I'm like any other modern woman trying to have it all—a business that enables financial independence on my own terms, a stable relationship, and peace of mind amidst the general chaos of ‘living on the gram. How it's different, is that I'm selling sex in a sense.
I run a brand, called Salad Condoms, that aims to change the narrative of how condoms are sold and consumed in the country (for now, by a bare 5.6% of the total eligible population). Yet, in an age where everyone lives for and on Instagram, documenting their lives and ‘influencing’ their audiences, the one thing I'm hesitant of, is being the 'face' of my brand.
In India, a woman who talks about sex, regardless of context, is automatically considered 'easier' if not just 'easy.' It's unfortunate. But one standard advice that small businesses usually receive is to 'build in public.' In the early days of building our brand strategy, I resisted this approach. I knew I wanted the fame of running a successful, disruptive business but I was not (and possibly am still not fully) ready for the tradeoff that it’ll need.
Because while this may work for many industries, women in the sexual health and wellness space face a more significant hurdle in doing so. How do we share the more ‘private’ stories of our sexual health and life, in public view without the consent of our partners, and comfort of our families?
This sentiment is shared across the board. Take for instance Sachee Malhotra, who started That Sassy Thing (TST) to bring intimate wellness products specially designed for people with vulvas.
In her campaigns to advocate for awareness about struggles with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), Malhotra has spoken extensively about her own 14-year-long journey with it. She talks about how that had inspired her to start TST, and shares her challenges with excessive hair growth in places that aren't considered 'normal' for a woman. She talks about being bullied for being a big girl, about painful periods, and intercourse.
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Initially, she struggled to bring her parents and in-laws on board on this. However, she had a vociferous advocate in her husband who supported and gave her space to carry these conversations in public. That eventually led to the elders accepting this.
Malhotra opines that this might have to do with the belief that it's more easily acceptable by family and friends, if the husband is okay with his wife not just pursuing a business like this, but talking about it so vocally in public. Not a massive leap for equality but a forward movement nonetheless.
In my case, with Salad Condoms, it was never a question of seeking permission, but getting my partner's buy-in for the idea. Since all of my interviews and outreach were to be centered around my 'unique' experiences as an empowered woman taking matters of her intimate health and hygiene into her own hands, and since all our friends and families read these interviews, my partner and I had to discuss hard limits to what we're comfortable sharing about our lives.
Pallavi Baranwal, a certified intimacy coach and sex educator, says that in her six-year long career, she’s observed that it's not every man's cup of tea to be seen with a woman who openly talks of sex. This is especially due to the social and familial cultures we are brought up in. Even if the men were privately supportive of it, they still have to go into a society that might reject them for these choices. There's a sense of self-preservation involved even in our so-called modernity, Baranwal notes.
Reconciling my partner and my tendency to be extremely private people with the way in which brands are built now, with a stress on personalized storytelling, is difficult. But everyday, we find ourselves taking a step further to make this happen together.
For instance, one of my favourite things to have happened in the last few months is that my partner always introduces me to new people by talking about my business. In his own quiet way, this confirms his support and trust in the work I’m doing.
Also Read: How PCOS impacts a woman’s sex drive
What also helps us walk this tightrope together, is that my partner and I are friends before anything else. We talk—a lot. We discussed the impact of this business on our lives long before I launched it. We discussed avoiding any of my pictures on social media initially – which was a huge challenge in terms of establishing brand credibility when starting out this year. It’s only now that I’ve started sharing some pictures and videos for interviews, but I remain extremely cautious of how much I share.
In his book Steal Like An Artist, one of my favourite writers/artists, Austin Kleon gives advice that might seem irrelevant at first glance: marry well. But who you marry is the most critical decision you'll ever make. You could start 10 businesses in your lifetime, but storms at home will prevent you from showing up with your best potential at work.
So far, it’s much easier for women founders like me in the sexual wellness space, with supportive partners and relationships, to build businesses that disrupt what society thinks is 'acceptable' for women to do (or not). May our tribe and our partners’ increase