"I was so embarrassed and he wasn’t even bothered!”
Dildos, vibrators, anal beads…how much do you know your sex toys, especially if you’re a British Asian woman?
Even speaking about sex toys in wider British society is still a taboo.
A 2017 survey of the British public found that 48% of the British public own one with 2,947,200 admitting to having a sex toy.
Yet, when was the last time you heard a mention of the word ‘vibrator’ on mainstream television or by a friend?
Plus, as with many taboo topics, it’s worth investigating how gender and ethnicity affect usage of sex toys.
Countries like India are opening up to the ideology and use of sex toys with states like Punjab having the most purchases by women according to Pornhub.
Bollywood films like Veere Di Wedding and Netflix’s Lust Stories both have scenes which involve solo female pleasure.
So, how different is it for British Asian Women from South Asian communities in the UK?
DESIblitz examines the relationship between British Asian women and sex toys and how it compares with wider UK society.
UK Revolution of Sex Toys
In recent years, it’s possible to argue that shopping for sex toys and other paraphernalia is less of an issue just by looking at the UK high street and a rise in UK websites selling such items.
There’s everything from UK websites like LoveHoney to stores like Ann Summers to the 2018 relaunch of Myla for shoppers. Britain appears far less prudish about getting your groceries and then popping to pick up another type of fruity item.
Even Poundland has previously surprised shoppers by selling bright pink bullet vibrators alongside their sweets and biscuits.
For British Asians with knowledge of the subcontinent, this can stand out in stark comparison to countries like India where the selling of any “obscene object” can be punishable by a fine and prison sentence.
Countries like Pakistan also are even seeing a secret growth in sex toys where it is illegal and a crime.
However, the acceptance of the use of sex toys in the UK is growing amongst British Asians too albeit secretly.
Meena, a 19-year-old student says:
“Owning a sex toy as an Asian girl is like having the biggest secret in the world. I can’t tell my Asian girlfriends but can tell my other mates easily. The taboo of it is too much hassle to deal with.”
Alima, a 21-year-old student says:
“When I went to Ann Summers with my two friends we went to look for lingerie. But I decided I wanted to try a sex toy. At the counter, I sure got some looks from other Asians compared to other women.”
Amardeep, who is 23 and an IT worker says:
“My girlfriend, who is Asian too, said she wanted to try a sex toy with me. At first, I was not sure. But then I eventually agreed and I can say it’s a lot of fun!
“It’s added pleasure for us we did not experience before.”
Neena, a 42-year-old administrator has held an Ann Summers party at her home and says:
“At first I was sceptical. Thinking what am I doing! But the evening was fun-filled with laughs and giggles! And us ladies had a great time with sex toys being the top item sold!”
Gender and Sex Toys
Nonetheless, let’s consider whether this extends to the home, particularly across the genders.
In the same 2017 study from the sex toy company, Mr & Mrs Toy, we see differing attitudes to sex toys according to gender.
One in three women disclosed that they owned one in comparison to only one in eight men.
Yet in a later study from Too Timid, 54% of 1000 women haven’t told their partners that they own a sex toy.
This raises the question if there’s still an intense shame attached to female sexuality across ethnicities.
This shame is undoubtedly apparent in South Asian communities. 29-year-old Hana who has been married for two years now, admits to only recently telling her husband about her quest for self-pleasure.
“We had a long distance relationship for a while before we were married. Even though we had sex before marriage and we’re really open, I was still a little afraid he’d judge me.”
“I only told him that I have a vibrator after a joke on the TV and he asked me. He didn’t get why I was so reluctant to tell him and I didn’t really either. I was so embarrassed and he wasn’t even bothered!”
“Maybe all guys aren’t like this, but my husband thought it was quite cute that I missed him so much.”
Indeed, even retailers acknowledge the stigma for women.
Ann Summers describe their approach of bringing female empowerment to their visual merchandising and store design in 1993. Thanks to their female-friendly ‘pink concept’ stores in Queensway, London, they saw a higher turnover of 50%.
However, it’s debatable whether making adult toys pink get to the heart of the issue for women, particularly British Asian women.
Who Needs Men?
Often our first associations of a sex toy tend to be dildos or vibrators, mostly for women.
Although, when there’s so much pressure on men to perform well in bed, perhaps this contributes to feelings of inadequacy.
Aarthi, aged 25, who is an accountant tells us:
“In conversations at university, a few of my guy housemates said they were a bit funny about their girlfriends using sex toys.”
“Their response was literally “why would she, when she has me?” They were saying stuff like why would their girlfriends need them then.”
“I thought it was obvious but I had to reassure them that an object couldn’t replace a person. It’s sometimes you’re in the mood and your partner’s not around.”
“Anyway, the problem is that some of them can’t be bothered to make sure you’re taken care of. As long as they get what they want!”
Regardless, 40-year-old Avnish highlights how women can find adult toys equally intimidating, explaining that when buying one:
“To be honest I am new to all that so just bought one of the simplest things from the range (I’m not into the idea of a giant dildo).”
So what causes this intimidation over a simple object for both genders and especially South Asian women in the Western world? The answer appears to lie in cultural attitudes.
The Double Stigma for British Asian Women
The use of sex toys for British women generally is clearly a complex issue thanks to the persistence of patriarchal ideas from the 20th century and earlier. However, British Asian women face even more complications when East meets West.
Ritu, aged 24, agrees that there’s a stigma in the British Asian community, pointing out: “sex is already a taboo for us as it is”.
Suha, aged 20, echoes this, steadfastly agreeing that “Asians aren’t open about sex at all”.
A 19-year old student, Muna thinks that all British Asian women face this stigma:
“I think that there’s a stigma for British women talking about masturbation and sex toys as openly as men.
“But there’s a huge difference for British Asian women.
“British people might be a little bit embarrassed talking about sex toys or if they get found. But if my parents ever, ever found one of mine, I can’t imagine their reaction.”
She reveals: “I sneakily bought one when I was on my own one time in town – in cash so it’s untraceable.”
“It’s annoying because I can’t have sex with anyone else but then I’m just as impure for using a sex toy.”
Kajol, aged 20, expresses similar ideas as she considers using sex toys to “not sleep around”.
In her early 20s, graduate Laila’s thoughts reflect this:
“I think our community can’t handle women as sexual beings. There’s still this idea that we’re meant to get married and have kids and that’s it.”
“My parents never talked to me about sex, never mind sex toys. They’re so frustrating.
“They know not to disturb my teenage brother because of course, he can do what he likes in there [his room]. But they walk into my room all the time without asking.
“It’s like there’s nothing down there, just a gap where my stomach ends and my legs begin.”
It’s apparent that if sex, in general, is still such a taboo for the British Asian community, there’s a long way to go till masturbation and adult toys become acceptable to discuss.
Although that doesn’t mean British Asian women are ignorant of how to secretly obtain them.
With a Click of a Button…
Online commerce has revolutionised the way we shop generally. However, in some ways, online shopping is perfect for buying something for the bedroom.
From specialised shops to eBay, there’s a whole range of options for you to buy online. In fact, now you can get subscription boxes for spicing up your sex life on the regular.
Electronic shopping offers many benefits. Popular online retailers address a range of concerns for British Asian women. For instance, for those who live at home may appreciate everything from discreet packaging to in-store collection.
Moreover, concerns like noise are taken into account when selling these products – minimising the chance of discovery, which could easily happen in a store with embarrassing consequences.
Deepika, a 22-year-old shop assistant at an adult-themed shop says:
“I remember some Asian girls came into our store and began to test vibrators. It was all fine until an aunt of one of the girls popped in to buy lingerie. The look on her face and the face of the girl was pretty priceless, to say the least!”
The sheer range of toys available can be intimidating, especially online. Therefore, to help, many websites selling sex toys provide videos with reviews of products to make your buying process easier.
With increased access to information online and real reviews from other buyers too, British Asian women can inform themselves of what to look out for.
Ayesha, a 22-year-old student says:
“Discretion is very important for me. So, buying a sex toy online is the only way and the reviews help a lot to choose. I have to get it delivered to a non-Asian mate’s house too, for extra security and avoid getting caught.”
It is crucial to look out for reputable internet vendors and the material in products. After all, there’s not the same regulation on the chemicals in adult toys.
Of course, there are benefits to browsing in a store. Avnish comments on her previous purchase of a sex toy “from Shhhh! in Pitfield St”, citing how it’s “women-focused and has really nice staff.”
It’s evident that this gives the chance to ask for expert advice or the chance to see products in person.
Nevertheless, as the availability of information online emboldens women to take control of their own sexuality, the internet may not only be the place to supply adult toys, but also help increase demand for adult toys too.
The Virtual Key to Ending Stigma?
It’s difficult to ascertain how to reduce the stigma around sex toys. Though perhaps the internet is an easy way to encourage a more positive outlook for women taking ownership over their bodies.
Sexual lifestyle company, Unbound sets out to create a space for “fun, inclusive conversations around sex”.
Through the aforementioned quarterly box, online shop and Unbound magazine, it helps its ‘Unbound Babes’ to unwind.
An online quiz to ‘Find Your Perfect Vibrator’ can reassure newcomers to the world of sexual pleasure. While more ‘sexperts’ can have fun discovering the curated subscription boxes and thematic sets.
There are even sex toy wearables if you fancy. Most would never think to combine jewellery and sex toys but Unbound definitely think out of the box.
This is one example of how creative thinking by companies can address the needs of women, including British Asian women.
In comparison to other forms of media like television, which even have to be coy about other aspects of women’s lives like periods, the internet has fewer restrictions.
Thanks to fewer limitations, it can normalise scrolling past a sex-positive Instagram account over your morning cereal.
In fact, it could help incite change in the attitudes of all genders.
It Takes Two
While companies like Unbound address the dilemma of women taking control of their own sexuality, what about couples?
The use of sex toys reportedly helps spice up the sex life of many according to Kiran, a 34-year-old accounts manager:
“I was a virgin until 19 and bought a vibrator before I met my boyfriend. Now I’m definitely more experienced and it’s fun experimenting together. After I heard a friend, who’s a lesbian, talk about using toys quite regularly, we started with her advice.”
Suha talks buying an adult toy to experimenting with a partner as well. Though Kiran comments:
“It’s about setting your limits and communicating. I’m not a fan of anything to do with anal so we never buy toys for that. He’s a different story and some places have whole sections for men and couples.”
Rather than men feeling jealous of their girlfriend’s helping hand, they can embrace the range of options.
Kamal and Akeel, a couple in their 30s say:
“We would not really go to a store like Ann Summers in case someone sees us from family or relatives. But we definitely order sex toys online and have found them a great addition to our sex life.”
On the market is a range of other products for couples to have fun, whether your relationship is just blossoming or years of commitment.
In combatting the only image of sex toys as an option for lonely or unsatisfied women, men may feel less insecure. This would surely help reduce the stigma for women as they could open up without fear of hurting their partner’s feelings.
Age is But a Number
It’s easy to neglect the differing attitudes between older and younger generations when it comes to sex toys.
Mr & Mrs Toy’s 2017 survey helps disproves some assumptions of the older generation’s thoughts on adult toys.
It found that respondents from ages 45 to 54 years old had the most sex toys. 8% of this group actually owned five or more toys.
Indeed 49-year-old and mother-of-two Kamaljot shares her story:
“I wasn’t that interested in sex after my second child and I think out of desperation my husband bought me a vibrator. Not for the both of us, but just for me.”
“I was upset at first but realised that he was trying to help in his own way so I gave it a go. It wasn’t a magic switch – I still had two kids to look after! But gradually I started feeling more comfortable with myself after a difficult pregnancy.”
“I don’t use it as much now as I prefer the intimacy of my husband. Sometimes, we use it as a couple and I recommended it once to a friend with similar problems.”
“She looked at me like I was mad! But we had a little chat and she never talked about it again apart from to say thank you a few months later. I’d never talk about it anyone else though.”
Naturally, reducing the stigma for older generations has an effect for the younger generation to inherit less shame around sex and sexuality.
But we can’t underestimate the fact that the older generation can actively be a key source of information. After all, it is this generation that gives the ‘sex talk’ to their younger counterparts.
Sex education could be more than the biology of sexual relationships, but normalising key topics like sexual health and female sexuality.
Let’s Talk About Sex (Toys)
As with many aspects of life and relationships, communication is key, especially when it comes to sex.
With so many sex toys available on the market from the Crescendo (developed by an Indian designer) to many other sex toys in all shapes, sizes and colours, it can be a challenge to find the right one.
This should provide an opportunity for individuals and couples to explore what could provide another aspect of pleasure not experienced before.
Plenty of British Asian women want to buy toys, as Ritu enthuses:
“A girl’s got to please herself here and there”.
Yet, in spite of wanting to buy an adult toy, she hasn’t had the chance. After all, not minding the idea of sex toys is one thing. However, going about buying and talking about some is another thing!
Avnish reflects that:
“Apart from one trip to a sex shop with friends when I was at university, I can’t remember ever sharing conversations.”
Therefore, it’s normalising these conversations about adult toys that can make a real difference.
24-year-old, Davina’s experience demonstrates this:
“I’m lucky to have a group of friends that I’m incredibly close to and we can talk about these things. It’s after casual conversations about masturbation and toys that I went away and bought a small bullet vibrator for myself.”
“I’ve done long-distance or not dated for long periods. I actually suffer from insomnia and all the good hormones help me relax and go to sleep.”
“I think toys are a lot more acceptable with the younger generations, just not talked about too much. It’s the older generations of women, who have no clue. As the eldest, I had to give a lot of sex education to my younger siblings and at times, my mum!”
“It sometimes makes me feel sad that there are so many barriers for South Asian women as it’s a natural healthy thing and fun too.”
It’s obvious that sex toys are still a significant taboo for British Asian women. However, British Asian women from all ages do admit to buying, using, and hiding them.
It emerges that there’s still a culture of shame and secrecy. This persists in spite of the positive effect sex toys can have on female sexuality and connecting with your body.
Positive changes are occurring with both online and physical spaces selling not only sex toys but a safe and welcoming experience.
Above all, it’s open and honest discussions on taboo topics like sex toys that will help British Asian women and their partners to explore the possibilities of better sexual pleasure.