Yoshita Dave stops in the middle of a Zoom webinar to unbox something off-screen. “This,” she says “is something like a magic wand”. The counseling psychologist and sex educator, who has her hair up in a no-nonsense bun, holds it up for everyone to see. Pressing it against her palm, she demonstrates how it vibrates and comes with a USB charger. The ‘magic wand’, it quickly emerges, is a dildo.
She then proceeds to discuss remote control vibrators (where she gives a quick shout-out to Kiara Advani’s character in Lust Stories), edible lubricants, body paint and ‘bedroom enhancers’ like BDSM kits, sex board games and lingerie for role play. And while trying to orgasm with a toy, she advises, “Enjoy the journey, and don’t worry about the destination”.
Dave, who is based in Mumbai, has conducted five such webinars on sex toys this year in collaboration with online sex toy store Gizmoswala.com. Although multiple surveys have reported an increase in sales of sex toys and adult products around the world during the pandemic, sexual wellness experts point at a glaring lack of awareness in India. “Sex toys are sexual wellness products but many adults are not even aware that they are available legally in India. And even if they do buy them, they have no idea how to use them due to a lack of knowledge or educative demos,” says Dave, explaining the need for such sessions. “These toys are usually made in China and come in boxes with instructions written in Chinese which they don’t understand. So the toys end up getting discarded in a corner of the house.”
Noida-based certified sex coach, Pallavi Barnwal, has conducted educational talks and sessions online on sex toys in collaboration with platforms like holistic preventive healthcare company GOQii, online adult toy stores, and even mothers’ groups. She is now prepping for an upcoming ‘comprehensive’ online workshop with adult web store IMbesharam.com on May 28 which is fitting, as it is also celebrated as International Masturbation Day.
A concerned woman, recalls Barnwal, once asked her whether she could get arrested for travelling with sex toys. “The level of awareness is really low,” says the intimacy coach. She also held several surveys on sexual wellness during the pandemic on a social media platform but a few were taken down by them. But she shares screenshots - in one poll with 924 votes, 74 per cent of respondents said they could relate to being sexually frustrated during the pandemic. In another poll with 403 votes, 11 per cent responded that they used a sex toy to deal with pandemic loneliness. Notably, 27 per cent of respondents said they don’t know how to buy one.
To such novices, these sessions can be revelatory – the experts show the sex toys, share details on how to use and clean them and different kinds of products available in market. Dave, for instance, explains how to play a sex dice game. “I also prescribe toys for couples experiencing conflict in their marital relationship …these things get swept under the carpet,” she says.“The aim is to bring it out in the open.”
Tackling sexual shame
Barnwal estimates that all her sessions combined have garnered around 7,000 views. In them, she shares tips on how to buy the right toy by keeping material, cost, shape, the kind of pleasure and size in mind. “The biggest challenge is that this is not a regulated area in India, so you are left to discover everything on your own,” she points out. “Many people have a mental block about using toys as sexual shame runs in our blood. Also, they are expensive – I once got a query from a woman who asked me whether I could suggest a few household items that she could use as a sex toy as buying one was too expensive.”
Ritu G, founder of ‘Journey About Mast Moms’ or JAMMs which moderates many WhatsApp groups, online & offline meets for mothers, had organised an interactive online session on sex toys with Barnwal last month. “Organising it was a gamble – I kept my fingers crossed,” she laughs. “I did get some flak from the community but majority of the mothers were very happy we introduced this.”
JAMMs mission, Ritu says, is to empower, enrich, educate mothers and always host informative sessions on new and interesting topics that break stereotypes. “I also lead an exclusive Whatsapp group for single mothers and noticed the conversations there during the pandemic. Until you get a companion to satisfy your physical needs, there are other options available which they are unaware of. And of course, shows on OTT platforms like Lust Stories, The Bold Type and Masaba Masaba mention sex toys, so I wanted to create some honest awareness,” she adds.
Also, craving to mate can occur any time, be it battling a midlife crisis or going through menopause - sex toys can come to the rescue then, she says. Ritu and her team now plan on hosting private and interactive sessions for groups of ten women each this month end onwards. Depending on the response, they will decide to host additional sessions.
Mumbai-based homemaker Meena* had attended the session last month. “I was inquisitive,” says the 34-year-old mother of one. “I already follow content creators like Leeza Mangaldas on social media so I felt it was more useful for beginners. But just the fact that they are being conducted on a huge platform is a big, positive step.”
The most popular question experts get is: where are these toys sold in India? The sessions often involve teaching the basics so they prefer to collaborate with companies as it allows them to show products and explain how they work.
Nirav Mehta, founder, Gizmoswala.com, says that in one of their webinars, the oldest participant was a 70-year-old woman. “We decided to rope in experts for these informative sessions - which are for and by women – where participants don’t have the fear of being judged. The response has be overwhelming,” he explains.
Anusha S, head of content, GOQii explains that through their interactive video coaching platform GOQii Play, they have covered over 300 topics related to sexual wellness, including sex toys, in their classes. “We have seen a lot of emotional, relationship and sexual health-related issues due to extended lockdowns and isolation,” she explains, adding that besides sexual heath, they also cover topics like fitness, medical, nutrition and mental health.
Raj Armani, co-founder and COO of IMBesharam.com, adds that they have “engaged with top experts to conduct educational workshops on the pros and cons of sex toys. “We believe education is the key to awareness and thus, we are going ahead with the first workshop to have a healthy discussion about the use of sex toys in our bedrooms,” Armani says.
*Name withheld on request
Anu Prabhakar is an independent journalist