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Breaking Stereotypes: New-Age Indian Women Are At The Forefront Of Sexual Health Brands

A tribe of women are making inroads into the sexual health and wellness industry—a space typically dominated by men.

Geetika Sachdev

Sex is a primal need; however, the number of eyebrows raised at the mere mention of this word can baffle you. It’s almost like the fictitious character Voldemort—"he who shall not be named”— has been brought to life. Yes, sex has long been shrouded in a veil of secrecy, more so for women. Most of them fear being called ‘promiscuous’ and ‘loose if they choose to express their innate desires.

But to hell with these age-old stereotypes, because a growing tribe of women is shattering age-old norms and making inroads into the sexual health and wellness industry—a space typically dominated by men.

Meet Komal Baldwa, founder of Bleü Cares, India’s first brand of vegan condoms, and Aruna Chawla, India’s youngest woman to start a condom brand (yes, she’s only 27), Salad that sells non-toxic, eco-conscious, and ultra-thin vegan condoms. What is the motivation behind their big idea? It has a strong link with their personal journeys.

The condom conundrum

Aruna reveals she has always been embarrassed to walk up to a pharmacist and buy a condom, even though ‘it is a healthy option’ for the body. As a consumer psychologist, she decided to study purchase patterns and buying behaviour closely. That’s how Salad was born. “I have tried to marry the two together to create a world, where buying a condom is not a nightmare,” she adds.

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Komal Baldwa, Founder,  Bleü Cares

In Komal’s case, it was an allergic reaction triggered by regular condoms that ultimately motivated her to start a condom brand. She asked around and also discussed the issue with her peers, which made her realise that this was far more common than she had thought. “With major stakeholders being men, the condom industry was purely focused on male pleasure. There wasn’t empathy towards female needs and struggles. When I realised that there was no ready solution available for my problem, I knew somebody had to get their hands dirty to solve it. So, why not me?,” shares Komal.

Trials and tribulations

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Aruna Chawla, Founder, Salad Condoms

Setting foot in a male-dominated space has not been an easy task for both entrepreneurs. Aruna shares that apart from the additional trolling and braving dick pictures on social media, manufacturers, too, haven’t been easy to convince—especially because she’s a young woman. Nonetheless, there is also a silver lining.

“Since I am the second woman to start a condom brand, I have the advantage of offering a unique, never-explored-before perspective. The audience has been super receptive, so that has helped us grow the brand faster,” she adds.

The story was no different for Komal, who faced several prejudices as a woman making her foray into the sexual health space. From being subjected to societal judgments to factory owners bluntly mocking her, she experienced it all.

“The condom market is dominated by men. I was once told by a man that they didn’t want a woman selling condoms to them. I was ridiculed and ghosted several times, even at social gatherings. Eventually, I understood it was not only men who hated women in the condom industry, but females as well. My goals and determination remained unfazed, and I knew I really wanted to do this,” she explains.

What makes these condoms a class apart

Most condom brands steer clear of mentioning what goes inside their product, but that’s not the case with these new-age brands that are open and transparent in their approach. What also sets them apart is that these are vegan condoms that do not contain any artificial fragrances or flavours. This means the chance of allergic reactions is almost negligible!

“Most regular condoms contain ingredients that may be carcinogenic in nature and can cause several long-term health issues. Casein, an animal byproduct, is generally used in regular condoms; but at Salad, we do not use any of that in our manufacturing, and instead go for vegan alternatives. The best part is that the strength of the product is not compromised,” says Aruna.

With Komal, the harsh chemicals present in regular condoms made her sexual experiences nightmarish, just like many other women. She highlights how some of the most common sexual issues faced by women are ignored, which is what she wanted to change with Bleü. Their non-toxic, vegan condoms have received immense appreciation, and their community of loyalists is only growing!

Advocating for sexual health and wellness

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Check out the packaging of the most prominent condom brands, and the graphic imagery is almost always focused on pleasure. But not in the case of Salad, which prides itself as the only condom brand that steers clear of pleasure, because they believe health is more important. “Using a condom isn't about pleasure at all. It's about being safe—preventing unplanned pregnancies and staying protected from sexually transmitted infections (STDs). We're trying to change the narrative and focusing on being the healthy (and the right) choice for sexually active people,” explains Aruna.

Bleü has also been working towards creating awareness to include sexual wellness, as part of holistic wellness. “We love building awareness and understanding. Our vision is to create a counter-community that becomes a safe and mature forum, where we can freely shatter stereotypes, and have sexual health at the forefront,” says Komal. 

Sex education: The need of the hour

The whole discourse around sexual health cannot be detached from sex education. Walk down memory lane, and you may recall receiving information around sex, either through your friends and family (probably only a fraction) or by watching porn. 

While porn movies may sound fun and thrilling, they portray unrealistic ideals of beauty, leaving several men and women struggling with body image issues. Although things are slowly and steadily changing, Aruna believes there’s still a long way to go. “We have not been able to identify how to talk about sex in a manner that finds the sweet spot between being clinical and pornographic. The idea isn't to 'encourage' sex. It is to promote safe sex, should you choose to have it,” she says, adding that Salad has committed 15% of its profits to enable sex education in schools and colleges in India. 

Salad is also building a new product that's under testing right now and will help users learn the language of their bodies anytime, anywhere.

Sexuality educator Karishma Swarup (also known as Talk You Never Got on Instagram) believes that we need to create a space for sex education, both for young people who are going to school as well as adults. “There's a whole generation of young adults who are in their 20s and 30s, who have never received any kind of sex education. They don’t know anything about pleasure, particularly when it comes to pleasure for people with vaginas. In the absence of that, people think that having pain during intercourse is normal or taking the emergency contraceptive pill repeatedly is not an issue. All of these things can cause several long-term health issues, both physically and emotionally for people, who then create very negative associations with sex,” she says, adding that as a society, we have failed our youth when it comes to sex education. 

It is time we change the discourse, but it needs to happen at every possible level in everyone's lives. Karishma says that for young people, the conversation needs to start at the level of body awareness and consent. “It is important to know the anatomy, and also to have a conversation around puberty with people of all genders, regardless of whether or not they go through periods. We need to talk about consent not only by telling girls how not to get assaulted but also by teaching boys about the subject,” she quips. 

A time for a change?

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Aruna believes that the times are certainly changing, especially with an increasing number of brands coming up in the sexual health and wellness space. Sexual wellness is a booming industry that is expected to reach USD 45.05 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 7.83%. Everything is happening because of the holistic contribution by all stakeholders involved in the ecosystem. 

Komal adds, “We have so many sex educators and brand owners who are delivering superior quality products to match the expectation of the aware consumers. Media, too, has helped in spreading knowledge. Most importantly, our consumers are coming back to us for repeat purchases and validating all the theories we talk about. An acceptable change is on its way.”

While the landscape is slowly changing, Karishma believes that the need of the hour is to create an environment that supports women to take charge of their sexuality. Recalling an instance, she shares how someone on Instagram had sent her a DM, detailing how she had done a lot of research around pleasure and orgasms. This person also discussed how sex would always be painful for her, and her partner refused to buy a condom or emergency contraception at any point. 

“The sex with her partner would merely last for a few minutes, and there was no consideration for her pleasure. So, when she shared all the research she had done with him, her partner began to slut shame her, and went on to say that she won’t be satisfied with any man. It’s not enough for women to take charge. As a society, we all need to hold each other accountable when it comes to creating a space, where it's safe for women to take charge and say that they want to have sex or experience pleasure,” concludes Karishma.

Photo: Shutterstock; respective brands
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