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Why Is Porn a Bad Word? Cyber Sexy Explores the Relationship between Indian Women & Porn

Women and sexuality is a theme that India has only begun to explore recently. Indian women are slowly finding safe spaces to confidently talk about sex and sexuality. One such platform, when used correctly, is the internet. Pornography forms a big part of it, as studies show that Indian women form a large part of the porn-watching community. Hence, our relationship with porn, how we view it and interact with it, and the part it plays in our definition of sexuality, is worth digging into further. 

This is the thought that went behind Richa Kaul Padte's debut book, Cyber Sexy. It delves into the intricacies of the relationship between women and porn, through first person accounts. She covers topics of cam girls, homemade videos, consent, and more in an intimate fashion, that will make you rethink porn entirely. 

Read an excerpt from Cyber Sexy by Richa Kaul Padte here: 

I had my first real argument with a beloved flatmate when Nicki Minaj released the video for ‘Anaconda’ in 2014. Nicki is one of my favourite rappers of all time, and ‘Anaconda’ features her and her skilled backup dancers, dressed to the minimally clad nines, twerking their butts off. Throughout the song, Nicki repeats in a mock-horrified voice, ‘Oh my gosh / Look at her butt.’ With girls sporting everything from swimsuits to gymwear, leather bodysuits to sexy aprons, this is Nicki’s ode to girls with, in her words, ‘fat asses’. The song ends with her walking away from a man she’s been giving a lap dance to—he stares after her, dejected, and we hear Nicki laughing away in pure joy.

My flatmate was horrified. She said that even I had to agree this wasn’t acceptable as a music video; it was pornography, not art. I obviously disagreed. I thought, and still think, that video is amazing. Them asses, bouncing up and down on screen, totally unapologetic (like everything else about Nicki), for no purpose other than to be hugely sexy. My friend was convinced I was trying to make a political point, but that personally, surely, I couldn’t be into this. Because it was porn. And back then I didn’t have the language to explain to her that there is no hard and fast line, anywhere in the world, for what counts as a music video and what counts as porn. And that secondly, even if it was porn, so what?

But that’s how the word porn works: it devalues the thing it describes. It indicates that something has crossed an invisible line. It’s gone from being art, literature, music videos or acceptable digital interactions to being something quite else. Something that exists in excess.

Take even examples where the word porn is used positively. Hashtagging a beautiful plate with #foodporn is a common internet trend, signalling to viewers how amazing the food is. How spectacular. The BEST. But even in this positive usage, the word ‘porn’ implies an excess of something—it’s so good, it’s almost too good to be true. As the Indianism goes, ‘It’s too good, ya.’ #Foodporn is not an everyday occurrence on your plate; it’s the holiday breakfast, the Sunday brunch, that one time someone made the perfect paniyarams. If you had it daily, well, that would be great, but it wouldn’t really be porn, would it? Even at its best, porn is not for the everyday: it’s for the occasional, the rare, the special. Otherwise it would get to be too much.

The question of how much skin or sex or masturbation is too much is at the heart of so many conversations around porn today. Take ‘porn addiction’—something that a lot of people seem to be super concerned about. No one has agreed upon a particular quantity of porn-watching that constitutes an addiction, but the idea that vast swathes of men are becoming addicted to porn is sweeping across the globe. There are videos. Self-help books. Thousands of detox programmes (for a fee, of course). There are studies with minuscule control groups linking porn to all sorts of terrible male behaviour. And this collective paranoia starts to take its toll on regular porn viewers. At least ten men I interviewed for this book told me they were probably addicted to porn and masturbation, or expressed concern that they were getting addicted. Why? Because they were doing it once a day, sometimes even two whole times. I told each of them that I thought these numbers seemed pretty healthy and average to me. Many of them sincerely thanked me for that perspective—and their gratitude left me stunned.

I am not saying that no one in the world is addicted to watching pornography or to masturbating. A behavioural addiction is defined as behaviour that gets so compulsive it affects your ability to function in other parts of your life. When it comes to porn, it’s been documented that a few people do experience it to this degree. But the fact that so many men masturbating to porn once or twice a day are terrified that they’re turning into hardcore addicts isn’t a fear they just plucked out of thin air. It is something they are learning from what they see and read and hear around them. From a global society that is collectively drawing arbitrary, alarmist lines around how much porn is too much, and then scaring everyone into thinking they’re pervs.

None of the women I spoke to were worried about porn addiction—but that’s not surprising. Conversations and fears around porn rarely position women as consumers of pornography; instead, we are its innocent victims. So while we’re not worried about whether we’re watching too much porn, we are reckoning with a world that thinks our bodies and desires are always already crossing a line. It’s not our porn habits that are too much; it’s us.

Which means that women creating or consuming any type of sexy expression—online or offline—are often deemed slutty or pornographic (which, remember, are pretty much the same thing: the word porn comes from the word prostitute, and both words are often used to devalue what they describe). Low-cut dresses. Profile pictures. Dance moves. Any and all expressions of a woman’s desire is crossing a line.

Nicki Minaj is the perfect example. She’s an extraordinary rapper, but she also unsettles a lot people. Not because she’s doing something entirely new (even though in many ways she definitely is), but because she’s often doing what male rappers have always done: featuring women as super sexual. ‘Anaconda’ is the best example of this, because it’s a remix of a nineties’ song by male rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot. Remember the lyrics, ‘I like big butts and I cannot lie’? ‘Baby Got Back’ was an iconic hit. Ross and Rachel rap it to get baby Emma to sleep on Friends. It was played at every high-school dance I ever attended.

Nicki sampled its beats to make ‘Anaconda’, and her video recreates a bunch of stuff from the original video, which also featured tons of big-bootied girls shaking their thang. Everyone loved it back then. But when Nicki drops down to the floor and gyrates to its remixed tunes, she’s making porn, not music. She’s a slut. She’s too much.

To label something porn is to strip it of value, and to place it outside accepted value systems. And while whether or not something ‘counts’ as porn is entirely subjective, what it means to call something porn is often a process of devaluing. Hardcore videos. Erotica. Webcams. Savita Bhabhi. Nicki Minaj.

But what do people themselves value?

These selected portions have been excerpted with permission from Cyber Sexy written by Richa Kaul Padte, and published by Penguin Random House. 

Richa Kaul Padte grew up in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, and became a person in Brighton, England. She is co-founder of the award-winning publication Deep Dives, and her writing has appeared in several places, including BuzzFeed, Vice, GQ, Racked, the Caravan, India Today, Open and Rolling Stone. Cyber Sexy is her first book.

You can buy Cyber Sexy by Richa Kaul Padte here

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