In 2017, porn consumption in India reportedly rose by 75 percent.
Indians now account for the third-highest chunk of visitors to Pornhub (up from fifth highest in 2014), one of the biggest porn aggregator sites in the world. (Source – Firstpost.com)
There is no denying that there is an increase in sexual awareness all across the world. Urgent calls to indulge in healthy and open discussions around sex are being made across the world — online and offline. Incidents of sexual abuse are more vocally being condemned, while at the same time, there is more focus on good sexual health.
Amidst all of this, there is also the downside. Everything seems to be focused around sex — to the extent that, now there is an overdose of sexual content, direct or implied. Sex is used to sell everything from deodorants to inverters! This raises various questions, including the most critical one, how is porn affecting us as a society?
It becomes imperative that for us to understand its impact, and analyze our own role in it.
The chance presented itself as an interview of Aditya Gautam, author of the recently released – PORNISTAN, published by Readomania. I decided (after excusing due hesitations, no thanks to my conservative mindset) it was a wonderful opportunity to better understand these trends and the causes and other deeper issues that are at play.
Here is an excerpt of the discussion on Porn and its role today:
Q. Let’s start with the most obvious, most cliched question, even at the risk of brickbats. Why does the country that gave the Kamasutra, maintain its double standards when it comes to the topic of sex. Why do you think this ‘attitude of disassociation’ exists? And how do we tackle it?
Aditya: The land of Kamasutra has long gone. Religious dogmas and the patriarchal mindset have been controlling and subverting the sexual discourse in this part of the planet for hundreds of years now. ‘SEX, oh my god, did you just say SEX!’ is the environment we have all grown up in.
The people in power (religious heads, kings, our British rulers, and now our politicians) needed this control over our sexuality, or let’s just say they had zero incentive to change these dogmas around sexuality.
Soon after World War II, the western world went through a sexual revolution. Relative peace around the globe, contraceptive pills, the women’s rights movement and many other factors began playing their part and sex was being discussed more openly, women were having more of it, and pre-marital sex was becoming acceptable. All this happened while the Indian subcontinent was busy trying to deal with the mess that came after independence.
It is only after liberalisation, globalisation and the Internet that we citizens of the subcontinent could start our very own sexual revolution. Hopefully one day, we will live up to our reputation as the land of the Kamasutra. One day!
Q. Is it true that for any conventional romantic relationship to be successful lust and love cannot be mutually exclusive. In a similar vein, is there a difference between ‘porn’ and ‘erotica’?
Aditya: Lust is a relatively straightforward concept- ‘the desire to have sex’. When all those hormones flood your brain with an urge to have sex. ‘Love’ on the other hand is an extremely vague word. So I will have to evade the first part of this question.
Is there a difference between ‘Porn’ and ‘Erotica’? There definitely is, but the lines can easily get blurred. The difference lies primarily in the intention behind the content. The intention behind erotica can be numerous, to please the audience, to excite them, to make them think, to portray deep emotions, to glorify the human body and so on. The intention behind porn is this – ‘ to excite the audience sexually’.
Q. Do you think sex and porn can be acts/needs that are mutually exclusive to each other? Is porn over-stigmatised, or is it over-hyped?
Aditya: Watching porn is like vicariously having sex, at least, that is how the brain interprets it. In PORNISTAN, I go into the explanation of how that happens, it is fascinating stuff. Watching stimulating pornography can be a lot more effective at fooling the brain than most people think.
Porn is both over-stigmatised and over-hyped depending on where in India you are, what social class you fall in, where you work and what is your gender. What is universal is the lack of understanding about how internet porn can impact us, and that is why I wrote the book.
Q. What do you think is the impact of porn on youngsters? Especially, in how they perceive the position of women in society.
Aditya: The impact on youngsters is what I was most shocked about while researching the book. Anyone who is over 30, or 25, does not understand the level of impact free access to the internet is having on today’s kids.
Pornography impacts a young mind quite differently to how it impacts an adult. There are many aspects to it- how it stimulates their brain more, how it overrides self-control, changes their perception of sexuality. In the book, I describe in detail the impact and break it down into various aspects of it.
There is plenty of research which suggests that the frequent violence against women that is shown in mainstream porn can influence the perception of young boys. There is also some fascinating research about how violence in porn impacts young girls, that I have listed out in detail in the book.
Q. Porn is known to have addictive properties. It is like that drug you never seem to get enough of. I also remember reading about ‘conditioning’, the impact of stimulants and the possibility of increased dependence on them if over-used. There’s also a famous story about Pavlov and his dog in psychology. Apparently, Pavlov would give his dog a favourite meal, accompanied with the ringing of a bell. After a while, Pavlov began ringing only the bell without actually serving the food. The dog kept salivating because it equated the ringing of bell to receiving food. Does porn have the same impact as the bell?
Aditya: Anything that stimulates your reward centres and releases dopamine can potentially be addictive. Addiction is of two kinds – substance and behavioural. Substance addiction we recognise easily, someone who is addicted to alcohol, to cigarettes, to chocolates. Behavioural addiction is hard to spot. There is no denying that excessive use of pornography can be addictive, a form of behavioural addiction, but there is a lot more to it. Pornography and how it impacts the brain is a lot more complicated than how chocolates or alcohol impacts it.
Dr. Manoj from the only technology addiction centre in India had told me that kids addicted to video games find it much easier to overcome the addiction than kids who are addicted to porn. Why is that? Well, for the answer, read the book.
Q. What impact does porn have on intimacy (sexual or non-sexual) in relationships?
Aditya: The impact is many folds. Depends on how you watch it, how much you watch it and what you watch. Pornography’s impact on relationships is one of the most interesting aspects that I came across while researching the book. By the way, it is not all bad. There is research that shows how porn can potentially impact a relationship in a negative way, and if seen in a certain way, it can potentially have a positive impact.
Internet porn is no one set thing, hence the impact depends on numerous factors. Which is why I had to write an entire book about it and not simply an article.
Q. More and more women are turning to watching porn, and there is certainly an increase in understanding of sexual health and rights. Surely, it is the obsession with sex and porn that brought upon this revolution. How do you think porn is benefiting or harming the movement of women’s liberation?
Aditya: Female sexual revolution is finally hitting India. The reasons behind which are the readily available and affordable contraceptive pills, internet, more women getting educated, women joining the workforce, being some obvious ones. I doubt if obsession over sex or porn has any role to play in it. While internet porn has some obvious benefits in that it enables women who are otherwise not allowed to explore their sexuality to explore their sexuality through porn. Using internet porn as sex education, which is what most Indian men and women see it as, seems to have more negatives than positives.
Q. Many countries criminalize porn because apparently, it ends up being the cause of sexual crimes, in addition to presenting an unrealistic (and/or misogynistic) picture of sexual relationships. Your views?
Aditya: Research shows that ‘banning’ porn has not worked. Even in China, where they have mastered the art of banning things, pornography is readily available through different means. Also as soon as we let the government decide what we can watch and what we cannot, we are entering a dangerous territory. I am against the idea of banning porn, the reasons and repercussions for which I have discussed at length in the chapter, ‘Porn Ban’.
Q. Emma Stone famously called for creation of “awesome alternatives” to pornography that empower instead of objectifying women. What are the alternatives to porn that women can explore? Is there such a thing as ‘feminist porn’?
Aditya: There is an increasing number of female-friendly porn available online these days. Like the website makelovenotporn.com. These porn videos are not violent and depict sex that is much more real, which is obviously much better than what we see in mainstream porn. But is female friendly porn free from any adverse effects whatsoever? I doubt it, and I do make a case for it in the book.
Q. Let’s discuss your book, Pornistan, now. What made you write it?
Aditya: Pornistan is a book I wish I had read many years ago. I have been on a journey to understand more deeply the impact of internet porn on my own life and had always documented my findings. Since the past few years, the thought of turning my findings into a book had started crossing my mind. Last year when I decided to take an extended break from the fiction book that I had been writing, I got working on Pornistan, and before I knew it, I was engrossed in writing the first draft of the book and soon after that the second and the third and the fourth, you know how it goes 🙂
Q. In your post published on the Readomania blog, you said that PORNISTAN is not judging porn, but in fact, it is an attempt to understand it better. Don’t you think a book like this would add to the hype around porn? How does PORNISTAN attempt to educate?
Aditya: The book is a sort of sex education guide. It is not just about porn; it is about the science of sexual attraction. PORNISTAN attempts to educate by delving into the science behind how our brain interprets and reacts to watching pornography. Once we understand the science behind things, it usually sets us free from living out conditioned patterns.
About adding to the hype, I don’t think anything of value can be written without a possible risk attached to it.
Q. What is the biggest outcome you hope to achieve from this book? Why should a reader pick it up?
Aditya: If I can positively impact one life with this book, all that effort, time and money were worth it. I am already getting some overwhelmingly positive messages from people reading the book; it has already touched a nerve. Many online news channels have also started picking up this topic since the release of the book. Let’s start pushing for comprehensive sex education in schools, and at home, that is the biggest message of the book.
That’s true. And I’m sure this risk will pay off. Wish you immense success with the book.
To grab your copy of Pornistan: How to Survive the Porn Epidemic in India, head to Amazon.