What men want

17 February,2024 07:15 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Gautam S Mengle

As Ranveer Singh’s ED ad goes viral, so does the conversation about male sexual health and pleasure—a booming market of strokers and libido enhancers tells us men are literally taking matters into their own hands

Sexual health and pleasure brands like Bold Care, MyMuse and Leezu’s are becoming a gateway for men to share their innermost desires and experiences, which companies in turn use to come up with better solutions, creating a healthy cycle. Representation pic

Two things happened this week: Ranveer Singh and Steven Wolfe (aka Johnny Sins) came together in a commercial for male sexual wellness; and a newly married woman passed away after her husband allegedly brutalised her under the influence of a performance enhancement drug on their first night together.

While both examples may be poles apart in terms of gravity, they did spark sustained and aggressive conversations on the subject of male pleasure - how glamourised and pertinent it is made to be; and conversely, how much shame and secrecy surrounds male sexual health. Any problems with male sexual health are mocked, and not investigated - Is it caused by stress? Underlying health issues? History of sexual violence? Trauma? Nutritional deficiencies? Lack of emotional well being?

Aashish Mehrotra, co-founder of sexual wellness and pleasure start up The Sangya Project, says that even talking about using a stroker or a libido enhancer attracts vicious trolling from men and women alike

The commercial starring Sins, an American adult film actor-director-YouTuber, and the unapologetically uninhibited Singh has gone viral since. The superstar subsequently revealed that he is co-founder at Bold Care, the brand featured in the ad. It has been a player in men's sexual health industry since 2019, with products such as condoms, lubes, endurance enhancers and performance boosters. It was originally founded by Rajat Jadhav, Rahul Krishnan and Mohit Yadav, with Singh coming on board in 2022.

The sexual wellness market in India has attracted significant funding in recent years. According to Crunchbase data, in 2021, the market attracted R10 crore in funding. The largest funding round was raised by Manforce, which raised R5 crore. According to data compiled by multiple analysts, the sexual wellness market in India is expected to reach R209 crore by 2030. Experts found that existing brands not only offer a wide range of sexual wellness products and services, including condoms, lubricants, sex toys and lingerie, but also offer educational resources and information about sexual health and wellness.

Casting American adult film star Johnny Sins was easier than keeping his involvement under wraps, Bold Care's co-founder says; (right) Actor Ranveer Singh officially became part of Bold Care last year. The start up was founded by (from left) Rajat Jadhav, Rahul Krishnan and Mohit Yadav in 2019

The ad crucially positions the porn star as a husband with an erectile problem, an unhappy wife leaving him and Singh playing an advice-giving elder. It nestles this in a joint-family living room, with all members present, hinting how it could splinter the great happy Indian joint family.

"A conversation with a friend who works with Singh's team led to the collaboration," Jadhav tells mid-day over a video call. "We met Ranveer for a supposedly 30-minute conversation, but it lasted much longer." The last few days have been a whirlwind; Jadhav points to his unkempt hair and overgrown beard as testament.

Toofan, a stroker with a ribbed interior by Leeza Mangaldas' brand Leezus. Pic Courtesy/Leezus; Loop, a penis ring with a ribbed bottom by My Muse, pleasures both partners during intercourse. Pic courtesy/My Muse; Bold Care's Xtend sprays, that help men last longer in bed. Pic Courtesy/Bold Care

"The idea just materialised at 2 am while we were brainstorming late last year," he laughs. "We all loved it instantly. We contacted Sins, who was surprisingly easy to get on board. The harder part was keeping his involvement under wraps."

He goes on to add something that is indicative of the larger issue around men's sexual health and pleasure. While shooting for the ad, Sins told Jadhav that the largest demographic that recognises him anywhere in the world is the Indian man. "He told me he was once in Paris when a group of Indian male tourists recognised him," says Jadhav.

This 43-year-old Mumbai resident is a regular user of a libido enhancer and a vibrating stroker. With small but steady steps like creative commercials and increased social media posts around male sexual health, men are slowly trying to break free of the taboo surrounding the S word. Pic/Anurag Ahire

Stakeholders rue the fact that most Indian men learn about sex not from the [nearly non-existent] formal sex education, but from pornography. As a result, wrong and harmful information is assimilated about size, performance and consequences, which is being said to be the case with the UP man. According to news reports, the man "confessed to having wild sex" with his spouse after popping a performance enhancing pill, leading to injuries that were more consistent with a gang rape than with a night of intense passion. The injuries to her tender areas led to an infection and the woman died seven days after she was admitted to a private nursing home in Kanpur.

Male sexuality is not exempt from complications under a patriarchal society. One may argue that masculine pleasure is given the reams of in lifestyle magazines and the heft of medical research, but male sexual wellness is underlined by shame and toxic masculinity.

"When a woman talks about using a vibrator," says Aashish Mehrotra, co-founder of The Sangya Project, "it is empowering and positive. When a man talks about using a stroker or a fleshlight, he is emasculated by men and women alike. When I first started sharing Reels about using pleasure products, people would comment saying I was unable to get a woman to have sex with me. I am part of a throuple and have not one but two partners!" He adds that the only way you can get away with being a man who talks about sex, is if you are overly aggressive person.

"Being soft [pun intended] won't get you anywhere," he says. "If you ask a question about increasing your libido, you will be lambasted for it. This leads to guilt. Even if you are using a libido enhancer, if you're feeling guilty about it, it will have a negative impact on your mental health."

The connection between sexual and mental health is something that Jadhav too discovered in the initial years of Bold Care. Back when they first started, they had a skeletal staff and did everything themselves, including fielding customer care calls. During this period, they spoke to hundreds of men and the insights they gleaned formed the basis of their future strategy.

"I remember this one man who was in his late thirties," Jadhav recalls. "He told me he had a steady relationship and healthy sexual life with his girlfriend when he was in college. Then, they broke up and went their separate ways, he started working and eventually got married. After marriage, however, he found that he wasn't performing in bed as well as he used to in college. It got so bad that he started inventing reasons to stay at work as late as he could, so that he could just say he was tired after he reached home and avoid sex."

The taboo, Jadhav says, is systemic. He recalls how they were unable to get third party services such as delivery or other logistics to align with them due to the nature of their work. Mehrotra concurs. "When we started Sangya two years ago, we couldn't onboard a single E-wallet or UPI service for our customers to pay with," he says.

Ironically, the taboo has given rise to enhanced privacy among brands. Deliveries are always discreet - the packaging does not announce what lies within - and all customer data is always kept ultra-safe.

"We do not share our data with a single agency, even for business purposes," says Jadhav. "We have an in-house marketing team and only our own employees access data like consumer experiences. As a result, we have been able to create a safe space for men to talk about their issues related to sexual wellness and pleasure. They are willing to share their most private secrets when it comes to sex, and we use this to try and make our products better."

And it seems to be working. mid-day spoke to a 43-year-old man who has been using libido boosters and a vibrator for several years. "At my age," says the north Mumbai based entrepreneur matter-of-factly, "I need libido boosters and I don't see any point in pretending otherwise. I tried several brands before settling on the one I use right now, and I did that because this brand was more open about the subject of sex, which automatically makes me feel safer and more inclined to trust them."

He adds that he, like 80 to 90 per cent of the men around him, learned about sex from other men, and not from authoritative and authentic sources. "We are still used to thinking of sex in terms of trees and flowers," he says.

The taboo around the subject also affects the people around the suffering man. A 30-year-old woman shares her experience with an ex-boyfriend, who had sustained erectile dysfunction due to sexual violence in childhood. "Intimacy was simply never normal with him, and it is a fallacy that an erection is only meant for the man's pleasure. It satisfies the woman as much as the man. Forget an intimacy expert, my ex wouldn't even see a doctor for it," she recalls.

However, it is changing a bit. Late last year, sexuality educator and author Leeza Mangaldas shared a screenshot on her Instagram Story of a message she had received from a man. He had described how his girlfriend shared one of Mangaldas' products - Pyaari, a personal massager with suction - with him. The man described how much he loved it and how it helped him discover his own sexuality. Mangaldas expressed delight at the fact that a man had found pleasure in a product designed for a woman.

The overarching taboo, however, also means that there is little market research about the industry. None of the brands mid-day spoke to could name any independent research reports specifically focusing on male sexual wellness and pleasure. All of their research comes from feedback and interviews with their customers, and the stories shared by sex positive people, who write in to talk about their lived experience and what they would want to see highlighted in social media posts or blogs.

"In totality, the sexual wellness market in India (for all genders) is an eight-billion-dollar market globally and worth around Rs 100 crore in India right now," says Karun Arya, Chief Marketing Office, GetVantage. The finance and growth platform has invested in several start-ups over the years.

"Experts project this market to increase to Rs 200 crore by 2030, with a six per cent year-on-year growth," says Arya, proudly adding that GetVantage was the first to invest in Bold Care in 2020. "The reason is not just the fact that more people are trying to break free of the taboo surrounding the subject, but also that smartphones and the Internet are available to more today. Effectively, this means that people have access not just to information about their problems but also
to solutions."

Arya agrees that there is scant focused research around male sexual wellness but sees this more as an opportunity than a hindrance. "The industry itself is still young," he says. "People are waking up to it and I am sure that as time passes, it will become even more mainstream. As more data becomes available, there will be research and analysis too. Is it shrouded in taboo? Very much so. But this was also the case with mental health 10 years ago, and look where
we are today!"

Rs 173 bn
Figure India's sexual health market is predicted to touch by 2030, according to analysts

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