How internet access to porn is helping women and sexual minorities in India

In countries like India where porn production and distribution is illegal, growing internet use has made pornography more accessible than ever before.
Author Richa Kaul Padte says growing Internet access has given women and sexual minorities in India a tool of expression and community building that previously didn't exist. (Courtesy of Richa Kaul Padte)
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In countries like India where porn production and distribution is illegal, growing internet use has made pornography more accessible than ever before. Pornography, although widely treated as taboo, is a popular source of pleasure for many, but for some it's much more than that.  

According to Richa Kaul Padte, the author of Cyber Sexy: Rethinking Pornography, it's not just about pleasure anymore. 

In Cyber Sexy Richa Kaul Padte explores online sex culture and how the Internet has given a voice to women and sexual minorities. (Richa Kaul Padte/Penguin Books)

"... I do think that offline, [some] women experience a lot of control when it comes to their sexual freedoms. And so I think women who have managed to get online, are using these spaces to kind of unlearn the types of ideas that have sort of been forced upon them," Padte told Spark. 

Earlier this year Pornhub announced that in 2017 India came in third in a ranking of countries who watch the most porn. The growing consumption of online porn has caught the attention of policy makers and internet advocates alike. With the increase in porn consumption also comes the increase in reasons people are consuming it.

Padte's book, and her work in the digital rights movement focuses on how women and sexual minorities use the Internet to explore their gender and sexuality.

At the heart of these petitions was the idea that women need to be protected from porn.- Richa Kaul Padte

"I think that's what the internet has meant for a lot of sexual minorities and women in India. It's just removed that sort of extreme isolation of living in a society that completely disregards your desires, and actually works to repress them wherever it can."

Padte's book was motivated by two petitions in 2013 calling for a ban of online porn consumption in India.

According to Padte "... at the heart of these petitions was the idea that women need to be protected from porn."  

Feeling the need for a woman's voice on the matter, as to what was at stake, Padte penned Cyber Sexy to provide insight into the ways what she calls the "sexy internet," can help women and sexual minorities both discover themselves and communities of support that may otherwise be out of reach.  

As for the petition in the Upper House of Indian Parliament, though it initially received a lot of buzz, it has been benched. In the case of the second petition to the Supreme Court, the courts decided it wasn't their responsibility to block websites, and they passed the petition to the the government, according to Padte.

In 2015 the government blocked over 800 "adult" websites, but soon after reversed their decision due to widespread public criticism. Padte says the petition continues to exist in a non-threatening limbo, but in a climate where homosexuality is criminalized, keeping Internet access free of censorship is important to the lives of the women and sexual minorities who rely on it.  

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