Cover Stories & Basic Instincts

If the race in journalism is about filling spaces,orgasm, libido, adultery and ‘Making Love’ are sure shot fillers…

Soft porn gets a decent name- Sex Survey. If the race in journalism is about filling spaces, orgasm, libido, adultery and ‘Making Love’ are sure shot fillers, and keep the cash registers ringing.

India Today  sex surveys arrive annually on the stands and Outlook follows as the co-traveller on the bandwagon. Readers are on a voyeuristic trip pretending to be on a study tour.

In 1938, Bombay (Mumbai had not figured in politically incorrect imagination of the times) was making confident strides to emerge as India’s commercial hub, and cosmopolitan values were creeping into its industrial society. Along with other industries and commerce, Bombay was home to a fast emerging film business. The Second World War had not broken out, Gandhi was yet to begin his Quit India Movement, but the leading lady of Hindi cinema of those times, Devika Rani, had given a long kissing scene of four minutes, and that too five years earlier in Karma(1933).

The idea of honeymoon had surfaced in the minds of married couples of Bombay middle class.

It was in 1938 too, that a man with white beard and seeing the world through round glasses, did a survey in Bombay,which can be called the first sex survey in India(Ancient India enthusiasts listen – Vatsayan’s Kamasutra was not a survey, but a prescriptive work on eroticism and sex).

Professor Govind Sadashiv Ghurye, who taught Sociology at Bombay University, conducted the survey which was titled ‘Sex Habits of a Sample of Middle Class People of Bombay’.

The survey had an academic objective, and it was reported at the Second All India Population Conference and First Family Hygiene Conference held in Bombay in 1938. Interestingly, 2000 questionnaires were distributed, getting 311 responses and Professor Ghurye rejected seven of these responses because the answers were “self-contradictory” or showed “apparent intention of the respondents to crack jokes”.

Some of the questions asked were: how many times in a month do you have sexual intercourse with your wife (also state the number of times in any night if you have copulated more than once in a night); did you begin cohabitation with your wife from the day of marriage or was there an interval? If you are temporarily separated from your wife, do you find any change in the frequency of your sex intercourse after reunion?

Only men, and that too only Hindu men, were interviewed. Incidentally, 34 of them had been on a “honeymoon”. For 1938, even for Bombay middle class, the number suggested an exclusive club within it. Another indicator of the nature of the survey was that all the questions were about husband-wife intercourse – it was a marital sex survey.

Fast forward to 2003- The First India Today Sex Survey as Cover Story. The Prelude to Marketing Algebra

By the year 2003,urban spaces of 1938 had been transformed beyond recognition. Economic liberalization had unleashed consumerist aspirations and instant gratification became the new mantra. The MTV generation had adopted sensual indulgence as the new fashion statement- India looked an alien land for Gandhian asceticism or Nehruvian socialism.

Sex talk and its aggressive tone was evident in public domain. A case in point – young girls in metro cities started using the four letter words. But there are clear signs of cultural duality. A significant section of male population, even in metro cities called such behaviour of girls defeminising- which means taking away the essential qualities that define feminine appeal and attractiveness in India (feminists in India would call this section conservative male chauvinists).

The telecom and internet revolution brought the democratization of porn in India. From copies of expensive porn magazines hidden under mattresses, people moved to the hot chat lines on phones and easily available sleaze on the internet. The corner cabins of cybercafés were not for breathtaking information exchange but pulsating porn exploration and erotic talk draped as romance.

However, porn has a desensitising streak to it. In course of time, even porn addicts are unaffected by regular images and words available in the sleaze market. It has been observed that porn saturated audience or reader looks for some respectably titillating stuff, what they call the craving for “gharelu” or star material. There is an evident desire to view the bedroom activities of real homes or famous actresses enacting steamy scenes in place of regular porn faces. Clearly, voyeurism is in high demand.

India Today,New Delhi 2003-Soft porn enters through the backdoor on cover pages via A C Nielsen.

In 2003, India Today, a poor shadow of the iconic news magazine that it once was, sensed the market for voyeuristic smut to make a killing. This is not to say sex surveys have similar motives worldwide. The Kinsey Report in US was respected for its wide-ranging research on different aspects of sexual behavioral patterns and sexual abuse (though their methodology has been criticized too).

India Today had no such ambitious research agenda. It had an aspirational agenda to tap the market for voyeurism masked as research. On its behalf, the survey was done by AC Nielsen (which along with consumer, media and entertainment behaviour,specializes in research on precision marketing).

In 2003, India Today’s cover had its first sex-survey with a theme that claimed to have sneaked into Indian women’s sex‘wish list’! The survey was titled “Sex and the Indian Woman- What Women Want?”

It catered to the obsession of a patriarchal society, and the vanity of masculine assumptions of decoding the feminine mystery. Indian women were commodified as lustful objects of study, with a pseudo research having sample ‘data’ from 11 urban centres from different parts of country. Perhaps for these reasons, British feminist Sheila Jeffreys has attacked all sex surveys and sexology as a dangerous mode of patriarchal control masked as sexual liberation.

The survey had enough shock value for voyeurs and ensured good sale for the magazine. It was heavy on advertisements too, with condom companies joining the carnal study fest. India Today made it an annual feature and 8 more surveys have followed as cover stories in as many years.

2004- What Men Want, 2005- Sex and the Single Woman. Have a look at the covers of these annual survey stories.


The 2006 survey was titled ‘Men in the Middle’, while 2007 survey carried the title Sex and Marriage

Again have a look at cover stories 2008-Sexy Secrets, 2009-The Fantasy Report, 2010-Women Want More

Eminent Indian sociologist Professor Patricia Uberoi has critically dissectedIndiaToday’ssex surveys in general, with particular focus on the 2007 survey – Sex and Marriage.  She has attacked the methodology as well as purposes of such surveys in her insightful essay The Sexual Character of the Indian Middle Class(published in the book Elite and Everyman, Routledge, Delhi, 2011). Her critical account raises some fundamental points, which can be summed up as:

  • The urban bias and the non-random weightage of the sample are not representative and cannot be a record of contemporary Indian sexual behaviour. It cannot provide a sexological endorsement of India’s emerging cultural duality. Incidentally, many of the liberalized sexual mores now attributed to the upper middle classes, as a reference group, have long been characteristic of lower caste, tribal and other marginal groups of Indian society whose lifestyles are certainly not regarded as worthy of competitive emulation.
  • These surveys reflect the motives of market researchers in expanding consumer goods markets, identifying new ones as well and giving them a national scale. For instance, in addition to big metropolitan cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, the sex survey covered the Information Technology hubs of Bangalore and Hyderabad, and smaller cities of Lucknow, Jaipur and Patna, along with Ahmedabad and Ludhiana, with a total of 11 centres. Presentation of city-wise and regional breakdown of data is intended to be headline grabbing, especially when this sexual geography runs counter to expectations.
  • The India Today sex survey and other such surveys (like Outlook’s Sex Survey), seek to survey the Indian middle class sexuality and evaluate it in line with global templates, with minor adjustments to accommodate specific features of Indian social life (like arranged marriages and joint families).

India Today’s rival, Outlook and other publications also jumping on the bandwagon of publishing sex surveysis an indicator of the win-win market these surveys offer. India Today has gone a step further by having the survey presented as a news report on the news channel belonging to the group – Headlines Today. Titillation certainly has no barriers of medium- print, electronic or web, it’ll sell.

India Today’s 2011 sex survey has the all the temptations of a voyeuristic fling. It has semi- pornographic photographs of models in intimate positions. The models have been named, hinting that these surveys are modeling assignments too. Some of the questions that the survey posed to respondents (whichNielsen counts as 2,685 females and 2,680 males) across 11 cities (logic governing it might be Prof. Patricia’s) are: do erotic thoughts whet your sexual appetite; how often do you make love; do you usually feel fulfilled after sex;does your spouse know about your extramarital affair; what is your favorite fantasy; are you open to one-night stands etc. These questions are sprinkled by advertisements of condom companies, but mostly of Durex, which has sponsored the survey.

Though more often than not India Today’s rival, Outlook has been the leader in setting the terms for their market tussle, the sex survey jackpot has forced Outlook to be a follower for having its share of the lucrative pie. Outlook began publishing sex surveys immediately after India Today’s first sex survey cover story hit the stands in 2003.

With similar objectives, there is nothing markedly different in Outlook’s approach to these surveys, except some cosmetic adjustments and juggling with numbers. For instance, Outlook’s sex survey of 2011 has a set of questions that seek titillation yield- things asked revolve around sexual adventurism, frequency, sexual positions, sexual fantasies, sexual satisfaction levels, cyber sex, infidelity, desirable celebrities etc. These questions are accompanied by semi-pornographic photographs. Interestingly, as in the case of India Today’s survey, theOutlook survey was also sponsored by the condom company Durex. How was it different? Outlookhas a different market research agency, MDRAconducting the survey on its behalf. It declares that the survey is based on a ‘structured questionnaire’ and though the number of the respondents is 1,212, they are spread across 12 cities, one more than what India Today covered.

So, Outlook has got its own scientific camouflage in place for its soft porn show.

But are such acts of turning cover stories into ploys of sexual seduction restricted to annual sex surveys? Not at all.See the latest India Today cover on porn. Informative? Newsworthy?India Today has certainly found sex tease as the most bankable hen to lay the golden eggs, so why restrict it to a once a year feature?

The supplements of India Today – Aspire, Spice, Woman and Simply Delhi/Mumbaiseries are other facades for soft porn infiltration. Photographs of semi-clad women splash the pages of these supplements. For instance, in an issue on gourmet in its supplement Spice (Gourmet Central, December 8, 2011) you have a photograph of long bare legs of a woman on the cover page. Obviously, India Today found the semi–nude female anatomy to be a better starter for a feature on gourmet. Women and food, both basic instincts, are fighting for same space!

So what numbers do these sex surveys throw up? Any discussion of the results of these surveys would amount to unintentionally legitimizing the pseudo research. For reasons analysed before, these surveys have to be taken with huge dose of skepticism.

The cliché says that the brain is the most active sexual organ. The sex surveys brought to the Indian media space by India Todayseek to stimulate the peeping corners of our minds with scientific pretense. They expose the marketing of basic instincts and how the vague promise of a sexual tease has brought journalism to the lowest rung.


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