Sex is still a hush-hush topic in India, but what if a woman coming from a small part of India starts speaking about it? So much so, that she becomes a support system and go-to person for many women when they have no one to share their intimate challenges with. Now a sexuality and intimacy coach in India, Pallavi Barnwal became that support system while fighting her own battles. She became a channel of change when it came to people opening up about sex-related issues.
Barnwal has been vocal about sexual problems that lie in marriages. According to her, no marriage is ideal, and most couples brush their issues under the carpet instead of addressing them. While exclusively talking to SheThePeople, Barnwal touched upon these issues, the psychological part of sex, new-age relationships, and her journey of becoming a sex coach.
Pallavi Barnwal Interview
Pallavi Barnwal first addressed the latest trends and chatter surrounding sex and relationships. The one word that came to her mind was 'Situationship'. Barnwal said, "People tend to follow certain things when they don't have modules to rely on. When people don't know how to comprehend their relationship, tagging it situationship becomes a way out. Even if it is not one, they still tag it that way. People are trying to fit their thoughts into it. They need a framework as they can't go directionless. These terms can be helpful and, sometimes, restricted because experience gets confined in the realm of the term."
Barnwal herself is exploring the new age relationship labels. She describes that human experiences are diverse and can't be labelled. But, for now, the four labels that are widely used are the hook-up model, committed relationship model, marriage, and newly added situationship. She added, "Like sexual orientations, there can be varied relationship orientations. For instance- Dating, I thought it was being in a relationship, but actually, dating means a date for the day.
Barnwal uses a lot of experience in her coaching. In fact, it was her personal life which directed her to formally pursue a degree in sex education. Barnwal too was of a mindset of having an education that could help her get a good husband and a happy family. She, too, lived as a traditional daughter-in-law for 6 to 7 years of her life. Barnwal married and became a mother at the age of 28. But little she knew her life will make her choose a distinct path. Due to compatibility issues, she walked out of the marriage. She started working in a management consultant company and got exposure to a completely different life. Barnwal said, "I started going out, meeting people, I started getting hits, but from married men, men at the position of VP, and VC. It was surprising for me. I went all radical and decided to expose them, so started with a blog on themes of 'married men are not happy in marriage'. When my blogs went viral, people started writing to me and that was it, I could se the larger problem closely."
Barnwal detected a problem and becoming a certified sex coach was the solution. She pointed out how we are still living in times where bluntly asking for sex is not acceptable, we gift-wrap sex in pretty words. Men are so uptight that hesitate to open up as they have constant pressure to 'be a man', besides they believe women don't like weak men. Whereas women are comfortable talking but feel insecure to do so. That's where the sex coach comes in.
Pallavi Barnwal quit her corporate job to normalise the conversation around sex. Barnwal has been holding workshops, conducting social media Live sessions, writing columns, counselling individuals, and creating space where people can open up about sex and intimacy.
Open conversations around sex are taboo in India and a woman talking about it on a mass level itself attracts a lot of criticism. So for Barnwal, too, it was a struggle. Even today she is being trolled for her Instagram content. Describing her challenges, she said, "I talk about sex so people think I am open and available. Even if it is on academic, scientific, and psychological levels, it still has that three letter words in it, which makes men think I am bold and outgoing. Another challenge is women cannot freely comment on her post because overnight creeps DM them." Besides, it also hampers Barnwal's personal life. She added, " Men I dated told me 'you are too bold for my family,' despite explaining it is my job. I realised, for people, intellectual sexiness is more or equally intimidating than physical sexiness." Not worrying about challenges, she is busting the taboo and shame around women's desire and sex.
Pallavi Barnwal On Women And Sexuality
According to Barnwal, she never worried about trolls because her followers make her feel courageous. She said, "Many women followers are in bad marriages, and they feel I give them the courage to be authentic. For many women, getting out of marriage is not a solution but, at least, accepting that the marriage is not working makes it easy. Despite knowing their husbands are having affairs women still stay in their relationship for social security. Besides, women don't converse about sex with their husbands. Men have misconceptions that once they get an orgasm, women will come automatically. And it is highly unlikely for both to come at the same time. But women don't talk about it. Women are hesitant to ask partners to go down on them because they have this psychic of genitals being dirty and they can't tell their men to do that."
Talking about relationships in current times, she said, "The shelf life of relationships has reduced, and the time to move on to a hook-up or situations has become short, and sometimes it is overlapping. This comes from self-esteem. Everyone loves having partners and companionship, especially when loneliness in the world has increased. We look for casual relationships to feel this void. It has become a need, a person wants someone to come into life without asking questions and accepting the way they are. Self-entitlement has increased in this generation. We have multiple options available, we want the same in our relationships as well."
SheThePeople asked about how Gen-Zs are navigating sexuality and intimacy. Barnwal said, "People in today's time do want real relationships, but the culture around us is not letting it happen. Culture has become promiscuous, people are not promiscuous. Culture is luring people into quick relationships. Culture makes you feel inadequate in your world, it gives you a feeling of not having enough. But some couples are resisting this temptation."
Further added, "Casual sex works differently for different people. I am just concerned about whether casual sex culture is taking us away from intimacy. In the age of Instagram, where relationships are shown flawless and people get into the reality of these illusions, it disappoints. People to fill that void tend to look for casual sex."
Pallavi Barnwal holds 20+ certifications in sex education. She took her degree from the Integrated Sex Therapy Institute (ISTI), which is certified by a US body called the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counsellors, and Therapists (AASECT), which is equal to the Medical Council Of India (MCI). Barnwal pursued sex education certification from the US because such certifications were unavailable in India. She emphasised that India doesn’t have any certification available for now to become a sex coach or sex education, or sex therapist.
Pointing out the backwardness of Indian medical education considering sex, Barnwal said, "Sex therapy is still not recognised in the Indian medical curriculum, whereas in the US it is a standalone field. In India, it is sexology. It means problems with the reproductive system. It fails to recognise that sexuality is different, it also got behaviour, value, attitude, thoughts, and desires. Interaction with my followers made me realise gynaecologists shame women for having sexual desires, whereas shame men when they open up about performance-related issues. In India, sexology doesn’t include the psychology of sex, which is so important, our mind is the biggest sex organ, bigger than genitals. They overlook the role of the mind, they see it as only a physical problem. However, things are changing but not done enough. In the West, they have done tremendous progress in understanding the mind part of the sex."
She also outlined the lack of knowledge people have when it comes to sex. She said, "Generation is still learning to talk about it, forget about getting expertise and practising. There is a lack of an intimacy coach or a sex therapist. Our country is in dire need of educators because not all problems are clinical. According to surveys- In 2021, $ 2 billion worth of ED drugs(for erection) and painful intercourse medicines for $ 521 million were sold worldwide. A lot of issues are related to misconceptions. For instance- performance anxiety, the vulva is dirty. We need sex educators."
Advising aspirational psychologists in sexuality, Barnwal dictated a path on how to become one. She suggested having a psychology degree, and then going for an advanced degree in sexuality from the US as it is not available in India. She also asked to aim for a scholarship as these degrees are slightly expensive.
Barnwal is also on coto, a women-only social community app. She has her community ‘Yoniverse’ and, for her, the platform brings security. She said, "Women can freely express themselves without feeling judged. Women don't want unwanted attention on social media. So the women's platform provides privacy and ensures security and safety."
She concluded, "One of my missions is also to train psychologists in sexuality discipline."
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