A vaginal tightening cream is serving an unintended purpose in India – rekindling debate about sexuality in a society of contradiction.
The oxymoron? The second-most populated country in the world puts social taboos on public discussion or display of sexual activities. So when a television commercial (watch video) openly talked about regaining virginity, it raised more than eyebrows.
The advertisement for 18 Again, a virginity cream that claims to tighten vagina, shows a daughter-in-law in an orthodox Indian house dancing to a tune declaring “I feel like a virgin again”. Her husband joins her, putting his arm around her waist, as the shocked in-laws look on. If this wasn’t enough, read on. The advertisement ends with the shocked mother-in-law logging on the website for 18 Again to order the cream, while her husband stands behind in a supportive posture.
The makers of 18 Again are marketing the vaginal cream as a product that empowers Indian women. Says Rishi Bhatia, the owner of Ultratech that’s making and selling the vagina ‘rejuvenation and tightening’ product: “It’s a unique and revolutionary product which also works towards building inner confidence in a woman and boosting her self esteem.”
Hear him further: he says the goal of the product is to “empower women”.
Defending Rishi Bhatia is Curry Nation, the advertising agency behind the controversial ad, which expected the ad to generate viral publicity. In an interview to Tehelka, the agency’s account manager, Nagessh Pannaswami, insists that a tighter vagina is empowering, because “it’s not just about sexual pleasure, but also about preventing infection, discharge, urinary incontinence, and making older women feel good”.
Ultratech says the cream, selling for US$44, will take about three months of use before showing any results and contains gold dust, aloe vera, almond and pomegranate.
Launched by Bollywood actor Celina Jaitley, the product follows on the back of another product, which recently generated similar debate – a cream to lighten the vaginal skin, and was targeted at a market that still holds the view that fairer skin is better skin. Indian matrimonial ads still seek “fairer” brides.
So what’s the debate? First, the ad is ridiculous – a daughter-in-law dancing in front of her in-laws and announcing that she feels like a virgin again. The scene is far from common even in India’s modern cities.
Second, the use of the word ‘vagina’ is rare in mainstream television advertisements even in ultra-modern western countries.
But these are minor issues. Here’s a more serious objection – the objectification of women, disguised as their empowerment. Sure enough, there are numerous advertisements that objectify women, and I am not even discussing intercourse-related products.
There are ads that use women as an object to sell everything from soft drinks to cars. That’s indirect objectification.
Then there are ads for products, from fairness creams to weight loss tablets, that are sold to help women look more attractive. For who? Keep guessing.
However, this vagina tightening cream takes that exploitation to another level. It aims to create an inferiority complex among women who have, err, loose vagina.
Ask any woman who has lost virginity and you will know that it is a painful experience. To “feel like a virgin” is rarely going to be a pleasurable memory, at least for women. Then, for whose benefit is this cream really? Keep guessing.
For now, the land of Kama Sutra is witnessing a savvy businessman’s attempt to make a quick buck out of a deep-rooted mindset that does little to empower Indian women.