One Future Inspire is a series of interviews with young people across countries, borders, spectrums of work and being. These people share a common quality — they inspire us. Our aim is to bring their work to the fore with the hope that it might ignite a spark in someone, somewhere.
Team One Future interviewed Indraja Saroha — a sex positive activist and blogger. Indraja promotes conversations online about a range of topics like sex education, feminism, relationships, and pleasure. She make vlogs for her Youtube channel, Liberating Sexuality.
Please tell us a little about your personal journey. What made you want to create Liberating Sexuality?
I have always been driven by a passion for social justice, during college I worked with a number of NGOs for women’s rights and LGBTQI rights. Through my research and interactions, I realised the extent to which sex education is lacking in this country. This is true even in the young, urban, educated demographic – despite access to information, the silence around sexuality makes it difficult to do away with some major misconceptions. The subject is still extremely taboo and stirs up a sense of discomfort in most people. Sexuality/pleasure education as a topic is so aggressively avoided that it is damaging- particularly to women and queer individuals. There is a serious need to promote sex positivity in the Indian context. I can think of a couple of instances where this was crystal clear to me, such as one time during a conversation with a friend who was shocked when I brought up masturbation, and proclaimed almost with an air of pride that she’d never done it, nor had she ever seen herself down there. Another major instance that left an indelible mark on me was a conversation with my mother who told me that she didn’t know women could have orgasms, until she reached the age of 35 and was already a mother of two children.
This made me want to create Liberating Sexuality, to start conversations and encourage people to unlearn the toxic ideas about sex, pleasure, gender roles etc. instilled in them by society. These ideas affect women who are constantly slut shamed, victim blamed, silenced and denied agency over their own bodies. They also damage men by perpetuating a rigid and limiting idea of “masculinity”.
We understand that your work involves starting conversations about sex and sexuality. Could you tell us more about Liberating Sexuality and any other projects you’ve worked on, in this space?
Liberating Sexuality involves creating content across various platforms, mostly Youtube and Instagram. I have made video blogs on various topics related to sexuality, a couple of video sketches. The aim is to promote sex positivity through different mediums: art, comics, text posts, blogs etc. I write sex blogs/how-to guides for Tickle.life, which an app-based platform that allows users to anonymously discuss “taboo” subjects like sex and relationships, ask questions about their bodies and find a support system of like-minded individuals. I collaborate with Lovetreats, an online intimate lifestyle store which ships adult toys all over India. I believe that sex toys have the ability to enhance lives – particularly for women and couples. Taking responsibility for their own pleasure can be very empowering for women – and promoting this idea is very important to me.
What are the challenges you face? What are the resources you need to work in this field?
There is opposition from my family about the need to take up such a project. A lot of people seem to believe that talking about sex is frivolous and unnecessary since “the younger generation already knows everything”. People often conflate sex education with pornography, arguing that the prevalence of internet pornography makes sex education unnecessary, or treating sex education as something vulgar. As a woman on the internet, you are already exposed to a lot of unwarranted attention. As a woman on the internet talking about sex, I have realised that men will take your “openness” as an invitation or opportunity. It comes in many forms such as assuming that talking about sex on the internet is an open invite for sexting anybody who will ask, or posing questions and queries as a way of gaining access to my inbox.
In terms of resources, it is very difficult to promote your work online without marketing strategies, a good production budget and influential collaborations. As someone who struggles with networking and self-promotion, starting and sustaining this work has been a challenge.
What is your idea of feminism?
Feminism is about dismantling the structures that contribute to the oppression of women and minorities. It is about understanding and addressing systemic issues that create impediments to equal opportunity and a dignified life for everybody, regardless of gender, sexual orientation etc. It simply isn’t enough to “consider men and women equal”. Equality is an ideal but merely proclaiming it does not solve deeper rooted issues. Feminism today is about representation, about listening to and empathising with the struggles of people from all backgrounds, about creating safe spaces for people of all identities. It is about confronting the reality of how various circumstances and identities intersect to create individual experiences, and taking steps to mitigate the harmful effects of oppression.
Describe a day in your life.
I work from home so most days I wake up, start off with breakfast and a lot of coffee, and sit down to write or read depending on how much I have to do. I write in my journal and cook most of my meals, so that takes up some time. I try to experiment with new recipes often. I spend more time than I’d like to answering DM queries on Instagram, but the questions I get are so incredible that they require immediate attention.
Why is it important to create space for conversations about sex?
Nobody should suffer as a result of misinformation or lack of information in 2018. Nobody should be denied agency over their physical being. Creating a safe space for conversations about sex is incredibly important to educate and empower people. Giving people the tools they require to talk about their needs, to communicate in relationships, to pleasure themselves and explore their bodies, is possible only through these conversations. Pleasure is a basic human right and yet it is treated as something abhorrent. Honest conversations are the only way to destigmatize sex and sexuality.
What would you like for people to understand better about your work?
I would really like people to understand that sex education is not a threat or a corrupting influence, nor does it “encourage children to have sex”. Sex education is more important than ever for young people in the age of internet pornography, since they need to have the ability to be critical of what they’re looking at. So often, pornography becomes the primary source for knowledge regarding sex, perpetuating some extremely harmful ideas about what sex is supposed to look like.
Promoting an understanding of consent, relationships, reproductive health and safer sex practices enables people to navigate the complex labyrinth of adulthood.
Which country’s policies on equal rights are worth learning from and why?
New Zealand has an excellent Human Rights Commission which advocates on behalf of marginalised communities and engages with various groups to ensure that their concerns are addressed. They have worked on some very progressive policies, such as advocating for intersex awareness and rights. This independent institution acts as a watchdog for human rights and can serve as an example for human rights bodies in different countries.
Describe 3 books or tell us about three people that have impacted your life.
I would have to say that The Second Sex was instrumental in helping me understand the mechanics of patriarchal oppression, and in giving me the vocabulary needed to advocate for feminism.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini has stayed with me since I was a teenager. It is an incredibly powerful story of two women living in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime. It reminds me of the amazing resilience and strength that women have always possessed.
Haruki Murakami’s entire body of work: his writing style is uplifting and surreal. It is deeply comforting and helped me during my most difficult periods. I think his writing somehow reinstills an appreciation for the little, mundane things in life, the small joys, and the happy coincidences. For somebody struggling with mental health, a touch of his magical perspective can be a welcome relief from the drudgery of existence.
What is your advice to the youth?
I would say make the effort to educate yourself and unlearn ingrained prejudices. Listen to your peers, allow them to express themselves without judging or interjecting. Help cultivate an empathetic environment where people feel heard, supported, seen. Before offering your opinion on something sensitive, ask yourself whether you are invalidating somebody else’s lived experiences. It is only when each one of us can share our story, that we will move towards a more egalitarian society.
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Uncuff India Episode 9: Civic space and dissent: A pathway to social justice