In Conversation

‘Intimacy, healthy lifestyle key to better sex life, not superfoods’

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Dr Tanaya Narendra, or Dr Cuterus as her Instagram account is known, is an Indian doctor-influencer who is leading the conversation about sex and sexual health through her social media videos. India, she tells HealthLEADS, has traveled a considerable distance from her younger days, when a kiss scene in the Bollywood flick Raja Hindustani scandalized the country.

“And the fact that, as a woman, as a doctor, I’m on the Internet and I have a community of one million people who are talking about sex, and I have my book coming out next month on the same topic is a testament to this change,” she says. 

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. In a country where sex is still a taboo topic, you choose the subject of sexual health as a healthcare-influencer. What made you take this subject up?

A. We all have a lot of sex. There’s a reason why we have the second largest population. Unquestionably the largest population in the whole world, and yet somehow we like to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Every single human being on the face of this earth exists because of sex, unless you are born from IVF. But even then, masturbation is involved. So yeah, it’s unnecessarily a taboo topic. It’s a primal need. It’s like eating and going out and, you know, it’s a very basic thing. I don’t know why we like it to be shrouded in mystery like this, and it has huge implications on the lives of people. I know it because I trained as a fertility doctor. 

I learned that a lot of the way we process sexual education leads to a huge impact on the way we lives our lives. 

Q. A lot has been said about menstrual cups. It is not the next big thing as it is being promoted. What are your thoughts about it? 

A. I love the cup, but I think it’s not the answer for everybody. I feel like there’s a lot of peer pressure in making people use them. And, you know, it’s not  logical or feasible for a lot of people to be using a cup if they don’t have access to clean running water. 

It’s not the best option. That is, everybody’s best option is something different. And unfortunately, a lot of people are pressuring other people to use them. If a cup works for you, great. Everybody takes at least three months or three cycles to learn how to use the cup. If you are using it, it is wonderful. I switched over to it seven years ago and I am a very happy cup-vert

Q. Do you think we as a society have managed to make talk around sexual health more acceptable to families? Or would you say there is a sense of discomfort still? 

A. I’m going to illustrate this with an example: When I was young, a film Raja Hindustani was released. It had a scene of kiss between Aamir Khan and Karishma Kapoor which had been shot from a distance of 100 metres. It used to be the most scandalous thing. When Raja Hindustani would be shown on TV, either the kiss scene would be edited out or I would leave the room so that I don’t have to deal with that. 

Compare it to now. Last year this film called Gehraiyaan was released. Its trailer is one long make-out session. The whole trailer is just this.  We’ve had a huge advance especially with OTT platforms. The way we’re able to see sex and sexuality and intimacy and physical relationships, it didn’t happen in my childhood. 

So I think we’ve had huge leaps. And the fact that, as a woman, as a doctor, I’m on the Internet, I have a community of one million people who are talking about this, and I have my book coming out next month is a testament to this change. The fact that I am able to write a book on sex and sexual health and sexual education and not get lynched for it, is radical and I am optimistic to see how this goes.

Q. I’ll be waiting for your book then. And my next question is what are the top three common questions you get asked related to sexual health? 

A. The top question would be about body image. Is my penis too small. Are my boobs too small? Are my boobs too big? Why are my genitals discolored? So one would be about body image. The second would be how to prevent a pregnancy. The age group I interact with mostly are younger people who are sexually active and don’t want to get pregnant. And then number three would be pornography and masturbation. So there’s a lot of confusion and myths around masturbating and not masturbating.

And pornography has been detrimental, has been shown to be very damaging to a developing brain.. Most people’s questions tend to center on these topics. 

Q. Are there foods that you would recommend for maintaining a good sexual health? What would be your top three?

Don’t smoke. Stop smoking. That’s the number one thing you can do for your sexual and reproductive health. Smoking can cause erectile dysfuction too. Normally your blood vessels are open. What cigarettes do is that they constrict them so they make them smaller, which is what causes raised blood pressure. But the problem is for an erection to happen whether it is  penis or clitoris which is a female equivalent of a penis, you need good blood flow to go there. The minute you are restricting that blood flow with smoking, you are reducing the erection power of the clitoris and the penis and it’s  damaging in a lot of other ways.

But the main fact is that arousal becomes an issue. So for good sexual health, do not smoke. First thing.

As for foods, there’s very little evidence to support this except that zinc as a supplement has been shown to be good for arousal. Oysters are good. But I think the reason why oysters are considered sexy is because they look sexy. I mean, they look like a vulva. Or it because they are very rare and expensive. 

So mostly foods that are associated with luxury tend to become known as aphrodisiacs. For example, in Europe, I’m forgetting what era this was, but when potatoes were not common in Europe, they thought potatoes were an aphrodisiac. Now French fries can turn anybody on. Sure, but potatoes are not a very sexy vegetable. Also, this craze for aphprodisiacs supports a lot of illegal industries such as tiger poaching because tiger bones are supposed to be an aphrodisiac or rhino horn is supposed to be an aphrodisiac.

I would say walk away from all of that and just focus on building better intimacy and relationships and focus on a healthy lifestyle overall instead of picking so-called superfoods.

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