In a country that places an illogically high value on virginity, can a gel that promises ‘vaginal tightening’ be sold as a sexually empowering idea? A new advertising campaign for a product that promises to give Indian women tighter vaginas is headed for probable YouTube superstardom.
In a household straight out of a Priyadarshan film set or a Tamil TV weepie, where various family members keep appearing on screen, urging you to play a kind of spot-the-relative game (guy shooting the proceedings on camera phone is the pesky but cute brother-inlaw;young girl in jeans and kurta is the college-going sister-in-law ), a shapely young wife in a pink sari is about to hand over a steel dabba to her headed-to-work husband (who is touching his parents’ feet). But instead of leaving the scene after exchanging the mandatory coy look full of sexy promise with the husband, she grabs him by the hand and starts dancing the salsa, crooning “I feel like a virgin”. “Oh yes you do, ” replies hubby encouragingly.
The other V-word at the core of this little drama – vagina – doesn’t come into the picture till the end, when a sophisticated voice announces that the product that has made this revirginated woman and her husband so happy, 18 Again, is a “vaginal tightening and rejuvenating gel”. In a country that places an illogically high value on virginity, a product that promises to make women “feel like virgins” is quite likely to have them queuing up outside medical stores to buy something they believe will miraculously restore their hymens. Feminists and web commentators are already questioning the ‘women’s empowerment’ argument put forth by the company behind 18 Again. While it may enhance sexual pleasure for both men and women, isn’t it feeding the patriarchal view that women need to be perfect and ‘virginal’ – because actual virginity is frustratingly for one-time-use-only, curse it – for men to find them attractive? It’s a toss up.
On the one hand, if you believe the stuff about tighter vaginas making sex more pleasurable for the woman, it’s easy to go with the empowerment argument and say this is a product women can buy for themselves to enhance their sex lives, and what’s not to like about that? On the other hand, the ‘virgin’ bit is clearly aimed at men.
Ultratech India Ltd, the Mumbai-based pharmaceutical company that has launched this patent-pending gel after three years of research, clinical trials, market studies and an FDA approval, is convinced this is a revolutionary product that falls in the feminine hygiene category. Rishi Bhatia, chairman and MD, Ultratech India, is firmly taking the good-forhealth route. He believes 18 Again is a “vaginal health” product that addresses several needs like preventing infections and toning vaginal muscles, which in turn has health benefits like preventing adult incontinence and vaginal prolapse. “We are not saying this will restore virginity. The name indicates that this will make a woman feel young, as she did at the age of 18 when she was just entering womanhood. Our market research, including interviews with gynaecologists, shows many women want non-surgical vaginal tightening, ” says Bhatia.
Priti Nair, director of ad agency Curry Nation, who created the TVC, has a lighter take. “We didn’t want to take a negative route, showing a woman cringing and crying over her husband losing sexual interest in her. We wanted to show a woman celebrating her sexuality and revelling in her womanhood, ” says Nair. Yet, coming right after a certain muchdiscussed product that claimed to create fairer vaginas, 18 Again is definitely in for a hard time from those who believe there is much too much pressure on women to have perfect bodies.
“Leave our vadges alone!” says Nikhila Sachdev (name changed on request), a 32-year-old Bangalorean who just gave birth a year ago. “First you’re supposed to be really thin. Then you’re supposed to remove every bit of hair from your body. Then you’re supposed to do something about those sagging boobs. And now you have to get whiter, tighter vaginas? What’s next? Diamond-encrusted vadges?” she asks indignantly. You’re not too far out, babe. Kim Kardashian, that possibly plastic goddess of frivolity, has already been heard boasting about her Swarovski-studded labia