Coffee with Kamala Das: Right to pleasure for Indian women?

Soulful conversation 

One of my friend recommended me to be a part of a discussion which was about the exploring of sexuality, by reading of Kamala Das’s poem ‘An introduction’. She told me that it was to be held in Atta Gallata, Koramangala. I really didn’t know if I should go or not. I mean I was too confused but later on I made up my mind to go and be part of the discussion.

In case you are wondering, why did I go there or what made me go there . To be honest I didn’t go there because I am a feminist. I went there for poetry. I mean poetry is said to be something that moves our souls beyond this world and helps us to connect overselves with the cosmos. I am a huge fan of poetry. I love reading and writing poetry. I often sit in my balcony, sipping coffee and I write or rather I should say I spill  the ink. Poetry, for me its magic. It’s a living, breathing presence in my life. People often tell me that I write well. To be precise I write a lot of Urdu poetry. It carries huge amount of value . It’s deep, sheer and perfect. And rightly so.   But I panic a lot . I have social an anxiety so I don’t have the nerves to face the stage or be a part of any discussion.

 

When I came to know about the fact that Hidden pockets is organising a program about poetry, and its about Kamala Das. I was really happy to hear about it  but as soon as I came to know that it is not just a session but a discussion and each one of us have to speak and talk, I was really anxious. I mean I wanted to go but then the fear of facing the audience made me worried. 

Somehow I made my mind and went there. To be frank enough to say, I was little shivering as I sat under the spotlight. I didn’t know what to do though I was familiar with the poem ‘An introduction’. I mean it’s one of my favourite poems. After a while people came and one by one all the empty chairs were filled. People who were unknown to me, totally strangers. I became nervous, yet again. I told the organizers beforehand that ‘i am going to talk less ‘ and they were approachable enough . 

 

Kamala Das : An Introduction 

“Then … I wore a shirt and my
Brother’s trousers, cut my hair short and ignored
My womanliness. Dress in sarees, be girl
Be wife, they said. Be embroiderer, be cook,
Be a quarreller with servants. Fit in. Oh,
Belong, cried the categorizers. Don’t sit..”

 

So here it started. We all introduced ourselves. Some of them sang, which was an ice breaker for the discussion. Everyone had that broad smile on their faces. And once we started of with the poem, I was the one who started to put give opinions and  interpretation on the opening stanza or lines. I was actually moved by the lines she has mentioned in her poem. It’s so good. Shamelessly she is talking about sexuality and things which are a taboo in our society. My opinion was that why not? Why not to be fearless enough to love someone we want to. Why not to have sex or feel the pleasure even before marriage. Why not to wear crop tops and walk in the deserted or even the crowded streets. Why?

  One by one everyone read the different stanzas of the same poem. Many different interpretations came, there was no right and wrong. Everyone was putting their words and pouring out their thoughts without any fear. 

I was surprised, not only I was speaking but I was fully indulged in the discussion. I mean i spoke a lot. Gradually my fear became my strength. I no longer was a weak or other sex but felt equal to other gender too or maybe same gender but with lot of energy and enthusiasm. I  was full of zest and full of energy too The session turned out to be a “Soulful Conversation” for me.

Kamala Das and her poetry was a living breathing presence for me at that time . We all spoke about exposing our sexualities, we discussed orgasm, what is it to be a woman and what not. It was so great to be part of such discussion. I don’t think I have ever had such good time with people whom I don’t even know. And I’m glad that they didn’t judge me were listening to what I was saying . I feel that talking about anything or everything in front of unknown crowd or strangers is better. I mean I don’t know about others much, but I  comfortable enough to open up before strangers other than the people I know.

Some people who were familiar with Malayalam language, read out the original text by Kamala Das. As the discussion ended. We all just like a new family, spoke to each other. One on one . Shook hands, laughed, smiled. To keep up with the funky trend we also took a selfie. 

I’m sure I ain’t going to forget this discussion ever in my life. I am looking forward for such discussions more and more . 

Hidden pockets gave me a gift ‘ To Face My Fear’ and I will always cherish this gift ! Thanks Jasmine, Aisha, Sekulu and Aren.

-Nashafa Firdous Mir : I am a very moody and choosy kind of person. I am a weirdo and hardly I am comfortable enough to indulge into a discussion but this discussion was so good that I didn’t even feel uncomfortable for once.

 

Photo and video courtesy : Kiran Sopanam and Shikhil.

Can Indian courts handle sexual pleasure?

The word ‘sex’ has been tainted, maligned and mostly misused within the legal institutions. ‘Sexual pleasure’ as a theme is yet to be explored within the legal jurisprudence. In Kamlesh Vashwani Supreme Court order (2014), the judge while delivering the order stated that “things like (porn) lead to prurient interests in the younger generation and are responsible for rising instances of sexual exploitation.” He was not referring to any established study co-relating violence and sexual pleasure. He was simply exhibiting sex negativity prevalent in the court rooms.

Sex negativity remains unquestioned by courts, legislature and legal scholarship. Even activist spaces have focused more on issue of sexual violence against women and have not paid enough attention to promotion of women’s sexual rights, except in the area of reproductive rights. Indian Feminism’s engagement with law has been limited to the violence aspect of sex while losing an opportunity to enter in a dialogue with ‘sexual pleasure’. If law has been used in the past as a reformatory instrument in feminist struggles, it can also be used to redefine and re-analyse feminist relations with sex (the act) and ‘sexual pleasure’

Is there is a negative approach to the term ‘sex’ in our legal system. If there is, can we replace this approach with a sex positive framework and do we tend to benefit from this exercise?

One of the immediate effects of the December 16th incident was the increase in interest taken by the commercial enterprises around safety for women. The state machineries also displayed increased interest in the safety of the woman. Legal mechanisms also took a similar route in the form of a Criminal Amendment Act, 2013 where it resorted to criminal justice system and equated justice with legal enforcement. The new law introduced a lot many categories of crimes and new relations were created between law and sexuality. In a way, Criminal Amendment Act, 2013 created more methods to protect the idea of a woman.
The increased surveillance on the women was justified in the name of safety.

The sex negativity inherent in these different initiatives ended up curtailing women instead of providing spaces for them. The new law retained the sex negative language by evoking the notions of modesty and chastity of a woman and simply expanded the range of activities that threatened or blemished this archaic understanding of female sexuality. This new law could have been the space and time to demand sexual speech, a possibility to have a sexual choice.

Many laws in India rely on the assumption that sexual pleasure merits constraint because it is inherently negative. In Ranjit Udheshi (1968) Supreme Court judgment, it was held that “obscenity by itself has extremely “poor value in the-propagation of ideas, opinions and information of public interest or profit”. The exceptions provided to obscenity law clearly lays down that if the work comes from a scholarly, literary, artistic and political (hereinafter referred as SLAP) values it will provided with constitutional protection. However Sexual pleasure derived is not itself a good enough reason and thus is not worthy of protection.

In recent case, Aveek Sarkar judgment Supreme Court while dealing with an issue of obscenity held that we need to apply the community standards while defining obscenity. The court held that “Only those sex-related materials which have a tendency of “exciting lustful thoughts” can be held to be obscene, but the obscenity has to be judged from the point of view of an average person, by applying contemporary community standards”. This was clearly a shift from Hicklin Rule applied in Ranjit Udeshi (1968) which was more about the effect of the content. Inspite of the expansion of the definition and understanding around obscenity, courts were not willing to engage with the notion of sex in a positive framework.

Sexual pleasure is considered to have poor/negligible value. Sexual speech is not considered as speech and laws curbing sexual speech are justified in name of public order and morality. For purpose of law obscenity is no speech.

If we challenge this assumption, and commence on something like sexual pleasure is valuable, can this benefit laws engaging with sexual activities?

Sexual pleasure is mostly subjective and is achieved by individuals in different ways. Value of sexual pleasure is evident by the ends to which people go and the significant unwanted consequences they endure to achieve it. Sex positive laws are laws that perceive a certain value in sexual activity and allocate some value to sexual pleasure. Sex- positive laws are laws that inherently do not assume that sex is bad thing, and focuses on other aspects in a sexual activity instead of only focusing on the sexual act. It perceives that both men and women can experience sexual pleasure and can provide their consent for the act.
If sexual pleasure is considered to be valuable and is provided equal recognition as sexual speech, it would directly affect a lot of laws which works on the principle of sex negativity. Sex positive frameworks would question the less constitutional protection guaranteed to sexual speech than speech that promotes violence. Using this sex positive framework, the piece tries to discuss effect of it on one specific law: the obscenity laws. This law prohibits sale, circulation and display of any objects that can have a depraving effect on anyone coming in contact with it.

Whenever there is any discussion around sex in legal discourse harm principle is always cited as the main reason, instead of citing sexual pleasure as a reason for the ban. In cases of obscenity, state has to demonstrate that harm is both imminent and likely to occur as a result of that speech. However an offensive material retains constitutional protection if it contains any of the scholarly, literary, artistic and political values. The law seeks to protect not those who can protect themselves but also those whose prurient minds take secret pleasure from erotic writings. Obscenity test is based on the assumption that law needs to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Law prioritizes prevention of unlawful violence over sexual pleasure. Much of the law regulates distribution to willing consumers instead of protecting individuals from exploitation.

Also most of the times, the harm is projected to be on women. There is an unspoken assumption that sexual pleasure can lead to increase in violence against women.

Sex toys are one of these objects that are indirectly affected by these laws. The fact that sex toys/ articles and such related products ‘ carry the impression’ of being ‘obscene’, any commercial dealing in such articles always carries with it a certain element of risk of attracting obscenity laws.

Sex positive framework would help us admit that sex toys can be valuable for some and there is no immediate harm. It opens up discussions around sex toys and institutions flouring around it. This framework removes the dubious distinction between sexual and non-sexual values (scholarly, literary, artistic and political values). In a sex positive framework, one can argue that sexual pleasure is also valuable and hence would require protection. It also negates the assumption that sexual pleasure result in violence against women as woman too are seen as capable of demanding sexual pleasure.
Sex positive frameworks can also help us in dealing with emotions which can be something more than offending moral values in the case of obscenity. For example, Martha Nussbaum in her work Hiding from Humanity (2004) offers an alternative method at looking at obscenity laws. She contends that obscenity laws are catering something more than the moral values. It also deals with spaces which evokes disgust and regulates it. This factor disgust has been expressed in some of our Indian Supreme Court judgments also.
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CONCLUSIONS:
In most of the cases, sex can be a wonderful practise, and can be performed with consent of partners, without violating the consent of anyone. It is necessary to shift the focus to consent from the current practise of locating violence in sex.

This piece has only engaged with obscenity laws in sex positive framework. Similarly Rape laws, family laws and constitutional laws can also benefit from a sex positive framework. Positive value to sexual pleasure, not only provides us with a better definition of obscenity which is currently based on a narrow understanding of sexual speech, it also helps in developing a language of consent. Sex-negative framework has taken us up to a point where we locate the violence in sex. It does not mean sex only involves violence. It is necessary to focus on the right of the woman to feel sexual pleasure, which gets denied in a sex negative framework

A sex positive approach transforms the debate surrounding several areas of law and requires scholars to undertake a more honest assessment. It provides us with a framework for laws that recognizes the value of sexual pleasure. Theorists have demonstrated with increasing sophistication how categories in law form part of the social process, through which new gendered and sexualized subjectivities are created. Sex-positive framework helps us incorporating languages around different forms of sexualities and helps us in developing sensitive attitude towards different genders. The recent NALSA judgment was a step towards in this regard. It provides us with a model – a safer sex negotiations and a set of better practises.

Acceptability of female condoms In urban India: A study

Hidden Pockets  had the opportunity to chat with Jessamyn Bowling, Research Manager of a study conducted on ‘Acceptability of the female condoms In urban India.’ The principal researcher of the study is Debby Herbenick and the study was funded by the Gates Foundation.

Hidden Pockets: What was the focus of the study?

Jessamyn Bowling: In India, there aren’t as many good mechanisms for contraception that are within women’s control. Barrier methods in the case of relationships that are not actually monogamous or for people who are doing sex work then having a barrier method that the female can insert herself is preferred.

Hidden Pockets: What was the demographic of the participants?

Bowling: We worked in Delhi and Chennai. We restricted it to cis-gender women. So female and women identified who were over the age of 18 with a male partner and willing to use a female condom were part of the study. In Chennai, we had a little bit of issues just gathering people from a larger community due to the floods. So we specifically worked with a group of people who occasionally engage in sex work. So we had diversity in responses. There were similarities and differences (in the responses). However in Delhi, we worked with groups of people that were organized more around their neighborhood. In Delhi, we also had two groups of men because we wanted to also understand some men’s perspectives. We wanted different suggestions that they (the men) would like because we know that to get women to use female condom, it’s really important that their partner likes it as well. Out of the total of 69, 22 of them were men. The inclusion criterion was the same for the men. They just had to be over 18 and had to be living in Delhi and be willing to use a female condom with their female partner.

Hidden Pockets: How did you go about achieving the objectives of your study? What was the research process involved for your study?

Bowling: We did a focus group discussion with 69 individuals. We then did interviews with just a few individuals just to confirm findings from the larger group discussions. All the people in the focus groups were married and the people in the interviews were dating people. We gave people female condoms to use before the focus group discussion or interviews. We asked them to use them and then make sure that you know they had used it before we had the focus group or before we had the interviews. We asked them in the focus group about their experiences with using it (female condom) and what they would suggest to make it better.

Hidden Pockets: Which was the brand of female condom given to the participants, both men and women?

Bowling: We gave them the FC2. The FC2. It is pretty widespread in the US. So I wanted to be give them one from the US and then one that is available in India. I had ordered for one called Velvet through amazon but the shipment never arrived so we were only able to give them one of the FC2s.

Hidden Pockets: What’s the lifespan of a female condom? How many times can a woman use it or is it just for one use?

Bowling: It is officially only for one use. She can insert it for hours ahead of intercourse though but for some populations that accessing the female condom is really a problem. The female condom is stronger in material than the male condom is. Some male condoms that are made out of the same material but they’re rare and expensive. So technically the same partner can use it more than once but you’re not going to take it out and wash it or anything. But if you’re having multiple ejaculations during the same event and it’s with the same person then that generally considered a relatively safe thing to do. You just want to make sure that the female condom is still in place so that the ejaculate isn’t moving around and entering into the vagina but generally its only marketed sort of quote on quote for a single event I guess a single use.

Hidden Pockets: Apart from the cyclone, what were the other challenges that you faced with conducting this study?

Bowling: In Chennai, we had an issue with language. We asked about how sexual pleasure is important for female condoms. We literally had three different people trying to translate the phrase ‘sexual pleasure’ into Tamil. Similarly, in Delhi, the word for clit (in Hindi) wasn’t something our community partners used regularly. So they looked it up and they found the word but if the people working in reproductive health for women don’t use it regularly then obviously the participants may not know it as well. These issues were unexpected. It’s not so much like a real challenge but it’s like an interesting piece that we were working around. This is why working with the community partners was really important. There may have been some participants who didn’t actually use the female condom but they might have lied about it in the focus groups. That might be possible but we don’t really think so because it didn’t seem like that was really a major barrier. It seemed like people were reporting pretty honestly about what was happening with them.

Hidden Pockets: How aware would you say the women (participants) were about female condoms?

Bowling: I think that they’ve heard of it and that’s it. But they’re available apparently in only one or two shops in Delhi but are so expensive, people would say yes I’ve heard of it but they’ve never seen it. And they certainly didn’t know how to use it so we did a demonstration for them which they said was really helpful. Their partners also didn’t really know about it either. There were one or two people in the interviews who were with a little higher level of education who might have seen it on a Buzzfeed video or somewhere online but they hadn’t used it before. From what I understand, female condom can cost anywhere between 200 and 500 (for one condom). You can get them a little bit cheaper online but honestly it is nowhere close to what people pay for male condoms so that it’s just not viable at this point. It why would they know about something that is not feasible? But people aren’t entirely ignorant of them.

Hidden Pockets: How aware would you say the men were about female condom compared to women?

Bowling: Maybe one or two (men) have heard about it but not very aware at all. I wouldn’t say the women are really aware. They just know that this thing exists and the men know less than that. But honestly I think the fact is that the women didn’t really know what it looks like, let alone know how to use it. Even those who are aware of it, don’t think it to be really important because they can’t get a hold of it (due to the cost).

Hidden Pockets: What were some concerns of women who used it regarding the usage of female condoms?

Bowling: One main challenge was that the insertion takes a little bit of getting used to. We had some women participants who were familiar with using a menstrual cup. Those participants were more comfortable with using it. It’s like a skill to fold the condom up and insert it inside of you. The inner ring was something that they didn’t really like. I asked them about how they would redesign it and that’s one of the things they would redesign. Since they weren’t used to using it while having sex, they were worried that the outer ring would flip inside. So the mental aspect of sexual pleasure was a little bit reduced in that front because they were concerned about it.

Hidden Pockets: What did they like about the female condom?

Bowling: They liked a lot of things about it. They liked the fact that it was in their control. Most said if my partner’s lazy and doesn’t or they’re intoxicated and doesn’t want to use a male condom then I have the ability to be in control of it. Many people both women and men liked how it felt. This comes with some lubricant already inside. They liked how that felt extra slippery. Then women also really enjoyed being able to after sex, if the man had ejaculated, just be able to pull this out. It was an easier clean up for them compared to unprotected sex.

Hidden Pockets: What do you think could be done to increase awareness about female condom among women?

Bowling: I think it’s important to have the government on board in terms of increasing not just awareness but availability. So these aren’t really available in the dispensaries. My understanding is that even if you increase awareness it doesn’t matter because you’re just going to create the demand for something that is so expensive. Even to order them online, the ones made in India, it is nowhere near the cost of male condom so why would people use them? Why would someone pay so much for it? People (participants) suggested that marketing be put out on television and radio and some billboards as well using film actors, bollywood actors and actresses in the same way that male condoms have used to make male condoms seem normal.

 

To read more about User’s experience of a Female Condom : http://www.hidden-pockets.com/female-condom-experimenting-scheme/

Podcast: What is pleasure for you – Tanzila Khan

Has anyone ever asked you what is pleasure for you? Tanzila Khan gets personal with Aisha Lovely George and shares her stories on this podcast. She tries to reclaim the word “pleasure ” from the sexual connotation. For her it’s success. She discusses her idea of body, idea of sexual fantasy and what all can be done with it.

Can you get pleasure without a partner? Can we have conversations about it without sex? Can it be about food? What all options do we have? Does sex restricts the idea of pleasure for some groups? Can woman talk about pleasure? Is there a guilt element that prevents women from engaging with the idea of sex? Is there a class angle, can it only be enjoyed by people from certain class? Do we all long for pleasure?

These are some of the questions with which Tanzila in this podcast asks us to expand our understanding of pleasure. A woman with disability tries to take back the idea of pleasure and fight for it.

Kishmish Products

“Medication for psychosocial disabilities have effect on sexuality” – Ratnaboli Ray, Anjali

Our conversation with Ratnaboli Ray, Founder – Anjali Mental Health Rights Organisation began as a conversation around pleasure and politics present in the lives of persons with psychosocial disabilities. Understanding the intricacies of the politics around pleasure in these lives requires understanding psychosocial disabilities. What is a psychosocial disability? We thus find our into the web of pagalpan (madness)

Pagalpan:

Hidden Pockets: How would you define psychosocial disabilities or pagalpan?

Firstly, psychosocial disability is about the person who is experiencing mental health issues. Psychosocial disability is a language that has come into force through the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCPRD). Secondly, psychosocial disability as a concept moves away from the clinical medical gaze. It lays emphasis on a person’s life trajectory or lived-in experiences.

Hidden Pockets: How different are people with psychosocial disabilities from people without these disabilities with respect to sexual pleasure?

You need to realize that psychosocial disability is an invisible disability. Unless and until I tell you that I have a psychosocial disability, you wouldn’t know. They’d pass off as ‘normal’ people. With disabled sexuality, you can look at a body and know what the body can or cannot do with respect to sexual engagement or sexuality. Therefore there are complicated conversations around how normal it should be as far as sex is concerned. The understanding of sexuality of a disabled body can be mainstreamed. Or the disabled body could construct a different kind of a story about sexuality. As far as psychosocial disability is concerned, the body doesn’t reveal anything unless and until you are wandering on the street or locked up in an institution. Our experience shows that mental health conditions or recovery at different stages can intertwine with sexuality in different ways. For example, there could be a person with a psychosocial disability having problems with moods for 15 days in a month. During those 15 days, the person’s sexual expression is dependent on different factors such as mood, where the individual is, the culture and the context enveloping him or her. There is no common script for sexual pleasure or sexual expression as far as people with psychosocial disabilities are concerned. It varies.

Hidden Pockets: With no single template for their sexual expression, what are some common challenges that people with psychosocial disabilities face?

There are many challenges. Finding a sexual partner for persons with psychosocial disabilities is one of the major problems. It is fine as long as you don’t disclose your identity as a person with psychosocial disabilities. When you are dating or like someone, you would like to disclose who you are. You want to tell the other person that you are a person with psychosocial disabilities. And the moment they disclose their identity is when they lose their sexual partners. They are abandoned because they are conceived and perceived the way they are portrayed in popular imagination. This is because of the stigma associated with psychosocial disabilities. I think it has also to do with perception that people with psychosocial disabilities are not potentially sexual. The biggest problem lies with people questioning the sexual potential of people with psychosocial disabilities.

There is also the huge problem of the effects of medication. We know for sure that medicines given to control symptoms have side effects on their sexuality. Men may have erectile problems. Women may have lack of lubrication and dryness of vagina though the people with psychosocial disabilities tend to internalize it and think of it as normal and often do not bring up these problems  even with their consultants.

There are many other issues like where one lives. The set of challenges faced by people living on the streets are different from those living in institutions. The challenges tend to be different if the person has recovered and is living with the family. The challenges vary as and when the subject moves from one location to another but they are similar in certain contexts: like the challenges faced in the institution, are more or less similar to the challenges faced within families, since families are also mini-institutions largely mimicking institutional values.

There are legal challenges emanating from perceptions of non-affirmative sexuality. Even the United Nation Convention on Rights of Person with Disabilities (UNCRPD) doesn’t talk about sexuality in an affirmative manner. It still talks about sexual abuse, sexual violence and marriage. Therefore the discourse of sexuality is primarily limited within the framework of marriage, violence, abuse, assault and prevention and doesn’t talk about affirmative sexuality or about access to sexual services.

Hidden Pockets: With all these challenges, what are some ways in which persons without disabilities can become more accepting of persons with psychosocial disabilities as sexual beings?

This is a difficult question to respond to because it is tied to so many things.

Firstly, they have to be recognised as human beings and only after that arises the issue of their sexuality. In fact ‘recognition as a human being’, automatically implies that they also need to be recognised as sexual beings. But how will people with psychosocial disabilities be recognised as sexual beings without the strengthening of the de-stigmatization movement?

Secondly, we also need to think about public sexual policy and sexual policy within public health. Policies have to be framed for promoting healthy, affirmative sexuality. For example, within the confines of institutions, if a person desires to have private time for self-pleasuring then the person should be given a room to engage in self-pleasuring in private. There has to be access to toiletries and grooming facilities so that their sexual identity becomes visible as opposed to being invisible and these have to be framed as part of a policy. Without these type of policy changes, I don’t see how acceptance of psychosocial persons is going to happen.

More and more people with psychosocial disabilities need to come into public spaces and talk about their desires, their needs and challenges and make it a political statement because with sexuality, there is a huge dilemma about how public can you make the private. Whether we like it or not, sex and sexuality is very private. You have to be ready to bring it out into the public domain to make it a political statement. We activists can go out and talk about it but we cannot drive the agenda because I always feel like a voyeur. I’m privileged to many narratives. And I really have to deal with a moral and activist dilemma of whether we can make this public or not.

Hidden Pockets: This being a complex issue with complex solutions, what are the ways you encourage the participants whom you work with to explore pleasure?

One is legitimizing and de-shamming the subject and the other is creating a safe place for them to trust us.

We have been having these conversations with our participants for the last three years. In the first meeting, they asked me about the shift. I usually ask them if they have taken their medication, if they are well and if they are working. For the first time, I was talking to them about: whether they were in love; and encouraging them to talk about their love stories. Though it was new to them, they admitted to feeling good about talking about these areas of their life. It gave them a certain sense of complete-ness and wholeness. And all this depends on our alliance with them and the amount of trust and stability that they have with us because without trusting they will never ever tell us their story.

We have created a space that they know is a safe space, where they can come and talk about their pleasure. Most of the women have seen porn. Their husbands have made them see porn. Many said that they enjoyed it. Many said that they didn’t enjoy it. But they agreed to watch it because their husbands wanted it and they want their husbands to be satisfied so they watched it together when their in-laws were away and the house was empty. They watch porn together and make out. The important aspect is that they have opened up.

We have also spoken to them about how masturbation is ok and how masturbation does not lead to weakness as is usually perceived but then they say that they don’t have the privacy even to masturbate. You need privacy to masturbate especially in institutional spaces wherein if they are caught masturbating, they are punished because institutions have this assumption that relationships are heterosexual and hetro-normative in nature. Institutions have separate wards for women and men because; intermingling will create babies and chaos. Same-sex relationships are not even in the ambit of their imagination. The inmates are punished if they are caught self-pleasuring or seen with their partners resulting in their medications going up; being condemned to seclusion cells and being kept naked. Sexuality can become very obscene so we have to balance it in a way that it does not become vulgar and obscene.

Disclosure: Hidden Pockets is Media Outreach Partner for Pleasure, Politics and Pagalpan

“Seeking pleasure is seen as a sin and self-indulgent” – Ratnaboli Ray, Anjali

While on a search for #PleasurePockets in different cities and among different people, we discovered that pleasure often comes at a ‘cost’ for certain groups and for certain individuals. This ‘cost’ is especially relevant to people with psychosocial disabilities. Depending on who you are, what you do and where you live, this ‘cost’ has its own politics constructed around it. In an attempt to learn, understand and communicate the predicaments of people with psychosocial disabilities, especially with respect to the narrative of pleasure and the politics around it, we had an insightful conversation with Ratnaboli Ray, Founder of Anjali Mental Health Rights Organisation.

Pleasure

Hidden Pockets: What is pleasure to you?

Pleasure to me is about access: to joy, to privilege, to accessing the world with all my senses and body, to dressing up and grooming. Even eating is pleasure to me. A beautiful rainbow is pleasure to me. Baarish is pleasure to me. I’m lucky and privileged that because of my class, education, and other positions (inherited or had the freedom to acquire) I’m able to access pleasure and enjoy these things in the way I want to. The very fact that I’m speaking to you on pleasure is also a matter of huge privilege. How many people do you think actually get to talk about their pleasure?

Hidden Pockets: Can you share a few things that you do to give yourself a pleasurable time?

There are lots of things that I enjoy: intimacy, intellectual conversations and eating good food. I have evolved my own aesthetics and style to dressing that gives me immense lot of pleasure. The fact that I know and am able to articulate my fantasies is also pleasurable to me.

Hidden Pockets: Often people hesitate to talk about pleasure due to its association with sex. What do you think blocks people from talking about pleasure, sexual or otherwise?

I think one of the main reasons for a majority not talking about pleasure is the social construct around us. These constructs and other social norms do not really give access to pleasure as it is seen as something that is illegitimate.

We also do not have the language to express what is pleasurable to us. Very few people have the language to talk about what gives them pleasure because we are not trained to articulate such thinking. And those of us, who access pleasure (and are articulate about it), are often labeled (meaning isolated), given names that aren’t nice, and made to feel hedonistic (which again) is not a nice word. Seeking pleasure is seen as a sin and self-indulgent hence seen with censure.

Further, there is a gender bias. If a woman talks about sexual pleasure, she is stigmatized. If it is just simple pleasure, as against bodily and sexual pleasure, it is labeled as self-indulgent- which again carries a certain stigma.

In short, all the above either blocks the access to pleasure or blocks the articulation of pleasure- in spite of it being accessed- fearing stigmatization.

Politics:

Hidden Pockets: What do you think are some ways in which we could lift these blocks paving way for talk about pleasure, especially sexual pleasure?

The lifting of these blocks are gradually happening. Many of my feminist and other friends are making a conscious shift to talk more about pleasure like Paromita Vohra’s ‘Agents of Ishq’ which essentially talks about the politics of pleasure to give expressions about sex a ‘good name’ (legitimacy). The more we talk about sexual pleasure, the more we bring it into our everyday discourse without making it sound obscene or ugly, and this will help lift the blocks. I think that’s the only way we can stop people from shaming pleasure. Also, I think we need to cultivate a different language: words and expressions for sexual pleasure (without vulgarizing sexual pleasure) because expressing sexual pleasure often gets tied up with a certain colloquial language which often demeans sexual pleasure.

Hidden Pockets: What do mean when you say ‘giving sex a good name’?

By good name I mean ‘good,’ and not something as a value judgment.

In the times we are living in, there is a lot of clamping down hence the need to bring out our experiences of sexuality without either ‘clinicalizing’ or ‘colloquializing’ it. There should be a balance between the two.

Hidden Pockets: What is the thought behind Anjali’s conference, Pleasure, Politics &Pagalpan?

We are going to discuss about the practice of sexuality in general and the practice of sexuality within the realm of psychosocial disabilities. We are also going to talk and discuss about concepts like eroticism, pleasure, danger and fantasy to facilitate a change in the understanding of these concepts. There is going to be lot of networking. A thematic paper will also be published as a result of this conference. This paper will contribute to the intellectual discourse around sexuality since very little discourse or literature is available especially on sexuality of people with psychosocial disabilities. We are also hoping, through this conference, to usher in a shift in the acceptance and use of a better and healthier language while articulating the narrative of pleasure.

Hidden Pockets: With names like Do Din Ki Chandni and MakhmaliAndhera, the panels in the conference seem to have interesting and intriguing names. Why names associated with less serious concerns’ in a conference dealing with serious issues?

That is precisely the politics of ‘language’. We are trying to break the norm of the ‘language’ and how it is usually used in conferences by incorporating elements of popular culture to enlarge the scope of understanding of issues to a wider audience and to add a different flavor to the conference. Many of the panel titles have been inspired by Bollywood movies. I remember my own sexual journey was constructed by Bollywood films. So Bollywood has a very important role to play in our sexual lives. We cannot deny that. Bollywood has also become a global phenomenon. So it is not just about Hindi and Bollywood, it is also about popular culture. Its appeal, its kitschi-ness, its acceptability, and its quirkiness that triggers a different kind of imagination hence will have a healthy cross-over effect on serious issues in the conference thus breaking the traditional norms of how ‘language’ is used in conferences.

Disclosure: Hidden Pockets is Media Outreach Partner for Pleasure, Politics & Pagalpan

Women’s Day Special: Why sexual pleasure empowers women, speaks Ute Weimer, Lovetreats

As an organisation working on pleasure and sexuality, this Women’s Day, we at Hidden Pockets, decided to  focus on women empowerment through sexual pleasure. With that in mind, we had a conversation with Ute Wiemer, Founder – Lovetreats, an online adult toy store to understand women, sexual pleasure, how it all comes together to empower women and how women could discover sexual pleasure to experience that power.

How do you think discovering sexual pleasure empowers women?

That’s an interesting question. I think that in a lot of ways women when they grow up as adults are taught that female sexuality and pleasure are taboos. You are not supposed to talk about it. Often a lot of times female pleasure is discussed as not proper behaviour or as not being innocent. When a women is looking for sexual pleasure then may be probably she is a whore. I think discovering pleasure for women, is a way of empowering yourself. I wouldn’t say it is a way of empowering other women by talking about it but for every woman who discovers her own sexuality and sexual pleasure, it can be a way to empower herself. It is an individual journey for every woman. I’m convinced that it can really boost confidence. It can help you discover your own body and more confident in your own body. You may become more vocal about your needs with a partner being able to express what you like and don’t like. This, to me, would be the empowerment component of it.

Why do you think sexual pleasure needs to be given more prominence in terms of women empowerment?

I already spoke about it a little bit. I think why it is important is because currently it is not spoken about enough. Whenever we talk about sexual pleasure in the media, in movies, even often in conversation with friends say in a bar talking about it, it is usually discussed as something that is exclusively male which is not true. Sexual pleasure or desires is something that men and women have equally. But when it is often discussed publicly, it is often perceived as something male, which is why I think it is so important to also talk about female sexual pleasure. It is not given the same important right now for women as it is for men.

How would you define pleasure for women? What is your definition of pleasure as Lovetreats, an adult toy store?

That’s a hard one. Sexual pleasure can have a lot of different dimensions. For one, it could be orgasm or climaxing but then there are so many more components to it. I think it is also a very individual thing. I think every woman would define sexual pleasure for herself in a very different way. If you know what one woman likes it doesn’t mean that you know what any other woman likes. Women are very different from each other in the way they experience sexual pleasure. That’s why communication is also very important. That’s why we encourage our customers to come us with questions and we tell them to ask their partner what they like, what interests them and also dislike. I’d say broadly, from a Lovetreats point of view and from the products that we sell, we divide pleasure into two categories which is self-pleasure and pleasure with a partner. We have a bunch of products which are for female self-pleasure which is basically any product that can be used for masturbation. And then the other category would be pleasure with a partner which are products that can be used by couples, which often enhance both the partners’ pleasure. We also have products which are specifically designed to enhance female pleasure during intercourse.

What are some of the concerns that women have with respect to sexual pleasure?

Especially from the workshops and events that we have done, I sometimes saw that lot of women are concerned that looking for sexual pleasure in some way will make them (I hate the word) a slut. They are concerned that if they talk to their partner about their needs and what they want, then their partner would think that they are sex crazy. (Ute laughs) Or that they are too demanding or make their partner feel very insecure. So often that they feel that if women felt confident and vocal about their sexual needs, it would intimidate other people especially their partner. Others may think that they are being very selfish or enjoying sex too much. I don’t know if there’s a thing as enjoying sex too much (says laughing again.)

How do you address these concerns?

Usually I feel that once women hear other women talking about sexual pleasure then they open up really quickly. Then they also become more confident. Ok this woman is talking about it so it must be ok to talk about it. Someone else is feeling that way so it must be ok for me to be feeling that way. Especially women who are concerned about their partner – what will my partner think if I talk about this, I tell them that your partner will also enjoy sex more if they know that you are enjoying it. So it would help telling your partner what you like.

What are some ways that women can begin exploring pleasure without inhibitions especially for women in tier III & IV?

I think one of the first steps and the most important step is to explore masturbation and explore giving yourself pleasure. It is the best way to learn about your body and feel confident about your sexuality. It is also the best way to find out what you like. I wouldn’t even try and sell any women’s products in the first step. I would encourage them to explore pleasure by themselves.

What would you say are the products that women are interested? And why?

This is an interesting one. If you are talking about female pleasure, the number 1 bestseller on our site is vibrator for women. It is an indicator that women are paying attention to their own pleasure. Women are focusing on their own sexual pleasure. Most popular ones are rabbit vibrator. The special thing about those is that they have bunny ears. They became famous after they were on an episode of Sex and the City some 15 years ago. They are still among the most popular vibrator worldwide. Then we have travel size mini-vibrator which are also really popular. Some of them also come in shapes looking like lipstick, very discreet. You can just keep it in your makeup purse and nobody would know what it is. But it is actually a battery operated mini vibrator. On our site, we also sell personal lubricants that can enhance pleasure for women especially during sex. Extra-lubrication can be pleasurable. Then we also have accessories like fluffy handcuffs, blindfold and lingerie that are also bought by women a lot.

What are some tips/recommendation for women to maximise pleasure?

Take your time to get to know your own body. Take time for self-pleasure and to masturbate. It is the best way to learn what you actually like. Only when you know what you like, you can tell a partner what you like. So that would be my biggest tip. Take yourself seriously and put yourself first in a way and take the time to know your own body.

What are some of the health concerns with respect to sexual health?

Let me talk about the questions we get. One we hear a lot is women are concerned that if they use a vibrator or dildo, they will not be virgins anymore. It is nonsense but we hear that a lot. Women also ask a lot about contraceptive methods, how safe are condoms, how to use condoms, things like that.

How good would you say is the awareness on contraceptive methods?

The awareness is low. Women only use I-Pill that is supposed to be used only in emergency. They use it couple of times a month, which is dangerous. Lot of sex education is still needed.