For India’s urban youth, kinky sex is more in the head than in the bed

Get a room (if you can).
Get a room (if you can).
Image: Reuters/Arko Datta
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India’s urban millennials and Gen Z-ers, armed with dating apps, want to experiment more and more with sexual pleasure. However, they don’t seem to be getting enough of it.

Over 80% of Indians, aged between 18 and 34 years across seven cities, believe sex is an important facet of a relationship, according to a survey of 1,500 people by Tinder.

There is also a high degree of agreement on the issue between the two dominant sexes. 

This trend is visible in a “very specific demographic in (India’s) urban centres” and may not reflect a trend across the country, especially in the hinterland, according to Vishnupriya Das, a PhD student at the University of Michigan with an expertise in digital intimacy in south Asia. “I think (meeting and hooking up) has become a little more normalised in very specific socioeconomic groups, that is, in middle-class and upper-middle-class, English-speaking urban centres in India,” says Das.

These city youth also think about sex pretty often, the Tinder survey showed.

But despite frequently thinking about it, young urban singles in India aren’t really having fulfilling sex. Up to 48% of the respondents in Tinder’s survey said that they have faked an orgasm at least once.

State of play

With sex on their minds, young urban Indians are increasingly open to experimenting with more creative forms of sexual pleasure. Nearly 80% of the respondents said they were in favour of experimentation and exploration in their sex lives.

This trend can also be explained by the uptick of dating app-use in Indian cities, according to Das.

“(Dating apps) have made the ability to explore and experiment with sex and what relationships are a lot more easily accessible,” says Das.

This market in India has exploded in recent years and is now crowded with international players such as Tinder, Grindr, Bumble, and OkCupid, and local platforms such as TrulyMadly.

This easy access to relationships and sex is perhaps the reason many Indians aren’t interested in monogamy.

Dating apps exist as a part of a much broader internet ecosystem on conveniently mobile mobile phones that keep young Indians better informed about sexual intricacies. Specific sexual terms and how to use them, different sexual positions, and new sexual orientations are just a Google-search away.

However, while a majority of young city folk are open to experimentation, a much smaller proportion is actually incorporating it into their sex lives. Only 37% of single Indians feel free to experiment when having sex with a casual date, and only 24% try something new in bed when in a relationship, the survey said.

This discrepancy can be explained in part by the circumstances that a young person is living in. “(Experimentation) is often limited to the degree that you’re bound by the social conditions in which you live,” says Das.

Sexual experimentation requires a great degree of freedom and access to safe spaces beyond the virtual world. Safe spaces for amorous couples are a rarity in India’s traditionally conservative society. An average college student in India, for instance, either lives with her parents or in a hostel—both these spaces can be extremely restrictive and judgemental. Even public spaces are mostly out of bounds for innocuous public displays of affection, often sparking violent repression from civil society and law-keepers.

Consequently, the proportion of younger respondents (18-24 years) who say they feel free to experiment with a casual date is only 29%. This is a major reason why “safe hotel aggregators” like StayUncle and LuvStay are growing in popularity, says Das. Young, unmarried couples who are eager to explore a sexual relationship are flocking to these judgement-free spaces where they are sheltered from prying questions about their marital status.

Rules of engagement

Young and single Indians are approaching sex not only with pronounced openness but also with their own protocols for engagement.

All age-groups and genders in the survey agreed that the best day to go on a date and have sex is Saturday, and the worst is Monday. Most (60%) also kept it traditional and agree that night was the best time to have sex.

Moreover, respondents also admitted to entering these relationships armed with excuses to not have sex. Around 71% of all respondents admitted to using excuses— “too tired/working all day” being favourites—to extract themselves from awkward situations.

This survey showed that Indian milliennials and Gen Z-ers, who are growing up with dating apps, are establishing their own templates for casual dates and relationships. However, the tension around an inherently messy process remains.