The online sexual wellness industry in India is alive and well. Some refer to it as the adult entertainment industry, but, whatever name it goes by, buying toys and products that enhance the sexual experience is now just a click away.
Till a few years ago, such products were only available in the seedy corners of specific markets in metros like Palika Bazaar or Lajpat Nagar in Delhi or Crawford Market in Mumbai. For customers, it was not a pleasant experience because of the smuggled products and the sordid manner in which they were sold—a covering lifted to show a vibrator or creams and potions meant to increase sexual appetite.
E-commerce has put an end to this furtiveness and led to a boom in the sex toys market. It is currently pegged at R1,200 crore-R1,500 crore and is expected to reach R2,450 crore by 2016. It can even touch an enviable high of R8,700 crore by 2020, as per some reports. What’s adding to the excitement is that in cities like Pune, Ahmedabad and Vadodara, female shoppers are more active than their male counterparts.
The trend was started by e-tailers who specialised in adult toys, but now big boys like Amazon and Flipkart have also entered the space. Some of the players who deal only with such products are ImBesharam, ThatsPersonal, and OhMySecrets, which have, on an average, witnessed a 600% growth in terms of visitors and a 400% increase in sales annually.
“Other than condoms, we see a major demand for pregnancy, fertility, and sexual enhancement products, among others,” says Vinod Reddy, founder, OhMySecrets.com, adding, “We supply to over 500 cities and towns in the country, covering almost every state.”
It’s a market that, because of the nature of the products sold, did not have any visibility in the country, but online stores have put an end to that. Log on to websites and you’ll find that the product range is quite expansive, including massagers (vibrators), apparel (latex, fish nets, corsets), whips, cuffs, edible toys, massage oils, scented candles, lubricants, enhancers, fertility products, and condoms, among others.
Shikar Singh, a Delhi-based customer, says: "I prefer the websites, as my wife also visits the store in our neighbourhood and, secondly, because people look at you with a weird expression the moment you ask for a condom at a chemist’s." Another regular shopper, who wants to remain anonymous, adds, "I prefer the Web, as it’s discreet."
It was really difficult to get some products before the websites came in, and I had to depend on my friends coming from abroad.”
Brick-and-mortar stores import the toys and apparel from China and Bangkok, "but selling it is difficult, as the police are a big trauma," says Aditya Seth, a seller of toiletries and "special" toys in Delhi. "I spent a month in jail for selling these sexual wellness products. I wonder how the websites sell them. We sell them only because people want them. "We don’t even advertise, as the clientele is fixed and fairly regular," says a Mumbai-based seller.
Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) states that there are no legal concerns about the actual sale of sex toys, apparel, and ancillary sexual products. However, the concern arises only in the manner in which these sex toys and apparel and related products are displayed and exhibited for sale in India.
Under Indian law, "obscenity" is an offence, and the police can interpret that in many ways. For instance, displaying or advertising any of these products for sale using obscene pictures or graphics could land retailers in trouble. Although neither the IPC nor the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act), define what "obscenity" is, Section 292 of the IPC and Section 67 of the IT Act (which corresponds to Section 292 of the IPC) explain "obscenity" to mean "anything which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest, or if its effect is to deprave and corrupt people." Apart from that, there is no legal issue concerning the sale of such products, say legal experts.
"This law was instituted in the post-independence era and is loosely based on the perception of the individual while referring to an object as obscene. Furthermore, as a US-based company, we have several advantages. We always ensure that the business model we set up in India only showcases such products that are not obscene and are under the umbrella of being importable to India," says Raj Armani, COO, ImBesharam.
Lalit Chauhan, an associate with Parekh and Co, a Delhi-based law firm, says: “The law is not clear about the restrictions, but the main problem is the lack of tolerance from society. The law is merely a framework that guides the framework for order, as it’s a reflection of populism. But that does not mean you can buy every toy online, as a few are illegal.”
Suppliers are also coming up with ways of maintaining customer privacy and discretion by using special and safe packaging or setting up self-pickup centres across various cities in the country. ThatsPersonal has centres across 50 cities in the country, and OhMySecrets is also coming up with such centres. Tier II and III cities are also not that far behind. "Of our annual sales, 25% is contributed by smaller cities, with an average order size of R5,000, whereas the average order size from metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, and Chennai is R1,500. "Punjab, Gujarat and a few states in north-east India have the highest orders when it comes to small cities," says Samir Saraiya, CEO, ThatsPersonal.com.
In order to preserve and strengthen their positions, the companies are now tying up with foreign manufacturers to get exclusive selling rights for their products in the country. "We have exclusive rights for several products and supply to 17 other companies, including Flipkart and Amazon," says Saraiya. While ThatsPersonal has tie-ups with manufacturers such as Pjur, Wet, Hustler, and Hot, among others, OhMySecrets has tied up with brands such as Pipedream Products, Sliquids, and Jelique.
Clearly, passion is in full play in the sexual wellness sector.