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Richa Kaul Padte’s first book ‘Cyber Sexy: Rethinking Pornography’ is a foray not only into the world of pornography but also deep into the subconscious of its reader. The book disseminates how the meaning of pornography is contextual and looks at how men from a certain class, caste and economic background not only define porn for all, but also create laws around it. Backed with historical background and uplifted by the stories of the interviewees, it takes the reader on an eventual journey, liberating into world of pornography, online sex cultures and experiences.

Cyber Sexy: Rethinking Pornography 2018       

Author: Richa Kaul Padte

Publisher: Penguin Random House India

Genre: Non-fiction

Coming from a privileged background and having studied gender, politics and economics in relation to the society, I thought I was pretty open minded, with regard to subjects like porn, sex and sex workers; Padte set my misconceptions right.

Cyber Sexy, as I said, takes its reader on an eventual and liberating journey. It is a journey which starts by questioning all your pre-existing notions, your biases, your perception of pornography. It destroys ‘ideals’ and ‘morals’ set by privileged men regarding sexually acceptable and unacceptable materials and acts. Most importantly, it normalizes pornography. The journey ends with Padte assuring the women—you are not alone, porn is okay, it is normal, enjoy whatever turns you on. And honestly, it is much needed reassurance.

The first time I read Cyber Sexy was at the starting of this year when a fellow senior recommended it as a must read. I was in awe, not only of the content, but of the beautifully designed and impactful cover, the coherence of the content and of course, Padte’s snarky comments and humour which made me chuckle.

The journey ends with Padte assuring the women—you are not alone, porn is okay, it is normal, enjoy whatever turns you on. And honestly, it is much needed reassurance.

The reason Padte decided to write this book became clear to me when my mother asked what is it that I am reading (which can be loosely inferred as why do I see pornography written on a book out in the open), when she saw the book on my bed table. When I proceeded to frankly answer that it’s a book which explores how pornography is perceived, all I got in response was an eye roll as she pushed the book underneath another book, lest my brother (or even worse, father) came by it.

The way my mother hid the book beneath the other is an example of how Padte described pornography is perceived in the society. Porn is bad, porn is private, porn must be hidden. Cyber Sexy starts with a similar example, though set much earlier in time, when Pompeii was unearthed by the European aristocracy and they reacted with horror as they witnessed “too much sexy content” (as Padte puts it) in one place. This sexy content was kept under wraps, only available for the pleasure of wealthy male visitors. Padte then traces how the discovery of pornographic sculptors in the colonies led to reformation of regressive anti-obscenity laws, and how porn-hating and modesty-preserving attitude in India changed, where it was adopted by Indian upper caste, upper class gentry.

Padte then goes on to explore how these men become the gatekeeper of respectability, determining what constitutes as pornography just because they can. While going through the book the second time, one thing kept troubling me. Upper caste men watched pornography because of privilege; lower class men watched ‘blue films’ in theatres, but what about the women? Were they just kept secluded, not even aware of the existence of pornography, or did they seek out arenas of their own for their sexual pleasure before the advent of technology? Unfortunately, these questions remained unanswered.

Image source: blog.ipleaders.in

However, for one question left unanswered, Padte answers ten. Building on the historical base, Padte uses her personal experiences, the life and stories of those she interviewed and data derived from surveys she conducted to encompass people from all walks of life. The reader sees how a visually impaired man navigates the world of porn, how a trans person creates a second identity on The Second Life, how being posting a sexy video online can be the most empowering thing for a woman, and many more. One idea that all these stories bring out is that pornography can be positive, can be empowering, and even give a sense of community to some.

Padte deals with numerous concepts and ideas in her 244 page book, all of which can’t be adequately dealt with in a short review. She brings out the inadequacy of laws, especially those in relation to child pornography in the chapter titled Think of the Kids. She cites cases when laws designed to imprison those who abuse children are used to imprison children themselves. The nude selfie clicked for your boyfriend can be child pornography, consensually made sex video can be labeled as child pornography—all if you are underage. This leaves the reader with the shaking truth—If you’re underage, you can’t consent.

She cites cases when laws designed to imprison those who abuse children are used to imprison children themselves. This leaves the reader with the shaking truth- If you’re underage, you can’t consent.

In The Fault Lines of Consent, Padte navigates through the tricky and somewhat intertwined lines of consent in the world of porn. She highlights the various kinds of consent violations which can take place, from revenge porn to DPS MMS (Delhi public School MMS which went viral in 2004, violating the consent of the girl in the video). 

Most interestingly, Padte also delves into the realm of consent in case of virtual rape on online platforms. Many of her interviewees talk about that experience of being raped in virtual reality and feeling traumatized, even when it happens to their character. Rape is, after all, all about power. And power can be exerted both online and offline. This shows how unclear the lines of consent are in the pornography we choose to watch.

Also read: Women Watch Porn Too- It’s Time To Get Over It!

Padte ends Cyber Sexy by suggesting a way out of the messy consent lines and inadequacy of laws (or lack of thereof) around pornography—by decriminalising it. As long as the industry is illegal, it will continue with its exploitative ways and abuse the adult actors. A step further, legalisation of pornography will regulate the industry, set up laws in place which safeguard and protect the interest of actors and provide proper procedures in case consent is violated. It will lead to freedom of sexual expression, one where pleasure is the focus, not violence.

Rega Jha, the ex-editor in chief of BuzzFeed India commented ‘I hope every women in India reads this book’ and I wholeheartedly agree with her. This book not only changes the way one looks at pornography but also causes one to celebrate it. Celebrate your desires, be unapologetic about it and challenge the power structures which make you feel like you need to hide your kinks.

Also read: Lights, Camera, Action: A Review Of Vice India’s Series On Pornography

If you ask me, was this book too much? (too much of a challenge to power structures, too much porn-talk, too liberating), all I’ll say is, not enough. Guess, now you’ll have to read the book to get the reference.


Featured Image Source: IndianWomenBlog.org

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