With demand for sex toys on the rise in India especially after Lust Stories, adult toy merchants around the country say that the law needs to be liberalised so that the industry can grow
Seema (name changed), a PhD student in Kolkata is so immersed in research that she says the stress was taking a toll on her life. “I barely had time to meet my boyfriend, we even broke up since we could not give time to each other. Not only was my personal life affected, but also my sex life seemed to have come to a standstill,” she says.
That is when she came across Lust Stories on Netflix. An anthology of four short films based on the theme of sexual desire, the project was India’s first Netflix original movie, helmed by directors Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap.
In Karan Johar’s movie, there are scenes where the characters played by Neha Dhupia and Kiara Advani use vibrators to pleasure themselves. “I knew that such products existed but had no idea that they were available in India”, she says. “It was then that I checked online and found so many websites selling sex toys in India. I ordered a remote-controlled vibrator online; now at least the vibrator gives me some respite after long hours of study.”
It is not Seema alone who has started using sex toys after the scene in Lust Stories. In a research conducted by the sex toy selling website Thatspersonal.com, sales of sex toys in their website have gone up by 57% since 15th June 2017, the release date of Lust Stories. The research further reveals that the Google search with keywords related to ‘sex toys’ and ‘vibrators’ showed a massive rise of over 170%.
“Bollywood this year has been particularly open about showing taboo subjects like masturbation, nudity and sex toys on screen in popular films like Veere Di Wedding, Lust Stories — even in the series Sacred Games there is a scene that openly shows the sex toy collection of a character. Thus through our movies, people are getting to know more about adult products,” says Vineshkumar Kunhiraman, the Chief Marketing Officer of Thatspersonal.com
However, according to Raj Armani, the CEO of Imbesharam.com, one of India’s largest online adult toy stores, the need for such products has always been there in the Indian market. “We cater to a population of 1.3 billion people of which 200 million shoppers are projected to spend over $25 billion this year alone. Our average annual turnover is $4-5 million dollars”, says Armani. “I find everyone quite open about their need for sex toys. We are curious, we are interested and we are ready to buy them,” he adds.
EL James’ erotic Fifty Shades trilogy too is a huge rage among Indians, as according to Raj Armani, their Fifty Shades of Grey line of sex toys have been the most popular products.
According to another study by Thatspersonal.com, 62% of their buyers are men, while only 38% are women. “Lubricants that help in masturbating, and liquids that keep the penis erect for a long time so that they can last longer in bed are the products that people mostly order from our website. However, after the recent movies there has been an increase in demand for female sex toys, especially remote-controlled vibrators,” says Kunhiraman.
However, according to Kunhiraman, despite such a large demand for sex toys, there is still a huge obstruction in the form of Indian law. According to section 292 of the Indian Penal Code, the display, sale and distribution of anything obscene is prohibited.
“Obscenity is a totally subjective thing, what may be obscene to you may not be obscene to me,” says Armani. “There is nothing written in the law as to what is considered obscene. So we don’t sell anything that even remotely looks like a penis or a vagina. That is why we don’t sell dildos that look like the male sex organ. In fact, anything that is related to anal sex is still prohibited in India. We even don’t sell sex dolls that are a rage in foreign countries,” says Kunhiraman
Anything related to gay sex too is big no-no for these websites. “We get a lot of enquiries and demands for sex toys for the LGBT community. But because of the restrictions of Article 377, we strictly do not sell such type of products.”
Another matter of the fact is that while foreign countries have sex toy shops where anybody can walk in, selling such products in India is still considered illegal. While there are a handful of shops in Delhi’s Palika Bazaar, considered to be the hub of the biggest black market in sex toy in India, business is still conducted in a shady manner there. “It’s very liberal in the USA to talk about sex toys,” says Raj Armani, who conducts his business from the country. “The conversations are casual, the products are readily available and hence it is not really a taboo here,” says Armani.
However, the irony is that in spite of sex-related topics being considered taboo in India, it is the fifth most sexually active country in the world, with 100 million Indians having sex every day.
“There needs to be big change in legal systems. These laws were drafted in 1947 and were for the purpose of controlling erotica in paintings and literature. They had no idea about internet, porn or sex toys that will come after half a century… so now while the truth is that there is no law that defines use of adult toys, so enforcers use their own moral judgement when it comes to deciding if adult toys are legal or not legal,” says Raj Armani.
“In fact, with the high rise in demand for sex toys in the Indian market, it can become a booming industry. But unfortunately, restrictions of the legal system force us to diminish our market. The laws definitely need to change,” says Kunhiraman.