By Ankita Ghosh:
Did you know that the latex condom was invented in the 1920s, a good 3 decades ahead of the life-saving Polio vaccine? So we’ve practically had an antidote for unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases well before somebody came up with a cure for a deadly virus that was claiming over 300,000 lives annually. And yet, while organized global campaign has reduced cases of Poliomyelitis by 99%, only 5% of all males wear condoms today and 2.5 million people every year are still diagnosed HIV positive. You can’t help but wonder why the use of an ingenious invention such as the condom isn’t being promoted more.
Let us now consider the question of another ‘surreptitious’ invention, the bra. The earliest known brassiere had been patented in the year 1914 and has since been an intimate witness to the modern woman’s social history. Some artfully tailored cloth with less than a yard of elastic and little bit of wiring has held a social position of its own; remember the bra-burning movement of the 1960s? The bra today has a consumer market worth of 16 billion US dollars. Yet flashing a square inch of a bra is considered violation of dress codes even in certain progressive western societies. Menihek High School in Canadian Labrador city has appallingly sexist clothing requirements and sent several young girls home for exposing their bra-straps.
Regulars would know that condoms, lingerie, products for sexual wellness and adult recreation are discreetly marketed over online shopping sites. Ever wondered why? Competing E-commerce companies that market these products categorically take pride in who can best preserve consumer discretion. Try browsing the internet and Cilory, Healthkart, Shykart, Goodlife, Snapdeal will immediately try to lure you with their best available deals and promises of discreet packaging. They will even go to the extent of arguing in favor of online purchase over the supposedly humiliating experience at the local Chemist’s. Isn’t that how you’ve been buying sanitary pads since you were fourteen; carrying black polythene and wearing a red face?
On conditions of strict anonymity my friend explained rather bluntly, “Imagine walking into a pharmacy and someone your dad’s age judging you from behind the counter! I’d simply asked for a pack of condoms. Aren’t they supposed to cheer us for practicing safe sex?” Yet another distraught acquaintance narrates an embarrassing experience of walking into a small, crammed hosiery store in her hometown and having been given the stares when she asked for lace-trimmed push-up bras. It might be interesting to find out what determines consumer behavior and how fast new India is catching up with online-purchase.
One thing’s for certain though. India’s moral-police indeed seems to be at odds with her changing moral standards. There’s still a mighty lot of moral-shaming attached to purchase and possession of products catering to physical/sexual needs and more so in the acknowledgement of the same. A country chased by the dictums of centuries old social ethics is grappling with the evolving behavior of that very society. What can only be called an obnoxiously conservative response, from the self-appointed watchdogs of the Indian society, has stemmed from generations of deliberate indifference to all-round sex-education. Most of our present generation has had half-hearted sex education lessons in school while natural curiosity has been hushed at home.
Today when this very generation goes out to embrace its sexuality and becomes vocal about its bodily needs, we’re met with some of the most outrageous consequences. Buying lingerie or sexual welfare products physically becomes a task whereas online-shopping with its array of choices and mainly absence of societal disapproval becomes more and more convenient. Perhaps we’ve come a long way from hush-hush conversations to overall acceptance of sexual requirements. Yet, from discreet nomenclature to a society unyielding to the stigma that’s been created by it, it still feels like a long way to go.