Women Don't Just Enjoy Erotica, Some Even Write It
The Quint's new documentary explores how women erotica writers keep it real when it comes to women's pleasure.
In 1944, writer Ismat Chughtai was put on trial on charges of obscenity for Lihaaf, a short story about same-sex female relationships. In 2022, the Supreme Court of India slammed TV producer Ektaa Kapoor for 'polluting young minds' in her latest web series XXX.
Seventy-eight years between Ismat and Ektaa – and yet, nothing seems to have changed. Women talking about sex still offends society.
But when and why did sex become only a man's prerogative? Women not only enjoy sex; they also enjoy writing about it.
There's a new generation of erotica writers who are breaking the rules.
For The Quint's latest documentary, I interview three erotica writers from Maharashtra, and they are out there to intimidate, offend, and titillate.
'Sex Is a Lot of Body Hair, Sweat'
"In my stories, the woman has command over the whole scene and her life. I try to give my female character the power to decide who she wants to sleep with."Manisha Jha
Sanjana Chowhan, who hails from Mumbai, has written several erotic novels. Nandini Desai from Ratnagiri writes erotica in Marathi for digital platforms, and Manisha Jha – also from Mumbai – writes Hindi erotica for digital platforms and soft porn for an adult OTT platform, ULLU TV.
"Erotica or sex or love or just intimacy isn't always beautiful. It is a lot of grime, it's a lot of sweat, it's a lot of body hair. It's a lot of sex in small places. So, that's something I wanted to keep alive in my writing. And I was trying to do that without it being off-putting."Sanjana Chowhan
All in their 30s and 40s, these writers don't use pseudonyms because they are proud of their work.
"My erotica is a bit sober. My characters are having sex because they like each other. It is not something that just happens. The expectation is not 'I look at a girl and she looks back at me and we can have sex'. That expectation should not be rooted in any erotica. The part of consent – of two people desiring each other – should be present."Nandini Desai
Why Don't We Talk About Women's Pleasure?
Shame, blame, and censorship never stopped women from writing erotica, where women are more than just conduits of pleasure; they are the story.
And yet, for reasons known to all of us, women's pleasure continues to be taboo, often neglected and not free from the male gaze.
"You are ruining 'Indian culture' is one of the common accusations I have received."Sanjana Chowhan
"Publishers and directors expect men to make the first move. They are not comfortable with women making the first move or inviting someone for sex. As long as these men make the content, they won't know what women actually want."Manisha Jha
"When we write, at least we are able to express the real desires of women. What we like, and how we like it."Nandini Desai
Sanjana wrote her first erotica for Juggernaut in 2015-2016. Her series on 'Office Quickies' earned a lot of popularity. It was her mother who insisted that she doesn't use a pseudonym and be proud of her writing.
Nandini, on the other hand, has been writing a blog on romantic stories from her college days. In 2017-18, she started writing erotica for online platforms. Being a Marathi, she felt most comfortable expressing herself in her mother tongue when it came to writing.
"Once, a woman refused to believe that I am an erotica writer. They just expect you to look a certain way. Just because we are writing about sex doesn't mean that we live those lives. I am a very simple person."Nandini Desai, Erotica Writer
From writing dialogues for 'Crime Patrol', Manisha switched to writing erotica full-time for online platforms in 2020.
Two years into the scene, she struggles to make her voice heard. Manisha wants to exclusively write about sexual encounters and not decorate the story with romance; she wants to use the name of the body parts and not use other suggestive, fantasy words.
"Before I started to write for Storytel, I did not know what a 'honeypot' was. A honeypot for me is just a honeypot. I couldn't even remotely think of a vagina being called a 'honeypot.' So, I don't have control over what I write because it is the publisher who is paying for it. You also won't find stories of an auto driver or a domestic worker, there will always be a lift lobby, cinema hall, and such situations which makes erotica on these platforms classist and definitely not for the masses."Manisha Jha, Erotica Writer
Erotica Now Is All About Foreplay… We Mean Digital Play
There are several online platforms catering to different kinds of audiences. There are sex stories in regional languages, audio stories, stories of personal experiences, and so much more. Digital platforms have opened doors to reimagine erotic fiction in India. You can download and read and later delete it.
You can even privately read and even listen to audio stories on your smartphone and turn up the volume of your pleasure.
Free erotic fiction websites like Antarvasna and Literotica have over a million registered users. There is always shame associated with consuming erotica but the droves of people who consume it actually show that it is not all that shameful.
Amateur authors contribute stories, poems, essays, illustrated stories, and audio stories in a variety of categories on these online self-publishing platforms. The only difference is that the stories on Antarvasna are written in a very raw form and in Hindi.
Sex stories in Hindi can be offensive for some and titillating for others, Savita Bhabhi is empowering for some women; for others, it is unreal and a big stereotype.
But that's what! Erotica has always been subjective. That's what differentiates it from porn, erotica is an expression and art.
"Erotica is provocative, it should arouse you but not the way porn is treated. That rawness is completely different. There should be good literature in erotica."Nandini Desai
"Let's be real, not everyone has a chiseled frame, 6-pack, great jawline, and amazing chest. We all have saggy breasts, floppy stomachs, and bald patches. So that's something I do keep in mind when I am writing my books. Because at the end of the day you want it to be more relatable."Sanjana Chowhan
Reading relatable stories, free from the male gaze, women also feel a sense of companionship on their erotic journey – that there are other women who also feel the same way.
Women are overcoming the shame of talking about their desires, the more they talk – the more they write. What has changed is that now a collective expression and relatability about pleasure and sexuality is finally showing in our literature, which was earlier missing.
And it not only caters to women; stories of queer love are also finding a voice.
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)
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