In The Vine Talks Sex Series, we bring you conversations around sex, sexual health and sex and culture in India. First up, interview with sex toy brand Love Treats co-founder Bala!
WHY DID YOU START LOVE TREATS? WHAT IS THE MISSION BEHIND IT?
We started Love Treats in 2015. I have lived in Europe and was exposed to sex positivity and thought about it without necessarily having the right words to put my thoughts into. I was living between Europe and India and saw what it means to have a space for people to ask questions related to their sexuality in a safe and non-judgmental way. Physical stores were places were the staff was knowledgeable and made you feel comfortable. By contrast, India felt like Europe thirty years ago- the spaces were built by men, for men. They felt sleazy, with uncomfortable display of goods, very pornographic and not about pleasure but rather about hardcore sex. The market for women was underserved and Love Treats is still the only site that addresses directly the women audience. I’ve met my business (and life) partner in Bangalore over beer and we got chatting about what it is that she would like to do and she said start a business in India selling sex toys to women! Her friends were asking her to bring toys from Europe since they couldn’t get it here. I think it is very important that Love Treats is co-founded by a woman because men do not fully understand what women want in such a private aspect of their lives.
This is a hard business to be in because we cannot access normal channels for marketing. It is hard to import toys from Europe, even though there are no laws prohibiting it. It is up to customs officers to allow or prohibit our goods from entering the country and sometimes our merchandise is stuck at the border for years. They are definitely stricter because our toys are women-oriented, they are concerned we are “destroying” the Indian culture. Since this is considered an unpredictable investment and an unpredictable business, we are also facing a lack of investors willing to invest into Love Treats.
WHAT ARE SOME MAJOR TRENDS IN SEX TOYS BUYING HABITS YOU HAVE IDENTIFIED IN INDIA? DO YOU THINK THEY DIFFER FROM GLOBAL TRENDS? IF YES, HOW AND WHY?
The major trend is interest in entry-level toys, since people do not really know what sex toys are. In that sense, we are behind Western markets. We used to do a lot of pop-ups to encourage people to come and see what a sex toy is like in a non-threatening environment. Even educated people did not know what a sex toy is or that it is a normal, healthy part of sex life. We see a lot of people buying battery operated entry-level toys, ideally in the under 2000 or even under 1000 rupees range. After six or twelve months we see the same customers coming back and spending more on the toy because they now know what it does or does not do. In Europe the entry-level toys are more expensive ones. We also see a lot of anal toys being bought and being in high demand, which is probably influenced by porn.
INDIA IS THE LAND OF THE KAMA SUTRA, BUT ALSO THE LAND OF OPPRESSED SEXUAL DESIRES, ESPECIALLY FEMALE. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT SHIFT HAS HAPPENED AND DO YOU THINK WE ARE ON A PATH OF GREATER SEXUAL LIBERATION?
It is not common to talk about sex with your parents, or with anyone really. The first step on the path to sexual liberation is creating awareness. We gave a TEDx and after that, young women came to us saying they were never allowed to express their sexuality since they were not married. Doctors also take the view that unmarried women are not allowed to be sexually active. Women have nowhere to turn after having sex. There have been spreadsheets compiled with sex-positive doctors. LoveDoctor connected people with counselors, doctors and OBGYNs.
The sexual oppression started with- men. Historically we have proof of greater sexual freedom and lack of repression, but a lot of repression came with time for all Indians, regardless of religion.
Sexual revolution hinges on the financial independence of women. People are not living with their parents until marriage anymore, they are moving to bigger cities from smaller towns and with that comes the freedom to explore one’s sexuality. Internet makes it easier to get access to sex resources and sex toys. It also helps that stories about sex are making it into mainstream. Movie Veere Di Wedding had a masturbation scene caused uproar! Everybody knows about Fifty Shades of Grey. If women were afraid to Google anything sex related while they lived with their parents, now they live alone and are finding the words to express their feelings. In the 70s in the Netherlands bullet vibrators were given along with cooking magazines and that has helped remove the stigma around female sexual pleasure. Media is playing a similar role in India currently, with shows lie Lust Stories. It’s amazing how fast the change is happening- and in Bangalore, the change is the fastest.
FOR THOSE NEW TO SEX TOYS, WHERE WOULD YOU SUGGEST THEY START? WHAT ARE SOME MUST-HAVES FOR EVERY WOMAN?
From what we have seen from consumer behavior, if they’ve never had a sex toy before they start with a bullet vibrator. Always get a lube with the toy! There are all kinds of insecurities around toys and lube but introducing sex toys is not a verdict of a bad lover! For more advanced users, we recommend the ever-popular Rabbits. They are made specifically for women and made in Germany. When the business is women-centric, the product is better. Luckily, more and more women are getting involved in designing toys.
DO YOU THINK PORN AFFECTS SEXUAL BEHAVIORS AND HABITS IN INDIA? IF YES, HOW AND HAVE YOU SEEN THAT SPILL OVER INTO SEX TOY BUYING HABITS?
Men are trying to recreate porn scenes. We have been getting a lot of queries about massive dildos and asked the men “yes but does your partner want that?”. Porn definitely influences sexual behaviors, which in turn affects purchasing habits. What you see in porn is not how real people make love! We keep emphasizing the need for consent and consent-based sexual education.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO TALK ABOUT?
I am very excited by how the market is growing and going. We have a couple of our own designed toys being prototyped in Bangalore and will eventually be made in Bangalore. The trials are currently underway!
Do not get influenced by porn! Do your research, take your time and have fun.
Tena is a gender and development expert who has spent the past six years working between Dubai and Bangalore before settling in Bangalore. When she is not talking about gender rights and equality, she is eating her way around India and the world. She is a lover of sparkling wines, great manis and long books. Tena is a proud cat mom of two rescue boys and an even prouder Indian daughter in law.
I Heard it throughthe grapevine!
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