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From Mala D to Savita bhabhi: How we discovered sex in India

It’s been 67 years of independence and while sex isn’t so much of a taboo now (even though our health minister would rather focus on abstinence rather than promote too much condom use), the truth is it wasn’t always like that. Before globalisation, before item numbers, before internet and smartphones made getting information so easy, learning about the birds and bees and discovering anything remotely sexual in India was a strictly monitored task.

In the socialist era, sex only found mention on DD in terms of population control, or child-birth; sex for pleasure, well that went mainstream in the 90’s more so. We take a quick look at how the topic of sex has evolved in India post independence.

1) Family Planning: In the good old socialist era, our nation was constantly reminded of the fact that overpopulation was a problem and that one of the reasons for this was that poor people just kept having sex. No seriously. So the first mention, we got of sex in those over-populated times was with regard to family planning. Long before iPill ads were plastered all over toilet cabins in shopping malls, family planning was restricted to Mala D, Copper T and Hum do Hamare do ads. In case you’ve forgotten those, check out the pictures below for a memory refresher.

 

A Mala-D ad

A Mala-D ad

 

The small family campaign.

The small family campaign.

 

2) Dr Prakash Kothari: We all might be giggling as we read our daily dose of Dr Watsa’s sex column in Mumbai Mirror, but India has another famous sexologist, Dr Prakash Kothari. He’s even been given the Padma Shri with regard to his contributions in the field of sexual medicine and he is the founder Professor of the department of Sexual Medicine at Seth G S Medical College and KEM Hospital in Mumbai. This was the first such department in India. According to his profile, he has presided over the 7th World Congress of Sexology, 1985 and the 1st International Conference on Orgasm, 1991.

And he was giving advice on sex on the Internet as early as 1996. Check out his transcript from Rediff here He also has some well-known books to his credit: “Orgasm: New Dimensions” is for scientists and medical practitioners while “Sex & You” is for the common folk. He’s also been called as the sexologist of Asia by the Asian Federation for Sexology.

 

Dr Prakash Kothari.

Dr Prakash Kothari.

 

3) Mills and Boons: Chances are you have an older sister or sister-in-law or aunt, it’s likely she has a huge collection of these romance novels with a little bit of sex in them. Mills and Boons are published by British publisher Harlequin UK Ltd and have been a big hit in India. In fact, the publisher had announced in 2012 that it would be publishing in Hindi, Malayalam and Tamil in India and has been seeing sales grow by 10% annually in India, according to this Livemint report.

And if you’ve not read a Mills and Boons book, well the romance is pretty standard; woman loves man, there’s always some sordid twist that is keeping them apart, and of course there’s a desire to have sex, like orgasming-causing-hip-shattering-sex, and then there’s usually one page of sex and it’s supposed to like epic. Except that if you’re a kid who grew up in the 90s and later, it’s likely to be disappointing. You’ve seen and read much better and worse on the Internet.

 

A Mills and Boon book cover is seen.

A Mills and Boon book cover is seen.

 

4) Desi pulp fiction and desi porn magazines: You might have heard of Mastram for the first time when you saw the rest films, but desi porn magazines and pulp fiction have been around for quite some time. Just go to a railway station platform and books like ‘Call girl ki kahaani’, etc are very common.

Mastram’s books (incidentally his true identity remains a mystery) were very popular in the 1990’s in North India and according to Abhishek Jaiswal who wrote the film on him, “The idea for Mastram came many years ago when I was in school. In the 1990s, every home did not have a TV set. There was no Internet. We had just a few ways of entertaining ourselves. Also, that was the age when we were all curious about sex. That’s how I started reading Mastram. ”

In the South, magazines like Bharathadhawani and Stunt in Kerala were popular in the 1980s. According to an India Today piece from 1984, the magazines sold well (close to 1,25,000 copies together in those days) were “moderately priced and easily available - every corner bookstall and even paanwallas stock them under the counter,” and the theme was of hard-core sex.

 

Screenshot from Mastram, the recently release films.

Screenshot from Mastram, the recently release films.

 

5) Silk Smitha: No discussion on learning about sex in India is complete without a reference to Silk Smitha, who was seen as the Goddess of Sex in South India in the 1970s and 1980s. And thanks to Ekta Kapoor’s film The Dirty Picture starring Vidya Balan as the lead actress, the 90’s generation too has got a peak of what Silk Smitha was like. For those growing up in that age, Silk Smitha was the goddess of oomph, and one who set men and teenage boys’ passions running.

 

Silk Smith in this photo.

Silk Smith in this photo.

 

6) Internet parlours and mobile phones: Post the 1990’s with the arrival of the Internet and mobile phones, this was the new way to learn about sex for most Indians. And the role of mobiles and sex and Internet was perhaps made very apparent in 2004 DPS MMS sex scandal, when suddenly three things became clear.
a) Teens in India were sexually active
b) They were filming it and sharing it as early as 2004, when smartphones (as we know them today) weren’t even in existence.
c) The internet was where India was turning to for sex videos. The DPS MMS came to light when an engineering student tried to sell the clip on Baazee.com

 

A cyber cafe in India. AFP

A cyber cafe in India. AFP

 

7) Savita Bhabhi: If Silk Smitha was in the 1980’s, from 2008 onwards, India’s own pornographic cartoons such as Savita Bhabhi have dominated the discourse on sex. Savita Bhabhi was first drawn in 2008 and despite the on and off ban on Kirtu (which hosts the comic) has been alive and kicking. No wonder the Savita Bhabhi film was released last year in 2013.

 

Savita Bhabhi.

Savita Bhabhi.