Are sex toys illegal in India? — If that question has struck your mind, let’s clarify it for you. They’re not.
But if you’re wondering why they aren’t sold in shops or openly in markets, it’s because of Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). “The obscenity law prohibits the sale and purchase of any material that is ‘obscene’, whether it may be visual, verbal, written or in the depictive form”, says Adv. Neeraj Rai, central excise and custom lawyer, Lucknow High Court.
This brings out something interesting: Sex toys are not illegal but their depiction is. For example, the reason a dildo cannot be sold in open markets is that it depicts a penis and not because it is a sex toy. This is also one of the reasons why most of the toys are sold in discreet packaging and the street vendors cannot sell them. “Most condoms and sex toys are sold in black packages in order to conceal what’s inside and hence not become lewd in public”, says Vicky (name changed), a sex toy dealer in Delhi. Kolkata High Court too, in 2011 made a statement during a case, “Sex toys shouldn’t be looked down upon or called obscene just because they bring out the sexual desires”.
E-tailers selling sexual wellness products – which include sex toys, lubricants and supplements – like IMbesharam.com and Ohmysecrets.com don’t acknowledge that they sell sex toys. In fact, IMBesharam.com’s FAQs read: “What we sell is a classy collection of products that can be used by adults for pleasure & relief”. That’s why you’ll find certain toys labelled as ‘massagers’ rather than ‘vibrators’, as to err… vibrator sounds obscene (according to the law) on sites like Amazon, Snapdeal, among others. The only reason for this kind of hidden messaging is archaic laws that permit broad interpretation and cultural taboos.
With COVID-19 forcing people indoors, sales for sex toys in India have boomed. An annual report released by ThatsPersonal.com, an online store selling sexual wellness products, reveals a 65 per cent growth in sales post the lockdown (once delivery was permitted).
There are a number of other statistics in ThatsPersonal.com’s annual report that portray India’s obsession with these toys and the increasing demand for them. In 2018, London-based market research firm Technavio estimated India’s sexual wellness industry at Rs. 2,000 crore. An analyst from Technavio told BBC in 2018 that India is one of the fastest-growing markets, globally for sexual wellness products — which includes adult toys, games and supplements.
But local manufacturers are only just beginning to tap into the market. Websites like IMbesharam.com are looking at India-made toys, owing to the promotion of an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. In an interview with Mint, Raj Armani, founder of IMbesharam.com claimed that by December 2020 his site would showcase a line of masturbators that are made in India for Indians. Its branding aims to be synonymous with the Kamasutra and the lines will be called ‘Samaaj’ and ‘Sanskaar’.