Only digital sex, please

Many Indian men are getting so dependent on digital sex and online pornography that they can’t handle real relationships. And a new book says this is happening the world over. Prasun Chandhuri and Avijit Chatterjee turn the spotlight on the trend

  • Published 31.05.15
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P. Sharath doesn't know how to handle women. The 31-year-old software engineer, who works for a multinational company in Bangalore, thinks he doesn't need them either. The man who grew up in Hubli in Karnataka and now earns an eight-figure annual salary has his virtual world. That gives him his sexual satisfaction.

Socially awkward, Sharath did try to date a woman, but the relationship broke within a few months because he found that she was getting to be "clingy" and "boring". An attempt by his family to fix a marriage with a woman failed when he groped her in a cinema hall. His online women, on the other hand, need no pampering, and do not complain.

Sharath, however, is not happy. "He no longer gets any gratification from online sex and has been suffering from anxiety and depression," says Dr Ali Khwaja, a Bangalore-based psychologist and founder of the Banjara Academy, a counselling centre.

Increasingly, counsellors in urban India are coming across such cases of people who are so used to digital sex that they can't cope with real relationships any more. Khwaja refers to them as "hollow men" - people who go through despair after relations fail because of their dependence on digital pornography.

"Almost every week I meet a young man addicted to porn," says Mumbai-based counsellor Shefali Batra, author of the recently published book Teen Matters.

It's a pattern that many counsellors have noticed. As teenagers, young boys get hooked on to digital sex. "But it becomes a vicious addiction over time, playing havoc with their social and sexual development," Batra says. The women they meet do not match up to the large breasted and oversexed digital women - and the boys become men who cannot sustain marriages and relationships.

Pornography has always existed, and some counsellors do not believe that it is always harmful. But the spread of the Internet, the easy availability of smartphones and the profusion of sophisticated sex games and other platforms have led to a situation where men merely log on for sexual satisfaction.

The Internet is bursting at the seams with sex sites. There are various types of sex games, including cartoon sex games, 3D sex games, virtual reality sex games and so on where the viewer can indulge in sex with three or four imaginary characters. Some online games offer virtual simulation sex. In a new genre of digital porn, users can enjoy 3D porn with a special virtual reality headset that allows them to step inside their favourite games and completely immerse themselves in a sexual fantasy.

And this is happening across the world. In a recently released book, Men (Dis)Connected: How technology has sabotaged what it means to be male, psychologist Philip Zimbardo holds that "masculinity" is being destroyed by online pornography and gaming technology.

"We have surveyed over 20,000 young people in many countries. Even though we don't have data on Indian men, we assume that the impact of freely available porn is creating a new breed of addicts in every country," he says in an email interview. "These men prefer to masturbate to visual images than have live sexual relations with real women."

Nikita Coulombe, co-author of Men (Dis)Connected, adds that it is an "endless novelty" and a "virtual harem" for the men. "In 10 minutes you can see more 'mates' than your ancestors would have seen in their lifetime."

There was a time when people shrugged and said, it's just a phase. But Zimbardo believes that this addiction has gone beyond that and will have a "permanent negative impact" on young men everywhere because the porn industry is big business.

The professor emeritus at Stanford discovered this phenomenon when he found that many of his male students were shy and spent too much time poring over screens. Closer home, academic and writer Shiv Visvanathan had a similar experience while teaching at the O.P. Jindal University in Haryana.

"Many of these guys do not know how to talk to a girl - they'd rather convey their feelings through text messages or through social networks or mobile phones. Sometimes you'll even see two people sitting close together but talking over the phone, just to avoid a face-to-face conversation," Visvanathan says.

What this means is that young men are not just wary of getting into relationships - they are not missing them either. "Porn gives them instant gratification which can be repeated, say, 200 times. Moreover, the virtual body seems more transformable than the actual body and it's fast," Visvanathan points out.

It is an addiction that draws men more than women, primarily because the majority of Internet porn is male-centric and, more than teenage women, boys are addicted to computer games and associated thrills. "Research has affirmed that this is truer for the male brain in comparison to the female brain," explains Batra. "The male brain is more thrill and pleasure seeking and these exciting virtual realities provide an immense rush of pleasure in the brain."

Zimbardo's survey underlines this. It found that three out of five men expressed a "lack of interest in pursuing and maintaining a romantic relationship" while three out of four women between the ages of 18 and 30 said they were concerned about the "emotional immaturity or the unavailability" of men.

While the celebrated psychologist plans to conduct a similar survey in India, concerns are already rising because the lack of sex education in schools and colleges - coupled with repressed backgrounds and exaggerated pornographic images - gives the young a warped idea of sex and relationships.

"In a society where talking about sex is taboo, their only avenue to satisfy sexual curiosities becomes porn," says Rohini Lakshane, researcher, Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore.

This is why sexologist Prakash Kothari often encounters young men who yearn for a "14-inch organ" and suffer from performance anxiety and depression. "Proper sex education can teach them just two inches and oodles of erotic love are enough to satisfy your female partner," says Kothari.

The experts stress that they are not against pornography. "One should not shoot the messenger," contends Audrey D'Mello, programme director, Majlis, a legal counselling centre in Mumbai. "If used properly it can be an aphrodisiac," Kothari adds.

But many of the images that the young today see are violent and bestial. "These twisted forms of sex are being consumed by young men and boys through smartphones across the country," laments Ira Trivedi, author of India in Love. Lakshane believes that easy access to violent pornography "degrades and objectifies women", giving men and boys a "skewed view of sex and intimacy".

Calcutta-based Subhrangshu Aditya counselled a woman who wanted a divorce because her husband forced her to replicate all that he watched on porn. "It was torture for her, devoid of romantic love or eroticism," Aditya says.

Indeed, the effect on men has an impact on women as well. Trivedi points out that as men devote themselves to porn, women go for measures such as vaginal beautification to attract men.

Or women go off sex altogether.

"These women have an extreme phobia about sex," says Aindri Sanyal, an infertility specialist at a Calcutta-based fertility centre. "Some haven't even got their marriage consummated. So they want to conceive through artificial insemination."

Is there a way out? Experts such as Khwaja are doing what they can. "I am trying to help Sharath socialise in mixed groups, then spend a few minutes at a time doing a favour for a woman, or showing a gesture. I want him to focus on understanding the emotions that girls go through and eventually make him understand how to interact with another flesh-and-blood person who has her own romantic and sexual needs," he says. "The process will take quite a long time."

Zimbardo, 82, wants the "socially crippled generation" to hit the Escape button on their digital devices. He wants to remind them that real sex involves communicating with a real person, feeling their pain, earning their trust and making a real connection to their heart. Like people did, once upon a time.

If it’s May, it’s got to be India

Some porn stats

♦ In 2014, India ranked among the highest consumers of pornographic content in the world, according to Pornhub, an online video hub
♦ Around 25 per cent of Indian visitors on Pornhub.com were women, 2 per cent higher than the worldwide average of 23 per cent
♦ Indians seek out pornography most in May and least in October
♦ More Indians surf porn on their smartphones than on desktops
On an average, Indians spend 8 minutes and 22 seconds per visit to Pornhub, 30 seconds less than the rest of the world
♦ Of all states, people from Andhra Pradesh spend the least time on Pornhub — 6 min and 40 sec; people from West Bengal spend 9 min and 5 sec; people from Assam spend 9 min and 55 sec
Sunny Leone is India’s favourite porn star
In most places in the world, porn is viewed most on Monday, but in India, it’s on Saturday
♦ Porn viewing in India dips by over 25 per cent on Diwali, Dussehra, New Year’s Eve and Gandhi Jayanti.

The 2014 survey was conducted by Pornhub and Quartz India; data gathered between Sept. 2013 and Sept. 2014

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