'Sex is still elephant in the room in Indian families', says sex coach

‘India’s the land of Kama Sutra but we struggle to even say the word sex’: Delhi therapist who was trapped in a loveless marriage and didn’t discover sexual pleasure until she was 33 now helps other couples

  • Divorced mother-of-one Pallavi Barnwal, who lives in Delhi, spent five years in a sexless marriage with ex husband – and had flings when the couple separated
  • Says many Indian families still don’t feel comfortable talking about sex 
  • On her Instagram page, she regularly discusses topics including porn and masturbation and counsels couples on how to be more open with each other
  • Told FEMAIL that India may be the land of the Kama Sutra but there are still many taboos surrounding sex 

India may have produced the world’s most famous sex manual in the Kama Sutra, but the country is still inhibited when it comes to talking openly about sex, says an intimacy coach who lives there. 

Sex therapist Pallavi Barnwal, who grew up in the country’s east but now lives in Delhi, says she wants to break down the taboos around sex and intimacy for Indian families, and regularly hosts Q&As on her Instagram page covering everything from masturbation to sexless relationships and porn.  

Barnwal, a divorced mother-of-one, uses her own experiences – including watching her parents’ marriage crumble and her own disastrous first relationship – to help couples struggling with intimacy issues. 

She says she only discovered self-pleasure in her early thirties and now wants to encourage other people to talk more freely about sex, saying it’s still the ‘elephant in the room’ in many Indian households.  

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Divorced mother-of-one Pallavi Barnwal, who lives in Delhi, spent five years in a sexless marriage with ex husband – and had flings when the couple separated. She now helps couples be more open about discussing their sex lives

Told FEMAIL that India may be the land of the Kama Sutra but there are still many taboos surrounding sex – and say that many people struggle to still actually use the word sex, preferring more romantic names such as ‘making love’

Barnwal doesn’t remember seeing couples being openly affectionate in public when she was a child and says Indians often still struggle to even utter the word sex if there’s a more palatable alternative.   

‘People will often use certain euphemisms like ‘making love’ or ‘first night’. Sexual intercourse is entirely alluded to, and people try to romanticise it – particularly on wedding nights, when beds are strewn with rose petals. 

‘Or it’s referenced in terms of procreation, so people will ask newly married couples “When are you giving us good news?”.

‘No one in my family talked about sex; my parents certainly didn’t give me a lot of information when I was growing up. 

‘I had a very conservative and even orthodox upbringing in a very small city of India and I never talked about sex. I didn’t discover my own clitoris until I was 33.’ 

On her Instagram page, she regularly discusses topics including porn and masturbation and counsels couples on how to be more open with each other

Taboo: She says she gets direct messages from people who say they want to leave comments on her Instagram posts but fear reprisals from their families

Barnwal recalls her own wedding night as a ‘fiasco’ where she was unsure how to act – and any romance was sapped by the sounds of relatives and wedding guests sleeping on campbeds around the house.

When her intimacy-free relationship broke down five years later, she began sleeping with different men – older or married – and discovering sex and masturbation properly for the first time.

After training to be a sex coach and writing her first book, The Sex Starved Relationship, Barnwal decided to turn her Instagram page into a forum for others to ask questions, and promptly saw questions pour in from people seeking advice. 

In 2019, she gave a Ted Talk on how to talk to young people about sex. 

She told FEMAIL that because many people’s first exposure to sex comes via glimpses of porn on the internet or in ‘shady’ magazines, there’s a shame associated with talking about it. 

‘People think that if we talk about sex, we’re actually talking about porn and people don’t want to be associated with porn so they don’t talk about it.’ 

The therapist says she gets direct messages from people who say they want to leave comments on her Instagram posts but fear reprisals from their families.  

She adds too that while many people message asking for advice, she also has to endure ‘d*** pics’ from men.   

Shame: Barnwal thinks that too many people link sex with porn, and because they don’t want to be associated with porn, they stop talking about sex

‘I used to get upset by people sending nude pictures or their personal numbers but I don’t anymore because I also understand that a large part of that is because of sexual illiteracy and that’s something that we have to work to change.’

She says the Kama Sutra, believed to have been written in India around 1,600 years ago, has been exploited and unlikely to be found in many modern households.

The book is based on ancient Indian Hindu philosophies and was first translated into English in 1883 under the guidance of Victorian explorer Richard Burton, who also added saucy illustrations. 

‘We’re the land of the Kama Sutra but we’re as ignorant as people in any other country. We don’t have copies in the home, and if we do, they might be stuck somewhere deep in the shelf.’ 

Follow Pallavi Barnwal at instagram.com/coachpallavibarnwal 

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