Women Talking Taboo: Manzuri co-founder Aastha Vohra on the importance of gender-positive sex education in India

We get candid with her to understand the basics of positive and inclusive sex education and her experiences of working as a woman in a field that is considered by many as unsuitable for women

Prattusa Mallik Published :  08th March 2023 07:39 PM   |   Published :   |  08th March 2023 07:39 PM
Manzuri co-founder Aastha Vohra

Manzuri co-founder Aastha Vohra

Even women’s movements across the world come with an inherent hierarchy that we can not seem to avoid. While certain discriminative acts might be at the centre stage, concepts like positive and inclusive sex have always been at the bottom of the pyramid. It has only been since the last couple of years that more and more content creators and businesses have been working towards altering the narrative, increasingly bringing conversations around the topic to the mainstream.

One such woman is the 26-year-old Aastha Vohra. Born in a deeply patriarchal family, Aastha felt an incongruence between the person she was brought up to be and the person she felt she was meant to be after she moved into a new city for college. This discomfort led her into realising that this gap also existed at a wider scale in society, eventually leading her to launch Manzuri – a sexual positivity startup focusing on providing pleasure-positive sex education to India's youth, through content and business.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we get into a conversation with her to understand the basics of positive and inclusive sex education and her experiences of working as a woman in a field, which is considered by many as unsuitable for women.

What does Manzuri literally mean?
The name Manzuri has been derived from a Japanese word meaning ‘female masturbation’. Literally, it translates to ‘ten thousand rubs’ because well, the more the merrier, right? The word also roughly translates to ‘consent’ in Hindi because we believe that consent and pleasure belong together.

How did you come up with the idea for it?
Manzuri began as an Instagram page that talked about women and their pleasure. Soon, a lot of love, admiration, and more importantly, questions, for a trusted source to buy sex toys, started pouring in. That is how the current website came into being. Even during creating the website, we identified a huge gap in the market where all of them overtly objectified and sexualised humans. By using illustrations and images of fruits, we communicate to the user about the nature of the products and make sure that we were inclusive of all genders in our approach. 

According to you, what does ‘positive and inclusive sex education’ mean?
It means so many things at once: normalising conversations around sex and developing positive attitudes around it; understanding the concept of consent and learning how to say no, getting and providing a safe space to explore your gender, sexuality or identity; stirring the discourse on female sexuality to include ‘pleasure’ on top of reproduction and pregnancy; recognising your fundamental rights to privacy, to sexual pleasure and to practise safe sex. I believe that positive and inclusive sex education encourages open communication, critical thinking, and a non-judgmental approach towards sexuality.

Growing up, what did sex education look like for you?
I didn’t receive any sex education growing up except for that one chapter on reproduction in school. The lack of accessibility to authentic sources pushed me to go looking for answers elsewhere. This is true for me and countless Indians who then turn to other doors like pornography to educate themselves. Not only does it set unrealistic expectations but can be factually inaccurate as well. 

What made you realise the significance of the gender gap in sex education in India?
The fact that there are literally NO in-depth studies in the world on female anatomy (the clitoris, more specifically) and how we experience pleasure just goes on to show that nobody cares enough. On the other hand, we know the ins and outs of childbirth and reproductive organs. However, now it's heartwarming to see that this movement to uncover the depths of the clitoris is being led by reputable women.

What was the reaction of your close ones when they came to know about Manzuri and how has that changed over the years?
Sometimes, the reactions I have received from society have made me rethink, question and put my gender at the forefront of such a movement – from being asked why I would choose to do this despite having a Master’s degree at hand to judging the institutions at which I received an education. The questions ranged from "Why do you run a company selling sex toys?” to “Will you continue running this business after you get married?" Now I wholeheartedly embrace my work – maybe even show off even a little. 

Is the workforce in Manzuri gender-diverse enough?
The current workforce is an equal split between men and women. Also, we’re in the process of making it queer-diverse, starting next month. 

Going forward, what are your plans with Manzuri and sex education in general?
Through Get Cliterate, we have a small community of 10K people so far. Going forward, we want to scale our efforts at forming this community as a safe environment to discuss all-things-pleasure and ask as many curious questions as you can. Think of us as your elder sister with the right tools and information to circulate. We want to build this space with you to be India’s first sex-positive platform and a flag bearer of this movement. 

What would be your advice for all women who aspire to work in this field or any field considered to be taboo for women?
Find your tribe and hold on to it! That place of discomfort is where growth happens – be it professional or personal. Find people that set the standards for where you want to be. There is nothing more powerful than a woman who knows what she wants. 

Email: prattusa@newindianexpress.com
Twitter: @MallikPrattusa

(This interview is a part of Women Talking Taboo — a series of articles featuring exclusively on Indulgexpress — on the occasion of International Women’s Day.)

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