Cue: The Bold Type, season 1, episode 2: 'O Hell No'.
When Scarlet editor Jacqueline Carlyle asks a young and emerging writer Jane Sloan to write about her best orgasm experience, she’s taken aback. She’d never written a sex story before—in fact, she never planned on writing one either. She was a writer who wanted to write about issues that ‘really mattered’. But it never hurts anyone to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. The result was a brutally honest story about how Jane had never had an orgasm before and the pressure she felt to fake it. What emerged, most importantly, was a bold Jane, who took it upon herself to write about sex and its shenanigans in a positive and empathetic manner.
Conversations, stories, debates and discussions around sex have long been a taboo in Indian society, despite the fact that if one traces Indian manuscripts, history, and mythology, sex and its many facets were given as much importance as any other aspect of life. Sex was a central theme in the Kama Sutra and of the carvings on the temples of Khajuraho. Still, for women, it was a hush-hush conversation behind doors that was never to be discussed in public out of fear and judgment. The patriarchy, in all its might and dominance, ensured it. Sex educator and author Seema Anand, who studied the intricacies of Indian mythology and culture, found that stories of sex left women in a secondary position where they could never own their bodies and sexuality. “It always belonged to some man—either her father or husband. It was always a property,” she said in an interview.
Today, the notion remains the same for the most part. Content creator Aditi Mishra says, “I come from a very conservative household. The proper names of our genitals couldn’t be farther off the tongue. It was the usual ‘women should cover their bodies’, ‘change the channel’ when the condom ad came on screen, a big 'haw' to premarital sex.” To talk about female sexual desire, sexuality, and the female form is tolerable for some and uncomfortable for most. Its untouchable nature has left adolescent girls and women in the dark, afraid to ask questions and speak up. “This is not something ‘nice girls’ do. Why is a girl talking about penises, vaginas, masturbation, and pleasure?” she says.
Digital content creator Simran Balar Jain had a similar experience. “The reason for making videos on sex education and relationships was to normalise conversations around them which are often hushed. When my cousins and friends talked about certain things related to sex, I realised they had a lot of myths. Thus, I took the initiative to start making videos about the topic.”
“Naturally, when so much taboo surrounds a subject, you want to know more. So, I would ask my mother, talk with my best friends, and resort to the internet for answers. I began experimenting and tried to overcome preconceived notions about sex through my work.” But the tide has been changing. Mishra has been creating sex-positive content for some time now. From answering quirky and unfathomable questions relating to male and female genitalia to sex positions and more, her work covers a wide range of themes revolving around sex. “This journey has made me accept and love my body, and feel empowered more than anything else. When you feel confident, you are unafraid to ask for what you deserve. I wish my mother, the women around me, and every woman experience that; I am just aiding that change,” she says.
Today, creators and writers alike seek to create more compassionate conversations around these topics. Cosmo India’s very own Jane Sloan, Akanksha Narang, is unafraid to express her empathy in her stories that cover the wide world of love, relationships and sex. “I am an empathetic person, and that often leads to many people opening up to me about their relationship/sex stories. There are so many stories around us, and they always made me think about the various aspects of human connection. That intrigued me. I felt that people need to know they are not alone in their experiences,” she says.
For Jain, her intention was always clear: “When I make videos, create awareness, and provide education about sex and relationships, I intend to help individuals make informed decisions and lead healthier lives. I also reduce the stigma around these subjects and promote a more inclusive society where everyone feels comfortable discussing and exploring these topics. By creating a safe space for individuals to learn and explore these topics, I can create a better society for everyone.”
And just like a yin-yang, the changing tide and this emboldening and empowering journey come with its baggage of backlash, labels and criticisms—even going to the extent of slut-shaming and questioning a woman’s morality. Narang says, “People used to be surprised I take bylines for my sex stories and not write them anonymously. There was also a stereotypical belief that because I write about sex, I must be having a lot of it!”
For Mishra, her journey was replete with conversations about acceptance in society. “Soon after my parents found out, there were multiple conversations about 'society not accepting me'. They asked me to come back home,” she recalls, “Talking about sex gave me life and people at large thought ‘it’s shameful’. I was discouraged and completely helpless.”
So, why did these women choose to persevere anyway? “Telling these stories and covering these themes makes me feel empowered because it’s been a journey for me, too. A journey of unlearning, growing, and getting more comfortable with talking about sex in a society that offers only abstinence-based sex ed, if any. If my articles can help people talk about sex in a healthy manner, get good non-medical advice, and encourage women to own their pleasure, my work here is done!” says Narang.
Jain refused to allow the negative comments to get to her. “I have realised that in the content creation field, you have to be prepared to get love as well as hate. Negative comments can be hurtful, but sometimes they can contain valuable feedback. I try to identify constructive criticism in the comments and use it to improve my future videos. I tend to ignore hateful or abusive comments; I block them and do not engage. Remember, you have the right to create content and share information on important topics; not everyone will agree with you.”
Today, Mishra’s Instagram is brimming with positive reactions and questions about her work. She’s succeeded in creating a safe space for people across the gender spectrum to have a dialogue about such topics. I get DMs about people genuinely thanking me for doing what I do, they’d tell me how their families and friends would see me talk about sex-ed and were grateful for bringing important conversations to the forefront.”
We have a long way to go in reclaiming female sexual desire, understanding and exploring the female body, and asking important questions about sex and other things. But here’s your cue to take inspiration from these women to start your own narrative, share your experiences, create a safe and inclusive space, and encourage others to do the same.