I am really popular in my friend circle nowadays and it’s because I am the founder of a sexual wellbeing discovery platform called Tickle.Life. Growing up in the small city of Jammu, I thought it was perfectly acceptable to make fun of puberty, sexuality and sexual reproduction. But things changed soon.
While pursuing my Masters in the Netherlands, there was a sex toy shop located right next to my dorm. It took me six months to even acknowledge my desire to enter the shop. I had to unlearn nearly three decades of my life, after all. I was scared of being judged because hey, expressing anything related to sex puts a finger on your character, and sex toys are supposed to be illegal. So, I ended up lying to the shopkeeper that I was visiting the sex toy shop to buy something for my aunt. MY AUNT! Even though I had never talked to anyone in my family about sex toys, least of all my aunt.
And then the eureka moment happened. The salesperson asked me, what would my aunt like? Such a simple question, but so loaded. How would I know what my fabricated aunt would like when I was as clueless about myself, if not more? This one visit led to me travelling across Europe visiting over 100+ sex toy shops repeating the same line — I am here to buy something for someone. And getting the same response: “What would they like?”
It changed my perspective on sex. With this new brave outlook, coming back home to India I realised that we are not only a nation with one of the youngest populations, but also one of the most sexually misinformed. Which is why it was imperative I start Tickle.Life.
Sexual and reproductive health is not even a category that has laws and medical courses in India. I was disturbed when I got to know that India does not have a separate medical discipline to become a sexologist. The ones who call themselves sexologists are specialists in other fields. You go to a gynaecologist for any sex-related query or problem. And they too are hesitant to ask even simple, direct questions such as: ‘Are you sexually active?’. If you are a woman, you will be asked: ‘Are you married?’
Even in this era, we do not know or accept that we are sexual beings, and that we need open, judgement-free, sexual knowledge/education and options.
Dismantling the stigma around sexuality among individuals is what we aim to do in the sexual wellness industry. The industry would be worth around $39 billion by 2024 globally. It’s true what they say, sex sells – and the 2018 Global Wellness Summit Report states that “sexual pleasure brands are strongly aligning themselves with wellness, and sex is fast shedding its taboo status”.
An uphill battle
In India, there is a lot of confusion and prejudice about different sexual orientations, genders, and the LGBTQ+ community. That is one of the major reasons why, when I decided to take the plunge, it was not for a specific gender or sexuality but to create a discovery platform where we can explore our needs and hopefully find what we ‘like’.
After multiple experiments and a minimum viable product (MVP) spanning two years, only to understand what I was getting into, Tickle.Life was registered in 2019. In the one year we have been functioning, we have managed to work closely with hundreds of sexual wellbeing organisations and individuals, over 1,000 sex-positive podcasts, and multiple video platforms. Our newest feature SHOP helps people like me to realise their needs.
A common question I get asked is what is my day like as a sexual wellbeing founder? My answer is, it is similar to any other founder of a startup, except, for us, the real challenge is marketing. If we use the term ‘SEX’, either the email ends up in the spam folder or social networks don’t let us advertise. To grow and reach more people has been an exciting challenge.
It is a shame that the most relevant and informative resources about herpes, orgasms, erectile dysfunction, sexual relationships, sexual orientation and laws don’t reach the right audience.
Whenever I tweet about some major milestone or sexual wellbeing-related information, I am told that I am ‘brave’. More than making me feel happy, it makes me frustrated. I have undertaken a journey towards fulfilling a basic carnal need, and if answering your basic query/doubt is brave, then we need to question ourselves.
Sex it up
I get to meet and talk to people who are working in the global sexual wellbeing industry and are major players in adult toys and content platforms. The initial awe has led to comradeship, and we have created an inclusive team, which comprises amazing people from various sexualities, who are aged between 21 and 76 years old.
I am glad that I can provide a safe platform to more than 350 industry players, who give information, share their stories, create art and products and services. At Tickle.Life, we try to reach out to the maximum number of people, irrespective of the hurdles we face. We hope our readers get answers to their silent questions, and it prompts them to initiate conversations.
While some enjoy being tickled, some of us find it annoying, awkward, and uncomfortable. Our aim is to break the silos we have created and talk about sex and sexuality. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Shakun Sethi is the founder of Tickle.Life. She comes with over a decade of experience and specialisation in Community Management, International Communications. Tickle.Life is her second startup. Views are personal.
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