Body Trending

Meet The Changemaker Leeza Mangaldas

UR

9 min read


Leeza Mangaldas is on a mission to normalise conversations around sex and sexuality. Through engaging videos in English and Hindi, she is making information accessible and cultivating a community of informed, empowered people across the country.

What prompted you to start the conversation on sexuality?

I first started creating sex-positive content on YouTube in 2017. Instagram was less video-oriented back then. As a young person navigating my own sexuality and sexual health, I felt that there was a lack of easily accessible information and non-judgmental platforms to share questions, and experiences, and obtain facts and resources pertaining to sex, sexuality, gender, sexual health, relationships, and the body.

Sex is a topic around which there is a lot of silence and shame, especially in the Indian context, so I felt that I would like to do something to normalise these much-needed conversations. As a young, unmarried woman, even just accessing contraception or an STD test can 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. Also, I feel that any conversation around sex is either oriented around reproduction or is abstinence-driven, without ever talking about pleasure or going beyond the categories of “man” and “woman”. I wanted to help change all of this.

leeza mangaldas sex content creator

You are recently developing content in Hindi; could you talk about the thought behind the decision?

I simply want to make my content as accessible as possible. If only I could speak more languages! Also, there’s a lot of global sites that have good information in English—so English speakers have quite a few credible resources to turn to if they are willing to look for the information; in Hindi and regional languages there are far fewer options—we need more easily accessible pleasure inclusive, queer-inclusive sex education and sexual health resources in Hindi and regional languages.

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Being one of the few women talking about sex-positive content online in India, in your experience has the conversation evolved since you first started?

The #MeToo movement, the repealing of Section 377—these are significant milestones that have occurred in the last few years that I feel have made people more willing to acknowledge how important it is for us as a society to be able to talk about sex and sexuality, and how damaging the dominant culture of shame and silence is for all of us. I think social media and the internet has also allowed many young people to learn about and be exposed to a much wider range of perspectives than before, which is great. For example, when I was a teenager, we didn’t know the vocabulary to talk about gender identity outside the binary—today a lot of Indian teenagers have their pronouns in their bio. There’s a long way to go for all of us, but these changes bring hope.


We’ve also got to give ourselves the freedom to think about our own sexuality and question the gender roles we are expected to conform to and unpack how much of our current identity is simply a result of social conditioning


leeza mangaldas sex positive content creator

Since the pandemic started, what are the most common questions you are asked?

I get a lot of questions around masturbation. Since that’s the safest and easiest way to experience sexual pleasure, particularly during a pandemic, it makes sense that many people are acknowledging and exploring their sexual needs on their own. Many people who have been in lockdown alone, whether single or in long-distance relationships, seem to be hungry for touch, for affection, for intimacy, and eager to find ways to stay connected and feel less lonely, while a lot of people who have been in lockdown with a partner are experiencing a lack of libido from the unending shared stresses and uncertainties that have worn them down for over a year, as well as the inability to give each other space in ways that they were used to before the pandemic. Spending 24×7 with your partner/ kids/ family or really anyone, even if you love them, comes with its challenges.
People also have had more time to think about who they are, and what their priorities are—things we perhaps didn’t spend enough time thinking about before.

How misunderstood is sexual health?

A lot of people seem to think that having a sexual health concern is embarrassing, or shameful. For example, many people think that sexually transmitted infections only happen to “bad” or “dirty” people, or that you would “know” if someone had an STI. People also think sexual dysfunctions somehow reflect on their worth as a person—many people who experience premature ejaculation or erectile dysfunction or vaginismus for example, feel a sense of shame or inadequacy. The stigma around discussing sexual health means that people suffer in silence and shame, when in fact sexual health concerns are extremely common and can happen to anyone. Most are treatable and many are even preventable. If we talked about sexual health more, and made judgment-free healthcare and resources easily accessible, how much better things could be for everyone.

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Also, on the other hand, because of the shame and stigma around sex, sexuality, and the body, many people pathologize their perfectly normal bodies and desires. People wonder “is there something wrong with me?” even when there’s nothing at all the matter. Is it normal to masturbate? Is nightfall normal? How do I know if my penis/boobs/labia size is normal?—these are the types of questions I often get—so many people are secretly afraid they’re not normal, just because of the shame and fear-based conditioning we receive when it comes to anything to do with the body in relation to sex, and the narrow beauty standards set up by mainstream porn and pop culture.

How do you deal with unsolicited messages and interactions on your page?

I simply cannot keep up with the volume of DMs I receive at this point, so I rarely have the bandwidth to sift through them. I have profanity filters on in the comments and I use the block and restrict features when it’s clear that someone is commenting only to harass others in the comments section.

As a woman who is free and comfortable in her sexuality, do you ever feel judged?

Honestly, the response to my content has been overwhelmingly positive. Most people just seem genuinely grateful for the information I share. They send me messages saying “thank you for doing what you do!”, and that’s really heartwarming. Occasionally I receive a misogynistic comment or message—slut-shaming is the oldest tactic to control and police women, and some people have a lot of internalized misogyny and internalized sexual shame and they might spill it out on others. It’s only further evidence that it’s important we talk more about this stuff.

You talk about how misunderstood sex is from the female point of view. Would you briefly tell our readers more about it?

Women are taught that sex is supposed to be about having babies, not orgasms. If we learn about the reproductive system in Biology class, we are shown diagrams of the penis, and testes, but we never see the vulva; we only see the uterus and ovaries. No one mentions the clitoris. We’re taught about sex in this very cis heteronormative way, where sex is supposed to take place only between a man and a woman, and only within opposite sex, same religion, same caste marriage. Sex is also equated with penetration. Erection, penetration, ejaculation. Sex is all about the penis, and sex ends when he comes. Women’s virginity is also made to seem like some sort of badge of honor to be preserved and protected as an indication of her and her family’s “character”. The truth is, who a woman has sex with is no one’s business but her own. Virginity is a social construct. And female pleasure matters. Also, penetration isn’t the most reliable route to pleasure for people with vulvas, clitoral stimulation is also required. It’s important for people with vulvas to be able to learn about their anatomy, have equal sexual agency and bodily autonomy, and be able to prioritize their own pleasure.

For someone curious about first-time sex, what advice would you give?

  • There’s no hurry to have sex; do it only if and when you both feel safe, comfortable, ready, and excited about it.
  • It’s worth noting that the legal age of consent in India is 18.
  • Sex is not supposed to be painful. Sufficient foreplay and using lubricant can help make penetrative intercourse pain-free.
  • Consent, Contraception, and Communication are the keys to better, safer sexual experiences.
  • If sex is not consensual, it’s not sex, it’s rape. So make sure you and your partner have each other’s mutual, and enthusiastic consent. It’s also important to keep checking in on each other as you proceed through various acts of intimacy—consent is an ongoing conversation, not just a one-time ask.
  • Sex comes with the risks of pregnancy and STIs; condoms are the only method of contraception that protect against Sexually transmitted Infections—so make sure to use condoms!

Do you think people are sensitized about sexual identity and preferences? How should one go about educating themselves?

As I said, we largely tend to still see the world in a binary, cis heteronormative patriarchal way. But slowly people are becoming more aware of how exclusionary and oppressive this dominant paradigm is. It’s helpful to think of gender and sexuality as fluid spectrums rather than rigid binaries and to acknowledge and accept the reality that just because a person has a penis it doesn’t mean they have to identify as a man and be sexually attracted only to people with vulvas who have to identify only as women. The genitals someone is born with don’t pre-determine the course of their life and their identity.

It’s important to educate oneself by reading about and listening to and learning from and passing the mic to the queer community whose voices and identities have been marginalized and silenced for far too long.

We’ve also got to give ourselves the freedom to think about our own sexuality and question the gender roles we are expected to conform to and unpack how much of our current identity is simply a result of social conditioning we felt like we had no choice around, and how much of it is truly reflective of our own sense of self. Once we give ourselves and each other the freedom to resist putting ourselves and each other in boxes, the process of self-discovery can be ongoing and infinite.