That'll probably be your reaction if I declare I support the ban on some porn websites.
Any debate on sex and sexuality in India starts and ends with the Khajuraho temples. Many eclectic explanations are available as to why erotica is depicted on a temple – from a general “Hindus were more matter-of-fact about sex” to the more abstract “it depicts tantric sex”. But the fact is we really don’t know, do we? I mean what made the chief architect wake up one morning and instruct the sculptor, “Hmm...okay...carve the picture of a woman doing four men. And a horse.” Yup...we will never know. These temples were built in the tenth century or so by the Chandela dynasty. They were quite powerful – in fact one of the kings – Vidyadhara, had even fended off the dreaded Mohammed of Ghazni. As a society, I suppose it was as prosperous as it could get – stable reign, art and architecture flourished – as a consequence, trade, employment was good too. As in the case of all prosperous societies...I’m assuming this one too had a happy, liberal populace.
Eventually, the empire did fall in the hands of the Mughal invaders. By the thirteenth century, Khajuraho was completely deserted – reports say that the residents voluntarily left the place even before the invaders reached them – it was their way of preserving their beautiful heritage. Soon, the temples were hidden by thick forests, and remained undetected by the looters. It was only in the eighteenth century that they were re-discovered by a British engineer – T.S. Burt. Bet the details on the temples shocked his Victorian socks off.
But I digress as usual. This post is more about the recent ban on porn. Khajuraho was thousand years ago. We are in 2015. Surely, if depicting sex was okay then, it should be good enough even now? Or so the argument goes. If one would like to elevate the argument to an intellectual level, then it is mandatory to use Khajuraho and Kama Sutra as evidence of “how liberal we all were”, and then proceed to blame all the invaders for turning us into ninnies.
In principle, I am against any kind of censure. But in this case, the issue is more complex than what has been discussed so far. Well, nothing much has been discussed really – the policy makers maintain a silence whilst the consumers make irresponsible statements like “rape will increase”.
The research into pornography and sexually aggressive behaviour is extensive. The unfortunate part is, all such socially relevant research rarely comes out of our academic institutions – so we don’t have a view on how India-specific cultural and societal factors influence such behaviours. Nonetheless, do take a look at some of this important research: (I have referred to a paper that conducted a meta-analysis of the relationship between rape and pornography. The paper is accessible here - https://www1.umn.edu/aurora/pdf/ResearchOnPornography.pdf. I have not followed strict APA referencing style in this post – but all the in-text references are cited from this paper).
In one of the studies, it was concluded that constant exposure to pornography influences predisposition to rape – it increases the desire to rape and diminishes the inhibition threshold to carry out rape (Russell, 1998).
In a damning survey carried out on female abuse victims who walked out on their violent male partners, it was found that a whopping 75% of them were shown porn, and were forced to enact scenes; 31% had been asked to pose for pornographic pictures and 81% of the women had been raped (Dines & Jenson, 2004).
In a study carried out on 256 sexual offenders, 56% of rapists and 42% of child molesters implicated pornography as one of their main motivators (Abel, Mittleman & Becker, 1985).
Studies have also indicated that viewing/collecting child pornography is a very strong indicator of paedophilia (Seto, Cantor, Blanchard, 2006). In Britain, some of the recent cases of child murders have revealed the perpetrators were consumers of child pornography. In the recent child-rape case in Bangalore, the perpetrators had child porn on their mobile phones. Mind you, the number of boys who are abused are alarmingly high – something that does not get enough media attention.
To further strengthen evidence between the pornography and rape link, a polygraph test was conducted on sexual offenders to determine if porn was indeed an influencing factor. 66% of the subjects responded with a positive answer, indicating porn is a causal factor in rape behaviours (Walp & Walden, 2006).
Consumption of pornography in formative years – teenage/young adult phases reinforces rape myths – women secretly desire to be raped; it is okay to force a woman into having sex; women enjoy being subjugated by sexually aggressive partners (Maxwell & Check, 1992).
The research linking rape/attitudes towards rape and pornography are exhaustive. These results are from countries where attitude towards sex and sexual choices is largely liberal. So when we talk of the same influencers in the context of India – the problem is epic. This is a society where even today, we are unable to have a meaningful sex education syllabus. This is a society which extends access to safe, legitimate sex only via the institution of marriage. Vulnerable women, men, children, and marginalised genders are still at the receiving end of sexual abuse without recourse to legal and social support. Access to pornography in this repressed mix is potentially radioactive.
You see, the demographic that consumes porn is not just you. When I say “you” – I mean the secure adult with a safe home, income, stable relationships and access to healthy doses of privacy. For this profile, enjoying hours of titillation and heading off to work the next day is perhaps no big deal. But this “you”...or even hundreds of thousands of “you”... is still a small slice in the pie in a country of over a billion. The larger demographic resides in the smaller towns and hinterlands where internet-enabled mobile phones have made an entry even if water supply, internal plumbing and electricity have remained scarce. For most of this population, access to porn is via their mobile devices. Indeed, many learn about sex only through porn. In a gut-twisting report published a few years ago – rape survivors revealed how they were abducted by gangs of young men in the village, locked and subjected to violent sex – whilst others of the gang shouted out instructions from the porn scenes on their mobile phones. Trust me, Nirbhaya case is not the first – what goes on in our backyards is enough to make you vomit every last strand of your gut.
In summary, what we have here is a research-backed proof that porn consumption and rape-behaviours go hand in hand, and a significant consumer base that is sexually repressed...whose only sexual education is via porn.
I know that a lot of derision on the ban, mainly on the social media, is because of “right to privacy”. But I can’t even make the attempt to pretend that I care about my so-called right to watch porn.
In the west, adult entertainment industry is regulated. Of course, by its very nature, it has its share of sleaze. Even so the actors have rights; they work in a safe environment. In India, how do you think the content is created? I am not talking about the verbal pornography – I’m talking about the videos. I can bet none of the women are professional actors – they were trafficked or forced into prostitution. If the banned websites contained videos of these women, then I gladly forgo this “right”. Also, remember that by law, anyone below 18 is a child? A while ago, when I stumbled across sleazy profiles on facebook, the frail girls looked hardly 16-17. If the videos featured such girls – you are consuming child porn. This is enough for me to support the ban wholeheartedly.
Is the ban a democratic way to control the problem of trafficking? In a complex ecosystem such as ours, perhaps stopping the content providers is a start, albeit a weak one. Just the way in the UK, Prime Minister Cameron called upon Google to take down all child pornography sites. In our case, there has to be a swift, multi-pronged approach to address the root problem. We need modernised, computerised police force. We absolutely need to grow up and accept that a regulated adult entertainment industry is the way forward – where everyone involved are protected by rights and have access to safe and healthy work environments.
Meanwhile, do educate yourself on the porn industry in India...it will give a wider perspective on what we claim as "rights".
© Sumana Khan - 2015