Your browser is currently blocking notification.
Please follow this instruction to subscribe:
X
Notifications are already enabled.
X

Sex Sells, So Why Not Sexual Wellness? India’s Startups On Emerging From The Shadows

Sex Sells, So Why Not Sexual Wellness? India’s Startups On Emerging From The Shadows

The Asia Pacific is expected to be the largest global sexual wellness market in the world, led by India

Studies show that at least one sexual health disorder was reported by 81% of the men

Media representations of sex and sexuality have increased the knowledge and demand for sex toys and sex therapy among customers

India is the fifth most sexually active country in the world where 100 Mn people are said to have sex every day and it’s also the land that gave birth to the Kamasutra, the ancient guide to good sex. But sex is still one of the biggest taboo topics in open debates in the Indian society, and sexual wellness is derided with inane humour without an iota of seriousness. That’s despite numerous startups and vertical ecommerce portals addressing the sexual wellness market in India

Conversations about experimenting in the bedroom are never spoken about in terms of the impact on the overall health of an individual, and encouraging sexual wellness is seen more as a joke than serious advice.

Yes, sexual wellness is a serious business.

Clubbed under sex toys, sex therapists and performance enhancers, the global sexual wellness market is accounted for $39.42 Bn in 2017 and expected to grow at a CAGR of 13.4% to reach $122.96 Bn by 2026. This huge growth will be led by the Asia Pacific and within this larger region, the likes of India, China, Japan, and South Korea are key market drivers, according to a Reuters report.

But while sex has remained a taboo for many Indians, there’s a growing awareness for sexual wellness and seeking help to solve sex problems among urban Indians. To a large extent, this is thanks to the rise in the awareness of this segment, thanks to the internet and platforms dedicated to boosting the acceptability of sexual wellness solutions and products in the country.

Among the pack of startups trying to usher in the sexual wellness revolution in India is Kaamastra.com which lists more than 4000 sexual wellness products. Founder Rahber Nazir told Inc42 that seeking help online is a powerful motivator for many Indians — particularly in the case of sex products — since it allows anonymity and discretion in the buying process.

“Customers also have the ability to call and ask questions relating to sexual health and wellness and get advice on what products they should consider fulfilling their fantasies.”

He added that media representations of sex and sexuality are also very powerful — shows such as Lust Stories, Mukhauta along with other online content have increased the knowledge and demand for sex toys and therapy among customers, which is overcoming the taboo aspect.

Raj Armani, the founder of IMbesharam.com, also counted digital content as one of the key drivers for his business, citing the surge the platform saw soon after Netflix’s original show Lust Stories was released in 2018. Armani claimed that in a single week it got more women shoppers and sold more female sex toys than any other month in the previous 5 years. The second event, according to Armani, was when Section 377 was struck off to decriminalise same-sex relationships. “We spiked for a week and sold almost everything off our shelves,” he told Inc42.

In a microscopic study by the Indian government among adult men in rural northern India, it was found that 81% of the male respondents suffer from at least one sexual health disorder. The most commonly reported disorder was a self-perceived defect in semen (64.4%), followed by loss of libido (21%), masturbation guilt (20.8%), erectile dysfunction (5%), and premature ejaculation (4.6%).

An online buyer and working professional based in Mumbai told Inc42 that he believes the increase in demand for sex toys in India would primarily be among young consumers, who are doing this not only for the sake of experimentation but also to achieve satisfaction or to satisfy curiosity at the very least.

The numbers and opinions reflect the apathy and importance of sexual wellness in India.

In this context, sexual wellness startups have opened their doors to the shy Indians and are gaining popularity among the masses. Over 40 startups are currently offering sexual wellness products in India, among which the most popular ones include IMbesharam.com, ThatsPersonal.com, Kaamastra, Lovetreats, KinkPin, Shycart and PrivyPleasures among others.

When IMbesharam.com went live in 2013, men made up 80% of the visitors and 85% of all shoppers, but since 2016, women visitors and shoppers have been increasing steadily. Figures from June-July this year show that they make up 42% of the visitors and 38% of all shoppers. The total sales contribution by women has been 52% versus 48% for male shoppers. IMbesharam.com attributes this to the higher ticket size of women’s orders, the high-quality products and accessories.

ThatsPersonal.com, which has received investments from angel investors such as DSG Consumer Partners founder Deepak Shahdapuri, Digital Matters founder Jaspreet Bindra, Microsoft India’s Neville Taraporewalla among others, sells over 800 products on its website.

Founder Samir Saraiya told Inc42, “The online sex product industry is performing well. We are currently growing at about 70% per annum and expect this trajectory to continue for the next few years. I expect the growth to continue in the high double digits for the next decade or so. There is a lot of potential in India across many segments of society and the global industry is focusing on developing products to these segments.”

Ambiguity Over Legal Status

While factors such as smartphone penetration, internet usage, and overall ecommerce growth have acted as catalysts in the growth of the sexual wellness industry in India, people are still unsure about two aspects involving the use of sex toys and other such products. Startups in this sector boast a wide product range but when assessed, the purchases were restrained to a few common products by the Indian masses. This can possibly be attributed to the ambiguity over the fact that are these products legal in India.

Saraiya cited lawyer and solicitor, Lehkesh Dholakia in his report which states, “There are no legal concerns in the actual sale of sex toys, apparel, and ancillary sexual products. Since these items are not banned for import or sale in India, there is no legal bar for their sale. However, the concern arises only in the manner in which these sex toys and related products are displayed and exhibited for sale in India.

Under Indian law, ‘obscenity’ is an offence. Therefore, if any of these items are advertised 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.

Although neither the Indian Penal Code (‘IPC’) nor the Information Technology Act, 2000 (‘IT Act’) defines what ‘obscenity’ is, 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.”

While Saraiya believes that the laws around this matter need to be updated on an urgent basis as they were formulated several decades ago and do not consider the changing market trends since then, Kaamastra’s Nazer is also of the belief that clearer government regulations are the need of the hour.

Overcoming The Cultural Taboos

For long, India has shied away from talking about sexual health. However, healthy sex life is not just about mental wellness but also physical wellbeing. Besides lowering blood pressure and burning calories, healthy sex life is crucial for increasing heart health, strengthening muscles, reducing your risk of certain diseases as well as to increase one’s libido and vitality.

Despite the Indian consumer base being largely aware of these benefits, inhibitions around the use of sexual wellness products stem from the cultural taboo and the “what if people get to know” thought. This highlights a major challenge for companies and startups operating in this sphere.

Challenges For Sexual Wellness Startups

While Nazir says that the biggest customer demand is always discreet packaging along with safety, returns/refund policies and delivery times, Saraiya is of the opinion that first-time customers need a huge helping hand to complete their first purchase.

“We need to educate them about the different products available, what they require and what are the different options for them, and then finally the right product needs to be explained from a 360-degree angle. Discreet packaging and delivery come in later once they are convinced that they have selected the right product.”

What Is The Size Of India’s Sexual Wellness Market?

Despite plenty of startups and platforms catering to the adult entertainment and recreational sexual aids market, Armani believes that the market needs more maturity, especially in considering its contributions to the economy.

He said the stats only include locally-available products such as condoms, lubes and gels, penis rings and lingerie because there is no official survey to analyse the size and market of the other adult toys as classified and sold on most websites. According to his estimates, the market size for sexual wellness and recreational products is close to $3 Bn, based on a rough estimate of 1 Mn customers for half the average cart size for IMbesharam of INR 6,400, but that could not be independently verified with other sources or startups Inc42 spoke to.

The other major gap, Armani sees, is sex education. The majority of the audience have not heard or seen toys, they have no idea what the purpose or function is, so even if marketing initiatives reach this audience, the message is lost.

What About Funding For Sexual Wellness Startups?

Lack of clarity in the law and the market size is certainly a factor straying investors away from sexual wellness startups, agreed the two entrepreneurs. Saraiya, however, has an optimistic outlook where he says that recently, funds like DSG Consumer Partners have featured sexual wellness as part of their investment thesis and hope that more such funds will include this category in their future funds.

Gurugram-based men’s health and wellness startup misters.in raised $1 Mn (INR 3.5 Cr) in seed funding led by Sauce.vc, Rainforest Ventures and other angel investors earlier this month. Founded in 2019, by Saurabh Kumar, Gaurav Gupta, Suhas Misra, and Pavan Melukote, misters.in helps solve problems such as sexual performance anxiety, promotes sexual and mental wellness, helps in habit formation and offers products with doorstep delivery.

Despite a positive outlook on this market in India, there are various elements that are a major roadblock to the growth of the sexual wellness market in the country. The very fact that people in India not only shy away from talking about their sexual health with friends and family but also doctors, leaves the masses unaware and clueless about how to find the right help.

The long-debated issue of whether the Indian judiciary has the right to peep inside and regulate the bedroom continues. And while the legal jurisdiction in India allows individuals access to pornography, sexual wellness products in India face bans and restrictions despite the clearly positive effect they have on individuals.

Author

Inc42 Staff

Passionate about the fast-paced media industry with a constant endeavour to deliver impactful content. An ambitious, enthusiastic and optimistic soul with a persistent hunger to learn. Reach her on [email protected]

Responses
https://inc42.com/features/road-side-barbers-to-beer-shampoos-how-mens-grooming-startups-leverage-changing-choices-of-metrosexual-indian-men/
Loading Next…

Upcoming Events