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Sex– the one word that somehow manages to make India coy like a bride on her wedding night. After all, which self-respecting Indian would openly talk about sex? That kind of liberal thinking is a Western concept, and completely against our Indian culture. Sure, we gave birth to Kamasutra, which means it was India that pioneered the concept of sexual education through art and literature, but it is absolutely improper for members from good sanskari families to talk about such a thing in open. We may be the second largest populated country in the world, but sex has nothing to do with it. That is exactly why we decided to exclude the word ‘sex’ from our sexual education texts.
In the fight against the travesty that is sexual liberation, people turned to the law. Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code holds that any book, drawing, figure or object “shall be deemed to be obscene” if it fuels lascivious, or overtly sexual, thoughts and behaviour, and Section 67 of the IT Act duplicates this law for the internet. This act is the reason why we don’t find adult shops anywhere in India. However, with the onset on e-commerce, Indians have started finding their way around the law. Statistics suggest the number of buyers on websites that deal in adult toys is increasing by the day. Some estimate that India’s online sexual wellness industry will be worth Rs8,700 crore ($1.4 billion) by 2020, a massive increase from about Rs1,000 crore ($161 million) in 2014. It just goes to say that you can make all the laws, but educated, liberal, youngsters who are open to trying out new things are on the rise, and they will find a way to satiate their hunger. However, it hasn’t been easy. In 2015, Delhi lawyer Suhaas Joshi took the online retailer Snapdeal to court for selling sex toys. Many retailers such as Amazon and Flipkart decided to play it safe by selling these products under the labels of “health and personal care,” while luxury retailers such as Guptt, bridge the gap between spirituality and sexual wellness.
These products are only legal—or illegal—depending on how they are displayed, shaped and sold. A massager is legal, but if it is shaped like a penis, then it is illegal. It is a result of this kind of ambiguity that we seldom find references to the same in mainstream Indian movies. In fact, I believe that Vikas Bahl’s Queen  is probably the first Bollywood movie that shows a sex toy. We see Rani walk into an adult shop, without a clue of what half of the products are, and picks up a vibrator, convinced that is a massager, and goes on to purchase one for her father. There are subtle jokes surrounding the product, but we don’t see it being the tag of a sex toy at any point of the movie. While it provided great comedy, the object’s mention does not in anyway normalise the concept of adult toys. However, across the world, in Hollywood there are quite a few movies that have started up a conversation about the same:
Fight Club 
The 1999 movie has been heralded as one of the greatest American movies of all times. Its anti-materialist and anti-corporate agenda had gained it a cult status. Over the years, fans came up with several theories, one of the most popular one being that Marla, the Narrator’s love interest, is not real. The fact that all the three characters dress similarly, and that in several scenes we see Marla “take over” as Jack being the reason. Another reasoning that supports the theory is the prominence of dildos throughout the movie. Emasculation is a recurring theme throughout the movie. The first self-help group that Jack attends is a testicular cancer group, a group for men who have literally lost their balls to cancer. The penis is a symbol of rebellion and male power. Women are shown to be the villains–the agents of castration. When Jack confides in Tyler, Tyler responds by saying, “Could be worse. A woman could cut off your penis while you’re asleep and toss it out the window of a moving car.” During Project Mayhem, cutting the balls off men come to be viewed as the ultimate punishment.
The several references to dildos allude to the fact that Jack no longer has his testicles, or that Marla emasculates him. Marla voices this anxiety when she says to Tyler about her sex toy, “Don’t worry. It’s not a threat to you.” In the scene with the vibrating suitcase at the airport, we see that a dildo has been packed into the luggage. But, that is just a theory. The inclusion of a sex toy in the movie is commendable, because it was one of the first times that a phallic sex toy was used in a mainstream movie for a purpose other than highly exaggerated, and sexualised comedy. The dildo sits on Marla’s shelf and is slightly moved by Tyler, but is not, at any point, used. The lack of its purpose shows us that sex toys can be integrated into narratives without sensationalising it, thereby normalising them.
‘Not Another Teen Movie’ (2001)
The very first scene of the teen-flick parody opens with Janey (Chyler Leigh) watching a beloved actor on TV. The sight of him in a tuxedo turns her on, and she decides to treat herself on her birthday morning by bringing out the vibrator. Unfortunately for her, her family, right from her father, little brother, grandparents, to her parish priest, and the elementary-school kids she volunteers with interrupts her session. The obliviousness of those around her, and her frustration stemming from her inability to give herself a happy ending works together to make a great comic plot. This is one of the first mainstream movies to depict a young teenage girl masturbate, that too using a sex toy.
9 Songs 
The British romantic drama film, written and directed by Michael Winterbottom, tells us the story of the romance between a British climatologist, Matt, and an American exchange student, Lisa. Set in London, the plot spans over 12 months, marked by 9 songs performed by eight different bands at the Brixton Academy. The film faced a lot of criticism for its sexual content. The movie included unsimulated footage of the leads having sex and performing oral sex as well as a scene of ejaculation, which is very unusual for a mainstream movie. The movie shows the two simply exploring their own bodies and that of each other. We see them even broach the territory of BDSM. We also see a young woman enjoying her sexuality without shame. One of the scenes in the movie also shows Lisa using a vibrator to masturbate. Granted, in a movie that is so sexually explicit, a scene with a vibrator hardly stands out. Though, the fact that it doesn’t stand out only reiterates the idea that these toys are not as sensational as they are made out to be.
Burn After Reading 
This dark comedy drama by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen tells us the story of Osbourne Cox, a CIA operative, whose life simply seems to be falling apart. Harry Pfarrer, played by George Clooney, is a neurotic Treasury Department marshal, who just can’t seem to keep it in his pants. When Ozzie gets fired from the Agency, he decides to write a tell-all memoir, blissfully unaware that he doesn’t have much to tell. However, a draft ends up in the hands of one of Harry’s lovers, Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and her colleague Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt). Convinced they’ve tapped into classified information, they see this as the perfect opportunity to make some serious cash. The events to follow creates chaos and confusion, and for the viewers, a whole lot to laugh at.
The movie is filled with violent and sexual content. However, one of the most iconic scenes in the movie is that of the chair. Harry is a charismatic and attractive agent, who easily charms women of all age brackets. All he really wants is to make an innovative and economical present to surprise his wife when she returns from a work trip to Seattle. Towards the end of the film, we see that Harry’s creation is actually an elaborate sex toy that involves a dildo. Several sources reveal that after the movie’s release, the sale of sex-toy in the US increased.
The Ugly Truth 
In this movie, we watch an obsessive, controlling, romantically challenged morning show producer lock horns with a chauvinistic host. The characters played by Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler, respectively, fight to their wit’s end, only to realise their love for each other and seal the movie with a kiss (Shocker, right?). While the movie is filled with cliches, one of the most memorable scenes in the movie is the one involving the vibrator panties. We see Heigl don a pair of remote-controlled panties for a date, which ends up being a business meeting. The remote falls in the hands of an unsuspecting child, who plays with the buttons, triggering Heigl to have a big O, right in the middle of the restaurant.
The scene not only popularised vibrator panties but also sent out the message that women can be satisfied sexually with no help from a man, albeit, the panties were a gift from Mike.
Easy A 
In this American teenage drama written by Bert V. Royal and directed by Will Gluck, we see Olive (Emma Stone) fall into a trap of lies after a small lie about losing her virginity spreads like wildfire. She decides to use the situation to advance her social standing. Through the movie we see her pretending to have sex with several of her schoolmates, as a way to earn some money out of the situation. And before she knows it, things begin to spiral out of control. One of the people she helps is her closeted gay friend, Brandon. He chooses to thank her by gifting her a vibrator along with a note that reads “Go screw yourself”. You never see her use the present– probably because all the fake sex really tired her out. The vibrator becomes a comic plot point. We see her dog, on more than one occasion, turn the device on. Regardless of whether she uses it or not, the movie shows us that vibrators or any sex toy for that matter is a great gift for a woman. The fact that by gifting it, the woman concerned can escape the possible embarrassment of purchasing and owning it, is an added bonus.
Directed by Tanya Wexler, this 2011 British period romantic comedy shows how the medical management of hysteria during the Victorian era led to the invention of the vibrator. Set in 1880, the movie portrays the life of Dr. Mortimer Granville, who, on realising that the medical establishment did not accept progressive and scientific ideas decided to work with Dr. Robert Dalrymple, who provided treatment for women diagnosed with hysteria (a catch-all malady to deal with such symptoms as “weeping, nymphomania, frigidity, melancholia, and anxiety”). The method to manage hysteria was simple– massage the genital area so as to elicit “paroxysmal convulsions”, or as we would call it, orgasms. Granville takes on the role, and his skills gain him a huge following, and a case of hand cramps. His flatmate, Edmond St. John-Smythe gives Granville an electrical feather duster to help him with his cramps and he realises that the device can be used to massage other things.
In the movie, we see Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character, Charlotte, talk about her extensive personal vibrator collection. She says she has an “incredible [vibrator] collection, and I actually use like one or two of them. I lend them to my friends, and they’ll take them for six months at a time.” Charlotte is a premodern feminist, a champion of women’s rights, who runs a settlement house in a poor section of London. The combination of the two makes the movie a feminist fable comedy, that has a far more liberal attitude towards female sexuality compared to most mainstream movies set in today’s world.
50 Shades of Grey 
The movie was made based on the erotic novel by British author E. L. James and it is a story no one needs an introduction to. Regardless of what you thought about the book or movie, you have to accept that this was the first time that bondage in sex was so openly discussed in mainstream media. While the book/ movie received a lot of backlash for normalising ‘sexual violence’, many young couples out there took inspiration from it to add a little spice to their sex life. The work also helped several members of the BDSM community come out in the open and talk about their experiences. Soon after the movie, the sales of sex toys, as well as bondage tools such as whips and nipple clamps went up. The online retailer and wholesaler PinkCherry Adult Toys credited a 30% spike in sales in the summer of 2012 to the book’s sizzling scenes. The movie’s only further fueled the surge. E.L. James too decided to join in on the action and released her collection of bondage, sex toys, and accessories.