"However, we have observed a rise in sales in non-urban areas as well."
The topic of sex for pleasure in India should be something that is discussed, especially when relating it to mental and emotional health.
However, it is not covered even though it is clear that it happens in the country.
The conversation around sexual wellness has been all about family planning. But this leaves those who want to have sex for pleasure uneducated when relating it to health.
Apart from having children, Indians do have sex for pleasure and there is evidence of it.
Following the release of Lust Stories on Netflix, there was a significant increase in the number of sex toys sold.
Balaji T Vijayan, the founder of Lovetreats, a sexual wellness platform noticed that all the vibrators on his website were sold out.
He said: “We hadn’t even seen this movie until we observed this trend and started discussing the reason behind it.”
Balaji referred to the scene in which Megha, played by Kiara Advani, uses a sex toy for pleasure after her husband fails to meet her sexual needs.
This was something that was rarely seen in Indian cinema but it was to address a topic of women’s sexual preferences and choices.
It may be a controversial one, but Lust Stories and Veere Di Wedding have highlighted that it is okay to cater to these natural physical needs.
Balaji believed that the products would sell in metro cities, but he said:
“However, we have observed a rise in sales in non-urban areas as well.”
Up to 35% of their sales came from smaller cities such as Latur, Belgaum and Salem.
India is the fifth most sexually active country in the world, but more people are turning to online products.
A survey found that Punjabi women topped the list in terms of the number of Indian women buying sex toys.
These findings reflect the changing Indian attitudes towards sex for pleasure and it is why more attention should be focused on it.
More than Contraceptives
The country is slowly becoming more aware of mental wellbeing. Famous actors are talking about depression and other conditions to educate people.
However, the subject of sexual health is more obscure as it is hardly discussed. This is due to it being considered a stigma in India.
Therefore, it is still about the physical check-ups and visits to the gynaecologist.
Vani Viswanathan, senior programme associate at Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health (TARSHI) said:
“When we began our work in the 90s, the conversation around sexual health was mostly around HIV, which was a big area of worry for health practitioners.
“Since then, sexual health has been spoken of in terms of HIV infection and STD prevention, access to contraceptives, infertility.”
Although there seems to some development in the awareness of sexual health, young, unmarried women are left behind.
As low as one per cent of young women have received information on sexual and reproductive health and rights. This information is from doctors, government campaigns or their mothers.
Fifty-three of these women felt unsure if the sexual health problems they faced were severe enough to see a gynaecologist.
Within Indian society, any conversation around a young woman’s sexuality is limited.
This has a huge impact on the way unmarried women view their sexual health. Around 13 women in India die every day due to unsafe abortions.
This is why sex for pleasure should be discussed more to help people in India understand and be aware of sexual health.
There is still a long way to go, especially as sex in post-independent India has not been about wellness.
Vani told The Hindu: “All in all, it’s fear-based messaging; you tie sex with something that can go wrong.”
She added that the process of solely disconnecting sex from procreation is ongoing.
“It’s relatively easier to talk about contraception if you call it ‘family planning’. Because that implies that it only concerns married people.”
Sex and Emotional Wellbeing
For the majority of humans, sex is one of the most basic needs, along with hunger and thirst, no matter how old you are.
There is a link between sex and emotional wellbeing. Studies have found that people who had frequent sex had lower blood pressure.
Sex acts as a stress-reliever because during orgasm, higher levels of blood flood the body and this takes pressure away from the brain. Therefore more people feel relaxed after sex.
The link can only be separated if you are asexual as psychologist Nupur Dhakephalkar explained.
“As long as you’re not asexual, and don’t lie on that part of the spectrum, you can’t separate sexual well-being and emotional well-being.”
Nupur, who is the founder of the Centre for Mental Health and Well-being in Pune spoke to several housewives.
She found that their depression was linked to the lack of sexual intimacy in their marriages. Sex as a means of pleasure can have a positive effect on health and should be discussed more.
Nupur said: “If you go one or two generations up, you can see that the power imbalances in the marriage reflect in the sexual relationship as well.
“One person, may not be able to communicate what they want, and it causes further disharmony.”
While masturbation is seen as an alternative to experience sexual pleasure, it is a stigma according to married women.
They often associate it with shame and the idea of not involving their partner in their pleasure seems selfish to them.
It may be a taboo subject but enjoying sexual pleasure has benefits to your emotional wellbeing. Speaking about it more often will educate people in India and possibly improve their emotional health.
Association with Pain and Guilt
There are cases where avoiding discussions about sexual wellness becomes a problem for sexual health.
Nupur said: “In women, there’s a condition called vaginismus, that causes involuntary contraction of the vaginal opening, causing pain during penetration.
“Research has shown that a major reason behind this is anxiety about sex.”
The lack of talk about sexual pleasure means that some women in India only associate it with intercourse. They are unaware of other methods of reaching climax.
This makes their anxiety worse when it comes to having sex.
Nupur added: “Women equate sex with penetration, and do not explore the other ways of reaching climax. Such and more misbeliefs worsen their anxiety.”
Sex and anxiety are also present in man as it is often associated with guilt, according to Nupur.
She referred to the ‘Dhat syndrome’ which is a condition found in some cultures within the Indian subcontinent.
It is a psycho-sexual disorder in which young men report that they suffer from premature ejaculation or impotence.
Some doctors believe that ‘Dhat syndrome’ is a culture-bound presentation of clinical depression.
The main treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy. Counselling, anti-anxiety and antidepressant medicine have also been used.
In religion, semen is seen as precious to the body and when discharged through masturbation, it is associated with feelings of anxiety.
Addressing this topic will help men understand this psycho-sexual disorder and the mental health issues that it can cause.
Vani said that sexuality has a wide spectrum which can comprise something superficial like what you like to wear, to more intimate things.
“Enjoying your sexuality doesn’t mean only being safe from abuse or infection.
“It also means enjoying and accepting who you are as a person and expressing that to the people you choose to do so.”
There is the view that British colonialism imposed its Victorian views on India which was once much more liberal about sex, since, the Kama Sutra originated from the country before the British.
Therefore, the re-kindling of dialogue once again about sex not being ‘dirty’ and acceptable for pleasure too can be seen a new kind of sexual revolution in the country.
By talking more about sex as a means of pleasure, people in India can become more aware of ways to prevent STIs.
Importantly, it also means that they can enjoy being intimate with their partner as it also has emotional and mental benefits.