To the average outsider, India seems to be the kind of exotic and spiritual nation where attitudes to sex would be as open and liberal as it gets. That to visit a local Indian sex shop would be as normal and acceptable as popping out for a free pint of milk.
In reality, the country which gave the world Kamasutra retains one of the most traditionally conservative attitudes to sex imaginable. To such an extent that even the word itself is considered taboo across much of India. The mere mention of sex toys and adult products being enough to raise eyebrows and even shocks those in the vicinity.
However, it appears that for the first time in a long time, things are gradually beginning to progress towards a new era of acceptance and openness.
Sexual Education and Discussion
As many other nations, India is beginning to accept and acknowledge the importance of sex education and general conversation. In decades gone by, it would have been unthinkable for parents to discuss sexual matters with their children. Likewise, children would have been forbidden from asking questions even remotely related to sex to their school teachers and figures of authority in general.
While this remains true for the most part, there are signs of change in the air.
Something that can perhaps be attributed, at least in part, to the growth of the sexual wellness industry worldwide. On a global basis, the industry is expected to be worth more than $52 billion by the end of the current decade. Between 2013 and 2017, the value of the industry in India grew from $213 million to $450 million – more than doubling in less than five years.
This would seem to suggest that more Indian men and women than ever before are taking an active interest in sex toys and adult products in general. As the public becomes more adventurous, availability and the sheer range of products available are growing like never before. For the first time in India, it’s now possible to pick up just about any type of sex toy the global market has to offer, without having to order from an overseas seller.
Obscene Vs. Acceptable
One of the biggest challenges facing those on the business end of the deal is that of ensuring they comply with all applicable rules and regulations. Irrespective of growing demand for adult products, there are still various longstanding laws that make it difficult to market and sell sex toys legally.
For example, Section 292 prohibits promotion or display of anything that can be considered obscene, making it difficult or impossible to list or display items for sale. The reason being that obscenity is a subject of personal interpretation and opinion. What one person considers to be completely acceptable may be interpreted as completely unacceptable by someone else. The problem being that when complaints are received, law enforcement officials almost always take the side of the complainant.
Unable to market and promote their products accordingly, sellers find it extremely difficult to turn a profit by selling adult merchandise. In turn, they focus on the kinds of products that are easier to sell, without ruffling any feathers. Unfortunate, given the enormous untapped potential the Indian sex toy market has to offer.
The Ecommerce Revolution
Along with wider interest in adult products among the general population than ever before, the explosive growth of the industry in India has been largely credited to the ecommerce revolution. One of the biggest obstacles facing the adult product industry has been the taboo and even the shame accompanying the sale and purchase of adult products.
On one side of the equation, you have retailers who don’t want to earn a negative reputation. Not to mention, potentially fall out of favour with local law enforcement at the same time. On the other, you have the everyday consumer. The kind of person who doesn’t want to raise eyebrows and become the subject of gossip, simply by heading out and purchasing adult products. Nevertheless, this was and still is the standard across much of India, when it comes to selling and buying adult products.
This is precisely where the key difference with online retail comes into the equation. By completely eliminating the physical process of browsing and purchasing sex toys, it becomes exponentially easier to do so in complete confidence. Particularly if you happen to be on the lookout for the kinds of products that would raise more than a few eyebrows among those in the vicinity.
On a global basis, the Internet has become the number-one destination for those looking to pick up adult products of every shape and size. Even in western regions where attitudes to sex are significantly more liberal and evolved, there’s something uniquely comforting about buying these kinds of products anonymously online. Shipped in discrete packaging to ensure nobody finds out what you’ve ordered, it’s never been easier to get your hands on literally anything with complete discretion.
A Liberal Future
For the time being, it’s highly unlikely that any sweeping changes will be implemented to alter the legal landscape governing the sale of sex toys and adult products. Nor is it probable that general attitudes to sex and adult products in general will shift radically in the near future. The country is still subject to the kinds of longstanding traditions and concepts that are going to take quite some time to erode, yet alone disappear entirely.
Nevertheless, what we’re seeing today are the first signs of a liberal future the likes of which India has never seen before. With hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, the government eventually has no choice but to simplify the sale and acquisition of sex toys in India. Likewise, the greater the number of people experimenting with sex toys, the less taboo and more open the subject becomes.
Give things another couple of decades and the adult product industry in India could be every bit as lucrative and healthy as that of any western nation.