Women needn’t go to shady corners of crowded markets in metro cities if they are in the mood to buy some kink supplement. No more scouting the grey market, or waiting for friends to come back from the US, or planning a trip to Thailand just to enhance their sexual ecommerce. Because lo and behold! More than a dozen websites now sell sexual wellness products including but not limited to contraceptives, pleasure enhancers and creams and gels.
Who is selling these online?
“People were embarrassed to buy something as simple as a condom from the neighbourhood store, because they were worried about the societal perception,” says Samir Saraiya, CEO, That’s Personal. “Somewhere we realised that just offering a new product was not enough. It was about providing quality products discreetly such that people would not be embarrassed to purchase them.”
IMBesharam, whose brand ambassador is Sunny Leone, says vibrators and water-based lubes – their top selling products – are popular because men gift these to their women, or women buy these for their own use. The trend of bachelors and bachelorette parties (where the friends of the groom or bride to be throw a ‘fun’ party) also adds to these sales.
Lubricants and bedroom accessories are responsible for more than half of HealthKart’s sales, “Vacurect, a device that tackles erectile dysfunction, has done well in the market. It costs Rs 12,000 on an average,” says Prashant Tandon, co-founder of HealthKart.
Flipkart realises how hard it is for Indians to walk up to a shop and buy sexual wellness products. “We recognise the need consumers have in terms of packaging. We have ensured that the packaging of the sellers is discreet. From a navigation/display point of view, consumers’ interest and sensitivities are kept in mind. We have created an experience that allows consumers to explore the products, order them from home and also receive it discreetly,” Flipkart said on the topic.
Snapdeal, who started this category in April 2013, understands that the demand is huge, while the suppliers aren’t enough. “The category is under-tapped, even in retail. There is demand. Distribution and availability are a concern. Large companies we speak to are unable to distribute the products, display them well and educate the consumer,” says Amit Maheshwari, who heads the category at Snapdeal.
Who is buying these online?
Recent reports suggest that women drive sexual products sales more than men do. Raj Armani, COO IMBesharam, believes the number of women buyers is increasing steadily. “When we went live, the male to femaleratio in traffic was 70:30 and the sales 87:13. Now we see 64:36 ratio in traffic and 72:38 in sales,” he says.
“Women buy primarily based on discounts offered. But based on that, they buy more and buy often. They buy anywhere between two to three items (sexual care products could be one of them) while men stick to one about 60% of the time. Women buy more than two items about 50% of the time and buy at least twice a year from us,” says Prashant Tandon, MD and co-founder of Healthkart.
The taboo that sex is in the country, it is no wonder that people, especially women, prefer buying such personal items online, where the packaging is discreet and you don’t have to ask a shopkeeper to help you find what you need. Though it makes you think that the land where the Kama Sutra was born has to go about its sexual wellness under wraps!
To give you some stats
Let the numbers talk for themselves here:
- Vinodh Reddy, who set up ohmysecrets in January 2013, says his site gets 5,000 visitors a day on average, with the total of 18 lakh visitors so far
- Adult lifestyle web store IMbesharam, started in July 2013 by two NRIs Raj Armani and Salim Rajan, claims to receive 150,000 unique visitors and 4,000 orders on average a month
- According to online health store HealthKart, 10% of site visitors check out the sexual wellness category
- Snapdeal says this category is growing by 15% a month
- Companies peg the overall market in the range of Rs.1,000 crore to Rs.1,500 crore
What does the law say?
Lekesh Dholakia, the attorney for That’s Personal, explains that the laws around selling adult products in India are quite ambiguous. While selling contraceptives, lubricants and other gels over the counter is popular and undertaken by large pharmacies, selling sex toys is not. There is no law against the sale of sex toys, however there is the whole deal about the accompanying literature and how it scores on the offensive meter. “The concern arises only in the manner in which these sex toys/ apparels and related products are displayed and exhibited for sale in India,” he adds. “Under Indian law, obscenity is an offence. Therefore, if any of these items are advertised and/ or displayed for sale using any obscene pictures, graphics, display mechanism, or otherwise in any obscene manner, then there could be a cause for concern.”
But what is obscene? “Section 292 of the IPC and section 67 of the IT Act, (which corresponds to section 292 of the IPC) explain ‘obscenity’ to mean anything which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest, or if its effect is to deprave and corrupt persons,” says Dholakia, “the fact that the content of such a product/ article is ‘obscene’, [means] it will fall certainly within the purview of Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code and hence [it is] illegal in India.”
Sellers have another category to explore. Buyers have added access to formerly taboo products. Marketplaces are happy. Just like people will never stop eating, and never stop wanting to dress up, people will never stop wanting to pleasure themselves better. Hence, this category is here to stay – and grow – until the law finds something to nit-pick on.