Think erotica in India and the first things that come to your mind are the temple carvings, white sari song sequences, and censorship. But the history and lived experience of eroticism in the country are much more nuanced, as a recent Love, Sex and Data (LSD) conference showed.
Organized by the YP Foundation, an organization that strengthens youth leadership for social change, and Agents of Ishq, a multimedia platform on sex, love and desire, the conference is a rare chance for those who wish understand eroticism for professional or personal reasons.
Paromita Vohra, founder and creative director of Agents of Ishq, said the conference was due to be held in 2020 but was put on hold due to the pandemic. Three months ago, the organizers decided not to wait any longer and brought together a community of thinkers, artists, sex educators and writers.
These “pleasure activists” were part of workshops, panel discussions and conferences that explored the taboos and transformative powers of pleasure, the lack of adequate information that can help people in their sex lives, and the politics of erotic experiences. .
The keynote speaker on the first day of the conference, Charu Gupta, associate professor of history at the University of Delhi, gave a talk on “Why are we so afraid of fun? pleasure and displeasure in India, the latter sometimes being bluntly blamed on Victorian British values. Gupta noted that within academia there had been attacks in the 20th century on texts that alluded to eroticism and pleasure as “hallmarks of a decadent and uncivilized female culture.” Yet among the public, as the work of scholar Anjali Arondekar has shown, there was a 19th century manual for women that said New India Rubber dildos were better than early ivory or silver dildos. – not because they looked more like a penis but because it was like one.
Agents of Ishq Founder and Creative Director Paromita Vohra said, “Fun means different things to different people. To engage in the politics of pleasure is to engage in heterogeneity. It is a path towards emotional resilience which helps you to accept yourself, to judge less and therefore to accept others.
The conference took place at a time of censorship threats hanging over OTT content of a sexual nature; and there are conversations around romantic jihad, yet despite these so-called regulations, there are cases of gender-based violence, especially against Dalit women. In all of this, according to Vohra, the pleasures of sex are lost and sex becomes associated with violence and regulation.
Vohra says that one thing we are learning from all the fun activists in the conference is that the idea of fun is broad and exists in all cultures. “To be human is to seek pleasure. And controlling others is often controlling fun – or defining for them what is supposed to be enjoyable, something that gatekeepers of all kinds, including the market, do for people. In many ways, pleasure is the antidote to violence because it’s inclusive – it’s not about polarities but about relationships built through mutual kindness, pleasure and respect, ”she says. Vohra once referred to “positive pleasure” as a more exciting idea than “positive sex”. “Pleasure reintegrates sex into everyday life – but it also goes beyond the fixed destination of sex to embrace a range of desires. Those who find sex difficult, or uninteresting, still have a desire and a right to pleasure, “she tweeted.
Pleasure reintegrates sex into everyday life – but it also goes beyond the fixed destination of sex to embrace a range of desires. Those who find sex difficult, or uninteresting, still have a desire and a right to pleasure.
– Paromita Vohra (@parodevi) October 5, 2021
Interested viewers can follow the call on the LSD India YouTube page. The conference often returns to the need to understand what data can mean in discussions around sex, erotica and pleasure. Vohra said at the start of the conference that the lack of data on pleasure reveals taboos, hesitations and unease about the inner world of people and communities. It also makes us wonder if data on pleasure is not being collected because our definitions of data and research are limited to tangible ones. And if the data presents some partial picture of the reality on which we base our understanding, our interventions, our policies, then is that kind of partial picture of humanity sufficient to include the diversity of experiences, needs, ideas and realities of different communities? Pleasure therefore raises the question of what counts as data and who does the data count as data?
Vohra says: “Without the politics of pleasure, there can be no meaningful consent. Consent is not a technology. It is an attitude rooted in equality of desires. If we cannot understand pleasure, consent will remain a kind of mechanistic discourse. Oh, did you know that a study of 10 dating apps found that they sell your data to 135 third parties? “
Listen to the LSD conference here.