Interview with the author – Cyber Sexy: Rethinking Pornography

3 September, 2019

 

Eszter Kismődi, Chief Executive of Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters (SRHM) interviews Richa Kaul Padte on her book Cyber Sexy: Rethinking Pornography.

This interview took place at reconference- rethink, reimagine, reboot– a global conference organised by CREA.

Cyber Sexy is a book about pornography and online sex cultures in South Asia and beyond and was published on May 15th 2018 by Penguin India.

How did the book come about?

I live in India at the moment and in 2013 we had two proposed bans on pornography but actually the last decade has seen various bans on pornography and a variety of sexual censorship, particularly on the internet. So I started off from the perspective of, “If there is a porn ban anywhere in the world, what will get banned?” Because, of course,  we have what is what is considered ‘traditional porography’ like the big websites, industry-produced porn and so on but there’s also this vast array of sexual expression happening online. I’m talking about cam-sites, photographs, things from the queer community, the BDSM community – there is just this amazing array of things going on and I started to wonder, “What counts as porn? And who actually gets to do the counting?” So it was starting from this perspective of looking at the interplay of desire, sexuality, porn and pleasure and how that’s all being governed by systems of power, both online and offline. 

 

This book has grown from a South-Asian context, how does it have a global relevance? 

This is the thing about the internet, in many ways it is territory agnostic. Irrespective of where you live, hopefully you can access the internet and many of us end up seeing the same internet. So, things that happen in one part of the world end up influencing the internet in other parts of the world. For instance, now in America they have that massive FOSTA-SESTA anti-sexwork act, but that’s meant that sexual representation is getting curtailed everywhere around the world. Because of the nature of technology and because of the nature of the online world and the way that it crosses geographical borders, that’s where Cyber Sexy fits in. 

 

What is the main takeaway of the book in relation to sexuality, pleasure and consent?

Well,I don’t know if this is the takeaway message of the book but to answer your question, an important message for me is that a lot of criticisms around porn and sexual representation end up being these vague things around “objectification” or this vague sense that porn is bad for women. What I think needs to be at the heart of this debate is consent. This is especially important when you move to the online world because what happens is that now with technology, you need to have consent at three levels: at the level of the sex, at the level of the filming and also at the level of the sharing and the uploading. Just because you have consent at one of these levels doesn’t mean that you have consent at all of them. That’s obviously how all consent works. 

The other thing that I really try and bring in to Cybersexy is the idea that all of these sexual interactions and expressions that are happening online are also happening in this massively unequal space. I don’t just mean gender inequality. I am also especially talking about the fact that what you and I experience as the internet, are a handful of private corporations and they are mining our data, including our sexual data, for their profit. I think that this very much has implications for sexual consent online. 

Going forward, and as my final message, I really think that we need to have pleasure, agency and desire at the hearts of these conversations. Because yes, the situation is very difficult, and it is particularly difficult for women and sexual minorities, but we just can’t tell people to pull back. We are online. We are watching porn. We are expressing our bodies, our desires and our sexualities on the internet. This is the world that we live in today. I think that if we start from a place of pleasure, rather than a place of fear, that is how we will build a more equal and feminist world, both online and offline. 

 

Many thanks to the film team at reconference 2019 and to Vaishali Sinha and Fuzz Factory Productions for their support.

Please note that blog posts are not peer-reviewed and do not necessarily reflect the views of SRHM as an organisation.

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