People are agitated over '18 Again', an Indian vaginal tightening gel. In the coming days, you will read innovative terms to refer to the word, flaunting sexual openness while crying hoarse against openness. Ironically, what some of these people, mainly women, write will be far more titillating or explicit than what they are rubbishing. It is often men who get excited about such ‘analysis’, which does not cross beyond “Are you trying to tell us what to do with our bodies?” and “Is a woman all about giving men pleasure?”
If you are sitting on the pot and holding back your urine flow for five seconds, then starting, stopping – Kegel’s exercises – it is to strengthen the pelvic and vagina muscles. Why? Preparing for the tush Olympics?
- There is a lot that you could remember from the first time you had sex — confusion, unfamiliarity, relief, discomfort, exhilaration. But as a recent advertisement for Ultratech India’s new product will have you believe, what’s truly worth remembering is how tight your vagina was.
In fact, this promotion of virgin nostalgia is anti-feminist. If it is a path-breaking moment, what about those holding a stick to beat you with about “an issue over a tissue”?
- In the 60-second video commercial made by advertising agency Curry Nation, a young man, presumably dressed for work, bends to touch his parents feet, as his comely young wife, carrying a tiffin box for him, first runs a finger down his back, and then croons — “Ooh, I feel like a virgin”.
I do not like such obfuscation. Condom ads are sold for pleasure. Creams for men to get a stiff are sold for pleasure. A gel for tightening of the vagina ought to be marketed for that. Just as some women might find flapping labia as breaking free from shackles – I assume they are perfectly fine with a limp penis, if not delirious about it – there are women who prefer a tighter squeeze. That’s the reason they sit on the pot and perform that routine.
It is disconcerting how under the guise of speaking up for the rights of women, a few forget that childbirth, menopause and even highly charged sexual activity could result in loosening of muscles. Talk to gynaecologists and check whether or not the more forthcoming women express concern about this. They take medical assistance. It is not as though intervention is not sought. So, do people have a problem only with the ad and not the need?
- While one could appreciate the advertisement’s attempt to talk about pleasure in a sexually repressed country, Nivedita Menon, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, points out that it is still the man’s pleasure that we’re talking about. Menon, who finds the idea of a ‘vaginal tightening gel’ hilarious and maddening, says “the perversity of it all lies in the fact that (using the gel) will be sold as a health issue, as something women ‘should’ do to take better care of their bodies”.
If ads could promote health, then we would still not have public service ads for several ailments or fall so ill to need doctors for a cold. The professor, and I will be repeating what I said in the earlier piece, forgets that a woman also gets pleasure. The ad conveys that. Object to ads using women to push products like cars and alcohol where she is a clinging hanger-on.
Object to this:
- Ad-man Prahlad Kakar, responsible for handling ad-campaigns for some of India’s biggest brands, such as Pepsi and Cadbury, says that while selling feminine products is always tricky, Curry Nation could have sold the gel better if they had chosen a toned, athletic woman in the advertisement instead of a woman in a sari — “possibly a gymnast on the bars, because a tight body automatically makes you think of a tight vagina”.
I find such thinking offensive. The so-called liberal male who has often spoken about women’s rights is making it sound like sex is all about acrobatics with young agile women. Just for this, let us see that the ad is talking about a vast majority of middle-class Indian women, who might be reluctant to approach their gynaecs or even talk about it with their spouses.
The report rightly asks about clinical trials, but there is a problem with the clause: “given that the vagina is a self-cleaning organ, and gynaecologists do not encourage women to douche excessively or use external products”. The reason for discouraging the use of douches is precisely because they loosen the muscles. Now, what would you say?
Quoting the product’s spokesperson the piece states:
- “the time is right for a product like this — women are looking after every part of their body, and looking after the vagina is the next natural step to being healthy and confident”. That the ideal of this health and confidence should be an 18-year-old virgin, does not strike him as ridiculous.
Both are unfortunately trapped. The advertisers are on the defensive even as they wish to make the most of the publicity (and guess where that comes from? Those objecting to the ads!) and try to explain the ad in guilt-ridden terms. As regards the comment about health and confidence being an 18-year-old virgin’s prerogative, it is not. The people in the ad are not 18.
Fact is that younger people are healthier; I am not so sure about confidence. That often comes with age and experience. The young are perhaps more cocksure. To feel like a virgin essentially conveys a burst of resurgence. (Think about metaphors using the word ‘virginal’.) It can be sportspersons endorsing health drinks or older actors licking Chyawanprash. If there is a problem with ads that target women, then we should also object to masculinity fortifying ads. For, that too raises questions about why women need to deal with a ready-to-go guy. They might not want it. I mean, they are probably looking to cuddle up, watch a movie or, wait, they have deadlines to meet, project reports to prepare. They are on the ball, and anything that comes in the way is a nuisance.
Don’t you want to talk about that?
Here’s more on the ad:
- An accented woman’s voice tells us we can all feel like virgins, thanks to ‘18 Again’ vaginal tightening gel. “Now in India” says the voice, implying that women all over the world have already tightened their vaginas and stopped their husbands from going to work. In the advertisement’s parting shot, the ageing mother-in-law is bent over the keyboard, painstakingly keying in one letter at a time to order the product online, while her husband pats her shoulder with an excited smile.
Just for information, hymen tightening surgeries are not uncommon. They are pretty much there with botox, breast implants, liposuction. This is not really a new product. Ayurveda offers remedies.
And what is wrong about an ageing woman ordering the product? Is there an objection that her husband shows excitement? Would we have the same problem if an older man places an order for a product and his wife is happy about it? No one seems to have problems with older celebrities and young women. How do you think they manage? What about older women who are in relationships with younger men?
As I said, this is about sexual pleasure and the ad portrays it. For those who have a problem with a guy not going to office because a woman has tightened it for him probably need to be shown a hard-on to convince them that there is something called pleasure. Pleasure is empowering, too.
(c) Farzana Versey
Image from the Kama Sutra
A video of the ad is here