Sex educator, intimacy coach, and TEDx speaker, Pallavi Barnwal is a visionary who is in a constant struggle to create a world where sex can be accepted as a normal act of human life rather than something to hide from others. In 2006, being a fresh college graduate, Pallavi idealized but could not find the smooth and accessible ground to educate Indian people about the safe sex norms, the role of men and women in an intimate relationship, and the need of educating children about sex to ensure a long and happy conjugal association in future. The year 2018 was a U-turn for her, as society became more open towards discussion and giving priority to individual thoughts. She completed a sexuality education course from TARSHI in that year and started working as an educator guiding people on their intimate journeys. Sex, often considered taboo and only a duty to reproduce, has seldom found limelight in Indian society. Pursuing a career as a sex educator was not an easy job for this small town girl, but the daunting social rules could not extinguish the fire of determination inside this girl hailed from Steel City Bokaro. In her Ted Talks session, Pallavi mentioned a time when she was leaving for her college hostel and how her father was wrapping the mangoes freshly plucked from their garden. That process of careful plucking and wrapping inside soft papers tells a lot about Indian girls and how they are raised in an overprotected traditional setting. In India, women need to be guarded and guided by the men of their houses. Leave alone sex, they mostly are trained to not have an opinion on anything under the sun. Irrespective of men and women, talking about sex openly and letting others know about their sexual desires and choices was a dark dungeon in Indian society Barnwal put the light on.
In her interview with Times of India, Barnwal said “In a sex repressive, patriarchal society like us, where there is a complete absence of sex education, the approach to sex is fear and judgment-based, and porn is the de facto learning material for sex and pleasure. Consent is almost non-existent. Unfortunately, the taboo around the world is so ‘high’ that the minute you read the word sex, it blurs your judgment and you cannot differentiate between sexual education and sexual solicitation!” This traumatic situation because of the orthodox thought process encouraged her to start RedWomb, a platform featuring uninhibited talks of sexual and intimate pleasure. RedWomb works towards bringing happiness into a relationship through their informative discussion and psychologically aided tools. Founded in 2019, RedWomb took a pioneering role in educating parents with knowledge and communication skills to become primary sex educators for their children. Along with launching these sensitization and awareness drives, this wellness platform has also published an FAQ compendium on commonly misunderstood aspects of sexuality.
Barnwal believes that sex education is essential for our mental fitness and health. If taboos and stigma are not associated with sex-related discussions, people can express their inner thoughts more easily and can find a solution more constructively and positively. A guided approach can only help them land into a healthy and intimate relationship.
In one of her articles, Barnwal portrayed her journey as a sex educator as widely criticized, condemned, and unaccepted even by her partner and close relatives. Her immediate family did not object as she was determined to come out of a dead marriage and remained firm in her decision of continuing as a relationship counselor, but her relatives and close ones cut all ties with her. In a society where hiding the ignorance and confusion about your own body is considered normal and initiating the most intimate relation with a stranger at the name of arranged marriage is celebrated through centuries, Barnwal’s role as a sex educator raised a lot of eyebrows. In her article, Pallavi narrated how the shroud of disapproving silence that hangs on sexual expression had affected the lives of her and the dear ones. Her classmate ran away from college, leaving her education midway, as pictures of her sexual encounter with another classmate got ‘leaked’. The engineer-brother of her roommate took his life immediately after his relationship ended. Sexual repression, especially in a country like India, has jeopardized so many lives but could not alter the mindset of a conservative society.
After completing her MBA in Marketing, Barnwal continued with a corporate job and had no distinct plan of becoming a sex educator. However, she used to write blogs on unconventional ideas and poetry. Motivated by one of her friends, she penned her real-life saga about a sexless marriage. In her own words, “my unfiltered rendering was massively shared and many people (men and women) both reached out to me and said they lived and are living in a similar state but unlike me cannot own this for fear of social judgment, for the fear of being seen as a failure! I started writing more on sexuality and with the monumental outpouring from people I received, I decided I have to step in and take the plunge to do something to clear the mess in this sexually unhealthy society.”
Her saga of success continues, as they have joined hands with a leading contraceptive company to do the event titled #righttopleasure. Apart from several interesting as well as enlightening activities of an intimate relationship, their panel discussions celebrated sexuality in its most authentic, natural form, sharing their personal stories of confusion on vaginismus, penis performance, and sexually awkward adolescence while growing up in a Brahmanical family in Banaras.
Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible. Pallavi understood in her early days that most Indian women are detached from the importance of sex and its connection to happy married life due to their prejudice. They consider sex as a duty like other household chores. Pallavi had written several blog articles in the last few years to eradicate this idea of shame and self-denial. She has discussed issues like faith in marriages, polyamory, desire, and many such things on her personal Facebook page. Her spreading awareness through diverse social media platforms is gradually opening the closed doors of minds. She also conducts private and group counseling and awareness sessions offline across age groups and genders, and is also reaching out to schools and colleges throughout India.