Pallavi Barnwal, the sexuality expressionist who unravels the secrets of the Kamasutra

In her workshops she unravels the secrets of the Kamasutra and other ancient texts.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

On a cool late-February afternoon, in a roomy hall at an OYO Townhouse in South Delhi, a dozen men and women between 20 and 60 sit comfortably around candle-lit tables, sipping iced tea, as soft music plays in the background. After a round of introductions and some meditation, they are asked to write down ‘a naked truth’, or a secret confession, anonymously on a piece of paper. The notes are exchanged and read aloud. What follows is a freewheeling, no-holds-barred discussion on sexual desire and freedom.

This is ‘Tongue Tied’, an intense three-hour workshop conducted by 35-year-old Pallavi Barnwal, who likes to call herself a ‘sexuality expressionist’. In her sessions, Barnwal talks of sexual intimacy, seduction, the role of storytelling in lovemaking, food and its relation to sex, erogenous zones, erotic jewellery, and unravels the secrets of the Kamasutra and other ancient texts.

“Through ‘Tongue Tied’, I want people to reconnect with sexuality. Can we feel happy talking about our own sexuality without feeling judged or undermined? Can we change the perception of sex from instant gratification to a sophisticated experience,” asks Barnwal.

A middle-aged trader at the workshop says ‘Tongue Tied’ sounded like a “new, bold concept” that got him very curious. In fact ‘bold and brave’ is how people often describe Barnwal even though they are often confused about what exactly she does. Tall and lithe, with long black hair tumbling down her back and a gentle voice, Barnal says she has one mission: to shake up the rigid sexual norms of Indian society.

But getting people, and especially women, to talk openly about sex is a huge challenge in India, she says, where social and cultural norms deter people from talking about something as natural as human desire.

Pallavi Barnwal at a session in New Delhi

Pallavi Barnwal at a session in New Delhi   | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

Sexual freedom

Barnwal has no reservations about wearing her profession on her sleeve, as she negotiates her own sexual freedom and helps others to do so. Her work is radically different from her previous job as an operations manager with a corporate firm in Delhi. After a short stint as a love and sex counsellor with a private company, she knew her calling lay in this area. And last year, armed with a certification in sexual education from Tarshi, an NGO that works in the field of sexual health, she launched RedWomb.

Within months, Barnwal was engaging readers with her candid, thoughtful and provocative sexuality-themed articles and posts on her Facebook page and on her website. Offline, she conducts private and group counselling and awareness sessions across age groups and genders, and is also reaching out to schools and colleges. “I chose to work with sexuality because it’s one of the most difficult topics to address and embrace,” she says.

Barnwal wasn’t always so outspoken. She grew up in a fairly traditional household in Bokaro, but her family was progressive when it came to women’s education. Her early experiences — infidelity in her parents’ relationship, the skewed gender dynamics at home, body shaming, social anxiety and peer pressure while in college in Delhi and Pune — all shaped her, she says.

It took an arranged marriage and the lack of intimacy in it for her to discover what she had been missing. She found she wasn’t alone. “No one is experiencing real pleasure. We have an ‘image’ culture; we’re directing our energies elsewhere because we are so fearful of letting that image down,” she says. Now, as a single mother, she lives with her mother and her partner and doesn’t shy away from talking about her own sexual experiences and desires, and takes all criticism head on.

In fact, since Barnwal is unapologetically open and experimental, trolls follow close on her heels. She says that much of this comes from sexual repression. “It has created a lot of angst, and sex has been reduced to an urge. It is no longer seen as a sensual experience.”

Having recently landed a contract with a prominent publishing house for a book on sexuality, she feels vindicated, and hopes she might find more acceptance for her work at home and beyond.

The freelance journalist is a lover of cakes, chai, bookshops and yarns.

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Printable version | May 16, 2021 3:26:07 AM |

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