramarajan has said that ‘the idea of equality was most forcibly expressed in the Rig Veda,’ which states that ‘the wife and husband, being the equal halves of one substance, are equal in every respect; therefore both should join and take equal parts in all work, religious and secular.’ However, in many modern Hindu marriages, an absurdly costly dowry is demanded of the bride’s family. Consequently, the perceived societal value of daughters in a Hindu society is associated with great financial burden, thus resulting in preferential treatment for sons in Hindu societies. Moreover, the reproductive purpose of marriage results in a preservation of Artha, as it is the ‘means of life’. Reproduction serves the preservation of Artha as adherents are fulfilling their purpose in life, which is to sustain the human race through the bearing and raising of children, who will go on to fulfil their purpose and thus continue the cycle. As reproduction is what results in the preservation of Artha, premarital sexual relations will not preserve Artha, as such relations are done purely for sensual gratification, and are done outside of a marital context, thus such relations are condemned. Similarly, homosexual relations cannot result in the fulfilment of an adherents’ reproductive purpose and thus will not preserve Artha. However, recent scientific advances have enabled same sex couple to reproduce using alternative methods, hereby enabling same sex couples to fulfil their Artha to an extend and reproduce. Thus the Hindu sexual ethics regarding marriage, premarital sexual relations and homosexuality result in a preservation of Artha, which in turn, will assist adherents to ‘obtain success in everything that [they] may do’.
Concurrently, Kama (pleasure/sensual gratification) is also preserved through the adherence to Hindu sexual ethics. Despite being the last of the three concepts to be considered, the preservation of sensual gratification through sexual relations is still a critical concept, as sexual desire is considered the basis of procreation. As a result, Kama is the basis of the continuation of existence. Attainment of Kama for males is required in the grhastha stage, also known as the household stage. In this stage, Hindus are expected to marry and start families. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, chastity is not remaining celibate, rather, remaining faithful to their spouse. Consequently, an adherent may have sexual relations with their spouse, and remain chaste. While sexual intercourse is intended for reproduction, the Kama Sutra outlines that contraception is acceptable during sexual intercourse, allowing and encouraging adherents to enjoy sex for intimate purpose. However, contraception, and sexual relations overall, are only acceptable in a marital context, as procreation outside of a marriage is condemned and cautionary tales are told of women who procreate outside of a marriage. Such limitations are in place to help ensure adherents do not become ‘slaves of [their] passions’, so that they may ‘obtains success in everything that [they] may do.’ Similarly, homosexual relations are condemned as procreation is not possible within homosexual relations, with the Kama Sutra painting homosexuality in a negative light. However, some adherents argue that the current resistance to homophobia has been adapted from British colonialism, and believe that strict distinction of the genders is does not occur in Hindu texts. This is further proven by the Hindu teachings of a third sex, a concept that is acknowledged and highly respected within Hindu society. Described as a natural mix of male and female natures, the third sex includes homosexual individuals. The Kama Sutra classifies a masculine gay male as part of the third sex, describing them as individuals ‘who like men but dissimulate the fact maintain a manly appearance and earn their living as barbers or masseurs’ Thus the Hindu sexual ethics regarding marriage, premarital sexual relations and homosexuality help ensure the preservation of Kama, which in turn will assist adherents in fulfilling one of the four human aims.
The importance of gender roles cannot be understated, being a fundamental aspect of Hindu sexual ethics, in guiding its adherents towards a state of Moksha through the preservation of Dharma, Artha and Kama. In doing so, adherents will obtain ‘mastery over [their] senses,’ no longer become ‘slaves of [their] passions’ and are free to ‘obtain success in everything that [they] may do’ Such guidance is prevalent in the teachings regarding marriage, premarital sexual relations and homosexuality.