The taboo surrounding conversations around sex in India extends to the use of sex toys as well, and any opposition serves as a direct challenge to conservative norms. The verdict is clear – pleasure is political, and sex toys aid the broadening of choices women can exercise while prioritising themselves.

An overview of sex toys: The new 'buzz' word.

Sowmya Srinivasan is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in Law honours from Tamil Nadu National Law University, Tiruchirapalli. They enjoy research and writing, and advocate for LGBT+ rights and mental health. They actively participate in debating, and when free, indulge in painting.

Conversations around sex and sexuality are largely limited in India, a highly conservative society which deems the raising of such questions as immoral and brushes the answers under the carpet. The idea of hushed conversations, further exacerbated by the poor level of sex education in India, has led to a lot of misconceptions about pleasure, the morality of it, as well as ingrained a sense of shame regarding sexual activities, both experienced with a partner and without. Over the past few years, however, there has been an increased focus on female pleasure, showing that women aren’t afraid to take pleasure into their own hands. What better way to explore that than through sex toys!

Before we dive into the nitty gritty details of using sex toys, a brief introspection on the legality of their sale may be explored. In western liberal democracies such as the USA, conversations around the usage of sex toys are quite common, reflected also in the freedom to sell and market these products online as well as in specific adult stores. Having referred earlier to the culture surrounding sex currently in India, you would be hard pressed to find any store offline actively advertising their range of products. The current market for sex toys is not regulated under any specific Indian laws. However, there have been reports of seizure by custom authorities, which points to the idea that such trade is prohibited. A notification released by the Central Government in 1963 prohibits the import or export of any figure or article that is obscene, in order to maintain public order and standards of decency and morality. This is broad enough to include toys within its rule, and imposes a moralistic imperative upon the sale and consumption of sex toys.

Criminal laws under the Indian Penal Code also prohibit the sale of ‘obscene’ goods, and sex toys have periodicially been viewed through this lens. The conceptions of morality and obscenity thus seem to play a large role in the administrative process, and determine the legality of this market. Given the conservative nature of the Indian polity, liberalisation of the market would require changes to the entrenched idea that conversations about sex are immoral.

The judgements given by the courts, however, point towards a growing trend of respect to the fundamental right to privacy. The imposition of such restrictions may thus be seen as interfering with an individual’s right to sexual privacy. In the judgement decriminalising homosexuality, the Court noted that sexuality cannot be narrowly defined and upheld the protection of the fluidity of sexual experiences. The idea of obscenity may be co-related with the archaic idea of acts ‘against the order of nature’, which was previously used as a justification for criminalising same-sex relationships. Thus, this restriction of goods meant for private consumption may infringe upon a person’s right to sexual privacy. 

While no law currently regulates the sale and consumption of such goods, the medical implications of their usage have consistently yielded positive responses. Sex toys have been shown to enhance sexual pleasure, and orgasms can help you sleep, boost immunity, relieve pain, reduce stress and boost your brain power. They have negligible side effects when compared to medication, and the wide range and variety of products ensures that there’s something for everyone. Sex toys can also help people enjoy sexual intimacy in relationships where penetrative sex is not possible, and can serve as a liberating experience for a lot of women who are now able to take control of their pleasure. 

Sex toys can be of various types, and service people of all genders. Common sex toys for women include vibrators, clitoral stimulators, G-spot stimulators, dildos, magic wands, nipple clamps and wearable eggs. These toys can be used for a range of different stimulations, each unique and adaptable to the needs of their user. Toys are especially useful when you’re initially exploring what works for you and your body and can help in connecting with yourself better. A lot of the stigma surrounding sex and the shame that accompanies it can also be shed through personal exploration, where toys can be very useful.

In a culture where a lot of the pornography that is available online is so heavily cantered around how women can please men, the education and awareness required for fulfilling partnered relationships for women is quite lacking. Surveys show that 56% of men masturbate, while only about 25% of women do, and this is bolstered by the fact that female sexuality often takes a back seat in conversations surrounding sex.  Some of my friends who have personally used toys have often told me – “Why need a man when you can satisfy yourself better?” Issues of sexual pleasure are often political as well, as feminists have long fought for it as a right and a way of asserting autonomy over our own bodies. The fight against female genital mutilation, forced child marriage, etc. are centered around the autonomy that women have over their own bodies, one which is constantly violated by the current structures that restrict its expression. The barriers that prevent women from exploring masturbation or having conversations about it are analogous to the control that patriarchal structures impose upon women. Having our bodies under constant scrutiny and imposing moralistic conditions of purity are manifestations of this control, and any attempt to transgress these boundaries is met with disapproval. This choice, thus, is one that directly opposes these rigid systems of conditioning and is a form of challenging these structures of oppression.

The idea of toys can be daunting and uncomfortable for many due to the shame and conditioning that we’ve been exposed to. Overcoming this mental barrier and making an active choice may very well help you reclaim this narrative. Various sites such as imbesharam and thatspersonal advertise sex toys in India and can be an avenue of exploration for those who are new to the concept, as well as provide a range of products for those with more knowledge. So, what are you waiting for? Get shopping!

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