December – Sexual Rights
January – Queer Rights
February – Consent and Coercion
March – Women
April – Safe Abortion
May – Body Image
June – Law and Sexuality
July – Art and Activism
August – Disability and Sexuality
September – Sports and Sexuality
October – Popular Media and Sexuality
November – Mobility and Sexuality
December – Anniversary Issue
January – Music, Dance and Sexuality
February – Comprehensive Sexuality Education
March – Women and Sexuality
April – Mental Health and Sexuality
May – Family and Sexuality
June – The Body and Sexuality
July – Technology and Sexuality
August – Let’s Talk Sexuality
September – The Post-2015 Development Agenda, and Sexuality
October – Food, Drink and Sexuality
November – Feminism and Sexuality
December – HIV and Sexuality
January – Humour and Sexuality
February – Love and Sexuality
March – Travel and Sexuality
April – Sex Work and Sexuality
June – Work and Sexuality
July – Science and Sexuality
August – Attire and Sexuality
September – Migration and Sexuality
October – Parenting and Sexuality
November – Fantasy and Sexuality
December – People’s Movements and Sexuality
January – Films and Sexuality
Cinema is an influential medium, through which a lot of important ideas and beliefs can be articulated and internalised. The patterns of behavior we see on screen are what we often subsconsciously repeat in our daily lives, and so, the representations of sexuality we see on this medium also play a major role in informing our personal engagements with sexuality. Whether it’s through the way sex is portrayed, or through the way the female body is either given agency or eroded of agency, or the way queer individuals are represented – films are a reflection of culture and society, and by extension, the way society perceives aspects of sexuality. This month’s issue of In Plainspeak engages with these questions, and attempts to map the relationship between sexuality and cinema, and how this relationship affects the audience consuming it.
February – Self Care and Sexuality
Though it might seem innocuous, but the act of caring for oneself is innately feminist. Self-care involves an understanding of the self (which expands to both one’s body and sexuality) and an acceptance of it, which are both radical in a culture that seems to police or add undue pressure on physical and emotional manifestations of the self. Self-care is as much about developing bodily autonomy as much it is about psychological wellbeing, and is as much about learning to develop confidence and agency in one’s sexuality as much it is about physical health. This month’s issue of In Plainspeak takes an introspective look these processes function, and how self-care influences the way in which we experience and express sexuality and body image.
March – Marriage and Sexuality
While on the one hand, marriage can be a celebration of love, commitment and sexuality, on the other, it can be an inherently oppressive institution. Marriage has been traditionally romanticised as a spiritually pure union between two souls, but it isn’t always the ‘bed of roses’ that it is meant to signify. In fact, when seen through a critical lens, one might find structures of patriarchy, heteronormativity, class and caste running rife within it. But with changing societal norms, marriages can also evolve from its conventionalism into an empowering, positive and equal partnership. This month’s issue of In Plainspeak explores these dichotomies that are intrinsic to marriage, tackling topics ranging from the question of choice (or the lack thereof), to gender roles, to same-sex marriage, and more.
April – Boundaries and Sexuality
Drawing lines are useful in defining ideas; boundaries of personal space help keep us secure from unwanted advances, boundaries of privacy help cultivate our creativity and thought, boundaries of age aid us in determining the right kind of nourishment to give young ones or the attention and care to give to those who are ageing. There are also times when boundaries can limit us; discrimination can turn into discrimination against, and the lines that helped us mark meaning in our world can hinder accessibility, opportunity, and growth. In Plainspeak’s April issue examines boundaries both real and imagined in their influence on sexuality.
May – Money and Sexuality
How does having money, wanting money, and using money play into how we express our sexuality? Can money buy us sexual satisfaction or professional satisfaction? Can it help our self-esteem and body image? How does money make sex work, and what relationship does sex work have with money? How do aspects of our sexualityinfluence our ties to money? When money can influence the trajectory of our lives, In Plainspeak’s May issue ventures to ask how this currency interacts with our sexuality.
June – Internet and Sexuality
The ‘virtual’ world and the ‘real’ world no longer simply co-exist, they flow seamlessly as part of each other. The internet has grown more than its initial accompaniment to the IRL (in real life) expression and politics of sexuality. Our online presence now informs our sexual, social and intellectual lives as much as any other form of interaction. The June issues of In Plainspeak explores the intersections of worlds and personas in the landscape of human sexuality.
July – Communities and Sexuality
There are communities we actively choose and create, and there are those whose associations with us we spend our lifetimes investigating. They say we can’t choose our families but we can choose our friends. While that may be true or not, what influences do aspects of community and sexuality hav
August – Accessibility and Sexuality
We often find that realising the ideals of equality of opportunity when talking in terms of both accessibility and sexuality issues, is an effort encrusted with complexities. Being inclusive doesn’t come easy, but worthy efforts are made every day all around the world that build on valuing the diversity of each of our lived experiences. Taking some of them into account, In Plainspeak’s August issues on Accessibility and Sexuality articulate and reframe ideas woven into our social fabric.
September – Fiction and Sexuality
Humankind thrives because of our ability to imagine and communicate thoughts, ideas and made-up stories. We make up the idea of nations, religions, laws, corporations, strictures, and even money, all fictions that ultimately bind us. But fiction also frees us – by allowing escape, imagining possibilities different from the present, and building a future. How does fiction intersect with sexuality? How is our imagination of, and enactment of, our self shaped by our reading and writing of fiction? In Plainspeak’s September issue examines the role – positive, negative, or blurred – of fiction in sexuality.
October – Caste and Sexuality
Ambedkar may have had a vision to make India caste-free, but caste is still flourishing in India and its neighbouring countries. Where one is on the caste spectrum is inextricably, and often irrevocably, tied to their sexuality. Caste follows one throughout life, with a privileged few able to live their lives claiming ‘it doesn’t matter’ to them. As do different forms of othering globally, including racial discrimination and control of indigenous peoples. What are the many ways caste (and the myriad forms of othering) and sexuality meet, influence each other and set the course for one’s sexual expression, behaviour and identity? These are some questions that the October issue of In Plainspeak on caste and sexuality addresses.
November – Time and Sexuality
Aspects of sexuality change with the passage of time in the lives of individuals as well as of societies. People find that what mattered a few years ago doesn’t anymore, and grapple with changes as new concerns, freedoms and expressions of sexuality take over. Societies, too, mark a non-linear path, progressing on some fronts with time and regressing on others. Technologies, laws, religions and cultures bring fascinating, worrisome, innovative changes, some restrictive and others liberatory, to our expressions of sexuality. The November issue of In Plainspeak explores how time and sexuality interact, be it in the moments that mark individual lives or the larger public histories that shape entire societies.
December – Freedom and Sexuality
What would it be like to have no limits when it comes to expressing sexuality? No societal stigma, no familial, societal or governmental control – just the freedom to articulate and pursue one’s thoughts, emotions and desires? But the reality is that sexuality is heavily regulated by institutions like the state, religion and the family. This issue of In Plainspeak explores what it could mean to freely experience and assert the right to sexual agency. It also reflects on current barriers to this freedom and the ways that it is asserted or denied, based on gender, caste, sexual orientation and more. It challenges readers to imagine new frontiers in sexual expression and the ways we can cross them, and get to where we want to be.
January – Anniversary Issue
For the past four years, In Plainspeak has published articles highlighting the diversity of issues related to sexuality in the Global South and the universal importance of sexuality. We’ve explored the ways that sexuality is connected to many different concepts – some which were evident and others that were a bit more surprising. The January issue of In Plainspeak is a compilation of selected articles from our archives.
February – Friendship and Sexuality
Romantic relationships are often the focus in discussions about sexuality, but what about friendship? Friendship can shape our perceptions of pleasure, desire and sexual norms. It can be a space for solidarity and openness, or one that reinforces myths and stigma. In this issue of In Plainspeak we will highlight the ways that friendship can encourage, undermine, censor or protect free expression. We will also interrogate the boundary between friendship and romance, and explore the intimacies that exist between friends.
March – Home and Sexuality
Our conceptions of home shape not only how we view sexuality but also how we are able to express it. Sometimes in order to fully assert our sexuality, we may need to adjust our idea of home spatially, geographically and/or in the abstract. Home can be a private place where we can explore our deepest fantasies and desires, but it can also be restrictive, limiting not only what we can do but also who we are. For some, leaving home for the first time opens up an entire world of possibility. On a broader level, society’s sexual norms and taboos shift as people migrate and create new homes. The March issue of In Plainspeak will delve into the ways that individuals and cultures use the concept of “home” to both open up and restrict the ways that people express sexuality.
April – Memory and Sexuality
Memory is often fragile, linked intimately with subjectivity and social conditioning. The way we remember things is linked to the way we see the world and ourselves, and that in turn is what influences our sexual expression. Our perceptions of a certain event, on both a personal and cultural level, often inform the development of our own individual sexual expression as well as broader sexual norms and taboos. Many times, these perceptions are influenced by personal opinion or societal pressure. Memory is as much a tool for perpetuating violence as it is a medium for self-actualisation and acceptance. The April issue of In Plainspeak traverses these various labyrinthine landscapes that memory and consciousness lead us into.
May – Language and Sexuality
Language is a means by which we communicate our thoughts, desires, and emotions. But beyond communication, language also mirrors and influences what society recognizes as acceptable or despicable. We use words to name, to describe, to extoll or to ridicule ideas, people, ways of being and ways of loving, among many other things. We do not have words for that which we do not know of or acknowledge and consequently, sometimes unwittingly, negate it. In the context of sexuality, language is central to how we do or do not express ourselves, access health services and information, pursue pleasure, assert our identities, and more. In the May issue of In Plainspeak, we will explore the ways that communities and individuals use language as both a mechanism for policing, discriminating and negating, and a tool for awareness, acceptance and liberation.
June – Wellbeing and Sexuality
Wellbeing flourishes on a plane that while encompassing the physical goes way beyond it. It is fed by the spaces we occupy (both on a personal and larger level), and it thrives in the freedom of individual thoughts, opinions and emotions as well as our collective sense of psychological and social contentment. Sexuality, and the affirmation of identity and individuality as well as the sense of being a part of a greater whole it brings, can be both a catalyst for and product of a holistic state of wellbeing.
Some of the silken skeins in the delicate yet tensile web of sexual wellbeing are the support systems that enrich us, that offer us the freedom and safety to articulate our sexual desires, fantasies, and sexual agency; the processes of self-care and self-pleasure we perform; and the ways we perceive our bodies and how we exercise our bodily autonomy. When sexual freedoms and sexual health are woven together, our “ways of being” are deeply enhanced. The June issue of In Plainspeak seeks to explore these very interdependencies between wellbeing and sexuality, and how they impact our overall quality of life.
Power is both precarious and pervasive, seeping into and leaching out of the personal and social structures we inhabit, and by extension, influencing the ways in which we experience and express our sexuality. Physical acts of sex as well as the ways we arrive at sexual pleasure, affirm or negate consent, and perceive both our own and our partners’ bodies reveal a complex interplay of power relations. But even beyond the physical, the socio-political hierarchies of class, caste, gender and other inequalities are also often replicated in sexual relations and individual perceptions of desire. Therefore, these manifestations of power, or the lack of it, become closely linked to our sexual agency, control, and individual freedom. But agency, too, is fraught with complexity – it is dependent on how the zeitgeist conditions our attitudes to sex and sexuality, and hence, retains the possibility of giving way to violence as much as it has the potential to be liberating and pleasure-affirming. The July issue of In Plainspeak seeks to confront and interrogate how power plays out in our practices and beliefs surrounding sex and sexuality.
August – Desire and Sexuality
To desire is to be human. Desire inheres in the ways in which we perceive ourselves and the world. Complex, subjective, and multifaceted, it fuels sexual intimacy, sexual pleasure, and the exploration and expression of our bodies. With desire come fantasy and the need for the freedom and agency to explore our fantasies. These fantasies can go beyond existing socially acceptable modes of inhabiting and exhibiting sexuality and all that it entails. Desire can stir within us a longing for ‘something more, something different’. And so, turning into something radical and political it can transcend the personal to encompass a larger quest to challenge and break out of social stigmas, taboos, and morals. The August issue of In Plainspeak will seek to engage with the diverse meanings and expressions of desire, and how they come together to inform and enrich our understandings of sexuality.
September – Performance and Sexuality
Human life is a constant ebb and flow of various forms of performance – not only do we perform (or conversely, refuse to perform) the socially mandated gender-essentialist roles assigned to us, but we also ‘perform’ our individual value systems through our ways and modes of being. We are part of larger structures that often govern our actions, and in them, what we present to the world become markers of our identity. It is this identity that becomes linked to our sexuality, connecting our external social and cultural performativity to the internal experiences of desire and sexual freedom. But ‘performance’, on a more literal level, also includes the realms of art, creativity and diversity of thought, which too can become an important cultural medium for both sexual self-expression and the questioning of norms. Therefore, ‘performance’ can be both subversive and conformist as, it can involve both challenging and adhering to status quos. The September issue of In Plainspeak explores the complex ways in which these varied performances are carried out, and how they connect with notions of sexuality.
October – Beauty and Sexuality
Beauty is often seen as a marker for sexuality – what society considers beautiful is usually also heavily sexualised. But the reality is that socially imposed notions of beauty are not wholly representative; every person has a different idea of what makes someone or something beautiful. In this way, the concept of beauty illustrates the diversity that exists within human sexuality. It is used to demonstrate different facets of sexuality such as gender, sexual orientation, and more. These core parts of our identity and sexuality influence the ways we perceive beauty and what we do to feel beautiful. Beauty and sexual expression are also constantly affecting each other: beauty inspires and can define sexual expression, and sexual expression can shift individual ideas of beauty. Rigid ideas of what is beautiful, sexy, or desirable can reinforce oppressive structures, but when these concepts are more flexible they can be subversive as well. The October issue of In Plainspeak will delve into the relationship between beauty and sexuality and explore its various facets
November – Sex and Sexuality
Sex is usually the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of sexuality. Core parts of our identities are often defined by sex: who we are having sex with, how we like to have sex, whether or not we want to have sex, and at what age we first had sex. Sexuality is certainly not limited to these questions, but sex plays a key role in developing the varied facets of sexuality. It is one of the many ways that people express their sexuality, and it can help people explore their own sexual orientation, gender, body image, fantasies, and more. For some, it can hold great significance as a form of love, pleasure, labour, or as a source of trauma. The November issue of In Plainspeak will reflect on the multitude of ways that people experience sex and use it to express their sexuality.
December – Popular Culture and Sexuality
Popular Culture is all around us – from the films, to the music, to the books, magazines, newspapers, and TV shows (and so on) we consume – seeping into our thought processes and value systems, influencing us in myriad and unprecedented ways. Parallel to and sometimes even more influential than traditional structures of education, popular culture is a powerful source of information, and often a marker of the way a society thinks about sexuality. How popular culture depicts bodies, how it represents various gender identities and sexual orientations, or even, the ways it portrays sex and the notions around sex, are part of mainstream discourse, with both the creators and consumers of media actively contributing to it. Are these representations nuanced, pleasure-affirming and inclusive or do they fetishise and denigrate that which falls outside a charmed circle? At the same time as sexual mores change and as technologies expand, depictions of sexuality in popular culture change as well. What are the tensions between freedom of expression, creative expression and responsible representation in popular culture? Is pop culture’s engagement with sexuality expanding? If so, is it evolving or falling back into regressive modes of thinking? The January Issue of In Plainspeak explores these and other questions about the intersections between popular culture and sexuality.
A cross-cutting theme across all forthcoming issues in 2019 is how we can expand safe, inclusive sexuality-affirming spaces.
January – Anthology Issue
Over the past five years, In Plainspeak has curated a range of articles, personal essays, audio-visual content and much more, delving into the complexities and intersections of sexuality from a holistic, rights-based, pleasure-affirming perspective going beyond the associations of violence, disease and shame that these conversations are often burdened with. In Plainspeak believes in a joyful exploration of sexuality, in holistic sexual wellbeing that transcends the physical, in acceptance and agency and inclusivity. And in that very spirit, our January issue is a jubilant celebration of how we’ve upheld this promise – an anthology of our most positive, heartwarming, and inspiring stories that give voice to what we sought to do in the first place, which is to make discussions about sexuality both accessible and enjoyable.
Feb – Intimacy and Sexuality
Smoked glass is beautiful – it offers us the illusions that we may want to read into it. But they are illusions. Intimacy goes past that and sees the other for what they truly are – including their vulnerabilities, cellulite, wrinkles, crinkles, pimples, and all. Intimacy is a deep knowing, a caring, it involves trust and a sharing of vulnerabilities. We seek and find intimacy in different kinds of relationships – some that involve sex and some that do not. In some relationships, sexual intimacy and emotional intimacy may be closely bound; in others, sex may not predicate emotional intimacy and vice versa. Do the ways we experience and express our sexuality foster intimacy? Do experiences of intimacy nurture our sexual wellbeing? Can we experience sexual wellbeing without being in a sexually intimate relationship? What messages does the world around us give us about intimacy? Does it tell us that we are failures if we are not in an intimate relationship, or that intimacy comes at a cost? Do today’s norms and tech allow us intimacy or only an illusion of it? How much do we allow our selves to see and be shown? How clear is our looking glass? The February issue of In Plainspeak seeks to answer these tantalizing questions.
March – Choice and Sexuality
The complex syntheses of the choices we make, both mundane and significant, originate from and translate into our internal perceptions and lived realities, creating and sustaining the myriad layers of our lives. Some choices are born out of our inherent social conditioning, some out of informed, independent reasoning, while many others end up occupying the blurry liminal space between the two, precariously straddling both the political and the personal. Sexuality, one of our most intrinsically personal aspects, is still somehow frequently enmeshed in larger social, cultural, geographical, political, economic and other circumstances; it is constructed and manifested within a framework of choices that traverse too many blurred lines and liminal spaces, where agency and consent are an ever-nuanced, ever-malleable thing. Whether or not we’re choosing to have sex, to use contraception, choosing our partners, our reproductive rights, our bodily and sexual expressions, our modes of pleasure, choosing whether or not we want to get married, are all a product of who we are; the culmination of our internal perceptions and our external, socially-influenced identities. How free, then are these choices? What are their overlaps, their connotations, their intersectionalities – are they challenging oppressive hegemonic structures or adhering to them? The March issue of In Plainspeak ponders these questions and more, attempting to investigate the fragile balance in which choice and sexuality delicately hang. We urge our contributors keep in mind our cross-cutting theme of expanding safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming spaces while they write about issues of Choice and Sexuality.
April – Public Space and Sexuality
The private and the public – the microcosm and macrocosm of our modes of existence; the ever-amorphous, ever-versatile spaces where our identities, expressions, our lived self subsist, and mutually influence each other. In a world that’s increasingly globalised and connected, the private and the public may not even be distinct entities, and yet, they are spaces with their own intersections of both liberation and oppression, spaces where there may or may not be agency, where it may or may not be ‘safe’ to explore and embody one’s sexuality, one’s sexual choices, and the pursuit of one’s pleasure. When we conceive of the public, we tend to think of larger social, cultural, geographical contexts – how the world functions as a whole, and how individuals, communities, collectives and their specific social and cultural contexts interact with this world. But how does one function and flourish within a public space? How much mobility or visibility does one have? How much sexual autonomy? Do personal boundaries remain intact? Do people, their bodies and their choices have the latitude to thrive and prosper? The April issue of In Plainspeak engages with these complex and important questions, attempting to investigate the equal parts contentious and interdependent relationship of public space and sexuality. We urge our contributors keep in mind our cross-cutting theme of expanding safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming spaces while they write about issues of Public Space and Sexuality.
May – Diversity and Sexuality
Just as light refracts through a prism into rainbow hues, sexuality too, holds within it a multitude of colours and dimensions. It is, in fact, an amalgam of multiplicities – diverse, in the way we perceive it, explore it, come to terms with it and exhibit it. This diversity often emerges from the specificity of certain experiences – from how the intersections of class, race, caste, gender, queerness, religion, disability, (and more) may influence one’s sexuality or the external perceptions of one’s sexuality. This larger socio-cultural diversity also shapes the diversity within individuals – the entire universe of thoughts, beliefs, and ideologies that cause each person’s sexuality to manifest uniquely. The ‘light’ of an individual’s sexuality, hence, refracts into the diverse choices a person makes around their body, their sexual wellbeing, sex, and so on. Therefore, while diversity is multiplicity, it is also the inherent complexity within human sexuality, the diversely fluid ways in which our sexuality evolves over time and expands from our daily experiences and environments. The May issue of In Plainspeak attempts to examine these diverse prisms and the many-hued lights that emerge from them.We urge our contributors keep in mind our cross-cutting theme of expanding safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming spaces while they write about issues of Diversity and Sexuality.
June – Class and Sexuality
Sexuality is never simply a sum total of personal revelations – sure, it is the amalgam of our desires, our identities, our expression, but it is also at odds with, or in tandem with various external social structures. Class, one such social structure, is deeply pervasive (though often insidiously so), determining our access, our privilege, our cultural milieu, our knowledge, and our agency, whether we’re aware of it or not. And with the changing degrees of access, privilege, knowledge, and agency, come variations in how we explore and experience sexuality; in how we can be empowered or be stripped of power in expressing our sexuality. And sometimes, our expressions of sexuality cause us to be placed on what may be considered a ‘lower rung on the class ladder’, as only too many sexual dissidents have experienced. While class lines can be divisive, there are also experiences that cut across lines, that are universal, and that connect us. And because our overarching theme for all forthcoming issues is to expand safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming spaces, we look at that too in the June issue of In Plainspeak as we explore how class influences sexuality and vice versa.
July – Erotica and Sexuality
Erotica tends to evoke associations of the forbidden and scandalous, but also the immensely fascinating. In a world where honest conversations around sexuality are rare, where real stories of desire and pleasure are hard to come by, erotica is often our route to assuaging our sexual curiosities. Whether in print or online, whether consumed surreptitiously or openly, erotica is rich and diverse – offering a glimpse into an endless expanse of fantasies and possibilities. To some, it is instant gratification. To some, it is an active reclamation of narratives of sex, sexuality, sexual identity, and sexual wellbeing. To some, it is a reinforcing of the very same heteropatriarchal structures we’re looking to free ourselves from. But are such distinctions really necessary when erotica is essentially a subjective medium, or is it important to contemplate the kind of agency (or the lack thereof) erotica gives us? The July issue of In Plainspeak seeks to tackle these various questions around erotica, and attempts to examine its potential for being a safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming space.
August – Mobility and Sexuality 2
We are perpetually in motion – changing, shifting, growing, migrating – never remaining at the same physical or emotional place we are in at a particular moment. Our sexuality too is never a constant– it may evolve over time, it may ‘move’ from one expression of it to another,it may be more freely expressed in one environment, or shied away from in another environment. Whether this mobility is defined by one’s physical ability to move, or by social and cultural factors (like one’s gender or sexual identity, one’s economic position, and so on) that inhibit or enable one’s access to spaces and services,it still directly influences the way one experiences and comes to terms with one’s sexuality. The degree to which one has the freedom to be ‘mobile’ in a space can often determine whether one’s sexuality can truly be expressed in the way one wants to express it and whether it can flourish. Reciprocally, one’s sexuality may also restrict or expand one’s mobility (physical, social, economic and so on).The August issue of In Plainspeak seeks to delve into how mobility and sexuality are interlinked, while also contemplating what the link between mobility and sexuality means in the context of creating safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming spaces.
September – Privacy and Sexuality
“Privacy is the constitutional core of human dignity,” the Indian Supreme Court had declared in 2017, in a judgement that upheld the fundamental right to maintain personal boundaries, to be ‘left alone’, to not have our private choices (including those about sexuality) and private intimacies be scrutinised by external forces. On the other hand, “the personal is political,” said feminists in the ‘60s – that our private choices, modes of expression, and relationships, often have larger social consequences, and we cannot divorce the two. Privacy is, therefore, contentious.It is, many a times, a safe space, where sexuality and intimacy can flourish away from social norms and moral judgement, where bodies and desires can be free from patriarchal gaze. Privacy is often a privilege; being ‘left alone’ to your sexual choices is not easy when you belong at the margins, when numerous socio-cultural barriers prevent one from having privacy. In an increasingly digital age, privacy also intersects and collides with the public, leading us to broadcast deeply personal details of our lives for the whole world to see. How, then, does one find balance? How can privacy remain the ‘core of human dignity’ without falling prey to the external factors that threaten it? And most importantly, how does this impact the ways in which we experience and express our sexuality? The September issue of In Plainspeak explores these questions while also contemplating what the link between privacy and sexuality means in the context of creating safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming spaces.
October – Masculinities and Sexuality
The elusive categories of “man” and “woman” are just that: categories. They are socially determined labels designed to cage us into very specific boxes, accompanied by very specific rules – for example, if you are labeled a “man”, you are expected to embody “masculinity” in the form of physical strength, virility, emotional toughness, and much more. And if you follow these rules, a world of access and privilege opens up, allowing you to evade both social scrutiny and censure. However, as quickly as this privilege is bestowed, it is as easily wrested away the moment you dare to break the rules, to challenge the binaries, to reject monolithic understandings of masculinity. But is it not that there are multiple masculinities, rather than a singular masculinity? Masculinities that are diverse and fluid, perpetually in flux, perpetually evolving, perpetually fashioning themselves differently in different contexts? When butch women construct their own idealised spheres of masculinity devoid of the toxic influence of patriarchal gender expression and gender roles, devoid of patriarchal “male” influence; when queer men strive to reject the very same gender roles; when labels cease to matter; when one’s exploration of desires, sexual dynamics, relationships, interactions with sexual partners, modes of pleasure, and enjoyment of sexuality are no longer contingent on arbitrary socially-imposed rules, the idea of masculinities being plural and diverse is affirmed. In the October issue of In Plainspeak, we explore how masculinities intersect with sexuality and how they can be expressed in safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming ways.
November – Spirituality and Sexuality
Spirituality is tied to both belief and experience. It is sometimes born out of religion or faith, but sometimes transcends it to stand for a higher form of knowledge, a sense of ecstasy or tranquility that goes beyond mortal comprehension and mortal control. It can both encompass and challenge worship, idolatry, tradition, and ritual – standing for something that is felt deep in your bones. Sexuality too, is a felt experience. The physical expression of sexual desire through sexual acts may itself replicate or be a manifestation of the kind of awakening and release that spirituality offers (a not-uncommon colloquialism sometimes describes intense orgasms as a ‘religious experience’). Even other aspects of sexuality – like sexual wellbeing, positive body image, consent, autonomy, relationships – can replicate experiences of spirituality, and/or be deeply influenced by spiritual ideologies. However, while to some, these linkages between spirituality and sexuality may feel liberating, to others, they may seem constrictive and oppressive. To some, associating sexuality with spirituality may be an act of reclaiming spirituality from the confines of regressive morality, to others, freeing sexuality from notions of spirituality altogether may be a more powerful act of reclamation. In the November’s In Plainspeak, we delve into these issues and also reflect upon how the linkages between spirituality and sexuality may help create (or in some cases, may hinder the creation of) safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming spaces.
December – Human Rights and Sexuality
“Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status,” states the official United Nations definition. Since they are meant to be universal, cutting across both geographical and socio-cultural locations, these rights are intrinsically tied to our lived experiences, our identities, our choices, our actions, our freedoms, and our personal and social wellbeing. Sexuality, being an incontestable part of human experience, comes under the purview of human rights. The freedom of one’s sexual expression, the freedom to identify with a sexual orientation, the freedom to assert one’s reproductive and sexual rights, the freedom to marry who one wants to, the right to protection from discrimination and violence (and so on), are all human rights, and are essential to one’s sexual wellbeing. However, upholding these rights can sometimes be fraught with complexity and challenge. Institutions, in their laws and policies, may fail to universalise these rights – benefitting some individuals, leaving behind others. Even at a more personal, individual level, there may be dissonance, as when repression coexists with autonomy. The intersections and frictions between rights can also lead to complications, causing rifts within rights activism as well as leading to discrepancies in the way people conduct their lives. The December issue of In Plainspeakexplores the various interplays between Human Rights and Sexuality and how they affect safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming spaces.
January – Anthology Issue
Sexuality-related issues are gaining increasing exposure in the public domain with happenings like the #MeToo Movement and the reading down of Section 377 and other progressive judgements and conversations.However,there are still many social norms and structural and attitudinal barriers that prevent people from being able to comfortably talk about sexuality, to comfortably be who they are, and to feel safe and free enough to experience their sexuality in an affirming way, free of fear, shame or taboo.What we need are Safe, Inclusive, Sexuality-Affirming spaces– SISA spaces. Spaces that are safe from judgment and violence, inclusive of diverse identities, expressions and experiences,and affirming of one’s sexuality-related choices.We can find and expand these spaces in multiple aspects of our life, be they public spaces, private relationships, or our engagement with and on the Internet. The idea of a SISA space could also be a prism through which we view sexuality and expand our possibilities for wellbeing. The notion of SISA has guided the way we have approached sexuality and through 2019, we encouraged In Plainspeak contributors and readers to consider SISA spaces as a cross-cutting theme.January 2020’s Anthology issue brings you articles, essays, and curated content not just from 2019 but also from past issues spanning the six years that In Plainspeak has been online, that look at safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming spaces in various contexts and from different perspectives.
February – Sexuality and Pleasure
Pleasure is deeply personal and subjective, often located within the intimate spaces of one’s physical and emotional sensations,of one’s desires and fantasies. And yet, pleasure is also political –a product of our lived experiences, our social conditioning,and of the external forces that shape and control us. While it is experienced uniquely and differently by every individual, the value systems that we grow up with and the value systems we adopt in our adult lives often determine our pursuit of it. These very value systems may either police pleasure, or encourage it, or keep all knowledge of it locked away from us entirely. Are we all at equal liberty to explore pleasure in the ways that we want? Are some sources of pleasure considered more ‘palatable’ and ‘appropriate’ than others? Do some individuals or groups of people have greater freedom, agency, or access than others when it comes to pursuing pleasure? How safely can one pursue pleasure, in a world where patriarchal structures reign, power is unequally distributed and the spectres of infection, violence and unwanted pregnancy lurk? The February issue of In Plainspeak addresses these questions (and more),attempting to unravel the threads which connect sexuality and pleasure, and explores the relationship between the two in the context of building safe, inclusive and sexuality-affirming spaces.
March – Literature and Sexuality
The domain of the literary makes way for endless possibilities, where one can both escape to and create unknown worlds, away from the shackles of norms that repress us. It is where thought, and feeling, and expression can often find free reign and shape narratives of one’s own. But literature goes beyond fiction; it also encompasses true stories, factual stories, stories of our daily lives, stories of personal experiences. In a world that is increasingly influenced by and is centered around the online sphere, literature can also transcend the traditional mediums of print, its boundaries and definitions constantly expanding. Sexuality, too, is similarly diverse, encompassing within it multitudes of narratives and experiences. Hence, it is fitting that sexuality often seeks liberation in the realms of literature, where voices that are stifled by patriarchal norms and structures can flourish, resist oppressive systems, and find safe spaces of expression. For years, narratives around pleasure, desire, sexual fantasies, bodily autonomy, resistance, and rights have found space in literature, but at the same time, literature has also depicted sexuality in far from affirming ways. Hence, literature is a medium that can both subvert as well as mimic structures of oppression, and the way it is employed to represent sexuality can be, among other readings, deeply liberating or disturbingly restrictive. The March issue of In Plainspeak seeks to explore these dichotomies, specially in the context of how literature can help create safe, inclusive, sexually-affirming spaces.
April – Safety and Sexuality
May – Dating and Sexuality
‘Dating’ is a descriptor of a relationship as well as an activity. When one says that two (or more) people are dating, it could imply that they are in a romantic or sexual relationship. The word ‘dating’ could also be shorthand for the entire spectrum of experiences that revolve around meeting a person (going out on a date, so to say), getting to know them, assessing their potential as a possible romantic or sexual partner, and then entering into a relationship with them. Now, in an increasingly technologically-informed world, the definitions and boundaries of dating are expanding. When a single swipe on an online app can indicate interest in a potential partner, the range of experiences that can constitute ‘dating’ becomes more amorphous and more dynamic. And yet, in both the offline and online versions of dating, issues of consent and safety, pleasure and desire, agency and choice (and more) constantly interplay, intimately affecting each experience one has in the process of dating. In May’s issue of In Plainspeak, we attempt to parse out this complex interplay of issues and experiences that surrounds ‘dating’, and how these could influence and be influenced by the building of safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming spaces.
June – Health and Sexuality
In the times of a global pandemic, health is continuously at the forefront of everyone’s concerns. The current pandemic is again exposing how so many of us have internalised fear-based messages about health and how our concerns revolve only around disease-prevention or recovery rather than around a holistic sense of physical and emotional wellbeing at all times. Yet, health is so essential to our life that without it so many aspects of our daily existence can come to a standstill. One such aspect is sexuality, which is intricately linked to health – whether it be sexual health (prevention of sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancy, genital health, and so on), reproductive health (safe abortion, surrogacy, maternal health, etc), mental health, or beyond. Availability of and access to proper infrastructure and healthcare services like sanitation, clean, germ-free and stigma-free environments, accurate information and awareness, non-judgmental medical institutions, to name a few, as well as people-centered laws and policies also determine not only the degree of people’s health, but also the degree to which they can formulate notions about their sexuality and find safe avenues of exploring it. Health and wellbeing are in part a result of the ways in which we practice physical and emotional intimacy (both with oneself and with others), and there is no greater proof of it than now, in these times of physical distancing and self-quarantining and the complexities and nuances they bring to expressions of one’s sexuality. The June issue of In Plainspeak attempts to expand the understandings of health from disease-prevention and treatment to notions of wellness and wellbeing, and seeks to explore their impact on sexuality especially in the context of building safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming spaces.
July – Young People and Sexuality
Growing up can be an exciting and yet tumultuous experience. The period of adolescence, specifically, when grappling with bodily changes while at the same time trying to formulate one’s own identity and personality, can be fraught with both joy and confusion. One receives various messages around sexuality, sexual health, and sex itself, from the kind of conversations (or the lack thereof) that surround one, while simultaneously attempting to make sense of one’s own desires, attractions, and fantasies. Yet, in a society where sexuality is largely stigmatised, where adequate information isn’t readily available, where safe spaces too aren’t always available, the process of understanding, coming to terms with, and exploring one’s sexuality can prove difficult. Even beyond adolescence and into early adulthood, conversations or resources around sexuality might be scant, and dealing with the plethora of issues that come with one’s exploration of sexuality – consent, safer sex practices, experiencing attraction (queer or otherwise), and so on, can continue to be challenging. But, now in India, perhaps the needle is shifting. More than 34% of our population is in the age range of 15 to 34 years and many of them are increasingly finding avenues to gain greater exposure, challenge norms and express themselves more authentically. The Internet is one such avenue among many others. The July issue of In Plainspeak delves into the nuances of the issues young people face while navigating their sexuality in today’s world, and how safe, inclusive and sexuality-affirming spaces can augment their processes and experiences of embracing and enjoying their sexuality.
August – Innovations and Sexuality
With science and technology advancing at a rapid pace, it often feels like the world we live in is constantly driven by innovation. Whether it is the infinite possibilities the Internet offers to us, or medical inventions that have enhanced the quality of life, or artificial intelligence which is changing the way we perceive both machines and human beings, scientific and technological innovations are everywhere. Their influence on sexuality, too, is undeniable. We have technology to aid the very processes of sex or sexual pleasure like the manufacture of sex toys, robotic arms for masturbation, and so on, and at the same time, the Internet has made information on sexuality as well as visual mediums like pornography more readily available (though of course, whether or not these are reliable modes of disseminating information on sexuality is a different debate altogether). Innovations have also made it possible for people from various parts of the world to connect online with each other, and to potentially develop romantic or sexual intimacies. Scientific innovations have also greatly bolstered sexual, reproductive and maternal health, be it through assisted reproductive technologies, the manufacture of contraceptives, and more. And this is just the tip of the iceberg; technology and the innovations that arise from it have an inextricable relationship with the way we presently experience sexuality, in ways both big and small. The August issue of In Plainspeak attempts to explore this relationship between innovations and sexuality, and what it means in the context of the building of safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming spaces.
September – Law and Sexuality
Law governs our lives in both direct and indirect ways, setting down frameworks of behaviour, of rights and of personal freedoms. On principle, law also indicts that which it considers ‘criminal’, ‘immoral’, or a societal ‘threat’. But when law-making authorities hold the ultimate power to shape what is considered legal, and subsequently, what is considered the ‘norm’, do voices from the margins get adequately heard? Some countries in the global South have implemented anti-abortion laws, anti-LGBTQ laws, laws that jeopardise the agency of women, laws that do not foreground choice, laws that codify both gender and sexuality in binary terms – all of which have furthered stigmas against queerness, sexual and reproductive agency, and more. And yet, everything has not been bleak. Important legal developments like the decriminalisation of same-sex sexual acts in India, the allowing of women into the Sabarimala Temple (challenging age-old menstrual taboos), the legalisation of gay marriage in Taiwan, and so on, prove how laws can not only bolster the individual freedoms of marginalised communities, but can also shift and challenge what is ‘normal’ and what is ‘moral’. This is a dangerous precipice for law (as an institution) to stand on the edge of, and perhaps the only way we, as citizens, can hold it accountable and ensure that its power does not spiral out of control, is to be aware, critical and analytical of the laws and policies which govern our lives. The September issue of In Plainspeak attempts to do exactly this, examining the impact law has on sexuality and sexual and reproductive rights, and whether the right laws and policies can foster and uphold the creation of safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming spaces.
October – Risk and Sexuality
‘Risk’ is a word loaded with connotations – often associated with danger, with violence, with disease, often invoked while taking a protectionist approach to sexuality, to warn people from engaging in certain behaviours. Yet, taking risks can also be a feminist act, instrumental in both reclaiming agency and resisting patriarchal norms. The freedom to take risks can become a radical means for marginalised communities to seek to control their own narratives, to normalise spaces where they are seen, heard and respected. By claiming visibility and mobility in public spaces, by taking risks in the bedroom, by indulging in desires and fantasies society labels ‘risky’, by ‘risking’ being openly queer in a world where queerness is often stigmatised, and more, the status quos that govern our existence, that slot us into tight boxes, that seek to ‘protect’ us rather than empower us, can be challenged in infinite ways. However, one cannot dismiss the not-so-empowering aspects of risk – the risk of sexual violence, of sexually transmitted infections, of stigma and discrimination, of being ostracised for who you are or who you love. The October issue of In Plainspeak attempts to delve into these several connotations of risk and how they interact with sexuality, and also, whether ‘risk’ fosters or hinders the creation of safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming spaces.
November – Supports Systems and Sexuality
On some level, no individual can truly thrive without support – whether it be physical, emotional, or beyond. We are beings that crave comfort, solidarity, that crave to be acknowledged and loved. Support makes us feel less lonely, and affirms our sense of self, our beliefs, our personalities. Support systems, whether in the form of immediate family, friends and co-workers, or in the form of the mechanisms created by the larger structures of the state and society, are essential for us to both feel good about ourselves, and to feel good about the spaces we inhabit. And yet, for people of marginalised identities including queer and transgender people, support systems may take different shapes and forms. For them, state-mandated laws or societal attitudes may not offer enough support, and their definition of family or community might not be based on biological ties and might expand to informal support groups as well as online networks. For persons with disability or people of advanced age, support can manifest in the form of a caregiver from within or outside the family who takes care of one’s physical needs. The kind of support a person has affects the way they experience their sexuality. From a very young age, the support (or lack thereof) offered by one’s immediate environment may shape one’s understanding of sexuality and influence whether or not they internalise positive or negative messages around sex, pleasure, bodies, and so on. Similarly, the presence or absence of a support system can influence whether or not certain aspects of one’s sexuality can find free expression, whether one can explore diverse sexual practices, and whether one can pursue one’s desires. The November issue of In Plainspeak explores whether our support systems offer us a safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming space and promote sexual wellbeing.
December – Femininities and Sexuality
Gender is a spectrum with many colours and we perceive new hues as our ideas about gender evolve. And so it is with our ideas about feminity; or rather of femininities. It isn’t about ‘girliness’ (in fact, what is ‘girliness’ in the first place? Who even is ‘girl’?), or a certain standard of beauty or physical appearance, a certain style of clothing, makeup, a particular body type, etc. The notion of femininities isn’t even restricted to a particular gender. It can be an experience, a state of being, a feeling that comes from within, as well as a performance. Hence, there are multiple femininities, and multiple horizons of experience associated with these femininities There are experiences of misogyny in various shapes and forms, there are experiences that are associated with the body and are also irrespective of the kind of body you inhabit, as well as irrespective of the gender assigned to you at birth. that influence one’s exploration of desire, of pleasure, of body image, and of sexual and romantic relationships. In a patriarchal world, where misogyny abounds, are all manifestations of femininities equally denigrated or are particular expressions of femininity valued? The spectrum of femininities intersects with sexuality in more ways than one can count, and the December issue of In Plainspeak attempts to explore these intersections, especially in the context of how they affect safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming spaces.