“Ooh, I feel like a virgin,” croons a woman to her husband. “Oh yes it’s true,” he responds as he grabs her waist. No, this isn’t a play on Madonna’s hit 1984 or the beginning of a terrible porn film, it’s an Indian commercial for 18 Again, a “vaginal tightening and rejuvenating gel.” Yes, watching the ad is as uncomfortable as it sounds.
The commercial shows the singing couple dancing around a public square, being videotaped (on a smartphone, of course) by a random observer and finally heading home to canoodle. At the end of the segment, an older woman logs onto 18Again.com while her husband smiles over her shoulder. Apparently she too wants to “feel like a virgin” and have a sexual experience that “feels like the very first time.”
18 Again was created by Ultratech India, reported Campaign India, a publication focused on media and marketing. “18 Again has the power and the potential to break the shackles and redefine the meaning of women empowerment altogether,” Rishi Bhatia, Ultratech India’s chairman and managing director, told Campaign India.
Products purported to “improve” female genitalia tend to prompt controversy and criticism. In April, an Indian commercial for vaginal lightening wash received substantial media attention. The commercial showed a couple whose marital problems were magically solved once she increased the whiteness of her vulva. Lightening products are especially controversial because of their inevitable intersection with issues of race. Jezebel’s Lindy West wrote:
As if it isn’t bad enough that darker-skinned people are encouraged to stay out of the sun and invest in skin-bleaching products like Fair & Lovely, and that white actresses are being imported to play Indian people in Bollywood movies, now everyone has to be insecure about the fact that their vaginas happen to be the color that vaginas are???
And it’s not just Indian women who are encouraged to invest in making their vaginas “better.” In the United States, women fork out upwards of $10,000 for surgical procedures that “tighten” their vaginas, plump up their labias or trim them down.