Sex-Rated: The VICE Guide to Sex

We Don’t Need No Sex-Ed. We’ve Got Porn

In the absence of sex education, Indian millennials and Gen Z are watching porn to learn about sex, pleasure and consent.

by Maroosha Muzaffar
15 January 2019, 3:00am

Image: Priyanka Paul.

In Sex-Rated: The VICE Guide to Sex in India, we dive deep into Indian sexuality, as well as cherry-pick some of the best videos and stories about sex from VICE around the world. Read more here.

The first big lesson Imran Azmi*, a 27-year-old cisgender male based in Bengaluru, had to unlearn was that threesomes were not fun. The misconception was born over years of watching porn, he told me. “I did get my love of pussy licking (cunnilingus) from porn though,” he adds. “It’s one of the first things I learnt most women actually love.” This was in 2014 when he was dating a girl whose friend was ‘curious’, he recalls. “Threesomes can be awkward.”

Azmi discovered pornography when he was in class VIII. He remembers seeing naked pictures of Pamela Anderson “in all her 36D glory” with his friend on his computer. “Boy, it was a treasure.”

Twenty-nine-year old Udita Chakrabarti, who identifies as bisexual, first discovered pornography when she was 18, on an old cellphone with grainy photo quality. “I didn’t understand what was happening.” Two years later, she was watching porn on her laptop while her parents were asleep and “for quite some time believed that all women could squirt or fellate without gagging.”


Watch: Sex Ed in India


For a generation of Indian millennials, including me, and now generation Z who grew up in the age of smartphones, porn shaped our sexual coming of age. Indians watching a lot of porn has never been the secret. According to PornHub’s 2017 review, porn consumption in the country increased by 75 per cent last year when mobile data rates dropped, mostly in tier-2 and tier-3 towns. The estimated number of smartphone users in India is expected to reach 442.5 million by 2022, giving Indian teens even easier access to mobile phones, the Internet, and of course porn.

In the times of #MeToo and especially in the absence of any kind of sex education in schools across the country, how does pornography shape generation Z’s ideas about sex, pleasure and consent?

On a hot March afternoon, I met a group of students at IIT Delhi at Hauz Khas in South Delhi. My question to them was simple: Who was their first sex educator? Their answer was simpler. Peers and porn, they told me. “You get to know that something called porn exists from your friends. And then you go to porn,” says Mayur Adarsh*, 21. His friends nod in agreement. Adarsh’s first surprise was when his girlfriend didn’t enjoy “something as basic as fingering and boob stimulation.” He follows it what sounds like an appeal for validation, “But it happens in all porn videos.” It’s left him with the conclusion that what he did wasn’t necessarily wrong, “I guess it depends from girl to girl.”

For Siddharth Agrawal*, another 21-year old, it took a few years before he realized porn had started affecting how he thought of girls and what they liked. He says, “For the longest time I believed that girls get turned on by rough and wild play. But in reality, it’s not the case. Not all girls like rough play.” Adarsh chimes in at this point, “I can say that not all girls like to suck dick. There is nothing in there for them.”

Ayesha Seth, a 29-year old architect from Punjabi Bagh in West Delhi tells me, “Porn videos make it look like a girl just loves to suck dick. And that a woman’s orgasm is not important.”

Mainstream porn (including LGBTQ+ and BDSM porn) has often been critiqued for being shot from a misogynistic male perspective. And more often than not, it’s a critique that holds true. Indian women, also voracious consumers of porn (about 30 percent of Indian porn consumers are women) often complain that there isn’t enough feminist porn available. One of the editors of ‘The Feminist Porn BookTristan Taormino—who is also an adult filmmaker—defines feminist porn as this: “As both an established and emerging genre of pornography, feminist porn uses sexually explicit imagery to contest and complicate dominant representations of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, ability, age, body type, and other identity markers. It does not assume a singular female viewer, but acknowledges multiple female (and other) viewers with many different preferences.”

When porn is used by adolescents as a guide on ‘how to have sex’ and are taking notes from it on ‘how to behave with women’, it is bound to give rise to a generation of men and women who will have skewed sense of what sex, pleasure and more importantly, consent feels like.

Ritu Chandra* started sexting a guy she matched with on Tinder. One day, after work she drove to Gurgaon, to his apartment. She hugged him. He caressed her lips. And in a matter of seconds, he was forcing himself on her. It took Ritu by surprise. In her shock she didn’t know what to do. She hadn’t expected him to be like that. “I kept saying no, no, no.” On WhatsApp, the two had exchanged various scenarios in which they like to fuck. Ritu tells me, “He saw me as that Tinder girl who used to send him racy sexts that would drive him crazy with desire and lust.”

For Rahul Rawat, a 20-year old who works with Yash Raj Films as an intern in the direction department in Mumbai, watching porn taught him this: Some women have orgasms. Some. “In porn that I watched it is always the men coming,” he tells me. “I really believed that only some women can orgasm.”

Lacking porn literacy—which aims to make teenagers or anyone for that matter, aware of how gender, relationships, sexuality, consent etc. work in porn movies—the younger millennials probably need this education to caution them against the fact that sex in real life is not like what they see in porn.

Consent remains the most contentious issue. Everyone I spoke with in the age group of 18-30 felt ambiguous about it. Discussing the Aziz Ansari story with a bunch of students, everyone felt a little uncomfortable around the topic. “I don’t blame Aziz,” said one. “The girl gave a lot of nonverbal cues that could have been misread,” chimed another. The notion they get from porn and how that translates in their real lives were at odds with each other. Vijay Sharma* from IIT Delhi thinks consent works mostly non-verbally for him. “It is mostly gestures, if I am flirting with someone. If she leans in too when I lean in, I take that as consent.” He tells me “Nobody actually says the words ‘I want to have sex with you’.

For Ritu Chandra, consent was violated. There was no clear negotiation. There was just a haze of confusion and miscommunication of signs.

Shweta, 27, who identifies as a lesbian, met me at an event organized by Gaysi magazine in New Delhi. She had her own issues with the porn she had consumed. “Not all bodies can be like those bodies they show in porn.” And because she saw only one body type on screen, she “developed a slightly distorted view of what bodies actually looked like.”

Kanupriya (second name withheld on request), 25, a media consultant, for the longest time believed that the female genitals should not be covered by pubic hair. Again, this notion was created by porn. “First thing you learn from watching porn is that women’s genital parts should be shaved. You start believing that is how it should be. It makes you hate it [the pubic hair].”

She was 21 when she watched porn for the first time. When it came to orgasms, she absorbed the idea that among heterosexual couples—she identifies as a cisgender woman—it takes a man for a woman to orgasm. That it is only through penetrative sex that you can climax. “It puts power in the hands of a man.”

This notion was reinforced when she climaxed the first time she had sex. “I didn’t know anything about masturbation at that time.” Her boyfriend introduced her to self-stimulation.

Later she understood, “My sexuality is important, my wants are valid, I don't exist as a foil but as an individual. And that labels are, and have always been, ways to discredit women, to shove their voice in all aspects down.” She says, “Reading helped a lot to. Kate Miller. Simone De Beauvoir.”

Rawat believes that he has to be well-endowed to please a woman. “Porn acts as a teacher and [it] satisfies hunger and curiosity, and also educates people of what actually happens while having sex,” he says.

SO WHAT IS SEX EDUCATION, AND WHY IT IS IMPORTANT?
My school in Srinagar would separate boys from girls from class VI, seating them in different classrooms. Mingling wasn’t allowed. There was a 30-minute class on ‘Deeniyat’ (Islamic studies) but nothing on sex education. In class VII, when the biology teacher tried to explain how the human reproductive system worked, it was an awkward moment. Nothing had prepared us teenage girls for a discussion on human anatomy. The teacher skipped explaining human intercourse entirely. But of course, we were very well versed with how amoeba and plants reproduced.

In India, sex education has traditionally faced resistance from lawmakers, parents and even teachers. So much so, that the nomenclature had to be changed to ‘Adolescent Education’ to make it more palatable. In the ongoing debate about whether schools should introduce comprehensive sex education, the Ministry of Human Resource Development in October 2016 under Smriti Irani, forced an expert panel of members to shorten its recommendations and asked them to avoid the use of words ‘sex’ and ‘sexual’ in the document. One time Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan also called for a ban on ‘sex education’ in schools.

Dr Pankaj Arora, Associate Professor at Delhi University, also the first person in India with a doctorate in ‘Sex Education in Schools’ says, “Indian masses don’t approve of the concept of sex education. At different times, different SCERTs (Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh) came up with modules for teaching sexuality education. But teachers were not willing to talk to students about matters related to sex or sexuality.”

Vani Viswanathan, Senior Program Associate with TARSHI, a reproductive and sexual health non-profit organization tells me, “When Indian parents hear ‘sex education’, they think someone will teach children how to have sex. It alarms them. But sexuality education is more comprehensive, and a broader term that includes age-appropriate education about puberty, body image, relationships, sex and sexuality.”

What further complicates the situation is section 377 of the Indian constitution that criminalizes homosexuality. No matter what curriculum or module the government tries out, it isn’t going to be inclusive. And how can sexuality education be complete without being inclusive?

Gautam Yadav, a 27-year old program officer with Humsafar Trust, a non-profit organization that works with LGBTQ communities, identifies as gay. In the absence of any comprehensive sexuality education when he was in school, he struggled to come to terms with his sexuality. “There was no counsellor to talk to, no one to tell me that this is okay. Students bullied and taunted me for walking like a girl.” Had there been some kind of awareness or education on gender, sexuality, and sexual identity among other things, in his school, Yadav believes he would not have felt excluded or alienated. “One time somebody called me a hijra in front of 40-50 students in school. I was humiliated. I dropped out of that school because I couldn’t go back.”

In December 2017, a school in Kerala suspended a class XII boy for hugging a girl. A Kolkata school in March 2018 forced 10 students to sign a ‘confession’ letter stating they were lesbians; their way of ‘disciplining’ them. This points to a desperate need for sensitization workshops in schools for teachers and parents.

The idea behind introducing sex education in schools across the country was to reduce teenage pregnancies, HIV/AIDS infections, gender-based violence and child sexual abuse by young adults. So why has the implementation of sex education failed in India?

Reema Ahmad, a sexuality educator based in Agra in Uttar Pradesh and co-founder at Candidly, conducts workshops and sessions on child sexual abuse awareness, sexuality, gender and media across the country. She says, “How did we change from a culture that celebrated desire, sexuality and sensuality in the medieval ages to a nation where the mere mention of sex education is enough to make parents and teachers rise up in arms? The answer lies in the way Indian culture gradually imbibed Victorian ethics and views on morality which were restrictive.”

“Most people balk at the idea of sex education because they think it will encourage children to experiment sexually and give them more knowledge than what they're ready for.” On the contrary, the World Health Organization reports that formal sex education reduces sexual debut or the moment they become sexually active. “It gives them the right tools to make informed choices about their bodies, be it in terms of relationships or recognizing and reporting abuse. And most importantly, it teaches kids to respect personal choice and boundaries, lays a solid foundation of consent thereby preventing abusive tendencies.” In fact, there have been studies to show that in Western European countries such as Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands, where comprehensive sex education is part of the school curriculum, the number of teen pregnancies, abuse and STDs have significantly decreased. (Western Europe pioneered the introduction of CSE programs 50 years ago, according to the report.)

The report, titled, “International technical guidance on sexuality education” goes on to say that “in Estonia, for example, several research results demonstrate the strong correlation over time between the development of CSE and the steady improvement of sexual health indicators among young people. These recent improvements, which include lower rates of unintended pregnancy, abortion and HIV infection, are attributed to the development of a mandatory CSE program in schools, in combination with the evolution of youth-friendly sexual health service delivery.”

In India, it is no surprise, given the lack of CSE in schools, that teenagers are taking notes from pornography. From the very wrong notion that only ‘some’ women can orgasm, to how all women can fellate without gagging, or squirt, to body image issues and body hair ideas. Many told me that they fear that if they don’t do something they have seen in porn, they feel that their partner might not like it.

So while some believe that a man has to be well-endowed to please a woman, that enjoyable sex is only of the penetrative kind, they are in for a surprise. Conversations around consent remain foggy. A lot of girls I spoke with were confused about them ‘owing’ sex to a guy just because he paid for the date. A few said that talking about consent with a date was ‘awkward’. While porn may have its lovers and detractors, the question of what Indian teenagers are taking away from it about relationships, gender and consent still remains to be seen.

Names with * have been changed on request.

Follow Maroosha Muzaffar on Twitter .

This article originally appeared on VICE IN.