Checked Out ‘Agents of Ishq’ Yet? It’s Naughty, New-Age Sex Ed
‘Agents of Ishq’ isn’t trying to stir up a sexual revolution – it taps into tales that already exist in our society.
They’re not here to sell you sex.
There are no tricks to catch eyeballs and garner clicks, and they’re certainly not here to push any preachy agendas. ‘Agents of Ishq’ are here to invite you into a space that is wildly creative, poetic and educational and celebrates sex and sexuality, in all shapes, sizes, colours and textures. Their website’s ‘Necessary Funde’, ‘Public Ki Attitude’, ‘Mazedaar Matter’, ‘Sex ki baatein, sex ke khayal’ – cover everything from personal essays and quizzes to sex etiquette, qualitative surveys done on sex education, etc.
Paromita Vohra, artist, filmmaker, activist and the brilliant mind behind Agents of Ishq spoke to The Quint on how it was born:
In the post Nirbhaya period, the two thematics that had grown in the social and public conversation had been about sex, but then, had also been about feminism. And, as a feminist who was very interested in the world of desire and intimacy, I found the conversations to be extremely insufficient. There was a way in which sex was continuously getting discussed as danger, as violence, and negativity.
As an artist and practitioner, Paromita’s entire body of work has revolved around ideas of love, intimacy and sexuality. In a country where gender is political, our society has always had a confusing relationship with the act and concept of sex. Often dubbed as the land of Kamasutra, India is the third largest consumer of porn in the world, and about 24% of this total is women. Yet, in 2017, the conversation around sex is either squeamish, or laden with judgment.
All the conversations that exist around sexuality are instructive, normative. Everybody wants to pass judgment on what is the right and wrong way to be, but then you’re just becoming another type of censor. The idea of ‘Agents of Ishq’ was born from wanting to create a positive and enabling conversation around sex. And, most of all, an inclusive conversation.
An Exciting Kind of Sex Ed?
AOI considers itself to be like a “multi-cuisine restaurant, but with very good chefs”. Scrolling through the site is actually reminiscent of flipping through a beautifully made graphic novel. The visual language is gritty, it’s not slick or overly produced. It’s almost kind of old school. When I ask her about it, Paromita tells me –
For us, a handmade feel is very important – as though individual love has been lavished on something. Woh koi banata nahi hain na abhi.
The result is a fascinating audio visual project that is full of vibrant illustrations, intimate podcasts, beautiful photo essays, stories told through GIFs, playlists of songs and collections of poems.
The strength of something like Agents of Ishq is that there’s a deep dynamism between the online and the offline world. With the exception of two-three sites, every site is talking about the same six feminist figures. Way to go and make feminism boring.
The cross-pollination between the online and the offline often comes in form of their collaborations with different organisations and practitioners – be it running workshops and generating content, or working with educators, doctors, researchers, students and people of all walks of life.
For instance, in their collaboration with SNEHA – an NGO in Dharavi, Mumbai – they worked with children of the community on an adolescent sexuality programme. The result of the workshop was a delightful movie called Main Aur Meri Body which takes one through the story of how our bodies come into being, a biological breakdown of gender, where and how babies are made, what puberty is, and how being attracted to someone is actually a chemical reaction caused by pheromones.
The challenge is to make things that are universal enough to cut across ages, cultural backgrounds and socio-economic classes – all while keeping the end product original and relatable.
The bilingual nature of the site – all the content is available in Hindi and English – gives them the means to access different kinds of stories and lets them enter the mainstream.
An exciting new piece they have published features a woman’s story of how she stumbled upon Gujarati porn on the Internet, and the way it opened up her world. Stunned with the revelation that Gujarati porn even exists, Paromita rues the fact that it’s hard to find such an incredible story even if one is to go looking for it.
By trying to make way for the alternative and the vernacular, they have opened the floor to different kinds of readers and contributors. It is in the sheer embrace of variety that Agents of Ishq cracks the formula to being truly inclusive.
Busting Myths and Dismantling Stereotypes
To have a positive conversation around sex and sexuality in India today, one has to begin with first dismantling stereotypes and myths, and replacing them with valuable qualitative education relayed in creative ways.
In their survey ‘What 100 Women Told Us About Masturbation’, Agents of Ishq – instead of delving into statistical data – recorded the responses of women. These revealed absurd questions that people have when it comes to sex and our bodies. One woman was told “Women don’t masturbate. It gets you pregnant” – while another response was “Masturbation leads to the vagina expanding and eventually falling out”.
Apart from trying to dispel the taboos around women masturbating, their articles are injected with intelligent humour and an acceptance of the various degrees of the human sexual experience.
Most importantly, the site fills a vacuum when it comes to sexual information. Their quizzes about male and female genitalia, for instance, take you through way more information than what our 10th grade biology textbooks did. Where do boys, girls, women of different ages and sexual orientations go to find answers regarding their bodies, sexual health and fantasies?
AOI isn’t trying to stir up some kind of sexual revolution – instead, it taps into stories, experiences and insights that already exist in our society.
Different cultures will reclaim sexuality in different ways. In India, what we really really need to do is to celebrate our own erotic traditions. That’s what will make us feel at home with ourselves. Sexuality is about rhythm, it’s about texture, it’s about aesthetics. It’s present in what we see and hear – from the laavani to the mujras, from poetry to Hindi film songs. We have it all; we just need to find a way to celebrate it and express ourselves again.
(Fiza Jha is a Delhi-based designer, writer and photographer. She studied Public Space Design at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology.)
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