By Kripa Krishnan Nov. 27, 2016
Selling sex toys in India is risky business, but a “wellness” website has found an ingenious workaround.
The living room is littered with white packages, seemingly innocuous envelopes, stuffed full and soft to the touch. Divya Chauhan holds one up for inspection. This particular package will make its way to a small village in Bardhaman district of West Bengal. The delivery address was too obscure for the courier company, so Divya, the co-founder of a start-up selling sex toys online, decided to route it through the local post office. A week from now, an unsuspecting daakia will deliver a vibrating dildo to a blushing boudi.
Even as Divya Chauhan, anointed the first female erotica entrepreneur by a national newspaper recently, is empowering women, one blushing boudi at a time, there’s no denying that selling sex toys in India is a tricky business. Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code punishes the sale of any object which falls under the rather subjective term “obscene”. And the pink, penile objects contained in these sterile white pouches would definitely fall under that umbrella term. So entrepreneurs like Divya find circuitous routes around it.
We are sitting in her living room, a tastefully done space in a recently gentrified, leafy Mumbai suburb which has been taken over by tech bros and bankers. The company’s co-founder and Divya’s husband Mrinal, is busy figuring out the logistics of the 50 orders they send out every week. He pores over the numbers but Divya is the face of this month-old operation. I don’t know whether he’s really busy or if he doesn’t like the conversation about the size of sex organs in India, but either way, his head doesn’t move from behind his laptop. So I’m surprised when Divya tells me that Mrinal would handle customer calls before the clients began to request for a woman – the requests would often go way beyond product assistance and verge into the territory of counselling.
They do not offer many pictures of the products they sell and the ones that do, have such strange names like “vibrating makeup brush” for a dildo and “fart extinguisher” for an anal toy!
Apparently, Indian women like their vibrators with a side of reassurance that they are not sluts for using them. So Mrinal would talk to these women, many of whom are married and worried that using a sex toy might ruin their vaginas for their husband. Others have questions about the chemical compounds in lubricants and then there are those details on the legendary Rabbit, the battery-fuelled hump-happy bunny that famously services woman better than any mortal man.
Divya tells me that she fields a lot of the queries on her personal phone number. But this Saturday evening, her mobile phone is silent. And so is her husband, but detached as he seems right now, Divya assures me he is wholly on board with the idea.
Divya lost her job last year after her unit at a MNC was dissolved. When she decided that she wanted to make a living selling imported erotic equipment instead, Mrinal decided to quit his job and join her.
Mrinal and Divya dared to begin their journey thanks to a small legal loophole of Section 292. They simply don’t present themselves as an “adult website”; they do not offer many pictures of the products they sell and the ones that do, have such strange names like “vibrating makeup brush” for a dildo and “fart extinguisher” for an anal toy! Here you see happy, fully clothed couples smiling in bed, a glamorous woman at the helm of a yacht, and a section dedicated to lingerie and costumes, including a sexy cop. None of the models are Indian and the word sex or pleasure is not to be seen anywhere on the website. A blog entry about a woman’s first sexual encounter sticks to euphemisms for genitals and lovemaking like “opening” and “build-up”.
“We want to tell people that having sex is a healthy thing,” says Divya. “So our website is not an adult website but more of a wellness enterprise. That is how we look at it.” My instinct is to laugh out loud but Divya is straight-faced. To her, mixing the pursuit of pleasure with health doesn’t seem ludicrous at all. It’s all part of survival if you want to do business in India.
I arrange my face to an appropriately formal mask and ask her what is the most popular item in their catalogue. “Massagers,” says Divya, without blinking. “Neck massagers.”
This time I burst out laughing.
Kripa Krishnan is a Delhi girl living in Mumbai, she is a hunter-gatherer of information and has spent the past decade justifying her love of both Germaine Greer and misogynistic rap.