What Role Does Porn Play In The Lives Of Ordinary Indian Women?

Author Richa Kaul Padte’s debut book Cyber Sexy: Rethinking Pornography is an astonishing and touching look at Indian women engaging with porn.

When I was around ten, I remember sitting with my parents and brother and watching that famous Madhuri Dixit and Anil Kapoor movie ‘Beta’. I did not know then that ‘Beta’, the movie, would stick with me all my life as my moment of shame.

It was one of those songs. I think it was the ‘Dhak Dhak’ song; when I asked Mom, that isn’t Anil Kapoor kissing Madhuri Dixit when the camera pans on his hairy scalp? And if he is, why isn’t her lipstick smudged?




Mom’s response, a resounding slap on my face and then back to watching the movie, ensured that I never ask anything remotely related to romance or sex.

Oh the shame and the humiliation; I felt like I was a dirty, filthy little girl. It is only in hindsight I realize that our parents or theirs before them were never exposed to or educated on how to deal that one basic human need – sex.

Imagine then, my joy when I was asked to review Cyber Sexy – rethinking pornography, written by our desi girl, Richa Kaul Padte. And why shouldn’t a desi girl write this book? After all we are the land of Kamasutra, pardon my presumption, we used to be the land of Kamasutra.

Even so, before delving into the book, I expected some thrill rides and raunchy anecdotes. What I did not expect was a poignant retelling of Porn.

Yes, you read that right. I used Poignant and Porn in the same sentence.

In this review I will speak of the chapters that stayed with me, and how I translated the message through Richa’s in-depth analysis.

Richa starts the book with her own metamorphosis from a small town girl in India to the Big Ben, in the chapter Porn 101. She describes her accidental foray into porn when she opens her flatmate’s laptop only to find ‘Jackie and Mitchell, gorgeous and topless’.

She then moves on to describe the discovery of porn. I say discovery, because sex was anyways, always around. Richa opines, “Pornography, as we understand today, is a classification from 1800s. It dates back to when male members of European aristocracy first excavated the city of Pompeii and reacted in horror to what they found.” Pompeii with its sexy frescos and phallus-endowed murals is constantly a reminder of our very own Ajanta and Ellora. With an ancient Roman bakery, gated by a massive terracotta dick; Pompeii scandalized the upper echelon enough to have its contents termed as ‘Pornography.’ Not that Pornography did not exist in the days before, Richa argues, it is perhaps the quantity of porn witnessed in the fallen city of Pompeii that stole the privileges of European aristocracy, to enjoy their exclusive, dirty pleasures behind closed doors. Much to their horror, now the sexy frescos, breasts and phalluses were open for the commoners to witness.

Following the discovery of porn is Sexy Encounters. Well, isn’t the Internet a beautiful thing?

There are these anecdotes about Sonali, a 16 year old lesbian, from UAE; and how the Internet connected her to her tribe. Or of Aaliyah, who soon discovered apps and online platforms where‘if you are a willing, sexually active female, then there is no dearth of partners’. Or of Nadika, who was declared a boy at birth, yet didn’t feel like one. It was only when she came across the term transgender on the Internet, that she set about to find a place for her. And she did, in Second Life.

Women and Porn, is where Richa vehemently expresses the fact that women watch porn. Period. We do, we like it, we enjoy it and you, whoever you are, can shove your scandalous expressions up where the sun doesn’t shine. Richa explains, “Indian society is not very comfortable with sexually independent women, because our independence is viewed as a threat to male-dominated power structures.” And perhaps that is the reason why most women are not comfortable with the idea of talking openly about porn. But then again that is a part of the problem. Porn in the hands of men only perpetrates patriarchy further, and forces us women to squeeze ourselves inside that boring mold of the good, Indian, little girls who do not ask completely logical questions and then get subsequently slapped.

One of the most critical points that Richa makes is of Consent and Porn. During her research she realized that while women enjoy watching porn that is consensual, not many men spoke of consent in porn. Which brought her to the point of sex tapes and homemade videos that are uploaded on the Internet without consent.

And in one of the saddest cases in the history of porn, Richa talks of Tiziana Cantone’s suicide, because even though she won a legal battle to have her video removed, the Internet never forgot.

When I step into the collective sweating, downward bopping mass of bodies called forth by 140 beats per minute, I feel utterly alive. I may or may not be looking for something more afterwards, but for now, this moment of group swaying, ‘accidental’ thigh grazes is more than all the intimacy I need.

From sweaty dance floors to seedy theatres in rural India, screening white people porn; from BDSM dungeons to Chaturbate; Richa explores Mass Intimacy as a fetish and, perhaps, a need for many. She states that sex, porn and love on the Internet is not mutually exclusive and it certainly does not belong to handful of Internet pervs. It is the property of millions, designed to be enjoyed by a million more. Richa explores, that perhaps, this is the reason why as humans we have not evolved into being content with a neatly packed, safe, heterosexual martial union. The futility of boxing, defining and filing away human relationships lays bare when we have the courage to look the hoardes of people out there seeking redemption through spaces like Chaturbate, Second Life, Collarspace and Fetlife.

All in all, Cyber Sexy should be the modern day guide to an Indian woman’s foray into her own sexuality. Remember my story about the resounding slap on my face; well since Mom wasn’t so keen on quenching my curiosity, I turned to erotica during my teens. Something that I kept from even the closest of my friends. I wish, twenty years ago, I had this book to read. If only then, Richa had made me realize that my curiosity did not make me a shame on the society, I wouldn’t have taken this long to come to terms with my own sexuality.

4.5 stars.

For the depth of research and the style of writing.

I took off 0.5 star, because at times the following chapters do not seem translate well from the previous one. The links seems to be missing in places.

But don’t let this 0.5 star stop you from reading the amazing, courageous foray.

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Top image via Pexels and book cover via Amazon

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