Leeza Mangaldas On Why We Need To Start Talking About Sex And Sexuality Advertisement
Advertisement

Leeza Mangaldas On Why We Need To Start Talking About Sex And Sexuality

In conversation with Leeza Mangaldas

By Anavi Chander  April 29th, 2021

Navigating sex, sexuality and sexual health is often complicated. What adds to the problem is the lack of conversation around it, which creates an atmosphere of fear, exaggerated curiosity and even shame. What should be safe and consensual while at the same time being pleasurable has an air of silence and stigma around it. Breaking these barriers and building a platform for open and wholesome dialogue is Leeza Mangaldas, a content creator who believes in creating a safe space. From pleasure to pain, experiences to orgasms, expectations to realities, she candidly talks of it all on her YouTube and Instagram handles. In a conversation with her, we delve deeper into the topic.

ELLE: First off, what inspired you to create the content that you do?

Leeza Mangaldas (LM): I actually started my YouTube channel in 2017 since Instagram was less video-oriented back then. As a young person navigating her own sexuality and sexual health, I felt that there was a lack of easily accessible information and non-judgmental platforms to share personal experiences. Sex is something around which there is a lot of silence and shame, especially in the Indian context so I felt that I would like to do something to normalise this conversation.

As a young, unmarried woman, getting contraception is such a hassle, as is getting a vibrator or even an STD test. There are basic things that we should have access to in the interest of our own health. Also, I feel that any conversation around sex is health and abstinence driven, without ever talking about pleasure or going beyond man and woman. Social media has become the place where people are starting these conversations now; it’s become an outlet that wasn’t there before.

ELLE: What sort of reactions do you get around this content both online and from friends and family?

LM: I’m really lucky that my friends and family have been very supportive. I think it would be very difficult to do this if I had resistance from within my own family. In terms of the reaction online, I would say most of the responses I get are overwhelmingly positive because people are just grateful to have this information. But of course, occasionally, there will be some who will slut-shame me. I think it’s triggering for some people to see a brown woman talk openly about sex. I have the profanity filters on in my comments, and I use the block feature because I want my platform to be as safe as possible. I wish people had better online etiquette, but as a content creator, sadly, you just accept this as par for the course. I am here for people of all genders sharing experiences, and to me, that is what I want.

ELLE: How do you feel we can normalise the conversations around sex education?

LM: I really think that this needs to be an ongoing conversation as opposed to a one-time conversation. I wish that it would start in our homes. Even when a toddler is being taught the names of parts of the body, some parents will tell them that the genitals are called ‘shame shame’ instead of teaching anatomically correct names. We are then already inculcating at such a young age that this is an area that we don’t talk about, that it is bad, dirty or shameful. I feel like whenever an opportunity for learning arises, adults in the family should engage with it rather than just shoving it under the carpet. Actually, studies globally suggest that young people who can talk to a parent, caregiver or teacher about sex, sexuality, sexual health are more likely to delay having sex and less likely to make decisions that may put their or another person’s health at risk. We have this misconception that sex education will make young people have more sex, and that’s just not true. In fact, you remove a lot of the intrigue around things by talking about them instead of building an environment of stipulation and fear around it.

In the Internet age, young people have access to porn, sometimes even unwittingly. Then that becomes the first reference point for sex. Wouldn’t it be so much better if an adult in your family explained things to you so you had context and you could discern that that’s not what sex is really like.

ELLE: Do you think that sex education can also create greater acceptance of different sexual orientations?

LM: Absolutely. I think sex education must be queer-inclusive as well as pleasure-inclusive. I think this is absolutely vital. Because of how binary patriarchal society makes sex and gender appear, I’m so glad that we have access to LGBTQIA+ voices online. This is also creating an acceptance of the fact that you don’t have to choose a label, and if you do, these labels can change over time. It is a constant process of self-discovery.

 

ELLE: Why do you feel we, as a society, are fixated on a women’s virginity as opposed to a man’s?

LM: I think the basis of patriarchy is this fixation on paternity and the ownership and control of women’s bodies because, in a pre-DNA testing era, the only way for a man to know this his son is his son was to make the choice of not sleeping with anyone before marriage and to marry a woman who had done the same. So essentially, before marriage, a woman was her father’s property and then she became her husband’s property. Marriage, in such situations, was an economic alliance, and the objective of sex was to have children. It’s been this way for centuries in the patriarchal context. Although, it is worth remembering that there are different structures to society. We were more sex-positive, as is depicted in our own religious and art history. There is evidence for an acknowledgement of more than two genders, of sex other than just between a man and a woman, of sex for pleasure and also of a woman’s pleasure being important. I feel like it’s a very post-colonial, patriarchal morality that we operate on now that a woman’s virginity becomes linked to the family’s honour. This fixation with surveilling and controlling particularly, women’s autonomy.  There is also this pressure, particularly in India, on young people to stay a virgin till they are married, and then to get married and have children. These are then not seen as choices but as inevitabilities.

ELLE: What do you think of the media’s portrayal of sex?

LM: So, there has been some improvement, and there are some amazing shows, magazines and movies that are working towards normalising and expanding views around sex. But for the most part, if I had to make a generalisation, especially in the Indian context, I feel in the mainstream media, sex is either spoken of as something bad, dirty and shameful or as something that is funny and ridiculous, as an opportunity for slapstick comedy. It’s always couched as something that other people do; we rarely see portrayals of it as something we do. Mainstream media could do more, even with respect to scientific information around the subject. For instance, recently, a very well-known magazine issued an apology for creating a myth around the G-spot and propagating it. This misinformation ends up perpetuating a falsehood where facts become fabricated or embellished. While the media objectifies women to sell things, because for decades, as we’ve seen, sex sells, it fails to acknowledge what women want themselves.

ELLE: If you could pinpoint one question that you get asked most often because of the content you create, what would that be?

LM: I would say the umbrella question would be ‘are you normal?’ Because of the shame and stigma around all things to do with sex and the body, most people worry that their perfectly normal bodies, desires, fantasies are somehow wrong. We tend to pathologise our own very healthy and normal curiosities. So, whether it’s a question about penis size or boob size, masturbation and the myths around it, they all fit into that one overarching question. I think that this is because of the morality that is associated with sex which brings with it a lot of guilt. This universe of possibilities around self-discovery is weighed down by a sense of shame and confusion.

ELLE: If there is one thing that you could say to teachers, parents, children, young adults and policymakers, what would that be?

LM: I would say that we need to talk about sex and sexuality. The emphasis needs to be on consent and on taking into account what women need as well as their autonomy. For instance, the ban on porn was justified by saying that it will prevent cases of sexual harassment. I agree that there are issues with porn in the way that it’s portrayed, but there is no correlation between sexual assault and pornography. There exists porn of many different kinds; there’s ethical porn, lesbian porn, all kinds of porn. We need to acknowledge that women might want to watch it as well and that by banning porn to allegedly protect them, you’re throwing the baby away with the bathwater. We should be regulating porn and ensuring that there are no clips that are shared without the consent of all parties involved. Making a blanket policy is not the answer. The construction and implementation of sex education, laws and policies need to be nuanced and inclusive. I think it’s great that we’re making small strides, but we have a long way to go. When creating my content, I, too, am, verifying the accuracy of information with gynaecologists and people in the position to do so while also learning, unlearning, thinking and rethinking.