India's top 'sexpert' still telling it straight at 91

MUMBAI - A 91-year-old Indian "sexpert" whose popular tabloid column has drawn both fans and critics with its straight-talking approach, provides a lifeline to readers in what remains a conservative society bereft of proper sex education.

And although most of his queries still come from men, Mahinder Watsa told AFP that more women are now seeking his daily dose of advice in the Mumbai Mirror.

"When I first started writing 'Ask the Sexpert', almost none of the letters I received were from women but now it's around 30 per cent," said Watsa, India's leading sexologist, who gets about 80 queries a day.

"At the beginning women weren't so frank but now they are expressing themselves in ways that they never used to. Women are becoming more open and saying, 'Well if men can have fun, why can't we also'," he added.

Watsa, an obstetrician and gynaecologist by profession, has enlightened and entertained readers in India's financial capital for over a decade with his words of wisdom, which are often funny as well as informative.

His matter-of-fact approach, including using words such as vagina and penis instead of common euphemisms, has helped fill a void in a country where sex education is controversial and often non-existent.

"There are many states in India which don't have sex education in schools so young people are left all on their own and there is a lot of confusion," Watsa explained.

"The point is, where do people get their knowledge from? Even today most doctors in India are not very experienced in dealing with sexuality problems."

Watsa pioneered the teaching of sex education through his work with the Family Planning Association of India before starting his column, but has faced opposition from conservative elements in the country.

He said he had encountered "resistance" to his workshops in the early years of his career. "In the beginning people would get very upset when I put up a slide of a penis showing it diagrammatically. But then they started to get used to it."

Watsa added that a couple of complaints had been made to the police about the Mirror column, claiming that "children had been reading it and getting wrong ideas".

'It's Normal!'

But the nonagenarian has remained undeterred.

"People who read it are more knowledgeable about sex, which is very wise because you can get into a lot of trouble," Watsa said, referring to the risk of unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.

He takes a caring tone with women's concerns but is renowned for his witty and sometimes sarcastic replies to certain readers' queries.

He also doesn't hesitate to give short shrift to some, particularly men asking how they can prove a wife-to-be has not had sex before.

"My family is demanding that I get married. How can I ascertain if the girl is a virgin?" read one question.

Watsa replied: "I suggest you don't get married. Unless you appoint detectives, there is no way to find out. Spare any poor girl of your suspicious mind."

"Sometimes you have to be a little harsh in how you say it and make them feel a little angry with you," Watsa explained.

"When they feel angry they start thinking and when they start thinking they start to improve."

The majority of the emails that Watsa receives are from men expressing concerns about masturbation - whether it leads to hair loss is a common theme - and how to stop premature ejaculation.

Some letters are bizarre, such as the man who asked if it was okay to cheat on his wife with his pet goat, but Watsa insists the handful that are printed in the newspaper every day are genuine.

"A lot of people think it's made up but I tell them that I can't even think of some of the questions that come in," he told AFP.

"I've been doing this for a long time, so I can tell pretty quickly whether someone is trying to pull my leg."

The sex therapist has just released a book entitled "It's Normal!" and is something of a celebrity in Mumbai with his own Facebook fan page, but he's unperturbed by the fame.

"Nobody dislikes recognition and when people comment on the column it's nice, but I'm too old to get carried away," said the sprightly Watsa, who turns 92 in February and has no plans to slow down.

"They say the column has a big following and sells the paper so I'll continue for as long as the paper wants me to, unless I get Alzheimer's or something," he added, smiling.