Deep Dives is an online imprint exploring relatively uncharted waters. You can read their stuff at deepdives.in@deep_dives. Over the next few weeks, Homegrown will republish Deep Dives’ first series ‘Sexing the Interwebs (season one)‘, which navigates links between gender, sex and digital spaces.
Certainly, in my case, it was sex that got me to the interwebs.
When I was 17, my friend Reshma and I started going to a cybercafé in Madras to stay in touch with boys we’d met at intercollege events, or those we’d run into at jittery, hormonal daytime parties. It was there that we made our first email IDs and figured out it was possible to have more than one browser window open at a time.
A few years later I moved to Pune, where cheap Rs-10-per-hour cybercafés stayed open way past midnight, and where I was often the only girl present. I’d work half-awake on assignments, so sleepy that I didn’t fully register the startling stuff open on the computer screens of every man in there. Not fully. But I never fully forgot glimpses of the hairy dude checking out doggy sex either. That is, not doggystyle, but the possibilities of intimate canine-human interaction.
It would be a couple more years before my family got a computer and a shrieky, snarly dial-up connection. And there began the weirdness of all four of us siblings learning with varying skill to disguise our meanderings on porn sites. I think my first porn websites were the hideously obvious ones my brothers were into at the time — full of pictures of girls in plaid skirts, rolling their eyes in hilarious simulacra of pleasure, with their faces full of comically oversized penis.
But right from then up until now, I haven’t quite located porn movies that work for me. Too fleshy, if that makes sense (Except that one time my friend and I rented Caligula. I ate chips. She ate neatly cut carrot sticks. Our dreams were wall-to-wall penis that night). But mostly, porn-in-movie form has been me going as below:
But in comparison, when I read, the thin outlines of copulation in my head are so much more agile, so much sexier.
True, I had some half-hearted wanderings among sexed-up, souped-up photo comics online. The kind that used to be available in libraries on the same shelf as Commando Comics, except that instead of Nurse Cynthia in Love, it was Nurse Cynthia Fucks Everyone — on webpages that loaded roughly once every hour. The erotic engine (what author Patchen Barss called the historical tendency of porn to power communication) was, in those early years of dial-up modems, all about delayed gratification.
I also ventured several times into alt.text.evs.horny.whatever, a usenet erotica group, volunteer-run since the 1990s. It was a world unto itself, and overwhelming for someone who had so far only found stripped down, bare-bones porn in the Penthouse Letters and Nancy Friday novels bought on pavements.
Or not always bought, per se. One weekend when I was ten years old, I found chunks of pages of what I later realised was Nancy Friday’s Women On Topunder a bed. I grew up in a large joint family, so the suspects were numerous. By Monday, those chunks had been smuggled out of my house and pored over in my best friend Anu’s bedroom. Then she, sterling student, class prefect, and two years older than me, took it to school. Where her friends pored over it in class — until they were caught. Amazingly, the teacher read Anu the Riot Act, let her go, and clutched her own head.
So when I first checked out usenet erotica, I felt like a pre-globalisation Indian at her first foreign supermarket. It was all just too much choice and too little satisfaction. It was also a little joyless and determined, vaguely reminiscent of the boys in the Pune midnight cybercafés.
And then, in my early twenties, I found Literotica.com.
I don’t remember what particular story I was reading when the world inside my double-locked room went dark. For a few moments, it was as if I’d gone blind. Yes it was a sweet, near-death orgasm, but never ever before had it come without my curling finger at it. A 100% authentic, hands-free, penis-free, orgasm.
Thank you, Literotica.
* * *
Literotica.com looked like crap back then — and it still does. In a decade in which everything in my life has changed, it has stayed the same. Ugly. Reliable. Vast. Full of free, crowd-sourced stories — up to a dozen new ones every day — Literotica has made a decent attempt since its inception in 1998 to span the range of human desire, whatever that may be. Fucking famous members of Indian political parties, fucking your grandfather, or being impregnated by Satan’s spawn. Take your pick.
In its organisation, the site reflects the multiple axes on which the Principles of Horny work. Each story is housed under a vertical: Celebrity, Incest, Mature, Group Sex, Interracial, Loving Wives (ahem), Gay Male, and so on. Each story is ranked for hotness and tagged by keywords: teacher, stranger, gym, bigcockwhatever. It also gives you the option of following a particular writer, which most likely ends up being the one who drew the winning lottery for you the first time around.
Search as I might, I’ve found it impossible to figure out who keeps the lights on over at Literotica. Try any basic I-want-to-sound-vaguely-knowledgeable Google search with Literotica, and you’ll find that the results all lead you back to the site itself. Go on, try it. Literotica owner. Literotica origin. Literotica writer. Literotica success. Literotica college paper. Each and every search yields a self-referential bunch of results linking to erotic stories. Because in the world of Literotica — in a variation of Rule No. 34 — every word is potentially sexy for someone.
It was in the hours, weeks, months, and now years of trawling Literotica, I discovered that without the contribution of Indian writers, the ‘incest/taboo’ section would be a much poorer, sadder thing, bereft of raunchy fathers-in-law and raunchier sisters-in-law. I don’t know if it’s the keeping-it-in-the-family plots that fail to excite me, but here’s how my utterly non-prudish best friend Anu (yes, the same) put it.
At 15, Anu hosted a very memorable afternoon boy-girl party to watch Basic Instinct while her parents were away. As an adult, she abjures desi porn videos, even though she’s discovered her husband’s best friend has the biggest desi porn collection in Maharashtra. Her explanation? She doesn’t want anyone in porn to look like her relatives. Or to be wearing a nightie. I think that’s as good an explanation as any. Nighties? No.
But in the same hours, weeks and so on, I was also able to delicately fine-tune certain sexual appetites that had previously been rather vague. And for which, pre-Literotica, I’d never had a name. But here they were: as neatly organised as a Decathlon store into an ever-growing category called ‘non-consent/reluctance.’
And it was inside this vast repository I figured out that semi-comic, moderately self-conscious, non-consensual (but non-violent) stories featuring big-breasted women always turned me on. Always.
* * *
When I was five years old, my grandparents had a maid who effectively playedScheherazade to my older cousin and me for a few weeks. Every night she told us what Literotica.com would classify as ‘erotic horror’ or ‘BDSM’. Only with a lot of sultans and whips and silky boudoirs — much like the old translations of Arabian Nights. Unlike other things that turned me on at ages 5,6, 7 — including occasionally the careful touch of the men who abused me — her stories just made me slightly gaaah-what-what-was-that. In fact, that roughly sums up my relationship with BDSM — especially on Literotica.
Nothing excites me about the props-heavy, collared-and-bound pleasures of the BDSM category (which, btw/fyi, is an overlapping abbreviation of bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism). I enjoy the yes-yes-no-no of non-consent, but reading undiluted BDSM on Literotica makes me wince throughout. My sexual imagination has a low pain threshold, is completely judgemental, and can only think of ball gags as ridiculous.
Despite my own disinterest in BDSM (but continuing enthusiasm over erotica of the non-consent variety), when the 50 Shades of Grey festivities kicked off in the publishing world I was very tickled. What did this mean for Literotica’s BDSM section?
Me: Literotica’s BDSM section, you are going down, you useless, leather-clad vertical with too many female protagonists called Serena. You are going down and you won’t enjoy it. You won’t even enjoy not enjoying it.
Literotica: As if.
What did happen is this. Outside the city of Literotica, the 50 Shades trilogy (featuring a sappy and product-obsessed BDSMesque relationship between college graduate Anastasia Steele and business tycoon Christian Grey) opened the floodgates for a gazillion contemporary romance novels featuring non-consent and light bondage. What excited me most was that they were written for women.
As my long-term favourite erotica writer Susan Johnson a.k.a CC Gibbsgigglingly wrote on her website (dubiously paraphrasing here because I can no longer find the quote), ‘Oh how brilliant if your hero is a billionaire — then anything is possible with your plot.’
My late teens and twenties were thoroughly satisfied by Johnson’s historical erotica, in which super-sexed couples cavort across highly detailed, lavish European backdrops, sometimes in carriages, sometimes in riverboats, sometimes in dark corridors away from Regency ballrooms. They paint each other’s nipples, play with blown-glass dildos and ben-wa balls, eat cherries out of each other’s orifices, and sometimes follow up champagne-drinking on yachts with fucking-with-champagne-bottles on yachts.
I remember I once told a politically radical, bisexual British pal about the fucking-with-a-champagne-bottle scene. He turned pale and asked, ‘You can walk into a bookshop and buy this from the romance section?’ Yes, young mister, I used to walk into the local lending library three streets from my house in Madras and borrow it. Resulting in further paleness under his lack of tan. Mostly, I think what alarmed him was that behind those fruity, juicy covers women were reading — the ones he’d probably dismissed while reviewing books for the Times Literary Supplement — lay the really, truly, gloriously kinky.
Anyway, promptly after 50 Shades of Grey, Johnson wrote two trilogies, each featuring a very bright sexpot who meets a billionaire. The first trilogy is almost entirely a pointed demonstration of what could have been done with a billionaire if you had an imagination. The second trilogy has just begun, and features a hero with a Hokusai wave tattooed on his penis, introducing a big-breasted, sharp-tongued heroine to Japanese rope play. She snarls throughout. Ridiculous and OTT? Of course, but it’s never sappy — unlike the hardware-store-loving 50 Shades carnival.
Not that it’s easy to write the stuff. The pale-turning British socialist geek and I had entertained each other a few times by writing porn on demand.
‘Bet you can’t write a sexy story using the words astronomer and broccoli.’
‘Bet I can.’
I even posted one of those pieces on another crowd-sourced, slightly brainier erotica site. When my friend found out that I had published it under my real name, he nearly banged his head bloody. A decade ago, I was innocent about the ways in which amateur archaeologists can dig up your relics under the internet equivalent of a parking lot. In my 30s, I live in denial and the consolation that if I can’t remember the name of the site, it’s probably dead by now.
What I do remember is that it’s really, really hard to get over yourself and write something actually sexy, as opposed to the overly clever stuff I wrote as if I was designing a crossword puzzle. So it’s no surprise that a big chunk of the contemporary romance fuelled by the 50 Shades boom is awful, precious, and totally non-sexy.
Amongst this vast new bumper crop of post-Grey erotica for women, the novels of Bethany Kane a.k.a Beth Kery stand out for their boiling hotness, fearlessness, and also for the lack of contempt between hero and heroine. Kery writes a range of sexual encounters, spanning game-playing non-consent to the heavy infrastructure of serious bondage. This one’s got too much leather and too little drama? Skip two pages.
In fact, now since the world is much better stocked with erotic novels featuring marvellous power games, memorable characters, and settings that are definitely more exciting than a rent-a-silky Sultan, I’ve been weaned ofLiterotica quite a bit.
Quite a bit, but not quite.
* * *
Here is how Literotica has ruined my life.
Of all the millions of things to remember from the 70s ur-feminist novelWomen’s Room, here is one. When protagonist Mira Ward discovers porn as a teenager, she finds it terribly boring compared to the sexual fantasies of her childhood, which were richly detailed, sophisticated in their power games, and so hot.
I read Women’s Room for the first time when I was around 20, and had many moments of ‘Woah! Yes! Oh my god, so true!’ throughout the text. But when I read this bit, I had the super-woah moment. All boxes were ticked: Hot! Power games! Richly detailed sexual fantasies in childhood! On and off I’ve wondered whether I’m just a dirty-dirty girl or if I’ve been scarred by childhood trauma. But here was Mira Ward, with her utterly secure, safe childhood. So off I went with an unfettered, unscarred, jolly-making finger.
Cut to a decade later. Leisurely masturbation is more occasional. Closing the bedroom door in a small house to your lover requires as many explanations as closing the bedroom door did when you were 14. Though the reason to close the door hasn’t changed. And of course you know your lover knows. And you don’t really care. Sometimes afterwards there is the bravado-tinged not quite non-sequitur conversation of and-I-wanked-this-morning-oh-did-you. Some pretending, some suspension of disbelief, is necessary.
But living in a tiny apartment that requires a careful positioning of yourself on the bed away from your neighbours’ line of sight — and an equally careful balancing of the laptop — carries its own weird adolescent thrill. And Literotica via the smartphone allows you to determine if you are indeed as excellent at standing-up-in-the-bathroom masturbation as you used to be. Yes, you are.
Mostly, there just isn’t enough time for the leisurely wank. Once Literotica used to be, as in my least favourite Madonna song, my playground. Now it’s my efficient 20-minute weight training session. I just go back to my favourites. Which sometimes get me off in six paras. Sometimes in ten paras. But they always, always get me off. It’s like a needle in an erotic Frankenstein novel; a word-needle sharply prodding you at the exact point in your temporal lobe that ALWAYS. GETS. YOU. OFF. Always.
Plus: squeezed in perfectly between dinner and a late Skype call. Definitely a plus.
In fact, I’m so used to Literotica that my mind no longer has the patience to create and furnish new fantasies. Why own when you can rent all over the countryside?
* * *
There’s a patch of flesh where my thumb meets my palm that I never really think about. I worry about the back of my teeth, think vaguely about my clit once in a while, or sometimes even frown over the dot that appeared on my cheek two years ago. But every few months or so, that bit of forgotten flesh on my palm comes alive in a near-painful tingle.
And it only ever happens when a man in a romance novel I’m reading is suffering from jealousy.
I think this particular pain-pleasure has been with me since I was a teenager. I think. But I never actually think too much about my tiny, fussy-eater critic who only enjoys only one highly specific meal — a very likeable, interesting male protagonist positioned in a possessive snarl over his likeable, interesting love interest. Why this highly ignorable and ignored body part? Why such a specific desire? It’s a mystery about the leanings of literary libido that I unquestioningly accept. (Or is it the leanings of libidinous literature?)
Since my twenties have passed, I’ve also stopped wondering about what my love for non-consent erotica ‘means’ about me. It is what gets me off. In the same way that I like both sweet and spicy food simultaneously.
And as for an offline or ‘real world’ playing out of non-consent? Say you decide to use the silk ties no one knows who bought or the fake handcuffs with a similarly mysterious provenance. That’s all right. That’s fun.
Or there’s the occasional surprise of being slammed against a door and being groped till you can’t breathe. The approach of a fully-aroused lover who has lost his sense of humour and most part of his humanity as he crosses the room to where you are still-dressed/half-naked/buck-naked. A lover who finger-fucks you in broad daylight in the back of a Bombay taxi, ignoring your protesting and wriggling till the car is flooded with the smell of your cunt. All good.
But here is something lovers sometimes understand with a mysterious instinct for erotic narrative, professional writers often fail to get, and some amateur porn writers stumble upon with practice:
What makes me wet is not the lover to whom I surrender control. It is the feeling of falling into a story that I have no control over.
Words: P. Mani
P. Mani likes to save Sunday mornings for the truly digital encounter