The Good, Bad and the Ugly

One of the societal trends reflected in today’s digital world is the easy access to pornography. In this smartphone era, the rise of soft porn crosses the boundaries of urban and rural both, but the main question arises: is India ready to handle it wisely? 

By Prachi Raturi Misra 

The lockdown came with its own share of worries, besides the obvious fear one of being infected with COVID-19. It is true; the crisis has changed our world forever. 

Interestingly, it has also thrown up some interesting human behaviors. Take for example the fact that we can actually live without eating out, the trips to the malls or watching movies in the halls. That we can connect with old friends more often than we thought, that work from home is possible. 

But you know that one thing that most Indians can’t live without? 

Pornography. 

YES, you read it right. In fact we thrive on it. And if numbers are anything to buy, we sure rock, in this department.  

Pornhub, the world’s biggest porn site released statistics which threw light on the consumption patterns of pornography, after the pandemic induced lockdowns through the world. India registered a 20% jump in consuming porn content even before official restrictions kicked in. The spike in traffic to adult sites was a whopping 95% during the initial 3-week lockdown. 

Old habits die hard 

That is not to say, we didn’t consume pornography before the lock down. If the magazines and DVDs did their bit to sustain our voracious appetites earlier, free and later easy internet, has kept us glued to our screens, as a nation. Sample this, a year-and-a-half after Jio’s existence, say industry estimates, porn traffic grew 75 per cent. The watch time moved to 60 per cent. 

So where, the average monthly consumption of mobile data in India was about 600 MB, before Jio’s launch in September 2016, by the middle of 2017, it has plummeted to 3.5 GB-a whopping 500 percent increase. 

Obviously this data gobbling was not all about our sudden love for watching historical shows, latest movies or old movie songs. It was also a big display of our carnal behaviour. 

It was not uncommon to see adolescents hooked to their phones, eyes glazed, bodies tense, like expressionless statues. Why sometimes you saw them in a group of three to four, sitting on a parked neighbourhood bike or scooter, sometimes leaning on a corner wall. For better or worse this wasn’t and still isn’t happening only in cities but also smaller towns, nondescript neighbourhood bylanes and corners, why even in villages. 

And no we are not debating the easy access to the internet here; of course it has come as a huge boon for most things. But there is no denying the fact that pornography is now so much closer more accessible to so many more than it ever was. 

What does it mean for India, the third largest porn consumer in the world (according to Pornhub)? 

A host of things. Some good, some ugly and some that need urgent attention. 

Just a click away 

“Of course I watch it but I would never talk about it publicly. It is simple, I do not want to be judged”, says a 39 years old, single mother of a teenage daughter. 

A host of studies across the globe have shown a link between internet access and empowerment of girls, women and several other minorities. Who is to say, this empowerment, excludes does sexual empowerment? 

In a society where women are seen as asexual beings and minorities of different kinds, like blind spots, easy access internet could be a big boon indeed 

Author and writer Richa Kaul Padte well known for her book, ‘Cyber Sexy: Rethinking Pornography’ and writing on the subject, wrote in Economic Times on May 2018: “One of the transformative capacities of the internet lies in its ability to enable human connections.

Finding people to develop intimacies with has been deeply valuable to people living in isolated pockets of society. And for people living in places where conversations about sexuality are missing — or worse, where a range of sexualities are stigmatised or criminalised — the connectivity of the internet has been life saving.” 

In a society where women are seen as asexual beings and minorities of different kinds, like blind spots, easy access internet could be a big boon indeed. 

The Ugly 

May, this year, once again, drew attention to the dark side of human minds. What was especially worrying was that we were talking of school going adolescent minds, the ones who have the potential to change things with their bright new ideas, the power to transform things, for the better. 

But here we were, reading appalling details of “Bois locker room’  an Instagram  group of young boys of an up market school  in South Delhi, who probably had mothers and sisters at home, work or even school, having exchanged these messages  on chats. 

Deplorable words like ‘gang-raping’ girls, ‘minors’ among a host of other such words featured. Sadly it didn’t stop at that. The girl who brought it to the notice of authorities was threatened. News agency PTI quoted a senior police officer saying that the nature of content the girl received was not just threatening but also obnoxious in nature. 

And no, this behavior is not limited to cities. 

In 2018, a school girl in Dehradun, the capital of the hill state of Uttarakhand, was gang raped by a group of boys from her school. 

One of the accused, later confessed to having watched porn which he said, incited him into the act. 

Striking a violent note? 

For a woman who survived attempted rape at the age of 18, and has been working for women empowerment since 2011,  Usha Vishwakarma of Red Brigade, Lucknow, the availability of porn so freely is a sign of worry. 

Her organisation trains young girls in self defence besides working on other areas of empowerment. 

“Every person anywhere has a mobile with access to the internet and of course porn. In fact why just being made available, I would say, it is almost served to the youth,” she says 

The result, she says emphatically is an entire generation that is hooked to their phones, not necessarily for the right reasons. “What is being created is a generation of mentally impotent youth. It is a sad state of affairs to say the least.” 

And no she does not buy the argument of “freedom” and “democracy” when it comes to pornography. 

“What kind of freedom, is it, to show violence towards women and call it porn, or show relations between a father and daughter and call it titillating?” she asks. 

What is worrying with the kind of content available is the fact that it is often replicated by youth, she adds. 

A thin line 

But is only the easy access to porn that is leading to the rising crime against women? 

Research studies are inconclusive. Behavioural psychology studies have not established, a direct link between the ban of pornography and decreasing sexual violence. 

 Mithun Sen, a single man in his early 30s says the porn world can be a tricky place. “Of course I have seen and still see porn but the catch line here is how well you handle your sexuality. As long as I know how to conduct myself I guess, what I do in my bedroom should be no one’s problem.” 

What then is the thin line, he is referring to? Some porn sites, he says, can cross the line between being exciting to being obscene. “Porn is not just porn. Some classifications will shock you. Cousins, mother, friend’s mother, sibling, rape. What is worrisome here is the access of this kind of content to young impressionable minds who don’t necessarily have the maturity to filter what they are watching.” 

A worrying trend indeed, agrees Dr Veena Krishnan, Clinical psychologist and student counselor, who treats a lot of youngsters with porn fetish and addiction. 

The “Bois locker room” episode, she says, was just an outfall of fetishes like this. The real trouble, she says is the simple fact that children and young adults do not realise that what they are seeing is acting for a few people. “What is worse is that there is a lot of violent content being offered as ‘pornography’ and these youngsters don’t necessarily have the judgment to understand what is not correct. It seems to be tutoring them and is a very dangerous trend, one which is greatly harming our youth.” 

Is ban a solution? 

There have been attempts and talk of banning porn sites but none of it sustaining. 

It can’t, reasons, Dr Krishan. “It is like a blind eye. Why would you say, in the thick of the pandemic when essential services were struggling, liquor shops were open/ it is simply because it means money to the government. The same holds true for Porn. It is a multimillion dollar industry, one that has innumerable supporters including authorities.” 

Of course there is the angle of the right to freedom. 

“What I watch is my right, how can anybody decide for me”, reason a 25 year old man. 

Pornhub, the world’s biggest porn site released statistics which threw light on the consumption patterns of pornography, after the pandemic induced lock downs through the world. India registered a 20% jump in consuming porn content even before official restrictions kicked in 

Filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma, in a series of tweets, had criticised the ban of porn websites in India. 

Dubbing it “regressive”, Varma had tweeted, saying: to “deprive consenting adults of the harmless fun they are having or watching porn is equivalent to what Taliban and ISIS is doing to freedom”. 

The Indian Express reported Pornhub VP Corey Price’s reaction to the ban by the Department of Telecommunication, calling it a “disservice to the people of India”. 

He also went on to say that the ban might lead the Indian audience to access sites which may contain illegal content. 

Educating more important than preaching 

Dr Dherandra Kumar, Consultant Clinical and Child Psychologist, Apollo Hospital & Director, Psyindia, says, banning porn is not the solution. 

“Even if you are not making it available freely, it is still available. People are still watching. If you block100 sites, there are another 100 available, if you block servers, there are proxy servers. Banning is not the answer. What is more, research is still divided on a direct relation between watching porn and sexual crimes.” 

So what is the answer? 

Nothing, he says, preaching is more important than educating. 

Sex, he says, has always been a taboo subject in India. And when something is taboo, one doesn’t discuss it enough. The result is half baked information and misconceptions.  What is most needed is sexual education. 

“Like we now teach young children about good touch and bad touch, sex education needs to be progressively introduced and discussed freely. It needs to be a part of the curriculum. That is the only way we will have a generation that is in tune with their sexuality and in a better position to conduct themselves. If we can tutor children in so many aspects of life, why not, this?” he explains simply.  

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