Sex is a taboo topic in India and as a result, there is serious misinformation out there regarding sexual health. When children or teenagers are curious about this topic, they have nowhere to turn to for accurate and scientifically sound information. This leads to the adoption of unhealthy and inaccurate mindsets regarding sex which can have negative impacts on your attitude towards the sameeven as an adult.

Dr Tanaya Narendra, with her award-winning Instagram page, dr_cuterus, is working to fill this information black hole. She is a trained doctor and embryologist from the University of Oxford and currently working in her family’s private practice. Through her posts, she addresses the various types of curiosities people may have regarding their own bodies and her friendly approach makes the topic of sexual health seem a lot less daunting. In a conversation with Ragini Puri, Dr Tanaya opened up about her experience of being on this platform for the past year and a half and the changes she has seen in the conversation around sexual health since.

What prompted you to embark on a journey on creating content on sexual health? Can you think back to a specific incident, moment or person that set you on this path?
dr_cuterusSexual health can be a bit of a taboo topic, but I have grown up in a very sex-positive and liberal environment. Both of my parents are infertility specialists, so we have a very casual household as far as discussions around sex are concerned. Talking about sex never felt like a big deal until I saw the response from people, and I realized that not all households are like mine. 

I do not realise what I am saying is “taboo” until I say it and it’s too late. For instance, when I was younger, I had gone to a party with my family. My mother had an urgent surgery come up so she could not join us. When someone asked us why my mother had not come, I said, “She has gone to do uterus surgery.” I said it because it was the truth, but I was just made to sit in a corner for the rest of the party so that I would not say any other “strange things.” Everyone has such stories from their childhood but with me, it just continued to happen. As recently as two years ago, I was at a friend’s house for dinner and we were discussing teenagers and their hormones at the dinner table. I happened to mention menopause because that is also a time when hormones are in overdrive, and the table went silent. 

There is also so much misinformation online. People have their own beliefs and assumptions, which they deem to be the truth. It was a mixture of all this that prompted me to start my page.

How did you normalize it for yourself and have you found this to be a common issue among your followers?
I pretty much grew up believing that talking about sex on the dinner table is normal. When I talk about sexual health, it does not feel out of place to me, so I have never had to normalize it for myself. It is our body. If we can say elbow on the dinner table, we can say penis too. If we can make jokes about butts and poop, why can we not do it about periods? It is one and the same thing.

LGBTQ Friendly Practice

dr_cuterus on Inclusive Practice

Why the name dr_cuterus?
I intend to become a gynaecologist eventually, so the uterus is something I do…adore… for the lack of a better word. Working in gynaecology is certainly a long-term goal for me but I do feel that if we are talking about sex-positive sex education, we cannot focus on a single-gender. 

There are so many people out there, that identify themselves as women but may have male sexual organs. For this reason, I try to keep my content as gender-neutral as possible. I also try to go forward not assuming that my viewers are from a cisgender (identifying with the gender you are assigned at birth) and heterosexual background. So, instead of saying pregnant mothers, I would say pregnant people because so many non-binary people have children too. 

The first few months of changing my vocabulary were tough for me because I had been talking in a certain way for the past 27 years. Nonetheless, the grateful responses I get from non-cisgender, non-heterosexual people really drives home the point of just how important it is to make people feel included. The intention behind my content is to provide education to whomever I possibly can so making that extra effort is worth it. 

How do you decide the topics of your posts? Is it self-driven or has your audience provided prompts?

dr_cuterus on Abortion

dr_cuterus on Abortion

Sometimes I ask specific questions regarding what my audience wants to learn more about. But mostly it is driven by things I feel should be common knowledge based on my medical training and the common questions I get from my audience. Of late, as the account has seen a fair bit of growth, I am getting a lot of questions from people daily. This gives me great insight into the kind of problems people are facing and where there are serious vacuums of knowledge that need to be filled. 

I recall a conversation I had with a couple of gynaecologists when we were treating a new mom. When you breastfeed your period cycle tends to become erratic. People think they are not fertile at that time because their periods are always late but that is not the case. Our patient was breastfeeding and believed she was not fertile, had unprotected sex with her husband and got pregnant. One of the doctors was laughing about this because she was surprised at the fact that someone could assume they are not fertile because of delayed periods. I had to step in and explain that people do tend to hold such assumptions and it is our job to educate them.

Doctors tend to assume people know the same things as them because it is so normalized for them. I get questions asking me whether people can take medicines on their period, whether they can wash their hair on their period, and so much more. Instead of laughing at these questions, I try to respond to them with as much fact and as little medical jargon as I can so that the information has some receptive value.

What has the primary reaction been to your content? Please share any specific anecdotes or online conversations that reaffirmed the need for such content?
Menstrual cups are relatively new in India. It is only recently that they have become widely available in our country. Almost every day I get at least one message talking about how somebody wanted to use the menstrual cup but was too afraid to do so because they did not know what to do if something were to go wrong.

It is very encouraging when people write in and tell me that my explanation videos are what helped them to finally get around to using the menstrual cup. I work with a brand called Pee Safe and they were one of the first companies to launch the menstrual cup in India. They have told me that even they have seen a huge jump in the number of people who are embracing the menstrual cup. This is such a positive and sustainable change that makes me excited for the future! 

Have there been any adverse reactions to your content? 
I happen to be blessed with a very supportive following on Instagram. In fact, I call them my ‘cuterus fam’. There is so much love and curiosity there, which is very encouraging for someone like me. I talk specifically about Instagram when I say that sometimes when a new person joins the community, they may have certain strict notions about what is acceptable to talk about and what is not. If they think I am talking about something which should not be normalized, they can get extremely offended and direct a barrage of hatred towards me, which has happened. 

People are intimidated when somebody tells them that the things they have believed for a long time are not scientifically upheld anywhere. For example, I recently spoke about how masturbation is healthy and there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that female retention makes you better. It is an ancient Indian concept and people feel very offended by the fact that I am discrediting it in any way. Change makes people uncomfortable. So, they try to act as gatekeepers of what is and is not acceptable. The only thing we can do is to continue fighting against the discomfort and that’s when things will be normalized. 

In 2020, dr_cuterus was given the title of the Best Sexual Health blog. What did it mean for you when your work was recognized in this way? How did this recognition go on to impact your work?
2020 AwardWhen I got this award, I had under 20,000 followers. All the other people I had been nominated with had been sex educators for way longer than me- ranging between 5-15 years longer in fact. They all had a lot more followers than me and when I saw their profiles, I was in awe because they are doing amazing work and I have a long way till I get on their level. The award definitely gave me a confidence boost and reaffirmed that people find my content relatable and that it is required. There are times when I have wanted to quit because people do tend to be quite disrespectful online, but this just makes it feel like the work I am doing is worthwhile. 

With influencers, there is sometimes a blurring of lines between the person and the account. The award drove it home for me that the content I am creating is resonating, so I should not let this account become about me. I want my work to take precedence because I feel it is all too easy to get lost in self-promotion. I want dr_cuterus to get the promotion, not Tanaya.

Apart from your professional knowledge, did you bring any skills from your job that you apply to your online content creation? Also, did you learn anything while creating content online that you took back to your job?
An important skill that I have learned along the way is how to make concepts simpler. Studying medicine is fairly intense so this is something I had to learn for my own sake. It is a skill that has been developing over a long time and certainly helps me when I am creating content. The social media environment we have is so inclusive and so judgement free. It is a great push for creating such spaces offline too. It has certainly given me a push to make my practice more inclusive and encouraged me to use language that is not stigmatizing in any way. 

I have learnt to choose my words in a way that it does not feel exclusive to anybody and of having the right vocabulary to break certain things down for people. Of course, it is still a learning process, and I know I will mess up many times along the way, but this is where social media provides us with a learning platform. Today, if I have a patient with a complicated medical condition, I am better equipped to communicate this condition to them in a way that allows them to understand it completely. I also have a better understanding of the kind of things that need to be broken down for people. 

Growing up in a medical household, this was never the case for us. For the longest time, I did not realize the extent to which people had had traumatic experiences with doctors which had led them to have a deep mistrust in medical professionals. So far, we have never provided the space or the vocabulary for people to communicate their concerns and get educated about the same. Moreover, I have also met so many interesting doctors from all over the world on Instagram. This has been a learning experience more than a giving experience for me.

You have optimized Instagram to the fullest by using almost every feature it has. However, we did not see any other online presence apart from Instagram. Has this been a conscious decision on your part? 

YouTube Video

dr_cuterus on SheThePeople | YouTube

Instagram is my primary platform, but I have been intending to move to YouTube. It is just so much work with editing and everything that currently I have tied up with another channel, shethepeople, for whom I make content, and they take care of the editing for me.

I was a very Instagram friendly person even before dr_cuterus. Even on my personal account, I was always very active. I went to two different schools in my city, then I moved to Meerut, then I moved to Oxford, then I moved to London, and finally, I have moved back to Allahabad. This has made for a very varied friend group, and Instagram was the best way to keep in touch with them all. That is why when I post on Instagram, it doesn’t really feel like work. It is a powerful tool because it provides ease in accessibility and connectivity, which leads to the creation of some amazing communities. 

Talking about menstrual hygiene and menstrual activism has become so much more acceptable these days. I couldn’t have imagined talking about it with my friends 5 years back. Of course, changes do not happen overnight, but there is space for it now.

Where do you want to take this account? Is there anything you are working on right now that you would like to share with us?
I am working on something but am not at liberty to disclose it yet. I will eventually be coming out with something new and exciting, and when I have the space to talk about it I will announce it very vocally, but right now it is still under development.

The work I do right now and everything that comes with it is pretty much my identity. I am going to continue making this a part of everything I do even as a medical professional. It is very empowering for me to talk about this as well. Hopefully, in the future, this will give more people courage to talk about this more openly. That is my primary goal for this account, to foster more conversations and to have more reliable information out there. 

Takeaways From The Interview

Interview Christian Bale

Meet Dr Tanaya Narendra, the millenial doctor who is demystifying sex and sexual health @dr_cuterus!