If not, why agree to have sex with a flavoured condom on? This and many other sexual googlies answered by two Mumbai-based friends who are rocking Instagram with a new page
India do not have access to information and education on sexuality, reproduction, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, nor do they have access to preventive and curative services
For most of us right now, sex couldn't be further from our minds. Courtesy the COVID-19 lockdown, our usual routines have turned upside down. "A loveless world is a dead world. The plague makes us crave more for love and the arms of our loved ones," said French philosopher in the 1947 novel, La Peste (The Plague). But, a Mumbai-based duo asks—what if we viewed this time as an opportunity to either reset or refresh our sexual and mental health?
Friends Aashish Mehrotra and Tanisha Rao had been talking about wanting to create better awareness around sexual and mental well-being for over a year. "We realised that the pandemic was a good time, especially for an online initiative that can easily be accessed by anyone who has a smartphone and reads English," says Rao, 26.
And so, on June 21, 2020, they launched the Sangya Project on Instagram. That Rao is a sex educator, who has done a course on Comprehensive Sexuality Education for Educators by TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health), came in handy. "Sexuality isn't just about specific sexual acts, it's also about your ability to understand your body and establish boundaries in personal and professional spaces to protect yourself, and learning to respect those that others set for themselves. We are social creatures, and it's a shame we don't talk to people about their sexuality and safety with the same ease that we discuss nutrition and physical fitness. By bowing to stigma, we're making people more vulnerable," explains Rao, who has been out of the closet as bisexual for 10 years.
Mumbai-based friends Tanisha Rao and Aashish Mehrotra felt the lockdown was a good opportunity to spread online awareness around sexual and mental health. Pic/Suresh Karkera
And so, Sangya Project offers comprehensive sexuality education across ages, genders and socioeconomic groups. Within just a few months, the page has totalled nearly 5,000 followers. Mehrotra, who identifies as a bisexual, polyamorous, cis-gendered male, works as a chief video officer for an integrated communications company. The 35-year-old is also a writer, producer, director and visual creative lead, and so, plays a major role in the creativity the page is now synonymous with. "Tanisha and I pitch ideas to each other and get into a discussion about what should be posted. I try to think about the various questions I had in my head when I was in the closet, and the only place I could turn to was incognito mode on my parent's computer," says Mehrotra, who came out well into his 30s, when he was financially independent.
The two like to think of every post as a love letter to someone out there, whether it's younger versions of themselves—people who don't have the right information yet—or someone who is just looking for acceptance and validation. "We're mindful of the fact that a lot of misinformation around sex and sexuality is backed by faults within the academic community as well. How can we make grand claims about the full spectrum of human sexual behaviour, when so many of the studies used to make those claims only contain data extracted from a small target group in the US or Europe? So, every paper we read, every statistic we notice, has to be taken with a pinch of salt," says Rao.
Their post on flavoured condoms gained the most traction and positive feedback. "Did you know that it is not safe to use flavoured condoms for penetrative sex? They are coated with sugars and substances that should not be introduced to internal genitalia. The ingredients can throw off the natural, protective pH of the vulva/vagina and lead to skin irritation and even yeast infections. We received feedback from so many people who said they didn't know this fact," Mehrotra quips.
The duo also receives unusual inquiries and confessions from followers. "They just want to know if they are okay the way they are, if they are healthy, if they can show their partners more love and support; it's so moving. People think sex education is about teaching people how to have sex, but most people just want to hear that they're not alone and are as normal as everyone else," Rao says.
This writer's favourite post was captioned: Karezza. It is an Italian word for caress and is a sexual practice that prioritises touch, sensations, intimacy and connection over orgasm. When asked about their most favourite work online, there is disunion. Rao clarifies, "I think my favourites are Misconceptions on Penis Size and Is Sexuality Fluid? Nearly all of our posts are based on personal anxieties and fears or ones that loved ones have shared with us, so it's difficult not to get emotionally attached to the writing." Mehrotra adds, "My favourite is the one on Period Sex. It's dehumanising to still think of people as different or inferior because of menstrual blood. We shouldn't be talking about being open to 'period' sex; it's just sex."
No. of followers the page has gathered in six months