Sachee Malhotra is the founder of That Sassy Thing, a health and wellness website with a focus on female intimate products, normalising conversations around periods, sex, female pleasure and body hair. TST as a brand makes products that are good for women's sexual health and focused on making the female sexual experience more pleasurable. They also focus on educating and empowering women, urging them to take charge of their sexuality, bodies as well as menstrual, sexual and mental health. Cosmo India spoke to Saachee to find out why this #Shameless approach to taboo topics is the need of the hour for Indian women in 2021.
Cosmo India: You call your handle and website a wellness brand that is #Shameless. Tell us more about that?
Sachee: Owing to patriarchy, everything about our bodies is somehow taboo and is associated with shame—right from the colour of our face to our genitals, how imperfect our bodies are, what we should wear, how sexually active we are (or not. Sadly, society and some brands feed those insecurities and shame as well. That Sassy Thing is here to change that. We want to help people own their bodies and sexualities. We offer all natural, plant based products that are good for people’s bodies. More than a brand, we’re a movement with the idea to go beyond the products we sell. We’re creating more awareness, conversations and normalisation around all things like periods, sex, pleasure, body hair and more. We do it in a bold and shameless way, which is apparent in our communications on Instagram, our products and our packaging too. In all our communications, we endeavour to shed light on how patriarchy and internalised misogyny is deep-rooted in our culture, our everyday lives. With that, our goal is to sass the patriarchy, one conversation at a time.
Cosmo India: What led to the founding of That Sassy Thing?
Sachee: I struggled with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) at age 15, and that had a huge impact on my mental health. I was bullied in high school for being big and having excessive hair all over my body and face. Unsolicited advice from friends and family became a part of my everyday life and played havoc on my mind. Visiting many gynaecologists and dermatologists for my ‘supposed hair problem’ meant hearing two things—“Beta, conceiving can be a problem in the future” and “You can get XYZ hair removal treatment done for your face (and entire body)”. Nobody ever normalised facial hair or helped me give it back to the bullies. No doctor approached this from a ‘body positivity space’, but only from a very ‘illness-centric’ approach. It was so painful to see my friends casually joking about my hair too (that’s how normal body shaming was). While friends assumed I was a prude for ditching all plans to hang out, little did they know that I hid from them because of the way I looked. I hid from the world, in black baggy clothes, keeping my hair down, covering my sideburns and cheeks—places I had most hair growth.
At that point, I couldn’t even share how I felt about it all with those close to me. Having conversations, most importantly difficult conversations was never encouraged at home. A few years later, when I started accepting (and owning) my body and myself, I wanted to share my story with the world, because that wasn’t my story alone. I could see so many women and young girls struggling with ‘accepting themselves’. Having experienced vaginal dryness, painful periods and sex, I went to look for products that were safe and good for my body, but I couldn’t find any.
Women's Intimate Products: That Sassy Thing
My professional experience as a brand and communications strategist led me to work across health wellness brands in India and the US, where I gained insights into the category, consumer and culture and also learnt that the women’s wellness space was underserved, with a lack of representation. Some Indian brands led by men were claiming to make products for women that were ultimately aimed to please the male gaze and feed women’s insecurities. It was the same for pleasure, women were completely ignored. Most sexual lubes were flavoured, super goopy, sticky and had artificial sweeteners, which threw off the vaginal pH levels and caused itching and rashes. These brands were run by men, making products aimed to please men (ref: flavoured lubes for blowjobs). I couldn’t understand how men could decide what’s good for people with vulvas. So I went to around 15 manufacturers until I found the one who understood my vision, and the need to bring women-focused, all-natural products, free of any harmful chemicals. We’re not just selling products, we’re also in the business of empowering women to own their bodies.
Cosmo India: It’s 2021 and there are still taboos around menstrual health in India. What are some of the things that need to change?
Sachee: I think education, or the lack thereof, has a key role to play in the shame aspect. Other factors include—not getting comprehensive period education in school or at home (I remember how bio chapters in school were skipped altogether), sanitary pads being hidden in lockers (yes, that’s a thing!), having euphemisms for periods or not being allowed to mention the ‘P word’ in front of the men in the family—all make periods sound dirty and forbidden, and in turn our bodies too. Sadly, most of this is propagated by mothers. And I’d say on a human level, I think what needs to change NOW is how menstruators and menstrual blood are still considered impure and that period discrimination exists in every damn household. Talk to your friends, cousins, colleagues, house helps, and you will find one such story of a person who’s been discriminated against in some form or the other, on their period. We’ve heard the weirdest period myths from menstruators—things like being asked by women in their families to not sleep on the bed, (instead they slept on the floor), wash all their clothes and utensils (used during their period) separately, for it to not come in contact with non-menstruators’ things. Some have been told to not enter the kitchen or temple, or not touch their own clothes as they would get infected somehow or something (ughhh, so bizarre and illogical!) The fact that a lot of these notions and superstitions are passed on from one generation to the next, by women, somehow hurts even more.
I think we also need to encourage comprehensive period ed for the educators at school and parents too. Most of the educators at school come with little or no knowledge and as a result, period ed becomes a part of the curriculum only to be evaluated in a couple of diagrams in the examination. Another important thing is the common excuse of passing the buck—parents think that the school takes up sex ed and period ed, and the school thinks we all learn at home. As a result, we mostly end up learning from ill-informed friends or cousins.
Cosmo India: According to a report by Durex, 70% of women don’t orgasm in India. What are your thoughts on #OrgasmEquality?
Sachee: If I may just tweak that a bit, *70% of cishet women in India don’t orgasm. I think there’s a lot of conversation when it comes to asking for equality at work, in the boardroom. It’s high time we ask for it in the bedroom too. I do understand that it might be easier said than done. It’s not easy to ‘ask for it’, and many a times that could also be because we don’t know what to ask for. In that case, the first step is for us to first figure out and understand our bodies, how we feel about them, what works for us and what doesn’t. Only then can we communicate it to our partner(s). A lot of us are afraid to talk about how we’re feeling, what we need, what we like and what we dislike, and that’s a problem. Sometimes, fear also crops up when we don’t want to offend our partners or don’t want to hurt their egos, and that’s when we become okay with having unsatisfying sex, as long as we don’t have to talk to them about how we’re not satisfied. And on the other hand, I’ve also seen in many heterosexual relationships it’s men who own their partner’s pleasure and I think as women we’ve also been conditioned to sacrifice, to always please the partner.
Since a lot of us don’t know enough about our bodies (hell, I learnt about human anatomy at age 23), we don’t know enough about our own desires, pleasure is never a part of Sex Ed. And anatomically, many women don’t orgasm from penetration alone, they need clitoral stimulation too. In that sense, many women are yet to discover the power of the little, but oh-so-wonderful clit! All in all, once we know our bodies better and what could get us to orgasm, we can then move on to asking for more of it.
Cosmo India: Why is it important to normalise Female Masturbation?
Sachee: It’s one of the most pleasurable sexual experiences many people could have with their bodies—minus the judgement or assumptions. It also helps us learn more about our bodies, our likes and dislikes. And as mentioned above, a huge percentage of women can’t orgasm through penetration alone, so some solo play definitely comes in handy (quite literally!) there too. On the other hand, for some, mutual masturbation (masturbating with a partner) could be a super sexy way to enhance intimacy too.
Now on the flip side, there’s also the fact that everything associated with the vulva is termed ‘dirty’. So in that way we first need to destigmatise the word vulva, the word vagina and then move forward. Not to forget, our pleasure is valid, just like anyone else’s. Pleasure is health and it’s how we explore our bodies and express ourselves. It’s 2021, and high time we considered sex and masturbation as part of self-care. Some more self-love won’t hurt anyone, right? :)
Cosmo India: Tell us more about your vaginal grooming products?
Sachee: Our products solve a real problem or an existing gap. They aim to make you feel great about yourself, to tell you that ‘you do you’. So we will never ever make products that feed women’s insecurities or make them feel bad about themselves, like vaginal lightening and tightening creams that are being sold by some other brands.
Our first qween product is DTF—India’s first all-natural, pH balanced, water-based sexual lubricant, designed keeping people with vulvas and their bodies in mind. It is plant-based, formulated with nourishing Aloe Vera to enhance natural vaginal lubrication and prevent yeast infections, Flax Seed and Tea Tree extract to keep the skin moisturised and reduce friction. Dermatologically tested safe, unflavoured and unsweetened, it maintains the vaginal pH levels to avoid any itches, rashes and yeast infections. (and… it doesn’t have the beloved time-delay chemical—Benzocaine). Being a water-based lube it is compatible with all condoms and toys, making partnered and solo sex smoother, more fun and pleasurable.
The second product is Bush—an all natural, plant-based body oil designed with anti-inflammatory properties of hemp oil and essential oils like Clary Sage, Chamomile and Lavender. Dermatologically tested safe, it is a multi-purpose body oil that softens and smoothens the body hair and skin, designed for your sensitive bits. The healing properties of hemp oil make it a perfect after wax and shave care oil.It works like magic in the pubic area too.
Hemp oil acts as a great skin moisturiser without clogging the pores and also regulates the skin’s oil production, Bush doubles up as your go-to post shower body oil.
Our third product—Soothing Stick—is your go-to period pal. It is an all natural blend of hemp oil and essential oils like Geranium, Wheatgerm and Lavender, that eases period cramps, bloating and calms mood. Now you don’t need to pop painkillers for mild to moderate period cramps, as the magical powers of hemp oil kick period cramps and inflammation. There’s none in the market with hemp oil so that’s a big difference.
As a brand, we believe people have the right to know what they’re putting in their bodies. We are transparent about all ingredients that go inside our products, we bare it all on the back labels. Our products have a larger purpose behind them—they aim to normalise conversations like—periods, sex, pleasure, masturbation, body hair, the list goes on.
Cosmo India: A message you would like to share with young girls who have suffered from body and/or sexual insecurities
Sachee: Here are a few key messages I would like to share:
● No two bodies or sexual experiences are the same. You do what feels good to you, as long as it’s consensual, safe and healthy.
● You, your feelings and your experiences are valid. Don’t let anyone make you think or feel otherwise.
● Love yourself more and it’s also okay if you don’t always love yourself.● Your parents, friends and the interwebs may not have all the (right) answers, if you need help, look for credible sources of information and when needed, talk to a mental health expert/therapist.
● Be kinder to yourself and to others around too.
● Cheer for yourself and for other women around you too.
There’s also this book I am reading called ‘Under The Carpet’ by Niyati Sharma, which simplifies sex ed and is super relatable. I’d recommend every person (young or old) to read it.