Sexual Wellness In India Is Undergoing A Revolution Thanks To These Inventive Brands
Until a few years ago, India’s sexual wellness market was a dimly lit lane in underground Palika Bazar that you visited secretively to buy a “personal massager.” Or a shadowy lane in Fort, Mumbai, lined with “dildos” that magically vanished at the slightest hint of a police patrol. Thankfully, those days are history. The marketplace is now accessible on your phone, in the comfort and privacy of your home – and a bunch of homegrown brands have made it possible.
The digital age has transformed how we approach and embrace sexual health, with a focus on frank, open discussions about sexuality. Shows like Netflix’s Sex Education paved the path. Bollywood has followed suit: Think Swara Bhasker in Veere Di Wedding or entire seasons of Made in Heaven and Lust Stories. It’s a whole new world of empowerment and freedom to explore desire without fear or judgment. And brands like MyMuse, That Sassy Thing, The Sangya Project, and Leezu’s have kept their ear to the ground.?
MyMuse, a luxury sexual wellness brand that sells massagers, lubricants and even intimate card games, was founded by Anushka and Sahil Gupta in 2020. The husband-wife duo honed their expertise in business and marketing at international universities. Meanwhile, Leezu’s launched in 2022, which also sells massagers and lubricants, is the brainchild of Leeza Mangaldas, a pleasure-positive content creator and author of the acclaimed The Sex Book: A Joyful Journey of Self-Discovery.?
Both these brands are on a mission to destigmatise sexual wellness in a country where repression is the norm. Drawing from their experiences, Gupta and Mangaldas vowed to create all-encompassing platforms where individuals could unapologetically embrace their sensuality. But they are also reacting to sound research. According to this paper, India’s sexual wellness market was valued at $1,153.5 million three years ago and is expected to reach $2,095.4 million by 2030. Unsurprising, considering 60% of India’s population is under 35.??
For Mangaldas, who studied at Columbia University, returning to Mumbai as a young woman exploring her sexuality was tough – and a far cry from student life, where she’d conducted consent training workshops and educated peers about safer sex practices. In India, there was a paucity of platforms providing easily accessible, non-judgemental information contextualised to India, where people could share questions, experiences, and resources about sex and sexuality. “As a young, unmarried woman, even accessing contraception or an STI test could feel like such an obstacle course, let alone talking about sexual pleasure,” she said.?
About five years ago, Mangaldas started creating pleasure-positive, inclusive sex education content on YouTube and other social media platforms. From what works during sex to busting myths, Mangaldas provides nuanced information in her videos that routinely cross 500k+ views. Around the same time, the Guptas were contemplating starting a venture in the health sector. While they initially considered starting a content platform, during the pandemic they noticed the lack of access to good sexual wellness products in India, such as polygenic condoms and clean lubricants. Therein lay an opportunity.
According to research that MyMuse conducted, around 91% of their audience turned out to be first-time users, and a significant percentage were from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. They also discovered that Indian men not only buy products for themselves but also massagers for their partners: 38% of men bought female massagers. All of this turned into insights that shaped their products.?
“This category already requires product education. We aim to simplify it by curating test products and making shopping easier,” said Anushka. “We wanted the products to be around the entire realm of intimacy, and not focus on physical acts. It was very much like a design exercise.”?
MyMuse launched four products: A massager named Pulse, a lubricant, a massage oil for daily use, and a candle. The brand spent considerable time just showing images to focus groups to see what resonated with them, and what shapes, sizes, and forms would work.?
“We wanted to create a massager that was versatile, universal, and comfortable,” said Anushka. This dictated the minimal, discreet design of Pulse. MyMuse’s research also found that most lubricants available in India were of poor quality and had fragrances that harm vaginal health. So they launched Glide, a water-based lubricant, approved by gynaecologists.?
The Pleasure is Ours
There were hurdles, of course. The Guptas faced some negativity online but realised that candour and sensitivity went a long way in encouraging customers to open up. For Mangaldas, the challenges were a lot more prosaic.?
“In India, if you are working as a sexuality educator or a sex tech entrepreneur, you have the twin challenges of sex-negative and shame-laden societal attitudes and anachronistic colonial-era ‘obscenity’ laws, as well as sex-negative content restrictions and ad policies on social and digital media,” she said.?
Many of these policies are also applied inconsistently – and often in sexist ways. However, the messages of support and interest that Mangaldas received convinced her that people were receptive to sex education. After years of interacting with her followers, Mangaldas launched a dual-ended massager named Pyaari, with five suction and 10 vibration modes, and a massage oil. All of her products aim to help women and queer people own their pleasure and bodily autonomy.?
Their approach and language might differ – MyMuse exudes class and sexiness, while Leezu’s pop-colour products and aesthetic radiate cheerfulness and fun – but both the brands agree on one thing: Providing a judgment-free space to their consumers is non-negotiable. MyMuse has an anonymous section on their website, where readers (especially newbies) send in personal questions and their experts write back with advice over email. A quiz on the website offers further help. Leezu, whose brand is based on providing scientifically accurate information, says her focus is on making products that make intimacy more comfortable, enjoyable, and equitable.?
In a country like India, sexual wellness advocacy couldn’t have come a minute too soon. Let’s explore!??