“I would like to think that as a content creator, I try to approach the topic of sex with the sense of everyday cheeriness and normalcy that one might approach talking about something like a tasty recipe or an interesting movie. I think that’s what appeals to people. There’s neither shame and stigma, nor the over-the-top clickbaitiness that we usually see when sex is discussed publicly. I hope I help making talking, thinking about, and learning about sex feel normal and relaxed, honest and safe, interesting and fun. At least that’s my hope! Through my content I aim to invite people to join me in imagining a world where all sexual experiences are consensual, safe, and pleasurable,” says Leeza Mangaldas of her voice and sensibility as a pleasure-positive content creator.
Leeza creates videos in both English and Hindi, with shorter content on Instagram, and longer videos on YouTube, which reach millions of people daily. She has a chart-topping Spotify Exclusive Podcast called The Sex Podcast where she answers commonly asked sex questions in Hindi. And now, she has ventured towards the written word with her book, The Sex Book: A Joyful Journey of Self-discovery. We connected with her to know more about her journey and the creation of the book.
How were you led towards creating pleasure-positive content on digital platforms?
I did my undergrad on a scholarship at Columbia University, and gender and sexuality were the themes my academic work was focused on. I was also a resident advisor while there, which meant I was in charge of student life within a designated floor in a residence hall. This included conducting consent training workshops, and educating peers about safer sex practices. We even had bags of free condoms hung on our doors so students had safe and easy access to protection.
I realized how lucky I was to have been able to come of age in such a liberal environment — it’s not exactly the norm even within the US, or the rest of the western world. Globally there’s still such a long way to go when it comes to access to education around sexual and reproductive health and rights. When I returned to live in Mumbai after college, over my first few years back, as a young person navigating my own sexuality and sexual health, I found that there were hardly any platforms providing easily accessible, non-judgemental information contextualized to India pertaining to sex, sexuality, gender, sexual health, relationships, and the body. As a young, unmarried woman, even just accessing contraception or an STI test could feel like such an obstacle course, let alone talking about sexual pleasure, even though these are basic things that we should have access to in the interest of our own health and wellbeing. I wanted to do something to encourage these much needed conversations in a way that felt safe, positive, and normal.
I first started creating sex education content over five years ago on YouTube. Instagram was less video-oriented back then, and podcasts had not yet totally entered the mainstream in India, so YouTube was my primary platform initially. For the first several years I was also doing a lot of freelance work as a TV presenter and emcee, as that’s what paid the bills. My digital sex education content was not self-sustaining to begin with. I simply created the content I myself wished I had access to — I created a curriculum for myself, read (and continue to read) everything I could about sexuality and sexual health, and frequently interviewed and consulted with activists, educators, doctors, writers, artists, thinkers, and people with important lived experiences they were willing to share. The goal was to create a community, and to ensure that the information I provide is always scientifically accurate, judgement free, queer inclusive, and pleasure inclusive.
What inspired the creation of The Sex Book?
While I love creating short vertical videos that have become the most prominent genre of content on social media platforms, there is certainly a limit to how much you can pack into a 15-second, 30-second or even 60-second clip. I think social media is a great way to get bite-sized nuggets of valuable information across to a large number of young people, as well as to serve as an avenue for discovery. I do think there is also a huge need for a comprehensive, in-depth resource that encompasses all the main topics under sex-education contextualised to India, and I wanted for my book to serve as that resource.
From detailed information and illustrations explaining the body and anatomy with a focus on sexual organs, to unpacking consent, protection and contraception, pregnancy, menstruation, sexual health, and abortion rights, to exploring pleasure, masturbation, orgasms, sexual orientation, gender identity, arousal, sexual preferences and positions, to navigating relationships and talking to your family about sex, with my book, all this information is in one place, in scientifically accurate, judgement free, and accessible language. I believe the book is relevant across generations, and that the information is timeless — so I hope it becomes the go-to resource for people who want to learn about sex, sexuality, sexual health, gender, relationships, and the body, for years to come.
What did your creative process behind creating this book entail?
Figuring out how to structure the book took me a while as sex and sexuality are such vast subjects. I had years of research I had to organise. I decided I would divide the book into four parts. So the first section is called “The Body: Your Genitals Are Normal” and it explains sexual anatomy and bodily processes in great detail along with wonderful and important illustrations by artist Ipsita Divedi; the second section is called “Sex: What You Need To know Before You Get Naked” which goes over consent, protection and contraception, STIs, and the legal and medical landscape around abortion in India; the third section is called “Pleasure: Everyone Deserves It!” which explores many different sexual activities and preferences, arousal, orgasms, masturbation, kinks and fetishes, sex toys, and more; and the fourth and final section is called “Relationships: Navigating Sexuality Together” which discusses topics like talking to one’s parents or children about sex, what constitutes a healthy relationship, what conditions our sexual and romantic aspirations, and what it means to love someone.
The book was commissioned by HarperCollins during the pandemic so I worked remotely with my delightful editor, illustrator, and the numerous wonderful people who have helped make this book a reality. I’m so grateful that technology enabled such effective collaboration despite us all being miles away from each other through most of the process. We got to meet in person for the first time only after my manuscript was ready, and it was very special to finally hug each other!
What do you hope the readers take away from this book?
People from a diverse range of age groups, sexual orientations, gender identities, locations, and socio-economic backgrounds consume and respond to my sex-ed content. If I were to deconstruct the questions I receive into one overarching concern, what I get asked over and over again is essentially this: “Am I normal?” From questions about penis size or breast size, to concerns about “performance”; from questions about fantasies, to questions about sexual orientation; from questions about sexual health, to questions about pleasure, most people seem to want to be reassured that there’s nothing wrong with them — their bodies, their curiosities, their desires.
The combination of the societal shame and stigma along with the ensuing lack of accurate information means that many are worried that there’s something the matter with them when it comes to their sexual selves. We often pathologise our own (very normal) bodies and desires, because even thinking a sexual thought or seeking to access contraception can seem transgressive, let alone navigating our sexual orientation or exploring how our body works in relation to pleasure. The sexual and bodily autonomy and agency, especially of women and queer people, remains something that is controlled and surveilled globally. In a patriarchal global society, the idea that people are meant to have sex only after marriage, only with an opposite sex, and for the purpose of having babies, not orgasms – these are ideas that do still in many ways prevail, and need to be dismantled. Consent, contraception, self-pleasure as a valuable tool for self-discovery, and a reimagining of sex as something beyond just penetration, so that pleasure is more gender equal, these are central topics around which I work to create more awareness.
A specific set of myths I’m personally most keen to dismantle are those around women’s sexuality and pleasure. For example, the centrality of the clitoris to the pleasure of people with vulvas has been neglected in communications around sex for so long, that many men and even many women don’t realise that penetration alone is insufficient for most women and people with vulvas to reach orgasm. We’re fed this myth that sex=penetration and that everyone can orgasm from penetration and as a result many women and vulva owners 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 women 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 people with vulvas, 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. I hope that reading my book helps people unpack and let go of the prevalent sense of shame and stigma around sex, and feel more comfortable thinking about, talking about, and understanding their own body, health, and sexuality.
Lastly, what are you working on next?
There’s something I’m working on that I’m extremely excited about but I am not yet able to share more details. I cannot wait to though, and will talk more about it as soon as I am able to. On the personal front, I am so very happy to have recently moved back to Goa where I grew up, and I’ve adopted a dog! So alongside all the work stuff, right now I really just want to spend as much time as possible in the garden with my dog Mouse.
Text Nidhi Verma