They address readers’ deepest insecurities. Who are they, and should we trust their advice?
All of us—at least those of us born in the 80s—have been subjected to sex-education classes by P Ed teachers at some time or the other. The male and female anatomy were represented by a series of rectangles on a green blackboard in chalk and the anatomical differences explained with other circles and still more rectangles. That was the first and last class. Maybe because the eighth graders laughed too much, maybe because the teachers themselves were too embarrassed to continue. But the rectangular representation of the female anatomy was the worst thing in the world to prepare for the real world. And women. Thank God for sex columnists. And porn.
Tragically, that was when sex columnists were demigods, sole providers of salacious pleasure. But between then and now, the entire giggly generation grew up to discover the truth about the Indian Sex Column. How it was neck deep in Cosmopolitan and Sex and The City references, much of the writing done with a silly smirk on the face, and how, tragically enough, writers as well as readers resisted the urge to take it seriously. Writers did it under the garb of being catty; readers read it for scandalous weird bits. But this isn’t about panning those good people, it’s about the myths that exist about sex columnists and trying to go about confirming them.
Naughty girls are made in heaven, and sex columns in their heads
In men’s magazine MW, a reader finds himself in a rather curious pickle—he pushed his wife to get into a foursome with another man and his wife, and soon the three realised that four (the fourth being our man) is too much of a crowd; they dumped him and are having it off on dirty weekends. He now wants to know what’s going on here. The anonymous sex columnist advises him to talk to his wife, tell her enough is enough, and then ends by calling him a ‘jerk whose wife just shat on him but a jerk still’. Sound advice? Or just someone honing skills for a future screenplay-writing career? Could be both, but we say this only because it looks like one of the more creatively conjured questions than others in magazines.
In Men’s Health, former actress Pooja Bedi counsels the relatively tame, like a gentleman whose fiancée wants to know if he thinks about her while being self-reliant. Aman Mehta from Bangalore wonders whether shaving his pubic hair will make sex better for his girl, and Sagar Lalwani from Mumbai is in search of that elusive spot that would make him a superstar in bed. Bedi says something to the effect that the best lovers are ‘adventurers who explore with enthusiasm and think beyond the box’.
Meanwhile at FHM, Nisha Samson takes turns answering queries and debunking myths about how to spot a virgin, and is fond of introductions like ‘I just saw the 14” p**** fly by, I promise. Okay, both you and me know that if p*****s fly then the world would be one big horny planet. Well, some theories people have about sex are as ridiculous as the flying p****’.
In GQ, a hot model unravels the secrets of tantric sex and offers a DIY guide on the ‘Prison Guard Position’, while fictional sex columnist Chastity Fernandes gives tips on how to know if you are good in the sack—a scorecard, if you please. Over in Maxim, another curious cub still wants to know just how important ‘size’ is. The anonymous and amorous sex/relationship writer, unperturbed by the monotony of responding to a question every magazine on the planet already has, tries settling the anxiety with statistics. ‘Truth is, most women do not care about size but about quality’ and ends with a short discourse on the average length and depth of the organs in question. Ho-hum.
But then, sex advice is hardly breaking news, is it? And have you tried writing a new sex column every month? Repetition is guaranteed. It’s like a pair of male trousers—there’s only so much you can do with it. When you’re done, you do it again.
Performance anxiety: it happens to everyone, even sex columnists
It’s here that the real fun begins and some of the con begins to unravel. You see, apart from the sex columnists in FHM, Men’s Health and GQ (the one done by Mia Udeya, a model), the author of each is shrouded in a veil of utmost secrecy. A secret that is personally guarded by the Magazine’s Editor. And when Open contacted GQ, they were quick to snub queries. And this is what makes the mystery even murkier—magazines that describe bedroom situations in such luxuriant detail suddenly turned coy when asked by Open to talk about their sex columns.
Well, India is a conservative country, you’d argue, we still don’t talk about sex; putting your name next to a sex column means social suicide and being shunned by family. Wait a minute— aren’t we being a little overdramatic here? Forget the nude temple depictions and the done-to-death ‘Land of the Kamasutra’ argument, isn’t a wristwatch brand running an ad campaign with women boasting of their sexploits on TV?
Stories about a men’s magazine where the male editor is known to encourage his female alter-ego to write a sex column are part of journalism folklore. We live in a society where the trust for sex columnists was never even nurtured—they were people who talked through their hats and shot from their hips, their fodder were old issues of Cosmo (not the Indian one) and the internet (later). Anonymity, their words spoken from shadows, did little to lend them the credibility they so desperately sought.
Samson agrees with the criticism of anonymity: “It’s easy to hide behind anonymity and say anything without taking the repercussions,” she says. Her decision to lend her name and photograph (the picture has sadly fallen prey to a redesign recently), she says, was taken because she wanted to connect with the reader. “A caricature makes it less real,” she says. Bedi too insists she never really had any qualms talking about sex. “We’re a very sexual and sensual nation… sex is something that needs to be discussed,” Bedi says. Others flog the dead-horse cliche´ again—they wouldn’t want their father, mother, grandmother, neighbour or neighbour’s dog to discover that they write about… shhhh. Which raises another question: fun and games apart, are these guys actually qualified to give out sex advice? Okay, we’re not looking for some fancy med school degree (that’s for sexologists like Dr Prakash Kothari who have patients and stuff). But what makes these columnists sex columnists?
Is there a magic number? What is it?
Do sex columnists have more sex? Is it better than the sex other people have? How much sex qualifies them to be sex columnists? Is there a magic number? Or does abstinence work better than bumping uglies with all and sundry?
“The most common misconception about those who write about sex is that they’ve ‘done’ the world to know it all,” says Samson. MW’s editor says it’s this impression that “if you write about sex, you must be the loose type” that keeps journalists, especially women writers, away.
It’s an occupational hazard spoken of in cautionary tones. Strangely though, if you flip through magazines for sex columns, you will be hard pressed to find any men doing the writing.
That said, it’s not like men are running over each other to hop into the bed of a sex columnist either. Getting heartburn wondering what the critics will say about performance is best left to film actors and restaurant chefs.
But not all women seem eager to dispel that myth. Chastity Fernandes writes of being flattered when she was approached to write about sex: ‘After all, you don’t ask a girl to write a sex column unless you are convinced she’s having some really good sex.’ And: ‘I’m glad that my persona hints that I’m great in bed.’
Cauvery (of ‘Coitus’ fame in MW), meanwhile, is happy to recount her experiences riding a ‘pony’ and indulging in the explosion of ‘sensory supernovas’ in the mile-high club. ‘Frankly,’ writes the model who prides herself on her modesty (the lack of it), ‘the frequency of my working on flights doesn’t remotely compare to what I do on land, but I don’t think I’m a newbie… I’ve had enough flying experience to tell you how to go about it.’
The love of clichés apart, this is a myth even we don’t agree with: suggesting that women write sex columns because they can’t wait to get their legs around a man (or men). They do it because they believe in The Enlightenment. More importantly, no columnist (apart from Open’s of course) ever does that much research before writing anyway. The argument on its own is just as ridiculous as saying that someone who’s been in several relationships is a relationship expert; does someone who’s quit smoking several times become an expert quitter?
That leaves us with the primary question: if it isn’t sex, then what is it?
Dr Mahinder Watsa, who writes his column in Mumbai Mirror, insists a “working knowledge of many specialities like obsetrics, gynaecology, urology, cardiology” is very important. “Half the time, it’s the editors who are writing the answers on their own with little regard to whether they are bizarre or even correct,” he says.
True to what he says, being catty about the G-Spot and the mile-high club apart, what if some serious questions need to be answered? Well, we don’t do serious. Our guru’s claims to fame revolve around having a flair for writing ‘naughty’, their sources are a mix of personal experiences, borrowed personal experiences, overheard personal escapades and of course that guarantor of the Big O, Cosmopolitan.
According to the MW editor though, they don’t pretend to be experts. “I would not compare what is being written by experts to what we write. They serve two different purposes and address different reader needs,” he says. Tragically, readers agree—sex columns continue to be mere evokers of embarassed giggles, and that alone, unless it’s Mia Udeya’s in GQ (refer to picture and take a deep breath).