Sex Toys: Pleasure?Is it legal in India?

sex toys

Sex Toys are infamously called as adult toys. They are objects that people use to have more pleasure during sexual intercourse or masturbation. Sometimes they are recommended by a doctor to a person having sexual dysfunction or a medical condition. All in all, they help a person enhance their sexual life to the fullest. 

Globally, female users share 63.2% of the market share [1] of these toys. The most common toy purchased is the vibrators or subtly called personal massagers which vibrate around your genitals stimulating sexual arousal. It can also stimulate male genitals. Vibrators come in various shapes and sizes and some can be used inside the vagina too. It can be said that they are now considered to be women’s most trusted partner! 

Other adult toys include dildos, penis rings, anal toys, and so on. Indian markets are slowly adapting to the various toys according to their demand. Considering the socio-economic aspects of our country, adult toys are majorly purchased from e-commerce websites. E-commerce facilitates choice, quality, and provides necessary information through their websites. Some examples of such websites include Snapdeal, thatspersonal.com, besharamtoys.in, lovetreats.in and so on. 

Is it legal to buy Sex Toys? 

As most of the conversations around sex have been curtailed due to social stigma, so has a conversation around the usage of these toys. As a result, there is much ambiguity regarding the sale of these products. No law explicitly bans these products but there are legislations that make it much more difficult for them to be purchased and sold in the Indian market. 

Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code [2] prohibits the sale of any product or material which are ‘obscene’ in nature. According to the section, obscenity is ‘lascivious or appeals to the pruri­ent interest’ which simply means that it has an element of lust to it or it has a tendency to ‘deprave or corrupt’ a person. Sex toys are mainly used to stimulate and enhance one’s sexual experience. In no way do they encourage lust or corrupt a person as provided by the section.  

In 2011, In the case of Kavita Phumbhra v. Commissioner of Customs [3] observed that adult toys cater to a particular section of the population that is assumed to be responsible and use products in an adult manner. The court pointed out that just because sex toys stimulate sexual pleasures doesn’t mean they can be termed as ‘obscene’. Moreover, their consumption is supposed to be in private and cannot corrupt any other person. 

Unofficially, the market for adult toys in India is estimated to be Rs. 10,000 crore. [4] The e-commerce players have realised this potential resulting in multiple sites that now offer these products while using clever marketing strategies so that they don’t get hit by the obscenity laws. One of the popular methods used is to sell products that don’t look like male genitals but have similar shapes to serve the same function. For example, dildos are manufactured in the shape of bananas rather than actual penises, and vibrators are called massagers. The website hides a part of the image by the words ‘discreet’ and warns the customers that the product is for only people above the age of 18. They also inform customers that packaging will be simple and discreet so as to not gain attention from the public. These measures are also taken so that companies cannot be charged under the Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 [5] which prohibits anyone to publish or transmit sexually explicit content in the electronic form. 

In 2015, advocate Mr. Sushaas Joshi dragged [6] the e-commerce websites ‘Snapdeal.com’ and ‘Ohmysecret.com’ on the pretext to test the anti-homosexuality laws of India. He said that these products promote gay sex and are being sold in the markets whilst the Section 377 criminalizes the same act. With the ruling of the Supreme Court in the case of Navtej Singh Johar v Union of India, which now holds ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ unconstitutional. The case upheld an individual’s right to privacy and discrimination based on sexual orientation was violative to the right to equality. After this judgment, it’s safe to say that adult toys can be purchased. If at all any restrictions are made, they are on the grounds of decency and morality which in itself is not a strong ground to deny someone sexual pleasure. 

Conclusion

In India, there is no law that especially regulates the market of adult toys. However, e-commerce websites have time and again ensured that they market their products differently so as to not attract any legal hassle. Ultimately due to restrictions on advertising and promotion of the products to larger populations, not many choose to be in this business. It’s safe to say that it’s high time regulations should be in place for the purchase and sale of adult toys which can benefit people sexually and the country economically. 

Sources: 

1^ Shalgar, Chandan. “E-commerce segment generated for significant revenue share in Global Sex Toys Markets.” Apsters News, https://apsters.com/e-commerce-segment-generated-for-significant-revenue-share-in-global-sex-toys-market/

2^ Section 292 of Indian Penal Code, 1860, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1704109/

3^ Kavita Phumbhra vs Commissioner Of Customs (Port), GA No. 2284 of 2009, 19th Nov 2009, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/149399940/

4^ Sunny K, Ancy. “Why is it a good time for sex and adult toys in India.” The Week, 28th March 2019, https://www.theweek.in/leisure/lifestyle/2019/03/28/why-it-is-a-good-time-for-sex-adult-toys-india.html

5^ Section 67 of Information Technology Act, 2000,  https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1318767/

6^ Balachandran, Manu. “Snapdeal has just been taken down to court for selling vibrators.” QuartzIndia, 25th Feb 2015, https://qz.com/india/349595/snapdeal-has-just-been-taken-to-court-for-selling-vibrators/

About the Author: Vidhi Gada

She is a 4th-year law student from ILS Law College, Pune, who firmly believes the law can be used as a weapon of change in our country and thus began her journey in the field of law. Apart from trying her best to be updated with all the legislations, her interests lie in Human Rights & Intellectual Property Rights. The best way to connect with her is to suggest a song that sets her mood and also, dogs. No! Kidding, she loves all the animals! She really likes dancing, writing and making puns!

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