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Leeza Mangaldas Speaks To Nykaa About Sex, Pleasure And The Body

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Sex and pleasure is personal, as it should be. But as a nation, we still don’t seem to be okay talking about it. Contrary to what’s accepted in famed historical books, we weren’t always like this. If you follow Indian mythology, the ancient texts like the Mahabharata for instance talk about sex and portray a fairly liberal society. Fast forward to the 21st century and these vital discussions still remain restricted to faint murmurs, private WhatsApp chat groups and rushed google searches largely due to the country’s conservative mentality. While that’s understandable, If we had started sooner, there would probably be a higher success rate of citizens making healthier sexual choices and forming strong bonds. Just generally being happier.

That being said, it’s rather comforting to make it to 2021 and finally witness a tectonic shift on this subject. The contributing factor? Two words. Leeza Managalas. Launching her Youtube and Instagram work in 2017, the Mumbai-based actor, Youtuber and sports presenter rose to fame by creating unique, educational, highly researched content around pleasure, sex, relationship advice and body postivity.

Readers, here’s presenting India’s leading sex-positve content creator and Beauty Book’s digtial star of the month, the one and only—Leeza Mangaldas.

1. First of all, we love you Leeza! How are you doing today and how have you been spending your time during quarantine?

I’m just really grateful to be well and safe. I’ve spent pretty much all of quarantine working from my home with my mobile phone and tripod creating my educational videos about sex, gender, and the body. I realize it’s a privilege to have the safety of home, and work that can be done from home-- and I am so grateful. I do feel really isolated though, and I hope that we can safely be reunited with the joys of being with friends and family in the months to come.

2. What is the first thing you do when you get up?

Drink water, and check my phone--haha, don’t we all?

3. Three beauty products that are in your cabinet right now?

These are 3 products that are staples in my cabinet: Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair, Innisfree Bija trouble skin tonerClinique Pretty Easy Eyeliner Pen.

4. Podcasts have really picked up during the post-pandemic world. Any good pages that talk about sexual health, relationships or body image that you listen to?

I love this podcast called Twelve by Sarah Sloan. It’s a really well researched and wonderfully honest (and very fun) investigation into 12 different ways women can allegedly experience orgasm!

5. Your Instagram bio reads Imagine a world where all sexual experiences are consensual, safe, and pleasurable. That's very inspiring. Can you tell our readers a little more about this line and why it's important?

Consent, Safety, and Pleasure to me are the cornerstones of a positive sexual experience. In our current world, sadly it is rarely the case that all 3 qualities--consent, safety, and pleasure-- are guaranteed in a sexual experience, particularly for women and queer people. In an ideal world, all sexual experiences would be consensual, safe, and pleasurable for all people, of all genders, in every country. That’s the world I invite people to imagine.

6. The rigid stigmatization around sex in India unfortunately still exists. Thank you for normalizing conversations around body, sexual health and pleasure. How did India initially respond and how are we doing today?

When I started my YouTube channel almost 5 years ago, a lot of people--not just strangers on the internet but even several people who know me personally were like “how can an Indian woman talk openly about sex, aren’t you ashamed of what people will think?” But as my audience has grown and my work has built up, many people who have followed my content closely, even if they were naysayers at first--they now understand how important sex education is to achieving a safer, more gender equal, more pleasure filled world. I’m grateful for all the love and support that people all over the country, and the world, have shown me over the years. I am so honored to have been named on GQ India’s 25 Most Influential Indians this year, and delighted that even the mainstream media is acknowledging the importance of sex education nowadays. But perhaps my favorite type of recognition are the messages I receive from women who say that their relationship with pleasure has been transformed as a result of learnings from my videos.

7. Now, coming to some advice, What's the secret to a healthy relationship?

Being able to wholeheartedly trust each other.

8. What is the healthiest way to move on post a break up or from getting your heart broken?

Allow yourself to feel the feels. You can’t get over an emotion without going through it first. And while I do believe exes can be friends after a relationship ends,  and I have aspired to that in my own past relationships,  I also think that if the goal really is to break up, then ending communication with each other temporarily--for a few weeks/months or maybe even years depending on how significant the relationship was to your life and how long it takes you to heal-- is often the most efficient way to get to a place where you’re capable of looking past the heartbreak and seeing that in fact you’ve set yourself free from a relationship that wasn’t working.

9. Okay, gotta ask. Why do people cheat?

The wonderful psychotherapist and relationships expert Esther Perel has a great Ted Talk about this--she explains the opposite forces in play between love and desire-- how love thrives on familiarity and sustained closeness while sexual desire often thrives on novelty and intrigue-- and she deftly unpacks the challenges of marriage and monogamy and our fixation with sexual fidelity. She has some great tips on how to make monogamy work if that is what you and your partner aspire for. I think on a fundamental level, whatever your relationship structure, it’s extremely important for partners to be honest with each other, and to determine boundaries and expectations mutually. It’s really hard when one partner blindsides the other, and if we communicate more effectively, perhaps we can find ways to better negotiate the challenges we might encounter over the course of a relationship, and avoid this sense of betrayal.

10. For most, finding the G-spot requires some major trial and error. While that's understandable, what would your advice be for partners who continue to struggle with this issue?

People often mistakenly think that the G-spot is an actual physical structure--some sort of magical bump or gland or button to be found inside the vagina. But more contemporary research indicates that there is no special structure to look for. The walls of the vagina can be very sensitive thanks to the fact that the vaginal canal is straddled by the internal parts of the clitoris, as well as its proximity to the urethra. The region on the anterior wall of the vagina that was once thought to be the “G-spot” has thus been renamed the “clito-urethro-vaginal complex” in more recent studies. So it’s much more helpful to think of the “G-spot” as an erogenous zone that some people might receive pleasure from when stimulated, and it’s important to understand that where and what exactly feels most pleasurable can be different for different people. Exploring your own body, understanding the anatomy, and being able to communicate with your partner about your pleasure can go a long way in making sexual experiences more enjoyable.

11. Why do women not orgasm as frequently as men do during intercourse in heterosexual relationships? What can couples do to even the score?

I think the centrality of the clitoris to the pleasure of vulva owners has been neglected in communications around sex for so long, that many men and even many women don’t realize that penetration alone is insufficient for most vulva owners to reach orgasm. We’re fed this myth that sex=penetration and that everyone can orgasm from penetration and as a result many vulva owners end up faking orgasm because it’s too difficult or awkward to talk about the fact that they didn’t actually orgasm. We fear we may hurt our partner's feelings or bruise their ego; and we might also not know what will actually make us orgasm, and we might want to just get the act over with,  so it may often seem easier to just fake it.  As I said there’s this prevalent idea that we should all be able to orgasm from penetrative intercourse--so many women feel like there’s something wrong with them when penetration doesn’t result in orgasm. The truth is that there’s nothing wrong with us--most people just don’t know enough about our anatomy and its relationship to pleasure. The majority of vulva owners require at least some amount of clitoral stimulation, even if alongside penetration--to reach orgasm. The clitoris is the most reliable route to orgasm for vulva owners-- and in fact it is homologous to the penis--when a foetus is developing, it’s the same tissue that develops into either a penis or a clitoris when sexual differentiation occurs. Both the penis and the clitoris have a very sensitive glans or head, just as the penis may have foreskin, the clitoris has a hood, and both become “erect” or engorged with blood when aroused. Both can play an important role in our experience of pleasure. And yet somehow for decades the clitoris has been left out of the conversation. Most heterosexual couples simply do not pay enough attention to the clitoris-- as well as other erogenous zones beyond the genitals. It’s possible to orgasm even from nipple stimulation, kissing, even stimulation of the neck and back and various other parts of the body. Becoming “cliterate” and thinking of sex as something way beyond just penetration can go a long way in making sure pleasure is more gender equal.

12. Since the jury is still out on this one, I had to ask. Does size really matter?

I genuinely think that size matters way less than we are conditioned to think it does. When you start to see sex as something beyond just penetration you realize there are so many ways to give and receive pleasure that have nothing to do with the size or shape of any particular body part. Effective communication and a willingness to make your partner’s pleasure as much of a priority as your own for me are far more valuable assets in the bedroom than the size of this or that body part. Dil Bada hone chahiye bas.

13. Can getting used to sex toys make it difficult for your partner to please you?

I think sex toys can actually be a wonderful addition not just to solo pleasure but to partnered play as well. Instead of being threatened by your partner having a toy-- I highly recommend seeing it as an addition to the fun you can have together. Just as an artist isn’t threatened by a paintbrush, or an accountant isn’t threatened by a calculator, I feel a partner should see sex toys as a wonderful tool that can add to the experience of pleasure for any or all parties if that’s something they’d like to explore.

14. So, it's over once the guy finishes. Unfortunateyly gender stereotypes surrounding sex still exist, especially around men just not understaning that we need it as much they do. How do we turn this around?

Sex= Penetration, Sex ends when he comes. These are the myths we’ve been fed by the prevailing heteronormative, patriarchal attitude to sex.  Dismantling these notions can be incredibly liberating. Sex doesn’t even have to end in orgasm for either party. It can if you want it to; but why think of it in this goal oriented way? And it certainly doesn’t have to end just because the person with the penis ejaculated. There are so many ways to experience pleasure -oral, manual, toys--you name it-- and those types of intimacy can continue even after ejaculation or regardless of ejaculation. I think women’s pleasure has been so long regarded as an afterthought if it is a thought at all-- and this needs to change. Also, as a result of the same conditioning, many men feel a lot of pressure to “perform” --there are so many insecurities around “how long one can last”, or how “big or hard” one can get-- and this too doesn’t really do anyone any favours.  Sex should be consensual, safe, and pleasurable--for everyone. And it’s worth remembering that there are so many ways to make each other's pleasure a priority that do not rely on the presence or performance of a penis.

15. Lastly, What are your top tips when it comes to pleasure for all our beautiful vulva owners?

Take a look at your vulva using a hand mirror if you haven’t already. Familiarize yourself with the different parts. Self pleasure can be a really wonderful gateway to discovering your own body and its relationship to pleasure, if that is something you’d like to explore. It also helps to work toward unlearning the shame most of us have internalized about our body and our desires. Too often as vulva owners we’re conditioned to think that it’s transgressive to even acknowledge that we want pleasure, and there’s also often a lot of awkwardness over the appearance or taste or smell of our parts. That can make it much harder for us to enjoy ourselves.

I think we need to hear more that our genitals are normal and beautiful, and that sex and desire arent shameful. And not wanting sex isn’t shameful either. We deserve autonomy, we deserve to be able to make our own choices with regard to our bodies and relationships.  It’s this shift in societal thought processes that I’m trying to encourage through my work.

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