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A Sex Educator Decodes Indian Women's Complicated Relationship With Sex Toys

Vibrators are big business in India, but are they enough?
Representative image.
Eric Gaillard / Reuters
Representative image.

Simran has a husband. She even has a lover. Yet, she reserves a special place in her heart for her trusty vibrator. “I cannot think of parting with it ever,” says the 40-year-old business development professional from Delhi. She is one amongst thousands of women who are coming out of their sexual shells and taking charge of their own pleasure, with a bouquet of products designed just for them.

No longer must women experiment with penile-shaped vegetables, old Nokia phones, or furtively purchased items of dodgy provenance from Palika Bazaar. Instead, all they need to do is log on to one of the many e-commerce sites (just Google!) dealing exclusively in adult toys. Despite the layers of moral policing, judgment and guilt imposed on sexual desires in the land of the Kama Sutra, sex toy sales have been seeing unprecedented growth in India, claim online vendors.

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According to Raj Armani, co-founder of IMbesharam—a site that’s endorsed by no less than Sunny Leone—the demand for sexual wellness products has seen a huge upswing from women shoppers. While 2018 saw more than 46,000 women buying products from the site, 2019 has already welcomed more than 56,000 shoppers. A survey by ThatsPersonal, another online adult store, has also found that women in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities are getting in on the act. Now, more than ever, women are pursuing sexual pleasure for its own sake and they are willing to spend for a better experience.

Sex toys for women are even making their way into mainstream popular culture, with Kiara Advani recently playing the part of a dissatisfied wife who is shown masturbating with the help of a vibrator in Karan Johar’s Lust Stories.

For Simran, too, a blah marital sex life, especially after childbirth, led her to take matters more firmly into her own hands. She asked her Canada-based cousin to get her a vibrator after experiencing a lull in her married sex life due to the rigours of childcare, changes in her body, and a general postpartum dip in mood. The few times she had sex with her husband left her unfulfilled, and she was physically more distant from her lover—with whom she had previously enjoyed a fantastic sex life and multiple orgasms. Simran’s cousin responded to her request with a bunch of product pictures sent over e-mail to help her choose the right vibrator. This was 10 years ago, and Simran hasn’t looked back. Since then, she has graduated from a simple massager to a more versatile vibrator that stimulates the clitoris as well as the so-called G-spot.

So, how does her partner feel about her seeking sexual pleasure from a device? Simran says it is her boyfriend more than her husband who feels more insecure since she is less dependent on him for her sexual satisfaction. When she says she is not in the mood for sex, he worries that the vibrator has reduced her need for a man.

“Unfortunately, not every woman can let go of the taboos around female sexuality they have grown up with.”

Simran says such concerns are unfounded. “I do long for human touch. It is irreplaceable,” she says. “I long for lingering kisses, embraces and foreplay—these are things that a vibrator cannot provide.” One thing is for sure, Simran is glad she is not like her friends for whom “sex has become duty-bound and is done and dealt with once in two or three months”. Her vibrator keeps her in tune with her own desires and sexuality and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Unfortunately, not every woman can let go of the taboos around female sexuality they have grown up with. Myra, a married woman in her 30s, says she had a hard time enjoying sex after she wed—she was a virgin, and her husband was not. She says she was not accustomed to receiving pleasure or treating her body as a vehicle for sexual pleasure. She had not yet discovered her own sexual likes and dislikes. She depended on her husband for calling the shots in the bedroom—to her, sex was a response, it was reactionary.

And then, just as she was beginning to enjoy sex, her husband ceased all physical contact because he was dealing with some major stresses. He completely ignored her needs, leaving her feeling deprived and abandoned. At around this time, Myra had a work trip to the US. While she was there, she remembered what an American co-worker had said during an India visit. “This woman had asked us girls in the India office about where to buy a vibrator. Most of us cringed and giggled, but a seed had been planted in my mind.” Myra proceeded to buy a vibrator for herself in the US but using it was difficult because she had always been taught it was wrong to touch her vagina. “I am still dealing with a lot of taboos that restrict my ability to touch myself,” she sighs. After a month of trying to use the vibrator, Myra gave up. “I want human touch,” she says. “Maybe the vibrator can help add to the experience of love-making but it cannot replace it.”

So, this brings us to the question: have sex toys really given women their sexual freedom? Can the possibility of women’s sexual self-reliance jolt men out of their patriarchal comfort zone, and thus perform better in bed—maybe actually think about their partner’s orgasm too? Too many Indian women, after all, are left high and dry by men who come in five seconds, oblivious to the crushing disappointment they’ve caused.

The answer would be yes, and no.

Yes, because sex toys do empower women to have more agency with their lust. No, because sexual conservatism and a lack of sex education still prevail in India. It will certainly take more than a vibrator for men to be mindful lovers.

Ultimately, it’s the mind that holds the key. We can all have better sex when we free ourselves from the moral, puritanical and regressive attitudes that make us see sex as ‘dirty’. Orgasms will come a lot more easily when we realize that sex is not bad, wrong, abnormal, gross, evil. We will have healthy sex lives when we start viewing (consensual) sex as nice, pleasurable, loving, and good for you. There is a lot of discussion, rightly so, about abuse, rape, and sexual violence. But it is also important to have conversations about the fact that sex is normal and should be associated with openness, love, and kindness. Online spaces like Agents of Ishq and RedWomb are doing a creditable work in this direction, but we all need to work on our beliefs, maybe even with a vibrator in hand for some help.

Pallavi Barnwal is a writer and a sex educator.

This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost India, which closed in 2020. Some features are no longer enabled. If you have questions or concerns about this article, please contact