India is one of the rare developing countries in the world that has a thriving cinema. Indians love their films and cinema has been instrumental in introducing many concepts to a very hooked audience. The focus on sex and sexuality in our films has been rather slow. For decades, most popular stars of world’s biggest film industry hardly ever kissed on screen. Two flowers coming together would usually suffice.
However, in the last two decades, Bollywood has tried to break this mould. Stars do now kiss on the screen – it even makes national news – and film directors make effort to show some kind of sexual activity to portray a night of love making. Recently, some Bollywood films have also delved into extremely taboo topics such as homosexuality on screen, with rather sensitive portrayals, such as in 'Kapoor and Sons' and the much-in-news 'Lipstick Under My Burkha'. Even the controversy around Censor Board certification for the film helped start conversations on hitherto shushed issues around female sexuality.
However, as Bollywood opens up the conversation on sex, it is also responsible for skewing it, especially around women’s sexuality. The so-called 'item songs' with their suggestive dialogues and frequent treatment of women as objects – from tandoor murghi to Afghan jalebi – are undermining the efforts to keep the conversations sex-positive.
Indians are one of the biggest consumers of porn and yet before the advent of Sunny Leone onto the Indian television, this was India’s worst kept secret.
A recent research by the Indian Cyber Army revealed that 35-40 percent of content downloaded daily by Indians is porn. However, you couldn’t get anyone to admit except perhaps in all-boys bachelor parties.
Come Sunny Leone, porn is now a word used on national news, much to the dislike of many. Loath her, love her or hate her, Sunny has also been the most Googled personality in India for five consecutive years now, opening up our eyes to sexual needs and wants of our society.
The Indian advertising industry is also pushing the boundaries on conversations around sexuality. While men’s grooming products have somehow always used the 'male need to attract the female' as their selling point, some recent campaigns have attempted to break stereotypes as well delve into the we-are-Indians-we-don't talk about-sex territory. For example, a TV campaign for a clothes brand in 2015 showed what was termed as India’s first lesbian couple in an advertisement.
More recently, a popular condom brand of India recently put up banners across the traditional state of Gujarat during the very popular festival of Navratri asking youngsters 'to play but with love', urging the use of condoms for any sexual activities that the nine nights of revelries usually leads to. Various surveys have shown that condom sales do go up 25-50 percent during the Navratri season in Gujarat and the sales of oral contraceptive go even higher. The campaign saw a barrage of complaints against the brand, many targeted directly at Leone. While the campaign was eventually withdrawn what it did was to increasing levels of awareness and conversation around the practice of safe sex among young Indians.
Only until recently, erotic literature was sold in a hush hush manner. You had to ask your road-side bookseller sheepishly and he would produce the copy of a potboiler from inside his raggy mat. Cut to now, bookshops across the nation happily display ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, a sex-bondage theme novel by E.L James or ‘Eleven Minutes’, a Paulo Coelho book recounting sexual experiences of a young prostitute.
The ‘Fifty Shades’ trilogy also tops the bestseller charts. And while the book is popular among all age groups, it has particularly done well among the women in their 30s and has thus been even dubbed 'mommy porn'.
India’s population of 1.32 billion (and growing) is a proof to our expertise in reproduction, but we are now also not far behind in sexual recreation. Indians are now reaping benefits of technology to access more information, finding relationships and even products to pleasure themselves.
Thanks to the digital revolution, the difficult and intimate queries around puberty, sex, birth control and many similar issues, can now be resolved by our best friend – Google. There is a plethora of information and all you need is a smartphone with an internet connection.
Dating apps like Tinder and Truly Madly are also allowing people to reach out to ‘their kind of partners', which was always a challenge in our society, where you married someone referred to by the family aunt.
These apps also allow people to be open about their sexual preferences and find partners accordingly, something the aunt network would absolutely shut out. Indians are also using technology to sexual safety and pleasure products such as fruity condoms or a dildo. These toys that were earlier only accessible to those brave enough to negotiate the discrete Palika Bazar in Delhi but now they are just a click away for everyone with an access to a smartphone.
But as is the case with Bollywood, the opening up of conversations of sex in India is a two step forward and one back exercise. As advertisements, celebrities and films are helping push the boundaries, there is also huge barrage of backlash, thanks to the instant judgments on the social media. Which force will win? Only the future can tell. Meanwhile, we at Love Matters, are working hard to ensure that the conversations on sex remain blush-free, positive and non-judgmental!
This article was first published on October 6, 2017