"S:Every time they meet, R has a childlike curiosity about her breasts. Every time he touches her heavy breasts – the variegated flesh underneath her dark brown nipples, the deep crevices of her nipples – they start to come alive. They assume a life of their own, simultaneously anticipating and escaping the touches.
R: He likes to play with her breasts; it’s his favourite things to do. Today he comes closer, lowers his face between them and starts to breathe on her taut, already aroused nipples, his tongue almost touching them.
S: S inhales audibly. Their bodies are touching as they lie naked beside each other, the weight of his hands contouring her body, as her body involuntarily rises, writhing. His fingers rummage through her shoulders, lingering, tracing pathways, making detours, as they reach towards her lips and part them open. She’s painted her lips a fiery red today.”
If this sounds like the beginning of a soft porn novel to you, you are both right and wrong. Between me and the friend who’s recently taken to writing these (let’s call her S), we call these “Schrodinger’s Sex”. It is both sex and not, depending on how well the boy matches her fantasies, subtleties, or the gross lack of them. These sessions – usually chat exchanges in her Bumble inbox with some of the folks she’s swiped right on - began during the sexlessness of the lockdown.
With limited opportunities of meeting potential sexual partners IRL, S took to the digital medium to explore her sexualness. Depending on how well-matched the boy is, he either gets invited over, in an attempt to actualise the digital fantasies. Otherwise, he serves the purpose from the abyss of her inbox.
S gets to climax either way: Sometimes fuelled by the digital tension of the verbal duel with a competent companion. And when that fails, her own fantasies are turn-on enough. The sensuousness of the reading and writing, often does the trick. Sometimes, if her distant lover is too tired or weary, she lets him watch as she touches herself.
As a rule, S does not reveal her real name until she feels safe. She operates under different alias, and embodies the characters and desires of the women she creates; characters that are free from the mesh of moralities that her own middle-class, convent-educated self is entangled with. And unlike the anti-climaxes of most hook-ups, these narratives provide her an aphrodisiac of a gradual build-up, continually whetting her appetite.
For someone who’s been considerably shy about sex, these exercises in claiming and directing her own sexualness, have been hugely empowering, a consequence of the pandemic that she did not see coming.
The language of sexuality carries for women a sense of class-caste elitism, drawing the boundaries of what we are and aren’t allowed to say.
Fifty shades of lockdown sex
Like S, over the last few months, many women have been exploring alternate routes to channel their sexuality. New vocabularies are building, toys are being explored, conversations about “pleasure”, a deviously private topic in the past, are coming to the public fore.
While loneliness has been an undeniable fallout for many single folks, given the shrinking possibility of “meeting their tribe” IRL, womxn have been driven to digital platforms as a form of kinship and community. I’ve witnessed many women banding together to have sex-positive conversations that centre around their own pleasure. A recent example is The Ladies Compartment, an Instagram page run by Avantika Mehta, who recently did an Ask Me Anything around masturbation for women.
The language of sexuality for women presents another conundrum: Verbal language is traditionally either rooted in memory of abuse and assault, or is inevitably associated with shame. Often as is in English, it carries a sense of class-caste elitism, drawing the boundaries of what we are and aren’t allowed to say. In ancient India, as depicted by the Kama Shastras, the language of sexuality was ethereal. In the Kama Shastras, for instance, the clitoris is referred to as the madan-chhatri (the Umbrella of the Love God).
Cue post-colonial dilutions and distortions, we gradually complicated the expression of desire with religious and moralistic connotations that continue to govern how women allow themselves to express.
Another friend, let’s call her N, chooses to take on these dynamics of language in her sexuality. She asks her lovers to speak to her in their native tongue. The particular raunchy flavour of romance that the vocabulary insinuates turns her on. The first time she insisted her lover say “Mi tujha zavtoye” (Marathi for “I want to fuck you”) all she wanted was to get zavtoyed by him. She finds a certain innocuous pleasure, in directing the particular words that have in the past been used to shame her, to the effect of her own arousal. It’s a reversal of the power dynamic, a deliberate alteration of associations.
“Does it make you giggly though?”, I ask her, in the midst of giggles myself. “No, it makes me wet and horny!”
The language of love
Women, for a long time, have remained largely passive recipients of sexual explorations. “Pleasure” therefore, has remained exclusively a man’s domain, where women have merely been the vehicles in narratives. Naturally, in popular media of all kinds, the discourse has been shaped around “how to pleasure your man” (turn your head 360 degrees while giving him fellatio, while simultaneously transfiguring into a huge juicy mango, else you're doing it WRONG). Women’s pleasure even in 2020, remains a radical subject discussed sparsely on public platforms.
The pandemic has however been actively undoing many of these dynamics. In a recent survey conducted by thatspersonal.com, 64% women answered “No” to the question, “After using pleasure products, would you be equally satisfied to have sex without them?” The same survey which noted the rise of the sale of sex toys by 65% during lockdown, also noted small towns like Vijaywada, Jamshedpur, and Belgaum as the top cities and towns with female buyers.
“Pleasure” has remained exclusively a man’s domain, where women have merely been the vehicles in narratives.
While urban women have over the last few years, embraced the casualness of hookups, the lack of sensuousness in them is often the resounding complaint (besides the horror of later discovering the “apoliticalness” of your nondescript lover for the night).
With the pandemic, as more and more women have been driven to exploring the recesses of our own selves, many among us are more actively starting to explore what “pleasure” and “sexualness” mean to us, beyond the available precedents. While this might not be a direct consequence of the lockdown, it certainly made room for the need to engage with oneself.
As for me, my precious bunny was a gift from a lover on my 30th birthday. But even as I learnt to use it through the digital rectangle of virtual screens, seeing my nakedness reflected back to me touch by touch, I had to come face-to-face with body parts I realised I still hadn’t made peace with.
Having recently shaved off my hair, the ever-present feminine accessory to nakedness was gone. And however many scented candles I surrounded myself with, I was having to deal with my own nakedness not in fanciful imaginations but in the stark reality of a skewed body in awkward poses, reflected back to me through a lover’s phone screen.
As I learnt to touch myself with tenderness, imagining myself my own lover, I learnt that not liking certain body parts was not really an option, especially when so much depended on the verbalisation of these parts. I couldn’t really ask a lover to gently caress my breasts, if I did not happen to like my own breasts. With time, the embarrassment of the possibility of “ruining the moment” with the rationale of “directions” came to be replaced by affection towards my own desires and the body that housed them… scars, small breasts, stubby legs, et al.
Inevitably, my masturbatory sessions also became a lot more pleasurable.
And I am clearly not the only one. Arushi, a pleasure propagandist for The Pleasure Project that I interviewed earlier this year, holds this as a very healthy shift in conversations about women’s rights. “If women are able to pursue and ask for their own pleasure, they are able to ask for anything,” she says. And to think we have the lockdown to thank for it!