I was in seventh grade when we were ordered to assemble in the conference hall. Only girls are allowed, we were told. The room was aplenty with murmurs and questions: “Why not boys?” “Kyu bulaya hume?” Once we settled down, a biology teacher stood atop a pedestal and started narrating the story of how every girl menstruates and that we were all headed towards it eventually. Something about the uterus and fallopian tubes. When her speech ended, we were handed a single sanitary pad each and asked to maintain confidentiality. Because God forbid anyone else ever gets to know we menstruate! This is the sex education I remember receiving and so do a lot of young people in India.
Far from being gender diverse, sex-positive and accomodating, such routines are often the roots of misinformation and further stigma in youngsters. Even essential topics such as contraception are covered in a mere few lines in CBSE textbooks.
Children are socialised to believe that sex is only meant for procreation, inhibiting their self-growth and pushing them towards the wrong means to discover more about sex. Most school goers learn about sex and pleasure through their friends and porn. Not only can they be misleading means to learn about something so fundamental, but they are often toxic, over-masculine and completely ignore gender-diverse pleasure.
For a country that contributes to 1% of the world population, the land of Kamasutra has kept mum about sex for too long.
However, the wheels are slowly turning. With increasing access to the internet and social media, young folks can access critical information about sexual wellness, health and consent through people like Dr. Cuterus and Indian Sex Therapist, as well as interactive platforms like Agents of Ishq. Additionally, Mirror’s in-house sexpert Dr. Mahendra Watsa not only has left a huge cultural impact, but has done his part in advancing the conversation about sex education.
With the advent of new, young, sex-positive voices on Indian internet, a significant shift has occured in how sex is viewed. Instead of seeing it as a means of procreation, discourse of pleasure has started dominating sex education within young audiences. The phrase ‘orgasm gap’ has recently been making the rounds and so has feminist criticism about porn.
In the midst of everything else, sex toys still seem to retain the tag of being a taboo subject. Information is limited and access is difficult — a situation that calls for an immediate makeover. After all, there are other sex toys than vibrators and dildos. This is exactly why artist Shirin Thakoor set out to do her part in starting a revolution.
What started as a college assignment has led to Shirin illustrating and designing ‘House of Pleasure’ – a set of cards featuring sex toys and information about what they are and how to use them.
“When given the chance to choose my own topic for this particular assignment, I immediately thought of sex toys. It is such a taboo topic in India and is hardly ever explored by people.
The assignment itself was to make informative cards on a topic of our choice. While working on the assignment, I discovered that it could be developed into something innovative and novel. The cards were really fun as you could stack them and connect them in various ways,” she says.
House of Pleasure is meant to serve as an information resource for all. Each card is illustrated with a particular sex toy and is paired with another card detailing the usage.
While the cards are a great medium to connect with sexual partners, Shirin thinks it will also benefit queer individuals to express, explore and come to terms with their identity. The ultimate goal of the project is to normalise the usage of sex toys in quotidian Indian life.
On being asked how the introduction of sex toys can transform sexual experience between individuals, she says, “Different sex toys help you explore yourself in different ways, and having a working knowledge of how toys can be used also helps you explore your desires with your partner.”
Then again, sex toys on the market usually have to be imported making them very expensive to buy. Even Indian store IMbesharam.com’s most popular products range from ?2000 – ?4000 rupees each.
However, Shirin thinks buying expensive sex toys is not a necessity. She says, “Even something as simple as ice when used properly can really help you explore your own body and understand it. At the end of the day, there is only so much a body can do. The idea of adding toys is conceptually bringing a prop to your imagination, which helps to spice up your sex life and help you understand what brings you pleasure better. You don’t just have to purchase a device. Even if you use something safe around you in the right way, it can elevate your sexual experience.”
One of Shirin’s customers wrote back to her — she was excited to see how colourful the packaging was and surprised the cards could be played with.
“She said that the cards were different in a good way as they weren’t just these small cards but like they were big enough to display and build up like a house-like structure. She said she could use it to leave clues for her partner in case she wants to engage with a particular sex toy.”
Speaking of her future endeavours, she says that she would like to add to the series, more sex toys, more information and edit the existing cards to give information on where they can be bought.
Despite growing awareness and surging demand, Indian culture and legal systems have acted as deterrents for sellers and manufacturers. House of Pleasure by Shirin Thakoor takes us one step closer to envisioning a society where sex toys aren’t a hush-hush affair anymore.
Find Shirin on Instagram: @paw_printed_socks