Indians may be perceived as shy about their sex lives, but their demand for sex toys and aides, a nascent and as yet clandestine industry in the country, is going up by leaps and bounds.
While the metros of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore top the list of buyers across e-commerce platforms that sell adult products, the “business of pleasure” is gaining popularity in smaller cities such as Ahmedabad, Chennai, Faridabad, Pune, Roorkee and Hyderabad.
The share of orders from non-metro big cities and small towns is going up, the vendors say. While across-the-board average is not forthcoming as it is a fragmented industry, websites say that for some products demand from small towns is 3 times the demand from metros.
Massage creams, lubricants, male performance products, women’s arousal and pleasure enhancement products, lingerie, masturbators, personal grooming products and handcuffs are among the most popular items in these cities. According to sources working in the industry, the total market is estimated to hit ₹2,500 crore in 2016.
These are not cheap products by any means. Last year, for instance, IMBesharam, one of the popular e-commerce websites in this line, delivered a custom order (products they source from the manufacturer and sell it through their sales channel as a one-off item) of a product called Sybian, a masturbation device for women, worth ₹4.5 lakh to a customer in Bilaspur. In April 2016, a customer in Warangal, Telangana bought a gold-plated version of Lelo, a vibrator, worth ₹74,000.
Raj Armani, co-founder of IMBesharam, which was set up in 2013, told HT: ”Indian men and women are now far more in tune with the western lifestyle due to the easy availability of the internet. There has been an overall acceptance of a lifestyle that is more liberal and less judgemental.”
About 37% orders at IMBesharam, which is endorsed by actor Sunny Leone, are from non-metros, which together contribute 46% of the company’s revenues. “Orders from the tier-II and tier-III cities are generally of higher ticket size and they are more adventurous with their shopping,” Armani confirms. IMBesharam is pacing to cross ₹36 crore sales by end of this fiscal against ₹29 crore last year.
Six-month old Naughtyme gets 60% of its orders from small cities. “We are generating anywhere between ₹4.5-6 lakh per month with an average increase of 15% to 20% every month from these cities,” says VS Harikumar, CEO, Naughtyme. In the past six months, Naughtyme has fulfilled 2,106 orders.
At ThatsPersonal, another popular startup, orders from small cities have grown more than 300% over the past year. These cities contribute almost half of the company’s revenues.
“Our strategy is to educate people so that they understand how these products shall help them enrich and spice up their sex lives. Educating via interesting content is the key,” says Vishal Lodaya director-marketing at ThatsPersonal.
The popularity of the products aside, the business is not exactly legal -- or illegal.
According to section 292 of the India Penal Code, activities including sale, distribution, public exhibition and circulation of anything obscene is a punishable offence. But the definition of obscene is a grey area.
So most e-tailers are taking careful steps to promote and deliver their products. “Products on our sites do not resemble any body parts,” says Lodaya. Naughtyme, which has actor Poonam Pandey as their brand ambassador, deliver products in discreet packages and is mulling tie-ups with stores from where people can pick their orders.
Masala Toys, another e-tailer, which sees 10% of orders coming from tier-II and tier-III cities says, “Indian government must liberalise the policies related to sale of sex toys, and sexual health and wellness products to help people access these products at lower prices,” said Amit Sharma, senior manager, Masala Toys.