Let's (not) talk about sex, maybe

Aug 09, 2015, 06:15 IST | Paromita Vohra

The ongoing discussions around pornography have raised some really useful questions, especially as people try to articulate why they oppose porn while claiming they are neither moralistic, nor in support of bans

The ongoing discussions around pornography have raised some really useful questions, especially as people try to articulate why they oppose porn while claiming they are neither moralistic, nor in support of bans.

Some argue, rightly, that pornography - especially mainstream porn — is misogynist and racist. Come to think of it, this is true of many non-porn films — not just mainstream, sometimes alternative or 'art' films too. If misogyny or racism/casteism/regionalism are unacceptable in porn, then they must be unacceptable everywhere. Usually people who raise these issues with respect to non-porn media are called party poopers at best, and anti-national at worst. We must thank porn for raising this discussion, so we really start having this conversation.

As with non-mainstream porn which is more diverse in approach, we need far more diverse cinema spaces. We need subjects and producers of different genders, sexualities, castes and classes better represented in our cinema and television. Right?

People have rightly raised the issue of exploitative working practices in the porn industry. It is important that porn be produced in ethical, non-exploitative conditions. So then, it must also be important that mainstream television and Bollywood be ethically produced. Lightmen, stuntmen, junior artistes and struggling newcomers largely work in conditions that result in economic insecurity, sexual harassment, copyright violations and sometimes ,death. This is true of many manufacturing industries too, where labour practices are often shocking. Thanks to the discussion on porn, some light can be shined on these shadowy realities.

Sometimes, when women oppose banning porn on social media, trolls are quick to threaten: Oh ya? Would you like to have your pornographic clip or nude pictures put up on some site?


Trolls thereby, underscore the issue most central to pornography, which is consent. To put up someone else's video or photo without their consent is unacceptable. It's not its sexual content which makes it wrong. What's wrong is that it is done without their consent and forcibly imposed upon them. Consent is a relevant lens to bring when considering pornography.

Are the people in the films, adults and there by consent? Do the films represent the idea of consent between adults, implying they are in a position to think about choice, whatever the nature of the sexual act, rather than imposed violent acts of power? This automatically rules out child pornography, revenge pornography and secretly shot pornography.

If we don't advocate a ban for other industries beset by similar inequities, opposing porn "only" for these reasons is simply double standards masking puritanism. Sex is a part of life, like food. Both feed human appetites as much as ensuring survival. Those who use the erotica vs. pornography argument to denounce pornography are also being disingenuous. This squeamish hierarchy only ends up re-stigmatising sex.

The argument that erotica is better and porn is bad, implies there is acceptable sex and unacceptable sex on the basis of subjective tastes — when this distinction should simply be on the basis of consent. The logic of acceptable sex is the very one which decides same-sex relations or cross-caste relations aren't natural, hence forbidden. There may well be an aesthetic difference between erotica and porn — where erotica feeds more of the senses while porn addresses more basic sexual feelings.

It's so with food, music, films or books too. Sometimes, we crave the quick fix of junk food or a murder mystery or a mindless comedy. Other times, we desire more complex flavours and sophisticated notes. These are just two moods or sides of one person usually. Why should one half judge the other — unless it is being unfair, unkind or
violent, no?

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com

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