“Eek-ed out” is how Surabhi Mehta (name changed) describes her first attempt at looking for a vibrator for herself. “It felt strangely pornographic, and sleazy. Not to add that it seemed to cater only to the cis male gaze.”
Uncomfortable, she gave up the quest almost immediately.
Mehta’s is the story of many others who have made and abandoned the same attempt—gender no bar—for reasons ranging from discomfort while browsing, to a lack of information, bad quality (often leading to health concerns), and a lack of choice.
For most brands working in the sexual wellness industry, sex-positive conversation is an easy barter for brand visibility, click baits, and meeting easy sales targets. So, we continue to be served the hush-hush, suggestive, often titillating, innuendo-filled images and ads that only further the hush-hush nature of sex. And we continue to be rained down by judgemental stares when we ask for something as ordinary as condoms, forget lubricants, at the chemist’s. Remember the trolling that Swara Bhaskar met with for using a vibrator in Veere Di Wedding? Or Kiara Advani in Lust Stories?
But the times they are a changin’, and not all brands are on board with this status quo. There is an increasing number of homegrown sexual wellness brands that are braving the real conversations about not just sex but also sexual wellbeing.
“As a bisexual male, sex toys were my answer to exploring my sexuality in a safe space,” says Aashish Mehrotra, the COO at Sangya Project, a sexual wellness brand that works to create destigmatised, trauma-informed, and kink-affirmative education, and offers products to cater for the same. The brand’s CEO, Tanisha R, reaffirms the belief. “Sangya Project was born out of frustration shared amongst us not just as queer folks but people seeking transparency in products and conversation about sex and its exploration.”
In fact, a lot of these brands are now aiming to shift the conversation from a straight male perspective to one that encompasses the needs of all genders and sexualities.
“But the buck doesn’t stop at that. We are also working to include disabled individuals in these conversations,” says Sachee Malhotra, the Founder of That Sassy Thing, who’s tagline reads ‘All for pleasure. Pleasure for all.’ The brand, in a series of masterclasses, is working to educate people on sex-ed basics, gender and sexuality, consent, and inclusivity, not to mention the open love that it has received for its vibrators.
Also working towards inclusivity, a leading conversation on Sangya Project’s Instagram and website is that on sexual wellness for those coping with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—and the brand began as a sex education platform before branching into producing (completely in India to boot!) and selling sex merchandise.
The reason? Quality control. For most of these brands, sexual wellness included an important dialogue on sexual health and the negative impact of the commercial brands of sexual wellness products, including contraceptives.
“Very few women recognise that the low lubrication offered in popularised condom brands can lead to irritation, uncomfortable sex, dryness, and infections because of their chemical residue,” says Komal Baldwa, the Founder of Bleü. Not to add the negative effect of flavours, both in condoms and lubricants.
Malhotra talks of a painful yeast infection caused by flavoured lube, which led her to create an all-natural, pH-balanced, aloe vera-based lube. Baldwa’s experience inspired her to create Bleü, the only brand in India to bring natural male latex condoms made with completely vegan materials, free from toxins, chemicals and carcinogens. “Women must have the choice of what they put in their bodies and not worry about the harmful effects of something so commonplace as condoms,” she adds. Bleü’s ergonomic design made to enhance female pleasure is only an added plus.
But the advocacy for quality and healthy solutions can be seen across all these brands—whether it is contraceptives, lubricants, or sex toys.
That, and understanding the importance of being discreet.
“When we began our research, we realised that the market was flooded with lude-looking products when the need in the Indian market was to marry pleasure with discreet and luxe products,” says Anushka Gupta, the co-founder of MyMuse, who aims to make intimacy easy, approachable, and fun for the modern Indian.
Sahil, her husband and co-founder, also points out the need for a distinction between the younger generation who is opening up to sex-positive conversation and the older generation who won’t. Aastha Vohra, the co-founder at Manzuri, another brand that is providing inclusive and pleasure positive sexual wellness, also emphasises the importance of discretion. For some brands like MyMuse and That Sassy Thing, discretion encompasses all of the products, packaging, and delivery. For others, it is limited to packaging and delivery, because kink-positivity is what they encourage.
As for Mehta, when she stumbled upon MyMuse on an Instagram ad, she found just what she had been seeking before she gave up. And she cannot stop raving about their massager enough. “Ten years of being sexually active and I did not know what an orgasm was. Now that I know, I don’t understand why we don’t talk about it enough. We must!”