When we think of activists, we imagine lawyers, social workers, and academics— individuals in serious, cerebral professions. But, when I see progressive rhetoric online, I’m especially inspired by how stigmatised professionals like strippers and sex workers and industries like porn and sex toy stores are at the forefront of this fight for equality. “Change starts with conversations and female sexuality has not been tackled enough in India,” says Aleena Darwesh, content planner at That’s Personal, an online store for sex-related products like toys and lingerie.
Our conversation with Aleena on feminism and sexuality came off the back of ThatsPersonal.com uncovering intriguing sales data. Aleena told us that from June 15, 2018, until the end of that month, the company saw a massive uptake in searches and sales for female sex toys. This phenomenon was especially fascinating because the company has never before seen such an interest in their products during months they have not targeted customers with an ad campaign. “June and July are not usually our hot months because we do PR later around August and October. We were not expecting such a huge rise so we tried piecing together what happened,” Aleena said excitedly.
Then, she told me about how ThatsPersonal.com keeps tabs on the release of movies because it is aware of the powerful influence media has on society. She said that the company’s statistics correlated with the release of Veere di Wedding and Lust Stories, films that showcased female sexuality directly and explicitly, without the trademarked Bollywood coyness of neck-nuzzling, which is supposed to imply sexual activity.
Swara Bhaskar’s masturbation scene and Kiara Advani’s scene with the remote controlled vibrator, in particular, were widely discussed for their scandalous nature—at least in India— which lead to a sharp uptick in very specific searches for dildos and remote controlled vibrators, not usual keywords like “sex toys for women” or “sex toys India” that the site usually gets. “Our other categories like penis enlargement, erection sprays, and adult games didn’t see such a spike… And the people who interacted with customer service requested the same products that the actresses used in those two movies,” Aleena said.
The conversations on female sexuality started by Veere di Wedding and Lust Stories are immensely important because they not only bring female-centric narratives to the mainstream but also empower women with an agency that can be tangibly measured. Aleena said that before the release of Lust Stories and Veere di Wedding, most of the customers for their range of female sex toys were male, looking to purchase something for their partners. But, after analysing trends, Thatspersonal.com saw that sales to female consumers increased by a whopping 57%. “More women were interacting with our customer service and bought products for themselves, which isn’t usually what happens,” she said.
That women feel empowered to take an interest in their bodies and explore their sexuality is an immensely valuable consequence of films catering to female interests. Aleena agreed and said, “Media is like a mirror to society and they have to show what’s actually happening. Lust is usually suppressed and hidden. So, it is very important for it to be discussed.”
Exploring one’s body, understanding one’s sexual tastes and preferences, and enjoying sexual pleasure should be as natural an aspect of being human as breathing and eating. Sex, pornography, and other explicit content is usually filtered through the male gaze and created for male enjoyment, using female bodies as objects or mediums for entertainment.
And the impact of Veere di Wedding and Netflix’s Lust Stories might only be two drops in a bucket that tends to look half empty more often than it looks half full. But, arguments that female-focused stories and female-lead movies are not commercially viable enough to be invested in or not meaningful enough to discuss do not have a leg to stand on anymore.
Feature illustrated by Taarika John for Homegrown.
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