Cyber Sexy: My first tryst with understanding porn

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Richa Kaul Padte is precise and unflinching as she attempts to debunk a number of popular beliefs around pornography.

The first time I heard the word ‘f***’ was perhaps in class 5 or 6. A friend had heard it floating around, and whispered it in my ear. We didn’t know what it meant exactly, but we sure knew that it was a ‘big-people word’ that we could use only when we were alone and that by itself, was extremely thrilling.

By the time I came across the word ‘porn’, I was in class 9 or 10. Again, I wasn’t sure of what it meant, but between giggles and whispers, I understood a broad definition, and somehow, no one ever thought to mention or talk about it ever again.

When I finally got my hands on Richa Kaul Padte’s “Cyber Sexy: Rethinking Pornography,” I was at least comforted and amused by how common an experience like that was. For once, I didn’t have to be ashamed of my lack of knowledge, and could, in fact, learn even more.

That is where the beauty of Padte’s book lies — it talks about porn, in detail, unabashedly from every angle and then some.

Cyber Sexy’ starts by challenging the definition of pornography itself, tracing its origin from the word prostitute and the notion of challenging a woman even thinking about sex.

Erotic literature? Sexting? Fan fiction? Nude photos? Role-play? In Padte’s book, everything is porn and yet, nothing is porn.

An eye-opener, the book does exactly what it promises to do — help you ‘rethink’ pornography.

Padte methodically debunks a number of popular beliefs around pornography. In response to whether pornography leads to the objectification of women, she writes: “a lot of the content is created by women themselves, so why are we denying them agency?”

Cyber Sexy attempts to be inclusive, talking to people on the intersections of disability (blindness), marginalised genders and sexualities (trans, asexual), and the range of desires (MILF, BDSM, as you please), and men. The book is a must-read for the conversation it starts. Very few books are as comfortable and easy to read as this and it shall definitely win you over.

My only complaint, if I may, is that in a book as deeply researched as this one, what is striking is a questionable sample size on which all her research is based. Yes, there are innumerable voices heard throughout — but who are these people?

The book mentions the famous quote of American judge Potter Stewart, “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it.” The quote works as both, a basis and a summary of the book.

Padte is precise, unflinching and leaves you empathetic to the idea of pornography by the end. The reader learns a lot, discovers a lot, and most of all, hopefully, realises by the end: “What ‘counts’ as porn? Screw them, you tell me.”

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