That sex is taboo is a well-known adage in India but the aspect of sex that is most taboo is female pleasure and vibrators as objects designed specifically for female pleasure are almost as jarring as grenades to the Indian sensibility. In our weekly sex-column, we discuss Indian women using vibrators and why they still have no hope of being normalised.
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia
His name was… well, actually, his name is not important. He was a guy I met at the cafe where I went to pretend to write everyday. In a sense we had known each other for a long time because we ran into each other almost every day, borrowed lighters, stored forgotten belongings, nodded heads and smiled (okay, brooded) regularly at one another. Which is why when we accidentally went on a date, I wasn’t really sure that is what it was, but when he invited me back to his place, it became a lot clearer. Events transpired, as one might expect, but only one thing among them was notable. As we were engaged in amorous activity, I heard a loud buzzing sound and suddenly saw before me a white, phallic-shaped vibrating object. I darted from one end of the room to the other like a bullet being shot out of loaded gun.
That was the moment in which I learnt that I am terrified of vibrators.
For a long time, I believed like most Indian women, that vibrators were just not available or accessible in India. Of course I knew of their existence because, porn. Just a quick note to any parents of millennials (and after) that are reading this (first of all, why?!), when you got your kid that internet connection that’s what they were all doing. They were watching pornography (and it’s mostly okay). I viewed it as something that was fantastical and definitely not real in India. I realise now we use “not real in India” as a method of hiding a lot of stuff that does exist in Indian society. For instance, girls watching porn is also “not real in India”. Premarital sexual relationships are also “not real in India”. So when I saw vibrators in porn, I thought they were, not real in India. The first time I saw one in real life, I almost jumped out of the window. Everything about it was terrifying.
Primarily, I think, it’s because I am scared of electricity. I am so scared that I won’t even touch a car with my hand while opening the door if I am wearing a sweater. I half-expect to be shocked by water each time I run the kitchen faucet. I try never to have to touch any switch with my hands and I don’t touch wires even when they aren’t connected to anything. I cannot use an electric lighter or automatic lighter for the stove, it’s matches all the way with me. I am terrified of electricity, so I am also terrified of electric sexual aides. It wasn’t just that, though, it was shocking to me to see a vibrator the first time. It shocked a sensibility in me that I didn’t know I had. The reason vibrators are so shocking is because they represent an aspect of sex that is perhaps most taboo: Female pleasure.
It’s a tale older than time. Teenaged boys are expected to “take long showers”, watch pornography or view dirty magazines but the female liberty for discovering their own bodies as they go through puberty is limited to a discussion of periods and pads (and how to keep them hidden from the rest of society). Even censorship and television rating laws all over the world tend to rate women masturbating on screen as “R” whereas men doing it is PG-13. To say nothing of the way sex itself is taught to women as a thing that hurts, a thing that men need more than them and a thing that ends in male orgasm. We even go so far as to justify rape by classifying it as a function of helpless male need by chanting a refrain of “boys will be boys”. As a society, we just accept that male pleasure, and for this discussion let’s just say pleasure is limited to orgasm, is a need, whereas female pleasure is a dirty, disgusting want. I have strong, liberated female friends who feel uncomfortable and dirty asking their sexual partners to cater to their pleasure and most women aren’t having any orgasms during sex anyway. A (hopefully) small fraction of men still even believe that the entire concept of the female orgasm is a myth. Pop culture has us believe that men want sex from women and women must play defence against this. If not that, it has us believe that either women who have sex (especially before marriage) die or have terrible things happen to them, or they must endure this activity as a testament to their love (which women have to compulsorily feel to be able to have sex).
Now I am not a prude but all of that, coupled with my fear of orgasms, had me terrified of vibrators. I thought of vibrators before that point as an alien concept that existed only in foreign porn and seeing one right in front of me made me question everything I thought I knew about sex in India. It took me several years but I finally bought one. You can buy vibrators pretty easily on Amazon now, they are advertised as “pain-massagers” and come in various shapes, sizes and configurations, and you can also have several foreign manufacturers ship them to India. Although, there is a caveat, our customs laws prohibit anything phallic from being shipped into the country so the chances of a foreign phallic object being stopped at customs is high. There are also several indian online stores and platforms that sell sexual aides for women such as That’s Personal and I’m Besharam (weird name choice, won’t lie). Sex toys in India are expensive, generally-speaking, but they do exist and are more accessible now than ever before. Most of these places will also ship discreetly and won’t name the object being shipped on the box, and some of them even provide a planned pick up option. An online store I once shopped at about four years ago even allowed customisation of the specifications of the package being shipped and guarantee that even the delivery person wouldn’t know what was inside it.
However after I bought my first vibrator and came to ponder the subject seriously for the first time, I realised that it isn’t just the accessibility of vibrators that is stopping women from investing in their own pleasure, it’s also the “not in India” porn image of sex aides for women and what we are taught about them that keeps us from trying them. Boys are allowed to use the most disgusting of household items in their pursuit for something that resembles a hole, and it’s even okay when that becomes a culturally acceptable and rich joke area. It’s even okay when men watching pornography as a group activity is just what we expect from them but women. Women are expected to view sex from two socially-acceptable lenses: the health of the marriage and to have babies. Vibrators don’t fit into any of that. Orgasms are just the point of sex for men, but for women orgasms are a puerile and immoral need, and buying a vibrator which doesn’t get you pregnant and will definitely emasculate your husband is like wearing a slut-board on your forehead. It’s cutting out the pretence and saying upfront that you want pleasure from sex and that is about the most offensive thing you can say as an Indian woman.
This is not just disseminated socially as shaming, but also as misinformation. For instance, women are told that vibrators will decrease sensitivity for us in the area. Now I can say that this can go either way. For me, this is not the case, but I know women for whom over-the-years there has been decreased sensitivity. The point is not whether usage impacts sensitivity because let’s be honest, doesn’t just the act of having sex over the years change how we react to it? The point is that if on the one hand you have a woman with “decreased sensitivity” and a vibrator that goes up to 50, and on the other hand you have a women with great sensitivity and no vibrator, which one of them do you think is more likely to have an orgasm? I don’t see men lining up to invest in female pleasure but I do see growing businesses that recognize the sales potential of a rising class of independent women with disposable income that do wish to invest in female pleasure. In that fight I don’t see the people preserving “sensitivity” as the ones that come out ahead. Besides, you know what else screws up the “sensitivity” of a woman’s vagina? Childbirth. Yet I don’t see anyone lining up to warn women against having children to preserve their sensitivity. Sensitivity is important to pleasure, and not at all if the women in question aren’t receiving any pleasure to begin with.
Another argument against vibrators is that if you start using them you won’t enjoy any other form of sexual engagement. Again, I don’t find this to be true at all. On the other hand I know way too many men whose porn-addictions keep them from enjoying actual sexual encounters. Vibrators aren’t women replacing sex, it’s women making sex better for themselves too. It’s not about replacing the role of a partner but about adding to the experience for ourselves if we want to. Ultimately this is about the ownership of a woman’s genitals, women are expected to keep them “pure” for their husbands and a woman who has known pleasure might be able to recognise it when her husband isn’t providing it.
But ultimately women being more experienced and aware of their own pleasure is better for men too (at least when it comes to heterosexual relations) because it always for more honest sexual relationships between couples, and more honest sexual relationships allow for more successful relationships. If men in our country are at the point where a woman having a pleasurable sexual experience by themselves devalues their manhood, then that manhood needs to be seriously questioned. If buying a vibrator starts the conversation, buy one. It might be a scary thing to introduce to your life, and it might make you feel like you are betraying some fabric of indianness that has been taught to you, but it’s better to be satisfied and conflicted than unsatisfied and still conflicts.
Though I cannot lie, I am still scared of vibrators myself, but it’s only because I haven’t been able to work through my fear of electricity. I have no fear of female pleasure. No one should.