Before the pandemic made travelling to distant shores a daydream, a friend returned from Amsterdam with a sizable goodie bag for me, reaffirming my faith in our solid friendship. Knowing my preferences well, she’d spent considerable time and energy handpicking an assortment of weed-themed paraphernalia. It had marijuana print socks, penis-shaped candy bars, lollipops, a rolling kit, and… condoms.
The condoms obviously stood out because I genuinely wondered what their purpose was. Weed is not quite known for its peculiar flavour, at least not in a way that is sexually tantalising. So, my partner and I were rather curious if it worked in a way that you got high through your asshole. Turns out, they have no THC in them and all we were left with was latex that smelled like an ashtray after a while.
For several adults, including me, condoms are the most boring part of sex. Sure, for hetereosexual couples, they help in preventing an eggo from getting preggo but alongside, they run the risk of ruining the momentum during a heated sexual encounter. The trick I (and am sure many others) have learnt the hard way is to time their wearing just right so you’re erect and ready to go. It’s a no-brainer then that manufacturers have been trying everything within their capabilities to make condoms appealing to the masses. Because as shitty as they might be, they are still absolutely necessary. We now have condoms that range in textures, lubrication, and as most college students will attest to, flavours—which many argue are not meant for vaginal sex due to the sugars and flavours they have. While this begs the question of who actually uses a condom for a beej, it’s important to remember that STIs like herpes and gonorrhea can spread through oral sex. And for the last time: No, swirling around some post-blowie mouthwash probably isn't enough to protect you.
According to a 2017 article in Quartz, flavoured condoms account for anywhere between 50 percent to 70 percent of India’s billion-dollar condom market. The world’s second most populous country is buying them off the shelves of pharmacies and in the absence of brick-and-mortar sex shops (save, this one brave trailblazer), even online. “The reason why people purchase flavoured and fancy condoms online is because they’re planning an experience, and these pieces of rubber fit right in,” says Raj Armani, co-founder and COO of the adult webstore Imbesharam. Out of all the condoms ordered on Imbesharam, a whopping 55 percent of them are flavoured while 30 percent claim to support longer erection. The rest 15 percent are the fancy ones like the glow-in-the-dark variety.
But despite their popularity, Armani believes that for most customers, flavoured condoms aren't the first choice if they are looking for just protection. He says that customers won’t go through the arduous process of ordering condoms online and waiting for them to be delivered. “They’ll just hop to the nearest medical store and grab some regular dotted or ribbed ones there,” Armani says. But for flavours, he says, people prefer online outlets. According to their demographics, these are usually young people (in the age group of 21 -35), who are planning an adventurous night to spice things up in bed. My local chemist tells me most people who come to buy condoms at his pharmacy are too shy to ask for condoms directly, so they might simply state the flavour they want. “It’s a form of unspoken understanding between the customers and most pharmacy salespersons,” he enlightens me.
Though flavoured condoms first penetrated the Indian market in the late 1990s, their growing popularity is fairly recent. In the 1960s, the Indian government classified condoms as a class R drug, which meant they could only be sold in medical stores. Additionally, the government’s Nirodh campaign—where they gave out free flavourless condoms as part of a family planning drive—was a colossal failure owing to its drab colourless packaging, the bland name itself (it means “protection” but more widely taken as “contraception”), lack of sex appeal, and absence of exciting varieites. It became obvious that Indians are not fans of the regular old rubber. But thanks to the recommendation of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), we can now buy a wide variety of condoms, thereby creating a shift in the way Indians consume their condoms, and the flavours within.
In pharmacies and online stories now, you have the commonplace strawberry, banana, mango, and butterscotch flavours. But on the other end of the spectrum, you also have aloe vera, litchi and kala khatta. Apparently, Sunny Leone is also a flavour? At a recent stand-up comedy gig that I was hosting, I asked the audience about the weirdest flavours they’d come across. A lady raised her hand, giggled and answered that she’d tried an achaari (pickle) flavoured one. I wondered aloud in that moment how terrible the dinner must’ve been if the condom needed to be that tangy and spicy. However, most of these novelty flavours are usually promotional and don’t really stick around for long.
Samir Saraiya—founder of ThatsPersonal.com, an online portal that sells adult sex toys—says that Bhopal, the capital city of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, orders the most flavoured condoms in the country. He also states that Meetha Paan (which is a concoction of betel leaf and sweet ingredients wrapped inside) happens to be the favourite flavour of the city. That’s one flavour I personally wouldn't mind sucking on.
“People love strawberry and chocolate the most,” my local pharmacist tells me. “They also ask for cherry but it's not as mass produced in India as a fruit.” He also stocks flavours like jasmine and cocktail, which he’s noticed younger men favour. “If an older man comes in, he is going to buy a regular old condom. In their case, they just mention the size, hardly the flavour,” he says. Reva (name changed on request), a sex worker I spoke with, admitted that she loves the good old strawberry flavour. “It’s mild and somehow blends with the latex taste the best,” she says.
Armani says that along with strawberry and chocolate, his clientele also loves condoms in Pina Colada and Mojito flavours, though he wonders what they expect when they buy them. Nikhil Mylavarapu, a brand manager with Raymond group—the parent company of Kamasutra condoms—states that while flavoured condoms account for 48 percent of their condom sales, weird flavours usually can’t manage to stick around. In many ways, picking a peculiar flavour in condoms is like picking a local eatery. There's only one way of knowing if it tastes good — you just have to try it. But unlike an eatery, condoms need to be produced in bulk and hence, experimenting with weird flavours can often backfire.
At Kama Gizmos, India’s first and, for now, only physical sex toy and wellness products store in the western Indian state of Goa, marshmallow and Triple Sec are some of the bestsellers, alongside bubblegum flavoured condoms that put the pun in blowing. Indians have a sweet tooth after all and most consumers trust the flavours and aromas that they’re already familiar with but sometimes, are also beyond the staple fruit diet.
Girish Ramachandran, senior manager of marketing for Skore Condoms says, “We have seen a good growth of flavours in the last six years. Consumers are generally more skewed towards any new chocolate flavoured variants and that's the reason we have launched an all-new Belgian chocolate flavoured condom.” With the huge demand growing through online sales, the major players in the game are definitely looking to try and test their flavours to let their audience decide what stays.
So to answer the burning question, chocolate is the clear winner when it comes to Indian condom users across brands and retailers. People do love a hard brown slab, after all.
Armani is hopeful about how the market for flavoured condoms in India will shape up in the coming years. “Flavoured condoms are here to stay,” he affirms. “They may also soon expand in their variety, quality, and probably also become edible someday.” Yikes.
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