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The Editorial: The Internet and Sexuality

cartoon sketch of a hand holding up a mobile phone; on the screen is pictures of more mobile phones

“But perhaps it isn’t practical communication or an idealized self that drives much of what we do online as much as it is the abstract idea of the unsullied connection. So much of human communication is wrapped up this desire: our inarticulate, inevitably futile wish to have another person understand us exactly as we understand ourselves.”

– Navneet Alang, The Comfort of a Digital Confidante

Cover gif by Carolyn Figel

Our desire to connect is perhaps one of the human aspirations that both Sexuality and the Internet serve. And with the Internet we now have new ways, unthought of even twenty years ago, of connecting with each other, and even at times with ourselves, finding aspects of our selves that we did not know existed. The ubiquity of the Internet is something that while seeming amazing (as in its original sense of astonishing or causing wonder) to some of us who grew to adulthood without it, is at the same time so taken for granted by most of those growing up a generation later.

A whole new vocabulary has grown alongside. Nouns have become verbs: you want to know more about something, you Google it; want to tell a friend about it, you Whatsapp them; want to shout it out to the world (or at least your tiny band of followers), you simply Tweet. Want to find some thrills? No need to cruise the neighbourhood, just go online. Marriages (and dates) are no longer made in Heaven, they are just a click away, if you are lucky or Net-savvy.

And so our contributors this month examine various aspects of what all this means. Siddharth Narrain in the Issue in Focus shows us incisively the possibilities of the breadth and reach of these connections while also cautioning us about the critical debates we should be focusing on, instead of the foolish ones that distract us. One of the most common ones is about the ‘harmful effects’ of the Internet, especially when it comes to young people (not surprising because anything that offers more freedom to young people is seen as ‘dangerous’, including sexuality education!) In this vein, Shubha Kayastha and Indu Nepal’s article is on how the assumptions about the Internet’s contributions to the phenomenon of early ‘love marriages’ in Nepal may be misplaced and how the Internet is actually used as a tool by young people to expand their lives. Apart from being used for communication, information-gathering, and checking the weather forecast, the Internet can also help one find the safest route to get somewhere, as we see in Elsa D’Silva’s article on how her organisation crowd maps sexual harassment in cities in order to make them safer.

Going online may also be an effective way of expanding one’s social (and sexual) circle. People use sites like Tinder to look for lasting love, a fun date or a night of no-strings-attached passion. Where there is a human encounter, there is always a story, whether of passion, humour, disgust, shame, love found or lost. Divya Swaminathan shares her story of looking for love online. And there’s a lot of tenderness too, as Indu Kumar’s #100 IndianTinderTales that we feature in Brushstrokes  shows through her depictions of what people who went on Tinder shared with her.

If you don’t want to go to Tinder, Grindr or Whatevr (no it does not yet exist!) because you don’t want a ‘real’ lover, don’t worry, you are in good company. There are many Japanese women who can’t be bothered with one, they would rather have someone who lives only in their phone, as you can see in the Video Corner!

So yes, it’s a strange, wonderful, complex world out there in cyberspace just as it is in the real world. There are lovely things to discover and many adventures to be had, and there’s also stalking, cyber-bullying, blackmail and other such perils. To help you stay safer online, we offer you Feminist Principles of the Internet and A DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity, and also feature #DigitalHifazat a campaign against cyber violence against women.

In the Mid-month Issue…

And to spell out the price we have to pay for the wonders of the Internet, in our mid-month issue we bring you a fascinating interview with Anja Kovacs of the Internet Democracy Project. Anja speaks with Shikha Aleya about the spread of digital surveillance into almost every aspect of our lives, its implications and what we need to do about it. On a different note, Smita Vanniyar reviews four dating apps to see how queer they really are and Somindar Kumar translates Ragamalika Karthikeyan’s article about how the Internet ‘rescued’ her. The blog rolls include articles about how young Kashmiris are using the Internet to find love in times of conflict and curfews, what a feminist Internet could look like, Laura de Reynal’s photos of first-time Web users (text in Hindi), as well as one on wanting monogamy while 1,946 men await the writer’s swipe!

Happy reading!