A few years ago, a scene from the movie Veere Di Wedding (2018) had created a furore on social media. Swara Bhasker, who played the character of Sakshi Soni, pleasured herself using a vibrator, and experienced an orgasm that left her utterly satisfied. The audience found it hard to ‘digest’ that a woman had unabashedly expressed her sexual agency. No prizes for guessing — Bhasker was incessantly trolled online for being unsanskaari, and labeled a ‘slut’.
This wasn’t only the only time when the depiction of female desire on screen sparked controversy. Whether it was Lust Stories (2018), Four More Shots Please! (2019), or even Dolly Kitty Aur Wo Chamakte Sitare (2019) — each of these films and shows was under the scanner for their so-called ‘bold content’. Despite the hullabaloo that they caused, there emerged a silver lining — the dawn of a new era steered by women taking charge of their lives, inside and outside the bedroom.
In Indian society, drawing-room conversations about sex seem like a distant dream. But even the slightest change can spark a revolution, they say. Unlike earlier, urban Indian women of today seem to be willing to go the extra mile to enhance pleasure, and not just look at sex as a means to reproduce.
Moreover, the ever-growing brigade of pleasure-focused sex educators on social media has made access to such content much easier, thereby helping women become the rightful ‘queens’ of their sex lives.
The changing perceptions of sex and sexuality
Khyati Sahni (32), a New-Delhi based sales professional, recalls her younger days, when she associated sex with guilt and shame. She perceived any act of sexual pleasure as ‘dirty’ and ‘unclean’, since the limited channels of information she leaned on conveyed this message. Today, she has a far more natural and joyful perception of sex.
“I have certainly become more experimental, when it comes to sex. I think women are naturally sexual beings, more than men, because the feminine energy believes in receiving pleasure. And even in the case of men, it is the feminine aspect that craves all of this pleasure. However, because of the societal idea of pleasure and women being disjointed, and of course, patriarchy, these conversations have been rather suppressed,” she adds.
Sahni confesses to having her fair share of fun with sex toys, because she’s all ‘for pleasure’ now. But for her, sex is not just about enhancing pleasure; it is also about having a deeper understanding of physical, mental, and emotional intimacy.
“Pleasure just can’t be about me, when I am engaging with another human. And even if it is with myself, I am willing to do the work that goes into aligning my mind and body to experience pleasure,” she says.
Maitreyi Nigwekar (34), a Mumbai-based trauma-informed therapist, has also witnessed a shift in the way she perceives sex today, vis à vis her younger days. “I think I used to be more focused on pleasing my partner, as opposed to now when I have had the time to consider what I like and dislike, and bring it to the table. I was unaware that one could have these conversations with their partner,” she says.
While Nitasha Biswas (29), who won India’s first-ever transgender beauty pageant, is certain that times have changed, she firmly believes that there should be a more rigorous approach to disseminating information about each sexuality. Nonetheless, she has never held herself back, when it comes to experimenting with her sex life.
“I do like to take charge when I walk into the bedroom. That being said, I am sensitive about my partner’s needs too. I feel until you give things a shot, they will always be a mystery. So, I give myself the freedom to understand my body, as well as sexual desires,” she says.
Breaking the stereotypes, one video at a time
What also helps is the barrage of fun and information-rich sex-related content that is put out by content creators like Leeza Mangaldas (31) and Dr Tanaya Narendra aka dr_cuterus (28), and many others. But what is it that led these ladies to have more conversations on public forums, especially in a country that is quick to label them?
The answer lies in their personal journeys. Mangaldas, who began creating sex-education content in 2017, felt that there was a lack of easily accessible information and non-judgmental platforms to share questions, and experiences. It was also hard to obtain facts and resources pertaining to sex, sexuality, gender, sexual health, relationships, and the body. When Mangaldas started out, there was a heavy dose of slut-shaming that she was subjected to, especially because there were hardly any women who opened up about these subjects on a public platform.
“Sex is a topic around which there is a lot of silence and shame, especially in the Indian context, so I felt that I would like to do something to encourage these much-needed conversations in a way that felt safe, positive, and normal. As a young, unmarried woman, even just accessing contraception or an STD test can feel like such an obstacle course, let alone talking about sexual pleasure,” she adds.
Also, if and when such conversations occur, they tend to be either oriented around reproduction or abstinence, without talking sufficiently about consent or pleasure or going beyond the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’. This is what Mangaldas wanted to change.
“Women are meant to quietly and obediently have sex only with their same-religion, same-caste husband to have babies, right? We’re not meant to be thinking about our sexuality and identity, or actively seeking sexual health resources, pleasure, and orgasms – whether solo or with a partner. Women’s sexual agency and autonomy has long been surveilled and controlled in the world’s patriarchal social landscape, and as a woman talking openly about sexual health and pleasure, I suppose I challenged that,” says Mangaldas.
A promising sex-positive future
Significant milestones like the #MeToo movement as well as the repealing of Section 377 that have occurred in the last few years have made people more willing to acknowledge how important it is to speak about sex and sexuality.
Social media has also served as a useful tool to empower audiences, especially at a time, when people’s receptivity to sex is far more than before. Dr Narendra, who is medically trained, speaks about how pleasure is not a concept that is included in conversations around sex. That’s exactly why she brings that angle into her content.
“We see sex very clinically versus the more esoteric sex educators who talk about it; but often, they are incorrect. I wanted to integrate pleasure-inclusive sex education into my own practice as a doctor. But yes, I believe there’s definitely greater receptivity to such content today, because the conversations around sex have eased up, and people are actively looking for ways on how they can enhance pleasure in their sexual lives,” she adds.
The good news is that more people with vulvas are willing to understand how their bodies function in relation to pleasure. Because if a little piece of motorized silicone can safely and effectively help you have an orgasm, why wouldn’t you try it?
“I get a lot of queries on how to get sex toys, how best to choose sex toys, and what kind of sex toys can be bad for you. With the increase in knowledge about sex toys through social media, OTT platforms, and the content that is there, more people are interested and intrigued by the idea. An increasing number of women are experimental; they do want to try new things, and want to go beyond the idea of just lying there and taking it. There is more proactive participation now,” concludes Dr Narendra.
Geetika Sachdev is an independent writer and journalist