Living in a country where there isn’t much public discussion of sex, means that as a society we seem to be confused about what sexy really is. Our moral guardians are so paranoid we’ll corrupt our culture and values that anything remotely sexy has been excised from display. Quickly, blur cleavage, censor dialogue, postpone sex education, throw out non-vegetarian food, hide mobile phones, put on a space suit, lock yourself in the basement.

This was working fine till about a decade ago, but now we’re in a rush to pretend to be keeping up with changing times. This means that while we like to allude to sex, we’re still wrapped so tight in our pallus of propriety that we can’t be blatant about it.

It is quite clear that sex sells in India. The problem is that our ad writers and directors seem to have no idea how to sell it.

When it comes to marketing a product that actually helps people have sex, well that’s when things get really interesting. In Indian advertising, the message is usually either so subtle that we have no clue what's going on, or so disturbing that you’d rather watch your favourite character die all over again on Game of Thrones.

Take this charming television commercial for Cobra deodorant, for instance, which released a few days ago, and makes us question why evolution is refusing to go in our favour:

If this is a tutorial on how to satisfy a man after an expensive manicure, (answer: carefully, and with both hands), it just about works. As an ad for a deodorant it evokes a strange mixture of laughter, tears and burning hot confusion.

In general, our instinctive response seems to be to break sex down into something that’s so unappealing that you shouldn’t want to bother with it in the first place. This begins with the kind of syllabus-approved sex education we get in school, and later gives rise to fascinating public service announcements such as this one:

Should your libido be strong enough to power through an unending visual of these lungi-wrapped gentlemen on what seems to be some mighty fine LSD, the back-up plan is to at least make sex a cultural event. Your immediate reaction may be to mock it all, but if you get through more than a couple of minutes of that clip, you’ll notice that they’re being quite forward about things. Besides promoting the use of condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy, they also acknowledge the desire for multiple partners, tell you that “good-natured condoms” are available at medical stores under multiple brands in a variety of flavours and textures. And that, by the end of it, you’ll be expert at construction, kite-flying and farming, for some reason.

The ads for branded condoms may be fancier, but they’re so vague, they might as well be advertising Lodi Gardens. Unless you’re watching an ad for Manforce, which incidentally is the worst possible name for condoms in a country that’s already so confused about rape.

Manforce is also the brand with the oddest flavours. If you thought Domino’s had forgotten what a pizza was supposed to be when they decided to give butter chicken and shahi paneer toppings a go, you should know that Manforce has paan-flavoured condoms – spicy stuff. Speaking of which, here’s a delightful ad for Moods that shows a bunch of women so addicted to the taste of their condoms that they don’t want to put anything else into their mouth any more:

Surprisingly enough, condom advertisements are the least remarkable of the lot. 18 Again is a vaginal tightening gel that had feminists screaming blue murder when it first came out (while men wondered secretly if it really worked). All kinds of online petitions made the rounds, and Facebook and Twitter were working double time to keep up with enraged women demanding to know why anyone was suggesting they needed to tighten their vaginas. Let’s ignore the product for the sake of an unburdened comments section for the time being, and bring focus instead to the mating call in this 30-second spot:

The fine art of seduction, according to this, begins with a formal announcement to your entire joint family that you feel like an 18-year-old virgin again. This is allegedly good news, and what better way to celebrate than with a dance? Fair enough, who are we to judge? We’re also all for women making the first move, but ladies, are you really attracted to a man who matches you step for step in a mini-bharatnatyam recital set to a flamenco tune?

Then again, our advertisements for men’s underwear beg a very similar question. It is a curious truth universally acknowledged that Indian men and their tighty-whities are inseparable. VIP, Rupa and Amul Macho rule this department. I’m sure they started out wanting to make their thick, elastic-scrunched briefs very sexy indeed, but somewhere an exasperated copywriter at Amul Macho threw it all up for a winning tagline that read simply: “Yeh toh bada toing hai.”  We could hazard an English translation, but it's hard to say what this is supposed to mean. In fact, it kept everyone guessing so long that eventually our minds wandered to the dirtiest corner, and hemorrhaged a little. Just to be safe, the powers that be pulled the commercial from air, just in case we were all thinking the same thing – even if we still hadn’t figured out exactly what that was. So now we’re left with gems like this:

Science and personal experience both remind you repeatedly how important smell is when it comes to sexual attraction. This brings us to Indian advertising’s favourite product in the world: deodorant. Over time we’ve grown immune to ads that abandon logic for the sake of that historic formula – empty a can of the right deodorant onto your shaved torso and the hottest women within a 100-mile radius will fly at you from every direction. Who needs Tinder when you have, for instance, Divaché?