Good and bad – Porn

Representational Image.

While social media users went overboard thinking of the cleverest tweets and Facebook posts they could come up with after it emerged that the government had announced a ban on online porn (800+ websites were specifically blocked), former adult film actress and current Bollywood sweetheart Sunny Leone put up a photo of her husband Daniel Weber wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Sex Sells”. Ms Leone tweeted the picture with a “winking” emoticon – there was no need for her to say any more.

The outpouring of response to the now infamous “porn ban” is hardly surprising when you consider the numbers that Pornhub – among the world’s most popular porn websites – released last year. Their data for 2013-2014 revealed that India ranked fifth highest, in the sheer number of daily visitors to their site (the US topped the list). Quartz.com analysed those numbers further and came up with some nuggets: Sunny Leone was the adult film actress Indians most searched for (on Pornhub); “Indian bhabhi” was a popular search category for porn – with the demand for this considerably higher among users from North India; and women users accounted for a quarter of Pornhub’s total visitors from India (about 2 per cent higher than the global average of 23 per cent women users).

Contrast these numbers with the words of Kamlesh Vaswani, the lawyer who had petitioned the Supreme Court to implement the ban. In his petition, Vaswani has compared porn’s effects to the devastation wreaked by “Hitler… and nuclear war”.

There have been as many empirical studies that say porn consumption does not have any correlation with sexual violence as there are studies that posit a strong cause-effect between the two. But a more balanced view can be found in what the country’s sexologists have to say.

Dr Mahinder Watsa, the city’s best known sexpert and the author of It’s Normal (a collection of his forthright advice columns on the subject of sex) says that porn need not “deprave” the mind. “You could indulge in a fantasy… As long as you don’t harm anyone or feed an addiction, it is perfectly fine. But when consuming porn becomes a habit, it is not good. It could lead to burnout. The individual may not want actual sexual intercourse (and prefer porn instead),” Dr Watsa says.

He also points out that porn affects different people differently, and the age (or stage of development) at which you come across it, may have some role to play. “During the ages of 11-17, if an individual comes across porn, then he/she may compare themselves to the characters in it, and their depictions, and make assumptions about their own bodies that are not right. At a later stage, a person may develop an addiction to it such that they may neglect their other commitments. In the twilight years, however, porn may actually help arouse a couple,” Dr Watsa says.

Leading sexologist Dr Prakash Kothari says the aphrodisiacal value of porn is not the issue, it is lack of sexual literacy that is the problem. It is this lack of knowledge that drives individuals to “harbour myths which could be harmful, or worse, could lead the person to commit sexual crimes,” Dr Kothari says.

He advocates educating the youth about sexual health and says the government can make use of TV programming to tackle issues like family planning and prevention of HIV. “In countries where this is implemented – like Sweden – it has proven to be a blessing,” he says.

Dr Watsa also agrees that an umbrella ban on porn offers “no solution”. He offers, as a more positive alternative, the implementation of sex education programmes – with parents, governmental bodies and NGOs taking responsibility for the same. While Drs Watsa and Kothari offer a very pragmatic argument about why a blanket ban on porn would never prove effective, there is another issue as well: The question of what really is ‘porn’? A judge in the US once famously said “I know it when I see it” while presiding over a case that involved pornography – but it isn’t that simple. The debate around the porn ban in recent days has highlighted that there is a difference between content that is “sexually explicit” and content that is “sexually objectionable” and that merely because something is explicit does not make it objectionable and vice versa.

Eminent sociologist Nandini Sardesai, who is also a senior member of the Central Bureau of Film Certification says that what porn is, is quite “subjective”. “What may be entertainment for some could be construed as pornographic by others,” she points out. Ms Sardesai is also staunchly opposed to the idea of a ban on the principle that “it’s nobody’s business to interfere with what people are doing (in the privacy of their homes), especially by giving a religious or cultural colour to it,” she says, adding, “The erotic sculptures at Khajuraho show that our forefathers were probably a lot more liberal than we are at this point.”

Ms Sardesai also raises an important point: if you do (or not do) something because you are scared of the punishment rather than because you are convinced that your course of action is the right one, does it count?

Then there’s also the fact that bans against porn haven’t really succeeded anywhere in the world (although certain “filtering” models, have been more effective). In fact, an outright ban on porn changes the nature of it into something far more dangerous, feels noted social scientist Shiv Visvanathan. “One can always regulate content to a certain extent, but a ban always creates problems,” Visvanathan says. “It makes these things go further underground. It’s a bit like prohibition of alcohol – it only creates a circle of crime. As long as porn is kind of open, it’s a bit innocuous; you’ll have a lot of ‘dirty men’ seeing it. But the minute you put it underground, then it acquires a different proportion and causes a different kind of criminality. I think that’s the big danger here.”

While the ban itself has now been seemingly retracted (the government has put the onus on internet service providers to ensure that the websites they provide access to do not have objectionable content like child pornography), the debate around whether or not access to porn should be regulated rages on. What also continues to swirl are the many memes the controversy has spawned – one gem stated, “The govt banned Maggi and porn – basically, they’re against anything that gives you pleasure in two minutes.”

TV presenter, writer and comedian Cyrus Broacha is certainly taking a humorous view of the situation. “I am very unhappy because they don’t understand that actors and people in our line won’t have much to do without porn,” he quips. “There are a lot of positives that people are not looking at. I honestly feel that if the Indian male is allowed a bit of porn, he will stop misbehaving in public. Maybe we should have NGO run porn websites, government funded and culturally correct, and maybe they should speak in Sanskrit, which would make it more acceptable.”

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