“Any suggestions for a good massager?” a friend had randomly asked at lunch earlier this year. The idea of sex and sexuality slips into causal conversations between us these days, but the notion of pleasure still sets off flashbacks of our younger selves – a time when we couldn’t even say ‘sex toy’ without turning red with shame.
The fact that things have changed though is not only reflected in the fact that we had had that conversation freely, but also the fact that sexual wellness startups like That Sassy Thing, Manzuri, and Love Treats, are making all the right noises, with their marketing game having them show up ever so casually in our Instagram feeds. With the likes of MyMuse especially, the idea of sex toys is being moved out of the shroud of shame and being considered (even if hesitantly) as self-care.
The journey of normalising the idea of sex toys, and even attempting perhaps to make them cool, started for Anushka and Sahil Gupta in 2020. The duo first conceptualised the idea of MyMuse as a platform to change the hush-hush narrative around sex toys—it had started conversations through education-focused marketing.
Additionally, since the launch of their massagers in 2021, MyMuse has used the accessibility of the internet to make pleasure part of everyday discussions, especially in a way that can give people of all genders, guilt-free agency over their own pleasure.
“Regardless of whether you are single, in a relationship, or how you identify as, pleasure should be part of your life, and not be something difficult to access or experience. Importantly, it’s not something anyone should feel guilty about,” Anushka says in an interview with Lounge.
Speaking to Hello! Magazine in January 2023, the sex and relationship expert Anna Richards—also the founder of Frolicme, a female and couple-focussed erotica platform—says pleasure, especially solo pleasure is important in releasing happy hormones such as oxytocin and endorphins, without the added pressure of pleasing someone else. It also helps relieve stress, connect with oneself, and feel confident, adds Richards, who also works towards making ethical porn accessible for female pleasure. If pleasure comes with such positive impacts, why should one feel guilty about accessing it and not view it as a necessity?
This is important to note, especially as guilt has, for too long, wrapped itself tightly around desires and pleasures. Not too long ago, curious young people used to furtively look up porn on shady internet websites, or read dubious sex advice columns in magazines to understand sex and pleasure better.
Thankfully now, for the newer generation, there are sexual wellness influencers who make these advice and queries more accessible than ever, taking down the barrier of guilt or shame. This openness has also helped sex toys become part of everyday conversations about intimacy, self-pleasure, and relationships.
This is a positive development since women (whose pleasure has been a taboo topic) and those with intimate sexual partners, both have much to gain from this expanding space for the conversation around sexual pleasure through sex toys. Not only are these tools a great way to gain access to pleasure on one’s own terms, they are also a way to explore intimacy between couples, and a way of expressing sexual needs between partners.
This is especially true since intimacy is not just about sex—it’s about communication. “Sex toys can help understand each other's likes and dislikes and lead to more exploration and excitement,” says Anushka.
Per MyMuse’s customer research, massagers can help those in their 20s who are still understanding their body by offering them control over their pleasure. For couples in their 30s and 40s, sex toys could be more about the desire to connect. “For many (like a MyMuse customer who'd been married for over a decade) it’s a way of enhancing a relationship or taking the pressure off each other when it comes to pleasure,” Anushka says. However, she is quick to note that toys are not replacements for a partner–they are only additional tools to have fun together.
While society might attempt to link sex toys with the feeling of inadequacy or not being good enough, Anushka observed that many men were first-time buyers of the products. “About 60% of our customers are men, which is amazing,” Anushka says, adding that they were also pleasantly surprised at how open men in heterosexual relationships were about trying out sex toys, both for their partners and themselves.
For women, using sex toys is also a way of demanding equality in the bedroom and closing the orgasm gap. Earlier this year, The Guardian reported that a study by Durex found that out of 2000 people surveyed, only 5% of women are likely to say they have always orgasmed during sex, compared to 20% of men. Moreover, this number further reduces when penetrative sex is considered, with 4 in ten (40%) sexually active women stating that they have never or very rarely achieved orgasm, compared to around 1 in 10 men (12%) who said the same.
“Sex toys can be for external or internal use, making them inclusive for people who may or may not like penetrative sex to access pleasure,” notes Anushka. “Often a lot of women also feel something is wrong with them because they don't experience orgasm through penetrative sex, which is (wrong),” she adds.
The fact is that people experience and engage with pleasure differently, Anushka says, adding that “taking control of how you access it, gives you more control over it.”
As the world learns and unlearns more about sex toys, we may finally realise that pleasure is not a taboo but a necessity. The time has certainly come for more lunchtime conversations about how to achieve it.