Sexology is big business, now it wants respect
“Sexologist? That is a nice designation. But I cannot use it. It will scandalise my patients,” laughs Kuntal Dutta, an obstetrician with a leading hospital in Kolkata. The 56-year-old Dutta has been a sexologist for five years. But, in his hospital they call him counsellor.
“I was getting bored of birthing children, counselling appealed to me. And the hospital said that there is a growing demand,” says Dutta.
Sexology is the scientific study of human sexuality, including human sexual interests, behaviours and functions, says Wikipedia. The demand for it, as Dutta says, is indeed growing, translating into a burgeoning business for hospitals, clinics, and healthcare professionals. And of course for — inevitably, in this age — healthcare websites and apps.
Lybrate, an online platform to consult doctors, has 3,000 sex counsellors on its app, 45% more than it had six months ago. Sexual health queries raised by patients on its platform have risen 22%. Medikoe, an online health consultancy, says no less than 20 people seek appointments with its sexologists every week; there used to be just two in 2014. Naturally, it has 35 sexologists now, compared with two back then. It predicts 40 patients per week next year.
These are signs that sexual health and wellness has come out of the grasp of quacks who would whisper questionable advice to patients in rooms with flickering light bulbs, although Rajinder Yadav’s parents have yet to reconcile to his choice of career.
“My parents cannot get over the fact that I am officially a sexologist. They never understood why, despite a degree in urology, I chose to pursue sexology,” says Yadav, who works with Fortis Hospital in Delhi’s Shalimar Bagh. He has no regrets, though; he earns more than ₹1,000 for every session, talking to people facing a diverse range of issues: from erectile dysfunction to anorgasmia, the inability to have orgasm.
“In a lot of cases the gynaecologist doubles as sexologist, because the problem might not be anatomic,” says Rupak Ranjan Ray, a gynaecologist. Ray says counselling can solve a lot of sex-related problems. “People are more aware of sex-related issues at a much younger age these days, but lifestyle disorders and stress have led to complications.” Anorgasmia has been rising due to stress.
Still, the nomenclature, as Dutta says in the beginning of this article, is taking people time to get used to. “Consulting a sexologist is still taboo,” says Yadav of Fortis, Shalimar Bagh. “But more and more people are seeking consultations.”
Earlier, people would think of every sexual problem as a disease, but in most cases a couple only needs assistance to get over its sex-related troubles. Sex-assistants are popular in the West, though Yadav says it is a concept that is unlikely to gain coinage in India.
But people are more open to assistance when they are not able to have children. Medicover is a Swedish chain that dabbles in assisted reproduction, also called In Vitro Fertilisation. Since starting out in India three months ago, it has treated 55 patients. “We are a fertility centre, but a large number of cases of the inability to conceive come from improper sex,” says Gaurav Malhotra, CEO of Medicover in India. Of course, Medicover does not use the term sexologist. “We call them counsellors. Generally patients consult them as part of their gynaecological treatment,” says Richa Sharma, fertility expert at Medicover.
With the growing demand, more doctors are taking to sexology. “There are over 3,000 sexologists on the Lybrate platform. That is a 45% increase since our launch in 2015,” says Saurabh Arora, founder and CEO of Lybrate.
That is a far cry from how things used to be. A search for sexologists in the yellow pages of Delhi throws up the likes of Sablok Clinic and Dr Rikh’s Clinic. Sablok, tucked away in Old Delhi’s Daryaganj, was set up in 1928 with the motto of “giving sexual lives to people”. Secrecy is a virtue there. It is run by only one doctor, whose schedule, expectedly, is choc-a-bloc. “We have lots of patients every day. You have to seek appointment. We take down the detailed problem and Dr Sablok will give you a solution,” says the receptionist, who doubles as the spokesperson. Dr Sablok’s treatment is based on counselling sessions with medicines.
There is still some way to go before sexology gains full respectability. Sexologists in India are a varied lot, coming from different branches of medicine: urology to gynaecology, some with certification in psychiatry. You could also find some homeopaths there.
Why urologist, you might wonder, isn’t that someone who deals with the urinary system? True, but an estimated 10% of the urology patients come to consult on matters of sex. “It (sexology) is a branch that still has to develop, as people do not like to talk openly about their sexual problems. But slowly, things are changing,” says a spokesperson for Fortis.
May be that day is not far when sexologists will be able to use their designation without the fear of scandalising patients.