It’s hard to believe but true that up until the recent boom in sex toy sales in India, the idea that self-pleasure might not only be important but also implicit to Indian women was inconceivable. Wellness brands have only just begun replacing “blue gel” in sanitary napkin ads with red liquid. And maybe it’s been less than three or four years that young urban girls and women have started saying the word ‘period’ in front of male members of the family. It wasn’t until a popular media content company in Mumbai adopted the FOP leave policy AKA the First day Of Period leave that more employers around the country looked into menstrual leave.
Amid this surge of interest and awareness around the female agency and autonomy, the whispered conversations of self-pleasure started becoming written posts, videos, vlogs and sex product brands. This revolution hasn’t been sudden. But why does it feel that way? What happened?
The pandemic happened. Statistics from 2020 point to a 95% rise in porn viewing in India during the first 3-week lockdown. Even as telecom providers rushed to block most adult porn websites, its mirror domains kept popping up. Nobody was surprised with this. If the world was ending, you might as well go have a good time.
While the 2020 report didn’t particularly delve into the viewership of women in the meteoric rise in porn viewership in India, PornHub’s 2017 statistics give us reason to strongly consider that women were a large percentage of porn viewers. The 2017 report states that Indian female porn viewers had gone up by 129% in 2017.
As the lockdown transitioned into a prolonged period of staying at home and intimacy permanently changed while we dealt with a different world, female pleasure became a larger topic of conversation. From influencers and gynecologists to self-pleasure advocacy groups on Instagram, female orgasms, anatomy education and self-pleasure took over many virtual spaces.
Perhaps it was the safety of being at home and the perceived anonymity of the internet that helped women come forward and talk about their experiences in self-pleasure. Either way, virtual
safe spaces discussed the importance of female self-pleasure and how intimately it is tied to identity, self-love, playfulness and the basic curiosity to explore life.
None of this is news, of course. Non-Indian channels have been discussing female pleasure for far longer than Indian resources have. But the refreshing take young women brought forward on condoms, vibrators, lubricants, different types of sex toys, helped normalize talking about female pleasure in many portions of the internet.
Pop culture, naturally, wasn’t left behind. (Although Bollywood was the last to catch up to somewhat realistic ideas of female pleasure.) From Lust Stories to Veere di Wedding, showing women using vibrators was a step in the right direction, even if the exaggerated orgasm faces were far from accurate for regular women.
Naturally, women are more curious about their bodies (at least, vocally) today than possibly ever before in India? According to a survey, the overall number of users searching for sex toys in India between 2018 and 2019 increased substantially, with a 49.13% growth in searches made by women. According to this survey, women in India are looking for not just vibrators but a variety of vibrators. Not only this, the survey shows that women are willing to spend good money on these products ranging from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 25,000 per product. This helps us understand that self-pleasure is more than an indulgence for Indian women. It’s an investment.
It’s time we pay attention to this investment and rapidly increase the space we hold for female self-pleasure in both public and private spaces. Whether we openly discuss it or not, female pleasure cannot be ignored. As more and more young women gain access to safe and guided sex education, the more they learn that self-pleasure is neither something to ignore nor be afraid of. The right to self-pleasure is so playful an idea that it’s easy to ignore the tenacity behind it. Women in India are slowly learning that they don’t owe an explanation for their sexual playfulness to anyone.