Pre-pandemic, most men between the ages of 20-35 were unsure why they would require a sex toy. However, these two years changed the game with the start of homegrown sexual wellness brands like MyMuse and The Sangya Project, bringing men’s bedroom conversations front and centre with their social media accounts and via collaborations with influencers, content creators and storytellers.
Late last month, comedian, improviser, rapper, and brand storyteller Rahul Sridhar posted a collaboration post with MyMuse’s Beat Vibrating Stroker for men — when the brand approached him, he’d decided to create a dialogue with an extension of himself. “The aim here was not to school anyone else, but my own self from a few years ago, when I didn’t know that there were a lot of options with respect to sex toys for men,” he says.
He started the post on his Instagram account, TheHippieWriter, with a line that many of us are guilty of thinking at one point or the other when (and if) the conversation of men’s masturbation arises, “real men use their hands!”.
Nine out of the twelve men interviewed for this feature, aged 25-40, said that they discovered their first sex toy through reels, memes, ads or by brands answering questions about relatable, and often personal, topics on social media.
Mehul Shinde, a 28-year-old writer in Mumbai, bought his first pleasure toy when the lockdown was at its peak, “I can’t remember the last time I got this excited to unbox a package!” He laughs, “I was nervous, to say the least. I didn’t know what to expect at all. I was still reasoning over purchasing something worth over ₹6000 just to... you know... have a bit of fun.”
Aashish Mehrortra, one of the three co-founders of The Sangya Poject, says that their company “started off as a sexuality education platform and will always remain one.” Their pleasure store with over 31 products aims to create destigmatised, trauma-informed and kink-affirmative education. “We continue to be that platform where people can share stories, read perspectives and get access to sexuality ed.”
The mushrooming of Indian intimacy brands isn’t new — the conversation so far however, hung around women reclaiming a positive relationship with their bodies and their sexuality, and, in a culture that does not encourage them to talk about their sexual pleasures, taking back agency.
“Women are definitely leading the charge in this area, and we love to see it,” says Anushka Gupta, co-founder, MyMuse, a brand whose mission is to make intimacy easy, approachable, and fun for the modern Indian, “when women use toys and have the conversation about pleasure, it’s seen as a form of sexual liberation. Which it is. But when men do it, it’s seen that they’re ‘less of a man’’ Why, as a man, should you need any help in this area? That’s a taboo we want to break.”
One of the reasons it has taken time for male voices to make their presence felt in this space is probably that they’re often flagged as ‘creepy’ or crass when talking about sex and their pleasures openly.
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“I’m not sure how I would react if my best friend talked to me about masturbation,” says Resham Parmar (27), an advertising professional from Guwahati. “We’re childhood friends, and he was one of the first to know when I got my period, but we’ve never spoken about his sexual journey.”
“Talking about sex and pleasure comes with a lot of vulnerability,” says Mehrotra, adding to the discourse on the limited male voices in this space. “Being open about one's flaws and accepting that we probably don't know everything there is to know about our individual sexualities or even human sexuality at large can be quite unnerving.”
“Until this interview, I wasn’t ready to share with anyone the fact that I’ve bought a sex toy,” says Shinde. “Not to my close friends, and not with any family members. He recalls coming across the page of an influencer who spoke about using a sex toy for the first time — some of the comments were positive, some had genuine questions, but there was one user who replied with ‘are you not man enough to satisfy yourself?’ This stayed on Shinde’s mind.
“The fact that men don’t use toys because of the stigma attached to them seems like a small narrative to me,” says Raj Armani, co-founder and COO, of IMBesharam, a decade-old e-store for adult products. “One of the key issues to consider here is why (would someone) pay for a toy when (they) can achieve an orgasm for free.”
In India in 2018, several Indian telecom companies blocked numerous adult websites. Despite this, in April 2020, India Today reported that there was a 20% jump in the consumption of porn content that year, making India the leading country in the world for porn consumption. While most websites do require payments, this is not always necessary for streaming.
Despite, or perhaps to complement, this, on platforms like MyMuse, The Sangya Project, and IMBesharam, too, pleasure toys for men range from Rs. 1,600 to Rs. 3,90,999 — and since 2016, 80-85% of traffic on Armani’s IMBesharam, has come from its male audience. This was before brands and sex-positive content creators began normalising conversations around sexual wellness and health for all genders.
The varying degrees of pleasure a man could experience were never fully explained or understood since, arguably, there was no need for a man to use a pleasure toy during masturbation or even with a partner. Today, however, founders in India like Sangya’s Mehrotra and MyMuse’s Gupta are using their platforms to share appropriate knowledge and resources to help their audience understand the tools, unpack their fears and feel empowered to explore pleasure without stigma and, most importantly, risk.
Several medical studies from around the world indicate psychological and medical benefits associated with incorporating sex toys into relationships and self-pleasure. Issues like erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, lack of libido and post-surgical problems can be addressed with the right use of pleasure products. With the rise of social media, gynaecologists, and sexual wellness educators, pleasure brands are able to build a safe community for those who wish to educate or learn.
Back on the collaboration with MyMuse, Sridhar advises everyone to be part of the conversation.“Even if you feel that your opinion or take is not going to be well received, it’s important to add to the conversation because only then will we have more people talking, more perspectives will be added…taboo topics around sex and pleasure will start getting normalised,” he urges fellow-creators.
Gupta agrees: “The more taboos we break, the more diverse conversations…between vulva and penis owners alike.”
Richa Sheth is a freelance writer based in Pune. She explores complexities within human interactions and relationships.