Indian Women Got Real About Their Porn-Watching Habits With Us

Indian Women Got Real About Their Porn-Watching Habits With Us
Anjul Dandekar

Like most of my generation, I grew up in a haze of sex. This isn’t some allusion to a sketchy home life or childhood trauma, quite the opposite. It’s to point out that even in the midst of my wholesome - perhaps even sheltered - upbringing, sex was still everywhere. Between television, advertising and then later, the internet, there was no escaping it and until I was older, it didn’t even occur to me that it was something to be ashamed of.

If it was so common, why did my eyes get covered during that kiss even though I knew it was happening and why did I get sent to bed before those TV shows my parents laughed so uproariously at? It was all a bit of a mess and that, I know now, is the only suitable description for the vortex of female sexuality in our society – a total goddamn mess!

Though women become objects of the male gaze as soon as they hit puberty, there is no guidance for them to explore their own sexuality in safe and educational outlets. In India, especially, the topic is verboten so most girls fumble their way through, fuelled by misinformation and rumours. If this doesn’t result in unwanted pregnancies, STDs or just simply a total aversion to sex, we consider it a win. Whether it’s the perception that all it takes is one kiss to get pregnant or that sex is the act of poking people in the belly button (yes, that is an actual belief) porn can be a great educator. It can show girls that sex doesn’t have to be scary, you can laugh and actually have a good time with your partner, that the super sensual scenes that you see in movies is not what real sex looks like, and having sex under the sheets and half-clothed is totally uncomfortable. Granted it’s rife with scenes that are cheesy and overacted, the bodies silicone-enhanced and oiled up like a Christmas turkey. But crippling blows to body perception aside, porn can be the perfect outlet for young girls to get in touch with their sexuality. As it happens, there are a lot of women doing just that. According to PornHub’s statistics from 2015 (we can’t access PornHub anymore, thanks to the ban!), over 30 per cent of users in India are women, so why is it that no one feels comfortable admitting to it?

For most boys and men, masturbation is normalised. Parents make jokes, friends swap material and the world goes on as it was. But as we know, female masturbation is shameful and must be hidden at all costs, right? Even though there’s porn made BY women, FOR women, porn designed especially for women who have suffered sexual assault, somewhere, the stigma is still real. We think it’s time that attitude bit the dust so we connected with women from all over the country who enjoy watching porn and aren’t afraid to express their thoughts on the matter to find out more about their personal experiences with porn. When we put out the question on Instagram we were overwhelmed by the response, dozens of women seemingly ready to share their trysts with self-pleasure and even more heartening was the fact that almost all chose not to be anonymous. It gave us hope for a future where women can openly and assertively talk about their love for porn, but for now, we’re just happy to understand women’s relationship with it in the present.

For a lot of women, porn can start off as a foreign, scary concept especially if it was something they weren’t prepared for, like when 29-year-old Adiba accidentally stumbled into the world as a child, she was too young to understand it and though today she’s a regular watcher, it’s not the kind of introduction she’d recommend. Even for older women, the shame has been so ingrained that watching porn can be an uncomfortable experience. For Donna* it was a journey of intense self-acceptance. “I would watch it (porn) but quickly shut it off if I felt myself feeling anything. It was odd to feel pleasure out of watching someone else in the act.” She finally found her comfort zone thanks to her boyfriend who encouraged her to explore self-intimacy and accept her sexuality.

With the range of categories, mediums, POVs and genres available selecting porn has become an art akin to selecting a fine wine, everyone has their personal favourites but there are some vintages that are popular across the board. For Dikshita, her sexuality dictates her preferences and her category of choice is usually lesbian porn. But this is a common choice for a lot of heterosexual women as well, the intimacy and pace of lesbian porn being something that many women report enjoying more than the staged, artificial feeling of so many studio pornos. But choosing porn can be a remarkably non-binary act, many women choose the same stuff men would traditionally watch and according to Pornhub, the top three searched categories are ‘lesbian’, ‘threesome’ and squirt with BDSM and fetish-porn ranking near the bottom of Indian preferences.

For women, masturbation taps into a whole new dimension of orgasms, one that men rarely have the ability to access. Porn allows you into a world of fantasy, where we can imagine ourselves in acts that we wouldn’t have the courage to attempt in real life. This excitement coupled with the lack of inhibition from being alone means that these experiences can sometimes result in substantially more pleasure than with a partner. Sushmita started watching porn in her mid-teens and is well aware of this perilous phenomenon. “I would get much more easily aroused just by watching pornography. There was a sort of gap in my brain. Where sight aroused me but touch or action didn’t.” She became so dependent on the porn version of sex that real sex always left her wanting more.

This was a direct result of so much porn being male-oriented that when it came to having sex herself she was at a loss at what to do or feel about her own body. After a lot of introspection, she’s learning what she likes. “I have now finally come to genuinely enjoy having sex, which is so very far from what pornography shows. I still feel I have a lot of unlearning and a lot of understanding of my own body’s reaction to doing.” This is the case for many women–porn becomes a shortcut to an orgasm and while that’s a fantastic advantage to have, it can end up with your partner being somewhat left out in the cold. The best option is to be open about your preferences with your partner and hope you find a suitable middle ground. Geetanjali, a fan of BDSM and all things kink, learnt early on that her husband doesn’t share her penchant for experimentation but she never let that affect their relationship. “This one day I was all horny but my husband had a football match to watch. We were on the same bed lying next to each other where he was watching a match and I was watching porn. Fulfilled both, I guess,” she relates. She and her husband are open about their differences and she allows porn to fill the gap in their relationship

We assume that time is equivalent to progress, but in India, that’s far from true. As the years pass we as a culture seem to be growing more repressive and archaic in our mindsets. There is underlying speculation that only men are sexual beings, that only they are allowed to fantasise and satiate their urges, that women only retain their value by being chaste and demure. From Playboy to Pornhub, erotic content has been around for decades and it’s not going to be going anywhere in a hurry. It’s time we worked actively on de-stigmatising porn culture as a whole. Next time you bring it up amid a crowd of well-educated, ‘liberal’ women and suddenly you’re transported into a pack of giggling high-school girls with ‘Eww, that’s so gross!’ be unashamed to say, ‘No, Carol, it bloody well is not.’ Porn is not perverse and your sexuality is not forbidden. Being aware of your preferences, or about how your body works doesn’t make you a slut. It makes you powerful in the face of a world that expects you to be ignorant. So set aside your apprehensions, pick your pornographic poison and board at Stimulation Station. You’re in for a bumpy ride.

Feature image illustrated by Anjul Dandekar.

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