It’s not every day that we find writers – women writers – delving into the world of online porn and researching what women seek out. Richa Kaul Padte did just that and her book ‘Cyber Sexy: Rethinking Pornography’ was born. Porn in the digital age has undergone a massive transformation and so have women’s perceptions and consumptions of porn or sexy content. In this chat with Latha Srinivasan, author Richa Kaul Padte talks about how her book evolved, porn culture in India, and how women’s desires are no longer swept under the carpet here.

NewsX: What made you delve into the world of women and porn?
Richa Kaul Padte: I’d been working in the global women’s movement and the digital rights movement for a couple of years, and then in 2013, two bans on viewing porn were proposed in India (one in the Supreme Court and the other in the Rajya Sabha). What kept cropping up in these petitions was the idea that porn was harmful to women. This seemed strange to me because I knew that the internet had been sexually liberating for many people of all genders. So that’s when I started thinking more about women and porn and publishing articles and essays around the subject. I didn’t think of writing a full book until 2014, though, and it would be another two years before I actually got around to it!

NewsX: Coming to India, how much has porn culture changed here over the last decade?
Richa Kaul Padte: Porn culture has changed loads over the past decade, and I think that has a lot to do with the internet. VSNL came to India in 1995, and as more people have gotten online over the years, they’ve been able to shape what the sexy internet looks like. From sexy tumblrs to erotica to porn filmmakers encouraging crowdsourced content, the internet is a really interactive space. And I think it’s these interactions between diverse people that have changed porn culture.

NewsX: What is the consumption pattern of porn by Indian women? Do they see it as something that goes against their culture?
Richa Kaul Padte: None of the women I spoke to said that porn goes against their culture! Though many women did talk about how they wish there was more consensual, well-made Indian porn out there because they feel like Indian homemade porn tends to replicate some of the worst parts of Indian culture: a culture that is lacking the idea of consent. So the one pattern I did observe in the women I spoke to as opposed to the men is that women rarely seek out South Asian porn, because if often doesn’t appear to be consensual.

NewsX: Breaking the barriers of what is ‘desirable’ for women and talking about women’s sexual desires is key today. Comment.
Richa Kaul Padte: I think that’s a great way to put it because those two things are always opposing each other – what women ‘should’ be like and what we actually are like. So, on the one hand, there’s everything that’s considered desirable in a woman – from the conventional bhartiya nari to the sexy item girl – and on the other hand, there are real women’s sexual desires.  And I think in order to genuinely create room for these desires, we need to dismantle the unrealistic expectations society places on women. And one way to do this is for women to start talking about what turns them on because our silence helps foster the lies around the ideals we’re held up to. I’m not saying the onus is on women to fix the broken structure! It’s just that the more we speak up, the less someone else can speak on our behalf.

NewsX: Sexy content versus porn. Your take.
Richa Kaul Padte: Same difference!

NewsX: Savita Bhabhi was a hit when it came out. Do you think there should be a male version of this for Indian women?
Richa Kaul Padte: What made Savita Bhabhi was popular was that we rarely get to see women’s desires front and centre. Savita is occupying a role we usually only see men in, which is what makes her so subversive. So I think if there was to be a successful male version of Savita Bhabhi, he couldn’t be a regular Indian husband going around having sex with women – that is not anything new, interesting or arousing. But maybe he could be, let’s say, a kind, polyamorous, bisexual Indian man? I would definitely read that comic! What I wouldn’t read is a comic about a desi dude cheating on his wife. Real life supplies enough of those.

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