Why This Festival Leads to a Bump in Sales of Condoms and Contraceptives

Between banning sex education in schools that furthers myths around sex to facing taboos when accessing medical and health facilities, hooking up is complicated in this Indian state.
navratri gujarat india
Representational image via Getty Images

The annual autumnal Hindu festival of Navratri, a combination of the Sanskrit words “nava” meaning “nine” and “ratri” meaning “night,” held in honour of the divine feminine, epitomised by the goddess Durga, is a time of fasting and festivity in India. While forms of worship vary from state to state, each day of the nine-day festival is typically devoted to the worship of one form of the Navdurgas (the nine avatars of the goddess). 


The celebrations include devotees re-creating the battle between good and evil by dancing and clashing colourful sticks in a dance-form known as dandiya, or the Sword Dance. The festival also includes the ritual of garba, wherein devotees dance in a circle with the deity in the middle, symbolising the Hindu view of time —life, death, and rebirth with only the divine presence remaining constant. 

The tenth day culminates in the festival of Dussehra, which is said to mark the triumph of good over evil. As with most festive celebrations, Navratri is also a time when people get together to “mingle,” which, for some, can include sex itself, a need only exacerbated after two years of COVID-19 had us living in mostly isolated bubbles.

However, in India, where pre-marital sex is still largely looked down upon in most parts of the country, including urban areas, Navratri presents both opportunity and access. 

The state of Gujarat, where the fervour of Navratri celebrations peaks, is no different. The opportunities to mingle and socialise are plenty for young people. Even in houses with deadlines and curfews imposed on the young, the festival offers a societally sanctioned opportunity to stay out late. 

For years, the idea that Navratri leads to a bump in the sales of condoms has floated around almost like an urban legend. A 2016 report by The Economic Times claimed that condom sales go up by 25-50 percent on average, particularly in pharmacies and chemists close to Navratri dance venues. Once in a while, condom manufacturers come out with numbers and stats supposedly in a bid to dive into a sociological phenomenon but ultimately making a marketing pitch for the brand.


To find out if there’s legit truth behind these claims, we called over a dozen pharmacies and chemists in various cities across Gujarat. Almost all of them confirmed that sales of condoms and contraceptives do indeed go up during this time. 

“The sale of condoms and contraceptives obviously goes up because it is ‘season time,’” said Bharat Soni from Staywell Pharmacy in Ahmedabad. “As far as our clinic is concerned, their sales go up by 20 to 30 percent during Navratri.” 

 Apollo Pharmacy in Memnagar in Ahmedabad said that condom sales go up by 15 to 20 percent during Navaratri days, while a pharmacy in Vadodara, on the condition of anonymity, said that sales went up by a whopping 60 percent this year. 

Purvi from Apollo Pharmacy in the Adajan area of Surat told VICE that she would peg the increase to 30 percent. Jashvant Patel, the chairman of the Gujarat State Federation of Chemists and Druggists Association (GSFCDA) told India Times a few years ago that even paan shops ( similar to tobacconists, tiny shops where you can buy ciggies, matches and also paan, a stimulant made of betel leaves wrapped around custom-made fillings that can include areca or betel nut and slaked lime) that are open well into the night had started stocking up on condoms during the festival to cater to popular demand.

But while an increase in condom sales is only great news when it comes to safe sex practices among the young, the issue is more layered than it appears to be, according to Gaurang Jani, a sociologist who has worked as a professor at Gujarat University.


“Sex education in Gujarat is non-existent because it was banned from 2007,” he said. “Even today you won’t find a single billboard promoting safe sex and educating citizens about contraceptives. During the day, the government has directed television channels not to run ads about HIV, safe sex, and contraception.”

Sex education continues to remain banned in the schools of Gujarat, with preference given to modules on yoga and alternative medicine. 

Jani explained that sex education is not simply about wearing condoms but goes beyond that to understand gender relations, safe pregnancy practices, the scourge of skewed sex rations, breaking down gender stereotypes, and more. 

“Every second person in the Gujarati community falls between the age bracket of 18 to 25, so it is obvious that they understand condom usage because of how well-connected social media is for young people,” the sociologist said. “But can social media substitute age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education? There are gaps in their awareness about sex which cannot be replaced by an Instagram post.” 

Back in the early 2000s, Jani and his team of volunteers had awareness stalls outside garba venues where they handed out condoms and leaflets that had information on safe sex and STIs. There have been reports in the media from the early 2000s on how these condom sales were helping lower abortion rates that would shoot up in the weeks following the festival. There has been no conclusive study, however, to prove this. What we do know, however, is that sex education remains absent in large swathes of the country.


“Even the education system is not serious about it,” he said. “I have not heard [of] or come across a single workshop in Gujarat’s schools and colleges that promotes healthy and age-appropriate sex education.” 

Abhishek Mankotia, a graphic designer, said that the scale of Gujarat’s apathy towards sex education became apparent to him during a project on STIs that he was working on as part of his master’s course in graphic design at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. “I surveyed students from in and around my own college in the age bracket of 18 to 25,” he told VICE. “The intent was to understand how aware young people are about STIs and their access to support systems.”

Mankotia found that due to the ban on sex education in Gujarat, even young urban Gujaratis are unaware of the support systems that exist. “In one case, a 23-year-old man went to a diagnostic lab to get himself tested for HIV and he experienced hostile behaviour from the attendants. They got visibly uncomfortable and kept asking him questions on whether he’d had sex with a sex worker. Many women know that they can go to a gynaecologist but men are unaware of who to contact.” 

He explained that lack of sex education then translates into his finding that many young women pop a contraceptive pill even after a condom has been used, “just to be safe.” This, according to him, explains the simultaneous rise of both condoms and contraceptive pills. 


In 2017, a Navratri-themed condom ad featuring actor Sunny Leone drew the ire of a trade body who wrote a letter to the union minister, accusing the company of selling condoms in the name of Navratri. “There is a disheartening absence of communication channels about safe sex and STIs in Gujarat because of the prudish attitudes at large.” 

Ruchi Ruuh, a relationship counsellor, said that the ban on sex education in Gujarat is further accentuated during Navratri which is evident in the dichotomy of condoms and contraceptive pills both increasing during Navratri at the same time. “If you have nine nights and [access to space], there is obviously going to be a lot of sex. But more sex might also mean [more] mishaps, which is why sales of contraceptive pills go up, too. I get many queries during Navratri from people from Gujarat who simply don’t know what to do after sex when it comes to STIs or unwanted pregnancies.” 

Sociologist Jani, too, explained that sexual relationships during Navratri, for the most part, are extensions of already existing social and romantic bonds that never found the opportunity to express themselves. In Gujarat, he recounts the wide presence of “couple cabins” dotted across the highways where couples could spend the night — this before the advent of hotel rooms and rooms rented out on an hourly basis. 


“Even during Navratri, the younger generation prefers to go to other buildings and dance with their friends while their parents are usually home or dancing within their building complex,” said Jani. “So, when they move away from their homes at night, sexual relationships are bound to happen.”

Mumbai-based gynaecologist Esha Chainani told VICE that many women come to her with questions on how to delay their period, so it needn’t come visiting during the festival, both for religious reasons (menstruating women are often discouraged to participate in rituals or worship), and so that it doesn’t interfere with their merrymaking. After Gujarat, Mumbai is probably the place that sees the most spirited Navratri celebrations. The Gujarati community has links with the city of Mumbai going back several generations. In fact, parts of Gujarat and Maharashtra were once part of the same state: the Bombay Presidency.  

“This [taking pills to delay one’s period] might mess up one’s menstrual cycle, and the unprotected sex during Navratri doesn’t make things easier,” said Chainani. “In my experience, this is far greater in the Gujarati community who either want to take those pills to delay their period or end up taking emergency contraceptive pills.” 

The way Jani sees it, Gujarat will have to give up its prudish attitude towards safe sex and sex at large if it wishes to protect its massive young demographic. “If you leave it up to young people, assuming they will learn everything from the internet, then you can’t control what they will be exposed to.”

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