Wednesday, 6 July, 2022
HomeFeaturesIndian Instagram influencers say, let’s talk about sex. Foreplay, semen, hair—no taboos

Indian Instagram influencers say, let’s talk about sex. Foreplay, semen, hair—no taboos

A virtual army of women like Seema Anand, Maya’s Amma, Dr Cuterus is slowly helping people remove the cloak of ‘Bharatiya sanskriti’ and embrace their sexuality.

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New Delhi: Untie your hair — is just one of the many suggestions Seema Anand has for you to enhance pleasure during foreplay, and by extension, sexual intercourse. The 61-year-old sexual health educator and influencer pulls a chudamani out of her loosely tied greying hair. The Kama Sutra says that “tied up” hair indicates control and untying it means “letting your hair down and enjoying yourself”, Anand explains. Another influencer picks on how porn is the one-stop option for many youngsters who want to learn about sex. “Learning from porn is like learning to drive from watching F1,” says Leeza Mangaldas, an actor-turned-content creator and podcaster, who uses personal anecdotes and research to normalise dialogue around sexual pleasure and gender.

Between Anand, Mangaldas, and a few others like Dr Tanaya Narendra (aka Dr Cuterus), Pallavi Barnwal, and Swati Jagdish, conversations around sex, pleasure, and desire are gaining momentum among Indian women. While real conversations are still frowned upon, the emergence of these content creators on social media is helping dissolve one stigma at a time — be it menstruation, masturbation, sexuality, pleasure, or sexual health. And Reels are bridging the sex education gap.

“I am 100 per cent sure that the majority of people from the previous generation with female body parts lived and died without understanding what an orgasm is,” says Swati Jagdish, a sex educator and lactation counsellor who is commonly known as ‘Maya’s Amma’ (Maya is her 8-year-old daughter) among netizens. According to medical science, the majority of women orgasm through clitoral stimulation and not through penetration. “If our mothers had known, they would have told us,” she says, adding that the current generation is bearing the brunt of it.

Women miss the ‘Big O’

The ‘Big O’, climax, or ‘la petite mort’—call it whatever—“women like it, need it, and want it just as much as they do”, as Bollywood actor Vidya Balan said during an episode of Koffee With Karan Season 4. However, decades of cultural ignorance around the anatomy of individuals with vaginas and the lack of dialogue have fuelled the ‘orgasm gap’ in India.

In a 2019 ad campaign, Durex gave a kickstart to the conversation with #OrgasmInequality. Nearly 70 per cent of women in India do not orgasm during sex, it said. Conversations around sex and what one prefers between the sheets continue to be a tricky domain. The supposed ‘custodians’ of sociocultural norms further derail the discourse around sexuality. But three years later, a virtual army of women is slowly, yet significantly, helping people remove the cloak of ‘Bharatiya sanskriti’ and embrace their sexuality.

Kaun aadmi itna wait karega (Who will wait for this long?),” said a 28-year-old married woman who had never had an orgasm during sex, according to intimacy coach and sex educator Pallavi Barnwal who came out of a sexless marriage herself.


Also read: Women are living through a ‘shadow pandemic’. Covid-19 has worsened it


Why it’s important to talk

From medical professionals, authors, sex educators, and lactation counsellors to self-taught individuals — social media has enabled women (and even some men) to approach strangers virtually and engage in dialogue around female desire and sexual health.

Amrita Narayanan, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, points to the “openness” that social media has brought to the subjects of sexual desire and women’s anatomy. “The research shows that two important factors that really affect women are their perceptions of gossip and their reputation. So, if you are a woman seeking sexual pleasure or are publicly signaling yourself as a woman interested in sexual pleasure, there is this idea that it will affect your reputation. The power that the gossip-reputation police system exerts on women’s sexuality, depends upon women feeling isolated. The positive buzz on social media creates a counter-climate in which it [conversations around sexual pleasure] is no longer an anomaly, and women feel less alone. This counteracts the effect of the gossip-reputation policing,” she says.

Most women in India grow up in a culture of sexual shame. The stigma and shame attached to their bodies have far-reaching impacts, ranging from physical to mental issues. The more conversations revolve around sexual health, the greater the chances to dismantle archaic ideas built around sex and desire.

Pallavi Barnwal stresses the need to “stop seeing sex as an exaggerated response”. Sexual want is a part of who she is, and desire can take any form. She further says that she is on a “mission to make sexuality a part of daily life”.


Also read: Between consent and coercion: The women powering India’s ‘desi porn’ revolution


Before desire comes education

Before embracing one’s sexuality, creating a basic understanding and awareness of sexual health is important. Dialogue on sex education is yet to reach the drawing rooms of Indian households.

As the conversation and community around sexual well-being and desire are building up, a lot of misinformation also floats around in the echo chamber of webspace. While following credible sources is a foremost step in consuming content, it is equally crucial to do your own research.

One Google search will drop you into a sea of misinformation floating around on the internet — one of them being ‘home remedies/DIY to lighten your vagina’. Some suggest using a paste of turmeric with aloe vera or potato juice while others say use yoghurt or papaya, as they help in reducing dark spots. Besides these, some advertise products to achieve ‘miraculous results’. If you look up Seema Anand on Instagram, you see her answering queries on Reels—one woman asked her whether semen was the secret behind her ‘glowing skin’. Anand, smiling, responded by saying, “There are more ways.”

To set the record straight, Dr Tanaya Narendra posted an Instagram Reel explaining how there is absolutely no need to apply any remedies or products to lighten your private parts. “Darker genital skin is literally a sign of maturity! Second, you can’t lighten your vagina anyway, because it’s the canal on the inside, not the stuff you see outside that touches your clothes. That part is called the vulva,” her caption reads. Dr Narendra forayed into social media to disseminate misinformation around menstrual cups in 2019, but since then, she has been delving into educating people about sexual health, masturbation, and menstruation from a medical standpoint.

On another virtual tangent, Dr Prateek Makwana busts myths around the “poor” social construct of virginity. As he urges people to stop obsessing over it and judging women, he breaks down certain misconceptions. “Presence or absence of a hymen is not an indicator of previous sexual history and it is not necessary that bleeding will occur during the first intercourse,” he clarifies.

Makwana, a consultant embryologist based out of Rajasthan, hopped on to social media primarily to speak about infertility, but the prevalent myths and misconceptions around masturbation and sexual health compelled him to go back to the basics. “Misinformation has already leapt ahead of what we are trying to cover up. Always check and reach out to credible sources to verify the information you find online,” he says.


Also read: Netflix’s Sex Education is the closest we’ll get to ‘that’ conversation in India, for now


From Reels to real life

Despite its intimate nature, sexual desire cannot be seen in isolation. It is a fragment of the larger conversation around sexual health. And so, the diversity in the content being produced by social media influencers.

In one of her Reels, Seema Anand sheds light on the different perceptions of men and women. She equates female pleasure to “water”, and says that it “starts from the head and flows down into the body” while male desire is like “fire” — it starts below and moves up. The latter is quick to ignite and easy to put out, she says. In another Reel, Leeza Mangaldas addresses the persistent homophobia among straight men, as she clarifies that anal play is not solely or inherently gay.

If clubbed together, these digital content creators have over a million followers. From a social media standpoint, that might be a big number, but it only translates into an extremely tiny fragment of India’s population. Social media is a privilege and utility that most people don’t have access to.

Amrita Narayanan says that while social media provides a platform for discussion, it does not easily substitute for “what you have grown up with”. If one has grown up in a family where sexual interest was deemed shameful, consuming content online might be helpful, but the person would still have to battle the internalised shame. She says, “The research tells us that what comes from the family and the local social group often carries a stronger weight than what is experienced online.”

Sexual desire in pop culture

If one were to skim through the archives of sex scenes depicted in mainstream Indian cinema, it usually ends with a man huffing and puffing — indicating a ‘good time’.

It was not until the release of Shashanka Ghosh’s Veere Di Wedding (2018) that glided female pleasure into mainstream cinema and pop culture. For the first time perhaps, a woman (Swara Bhasker’s character) was enough for herself — she did not need a man to orgasm; a vibrator was enough. Films mirror the conversations — be it loud or a whisper — taking place (or not) in society. Later in the same year, a masturbation scene in Netflix anthology Lust Stories also stirred the pot brewing with dialogue around female pleasure.

Most of the content creators mentioned here have been on social media much before these films were released. While many of them claim that the conversation around female sexual pleasure has come a long way, there are still many strides left. Once the ripple effect created by social media seeps into living rooms, schools, and colleges, one will be able to witness real changes.

But for now, the change is in motion. Mangaldas recounts one such encounter with one of her followers that is testimony to the evolving dialogue in the field. “Are you Leeza? I need to tell you something,” said a woman in her 50s as she spotted Mangaldas in a restaurant. She said that she was now dating a younger man years after she divorced her husband. She said she was happy and having “the most amazing sex” as her partner had learned about female anatomy and pleasure just by following Mangaldas’s Instagram page. “I just want to thank you, because I never had pleasurable sex in all the years I was married, and now I’m having the time of my life, and apparently it’s because of you!”

Much like the woman in the restaurant, several women have come up to Mangaldas or sent messages and emails to recount the stories of their first orgasm or how they have learned about the clitoris, masturbation, and pleasure from her content. “It makes my heart dance every time that happens,” says a visibly ecstatic Mangaldas.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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