Let’s (Not) Talk About Sex: Why India’s Proposed Porn Ban Won’t Solve The Real Problem

Posted on November 14, 2014 in Sex, Specials, Taboos

By Shambhavi Saxena:

The Telecom and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has proposed shared efforts with India’s Internet Service Providers (ISP) to ban pornography in the country. The strategy is straightforward — block over 40 million porn websites from around the world that are currently accessible in India. However, the motivations and anticipated outcome of the ban appear highly dubious and need to be examined.

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The principal concern is to eliminate child pornography. This is noble enough, but past events have repeatedly shown that banning controversial items produces the opposite of the desired effect. Bans make poor deterrents, more often than not elevating the value and demand of the item they seek to ban. This move by India’s government is rather limited in perspective, aiming at a superficial end. The blocking of porn websites in no way assures the end of production, distribution and consumption of child pornography in India. It is more likely to spark off a system of bootlegging, so to speak.

One needs to understand where the government is coming from, on this issue, and there is a clear moralistic basis to it, which is to be expected but disappointing nonetheless. There is a desire to protect the “cultural sensibilities”, which are apparently ruptured by pornography. Just a gentle reminder that these same cultural sensibilities are responsible for millions of girls not receiving sound education and equal economic access; the same cultural sensibilities have created such an intense institution of hatred and abuse towards non-heteronormative gender and sexual expression; the sensibility that would have you believe “she was asking for it” and that forgives “pissing in public but not kissing in public”; a sensibility that places undue pressure upon men to be breadwinning poster-boys for ‘masculinity’ and demands of women the unobtrusivequalities of ‘femininity’; that very sensibility that has given us gems such as sati and child marriage, is now being protected loudly and proudly, while the real problem of pornography is too taboo to even speak about.

There’s nothing quite so wrong with the idea of pornography in the same way that there isn’t anything wrong with the act of sex itself. What is understandably unsettling is the voyeurism and the consumption of a human body, but feminist porn has revealed that there is scope for consent, comfort, respect and even diverse representation, if you take porn to be any other form of visual media.

The trouble with porn, as an unregulated industry, is that in spite of resembling a thriving profession, like catering or dentistry, there is no guarantee of pay and no way of ensuring the emotional and medical well-being of the performers. The danger lies in porn as a site of abuse, exploitation and degradation, which it most certainly is. Many times, porn can and does convey very warped notions about the performativity of sexuality. Sometimes, viewers begin to accept and emulate the underlying abuse and degrading (and degraded) behaviours which porn has succeeded in normalizing. Mainstream porn is also just as guilty of manufacturing unrealistic expectations of the human body as any other form of popularly consumed visual media. The way in which porn is mostly filmed begs discussion as well. There is a clear pandering to the male gaze in the majority of porn that is produced, which depends upon camera angles and focal points that reduce a female performer to the parts of her body served up like a three course meal. These are among some of the real concerns about porn that the custodians of “cultural sensibility” have not addressed, or even taken the time to understand.

The government’s “moral obligation to society”, in this case, is limited to blocking sites. It shouldn’t. The limitations of such a proposition are clear enough:

– Blocking porn hosting websites, in practical terms, is tedious business. It will put a lot of strain on internet traffic, and slow down the network.
– Blocking, en masse, requires major upgradation work to current infrastructure, to be able to keep internet speeds up.
– Proxy sites and other means of sharing files will still be available to internet users. Sadly, where there is a will, there is a way.
– This is no way guarantees the end of child pornography. We may even see an aggressive and doubly exploitative response from the industry in a bid to satisfy demands and keep raking in money.

The government has suggested collaborating with NGOs to “create awareness” about the “ill effects of porn”, but makes no mention about the issues of producing porn in the first place.

The government’s plan is to say “don’t watch porn” instead of urging persons to ask “why am I still watching porn?” It will relegate “porn” to a discreet, shifty-eyed whisper, instead of recognizing it as legitimate socio-cultural phenomena, and unpacking its implications on society, thus prohibiting any chance of introspection and change on a deeper level.

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