The conversation around sexual wellness in India

In the months following the release of Lust Stories on Netflix last year, Balaji TV, founder of Lovetreats, a sexual wellness platform, noticed a strange phenomenon. All the vibrators on his website were sold out.

“We hadn’t even seen this movie, until we observed this trend and started discussing the reason behind it,” he says, referring to the scene in which Kiara Advani, playing Megha, orgasms with the help of a toy, after her husband fails to meet her needs — an idea rarely heard of in Indian cinema. Balaji believed that the products would sell in the metro cities. “However, we have observed a rise in sales in non-urban areas as well.” Upto 35% of their sales comes from places such as Latur, Bathinda, Belgaum, Satara, Hubli, Salem and Thrissur.

More than contraceptives

While the country is slowly waking up to the concept of mental well-being, with prominent actors talking about depression and other conditions, sexual health — if discussed at all — is still about visits to the gynaecologist and physical check-ups.

“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…” says Vani Viswanathan, senior programme associate at TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health), a Delhi-based NGO.

No shame in it  Lack of communication about your needs will only lead to anxiety; (below) still from Lust Stories

No shame in it Lack of communication about your needs will only lead to anxiety; (below) still from Lust Stories


While we still have a long road to cover in those terms, along the way, sex in post-independent India has not been about wellness’. “All in all, it’s fear-based messaging; you tie sex with something that can go wrong,” says Vani. Moreover, we are still trying to dissociate sex from procreation. “It’s relatively easier to talk about contraception if you call it ‘family planning’. Because that implies that it only concerns married people,” she says.

Link to emotional well-being

“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,” says psychologist Nupur Dhakephalkar, founder of Pune-based Center for Mental Health and Well-being. For a majority of human beings, sex is one of the most basic needs, along with hunger and thirst — whether they are 20 or 70.

In her clinical experience, Nupur has spoken to several women, mostly housewives, whose depression could be traced to the lack of sexual intimacy in their marriages. “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,” says Nupur. Often, married women associate masturbation with shame; the idea of not having involved their partners in their pleasure seems selfish to them, according to her.

Pain and guilt associations

And then there are cases where avoidance of sexual wellness becomes a problem for sexual health. “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,” she says, “Women equate sex with penetration, and do not explore the other ways of reaching climax. Such and more misbeliefs worsen their anxiety.”

Even with men, she adds, masturbation is often associated with guilt, referring to the ‘Dhat syndrome’, particular to the Indian subcontinent. It is a psycho-sexual disorder that results in physical and mental distress due to semen loss during masturbation, as the semen is seen as precious to the body,” she explains.

The umbrella of sexuality can comprise something as superficial as what you like to wear, to something as intimate as the positions you enjoy in bed. Says Vani, “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.”

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Printable version | May 20, 2022 3:10:07 pm |