Vibrating Condom Causes a Commotion

Chairman and Managing Director of Hindustan Latex Ltd., M. Ayyappan displays a female condom, Confidom, to the media after the launch of the product in Kolkata. (Photo: Deshakalyan Chowdhury / AFP-Getty Images)

In India, the land of the Kama Sutra — the timeless treatise on love — a ruckus has broken out over the marketing of a vibrating condom. Some politicians have declared it a sex toy, which should be banned as it goes against the country's culture, while health officials are classifying it as a birth control device.

The controversy was recently sparked when Kailash Vijayavargiya, minister in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accusing his coalition government of promoting sex toys and sex for pleasure.

The world famous erotic temples of Khajuraho, a big draw among tourists — both Indian and foreign — is located in Madhya Pradesh.

Vijayavargiya's ire was raised against the sale of ribbed condoms that are fitted with a vibrating ring. He posited that condoms as a birth control method are fine, but objected to the noted 'add-on.'

The sale of sex toys and pornography is banned in India.

The state-owned Hindustan Latex makes the condoms. The pack of three, branded as Crezendo, contains a battery-operated ring-like device.

The minister's letter to the prime minister said, in part: "The vibrating ring sex-toy has been launched by Hindustan Latex Ltd. … despite a ban on the sale of sex toys in the country, this one is being sold on the open market."

Federal Health Minister A. Ramadoss maintained that Crezendo "has been developed to entice men into using it both for family planning and protection against infections like HIV."

Except for the self-professed guardians of morality, consisting mainly of politicians of all hues in Madhya Pradesh, there have been no complaints over the sale of the noted condoms from any part of India. Ramadoss indicated that his ministry will promote its sale across the country as a means to popularize the use of condoms.

Ramadoss, himself a trained medical doctor, says Hindustan Latex is competing with private condom-manufacturing companies which are launching innovative products like ribbed, dotted, favored and perfumed varieties. "India is bullish on promoting the condom," he said.

A pack of three is priced at 125 rupees (about $3).

Ramadoss has said he will ask the Indian company to stop marketing the product in Madhya Pradesh if the local politicians are against it. It is India's largest state and one of the country's most densely populated areas.

The company launched the product in March and so far has sold 130,000 pieces. Talk of sex in the open is still a taboo in India, although morals and attitudes are changing with rise of education and wealth among the youth.

Hindustan Latex sold about 1.3 billion condoms of all varieties in 2006 and plans to increase sales to 3 billion by 2008.

Ramdoss said that the use of condoms among women in India has been on the rise: "Over 90 percent of commercial sex workers today use it."

The government has installed 50,000 condom vending machines across India and hopes to double it by setting up such machines at bus stops, washrooms, and petrol pumps.

The Indian company has also recently launched India's first specially designed female condom called Confidom. More than five million pieces have already been sold.

While some politicians decry the "falling standards of morality" across India, academics and historical texts show that sex toys were featured prominently in the country's ancient texts.

Vatsyayana's 4th century compilation Kama Sutra, the world's oldest treatise on sex and its pleasures, is full of details of sex toys being used. It mentions of dildos being made from wood, rubber, silver, gold, and copper, ivory and even horn.

Ram Nath Jha, who teaches in Special Center for Sanskrit Studies at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, has said in a published interview that people like Vijayvargiya had stopped reading the original texts and "that's why they talk like this."

Psychologist Ashish Nandy said, " It is absolutely rubbish to single out Kama Sutra or Khajuraho. Erotic imagery is very much part of Hindu texts and paintings."

India's tryst with sexism and voyeurism came to an end with the onset of British Victorian morals during the British rule of India that lasted nearly three centuries, until independence arrived in August 1947.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for M.G. Srinath.