INDRAJA SAROHA

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LIBERATING SEXUALITY

is an online community & a Youtube channel created to promote sex positivity and sex education in India. It was started in an attempt to contribute to the growing discourse on taboo topics and sexuality related issues(particularly female sexuality in the Indian context), through a variety of content. 

Indraja is a 22 year law student who is also an aspiring film maker. Her ability to tap the subjects of sex and sexuality by initiating dialogue to shed the stigma and taboo associated with the same in our nation is absolutely Badass!

In this exclusive interview with BeBadass she discusses the right approach to initiate, and the desperate need to carry on sexual dialogue.

Was there sex-ed. at your school?

Yes. Only, it wasn’t considered necessary for girls. 6th grade onwards, the boys in my school were given sex ed seminars whereas girls were shown a movie about “growing up” and getting their periods, with no mention of sex itself.

Was it good enough?

For the boys? I am not sure. None of them were willing to talk about it or even look us in the eye for the next two days. The talk given to girls on menstruation was adequate, however, the doctors present discouraged us from using tampons. Tampons were not mentioned in the film shown to us, and whereas they did not outrightly say “tampons are for married women”, they did say that they don’t recommend tampons for teenage girls. They also vaguely spoke about relationships and suggested that we “should not get carried away before the time is right”, whatever that means. They told us to embrace womanhood, but by the looks of it, womanhood seemed like a lot of damn responsibility! I don’t think any of the girls in that room were overjoyed at the idea of growing up into women, it felt like a loss of the carefree childhood freedom we had enjoyed up until then. I don’t think anybody is talking to adolescent girls about the positive aspects of growing up, about the absolutely fascinating things and incredible pleasure the female body is capable of. We’re given nothing to really look forward to and I don’t think many 11-12 year old girls would be psyched to hear that they’ll be bleeding out of their vagina once a month for the next 3 decades with the only respite being pregnancy.

How open was your family about sex while growing up?

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I think sexuality is a fundamental aspect that governs human behaviour and personal development.

Indraja Saroha

Sex was a topic that was never discussed explicitly. It was the elephant in the room that would appear sometimes while we were watching movies together, everybody got uncomfortable and silent. My parents are not conservative though, they simply did not have the vocabulary to talk about sex. They figured we’d find out on our own. Dating was never discussed either. So I didn’t have opinions fed to me this way or that, I was free to form my own. Starting Liberating Sexuality was like coming out to my parents about my opinions on these topics.

Have you come across peers who shy away from sexual dialogue?

Absolutely. I have encountered all sorts of reactions to these conversations, from discomfort to sheepishness. I spoke about it extensively in college. However, most often, I have been misconstrued- especially by men who assume that a woman who is open to sexual dialogue is willing to have sex with them.

In a nation of Khajuraho art and Kamasurta, why do you think sex is a taboo?

A lot of people rely on antiquity to paint India as a sexually permissive culture, we have a lot from our ancient heritage that points to this fact. Our distant past may have been sexually permissive but that means nothing if we don’t address the fact that it hasn’t been so for many centuries now. Notions about sexuality come from certain interpretations of religious philosophy, or from long standing traditions. Dharmic religions consider sex a frivolous, carnal desire, preferably something to be done away with. Abrahamic religions consider sex a sin if done outside prescribed situations. Either way, sex negativity has a long history in India that we need to address. And as with anywhere in the world, sexual mores are rooted in patriarchal societies and sex is taboo mostly because of the fear of the slippery slope that comes with giving women freedom and agency.

What inspired you to start talking about sex publicly?

An older woman who was very close to me, opened up one day during a random discussion about orgasms. She told me that she did not know that women could have orgasms, till her mid 30s, by then she’d already pushed out two children. She was crying miserably, she broke down and told me how cheated she’d felt when she found out. It struck me that nobody had ever prioritised her pleasure, or even the knowledge she was supposed to have of her own body. Nobody should suffer for the lack of this information, and I saw that an overwhelming number of people in our generation too, are not adequately aware. In high school, I watched a lot of Laci Green videos and the idea of starting a conversation on sex positivity had been on my mind for ages.

 

How supportive is your family about your initiative?

My mother loves what I am doing, she understands the importance of these conversations. She wishes that these things were being discussed openly back when she was in her 20s, it would have enabled her to make so many decisions differently.

What about your peers?

I am blessed with wonderful, supportive friends, who are actively enthusiastic about the things I do. I can sit around and discuss just about anything and they will always have insights to contribute, which is so helpful. It is important to be around people who build you up, people who can teach you things. I would not have been the person I am without the badass women in my life, they created a space that allowed me to express myself.

Apart from the public platform, do you give a one on one sex related 101 to a friend?

Many, many times. I’ve kind of been an agony aunt? It feels good to say that.

I remember being taken to my school principal when I was 10 for trying to explain to a boy that sex and marriage are not the same thing. Good times.

How would you handle the topic of sex & sexuality with your hypothetical child?

It is important to educate a child in an age appropriate manner. Children are naturally curious and parents should not shy away from answering their questions with honest simplicity.

I will definitely try to create a space that is conducive to these conversations, no masturbation shaming or using euphemisms for private parts. I will talk to them about the gender and sexuality spectrum and tell them that differences are more than okay. The attempt is to educate them in a way that enables them to make their own informed decisions, and it is a process that starts early. The line of communication has to be open, because if a child fears judgment from the parent, they are likely to conceal important things. I want to make sure that they get the correct information and that I always know if they’re struggling with an internal conflict.

Do you think we can eradicate homophobia in India (in our lifetime)?

Eradicate? No.

Mitigate the effects through expansion of dialogue and efforts to educate? Definitely. Visibility plays a major role in forming public opinion, I remember hearing somewhere that people are a lot more sympathetic to an issue if it crops up in their own backyard, if they cannot dehumanise the person involved. I think there also needs to be more focus on removing the fear that people feel towards Hijras. The word “Hijra” literally means “a person who leaves his tribe”, which goes to show the extent of social exclusion that has been going on for thousands of years. Despite being present and visible in our society for so long, they’re deeply misunderstood, most people don’t understand the difference between being gay or being a Hijra, or they assume that all Hijras are intersex. The superstitions make it hard to integrate them into mainstream society, but I think it will be a necessary step before we begin to eradicate homophobia/ transphobia. We need to use a recognisable concept from our own culture to explain the complexities of sexuality and gender to people.

How important is sexual agency for progress (of a person & a nation)?

I think sexuality is a fundamental aspect that governs human behaviour and personal development. Sexual agency and the freedom to seek fulfilment is essential for every individual, and has a significant bearing on self perception. Developing a healthy relationship with your own body and  learning about your needs is the cornerstone for developing healthy partnerships later on in life. Sexual repression and lack of fulfilment can contribute to poor mental health, and we know that the economic costs of poor mental health are tremendous. In India where divorce rates are almost shockingly low, most people don’t have the choice to leave unfulfilling marriages. A lot of women feel trapped and helpless, leading them into depression. Look up “housewife suicides in India”, the numbers are shocking.

Name some Badass Women who inspire you.

Janis Joplin. Laci Green. Betty Dodson. Amy Winehouse. Simone De Beauvoir. Tina Fey. Usha Iyer, she’s so cool!

A message to the girls struggling to form or voice their opinions around sex & sexuality.

Honestly, it is not going to be easy, but you have to look past “looking good”. We get fed a LOT of BS about chastity, we internalise what it means to be a good proper woman who is valued in our society. That woman is a pristine goody two shoes virgin who is beautiful and also smart, fun but also homely, simple but not too simple, educated but won’t question you. Know that you simply cannot win and trying to win is not worth it. You will have to unlearn so much before you finally say “fuck it”. Think about your needs and your pleasure, it will serve you longer than any approval you can get by suppressing your desires.

 

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