A woman talks about the first time she felt attracted to a boy and how a single touch sent electricity coursing through her. A man talks about his first sexual experiments with his male friends before he discovered he liked women more. Another girl talks about how people thought she identified as bisexual because she wanted to rebel.
Countless voices talking about exploring bodies, sensuality and sexual experiences, all different from each other, holding their own. That the world of sex and sexuality is more diverse than our language can describe is something many of us find it hard to comprehend. But Agents of Ishq, a nine-month-old bilingual website (in Hindi and English) endeavours to do that by showing it like it is with a desi twist.
Log on to the site and there’s no clinical jargon or boring twin colour theme. Instead, you’re greeted by funky colours and the tag line “We give sex a good name!” In the background, three men with hearts on their faces ride a scooter, a man and a woman holding hands over the moon (literally), and what appear to be two ungendered figures (one a fairy, one holding a laptop), kissing. Bollywood memes and desi headlines highlight the articles.
But with all information (and more) available at the click of a button, courtesy the internet, what was the need for a website like Agents of Ishq? Paromita Vohra, creative director of the website, says that the impetus was from the fact that young Indians are becoming more sexually active, they do not know where to access the right information about sex.
“Porn and Yash Raj Films don’t really count as comprehensive sources. It’s either that or friends. Other sources for sex education on the web use impersonal and use clinical language, and are also rather westernized, often not customizable to our socio-cultural setting,” Paromita says.
Agents of Ishq uses a variety of multimedia formats like video, podcasts, surveys and workshops to talk about issues of gender, sexuality, consent and much more. The platform is trying to make accessible to its readers what Paromita describes as “comprehensive sexuality education”, which has three aspects: sex education, sexual experience and sexual etiquette. “We need to move beyond the physical body,” insists Paromita.
With refreshing videos, features like ‘Sexy Saturday Playlists’, a singing condom called ‘Munna’ who encourages you to ask him anything, and custom illustrations and memes, Agents of Ishq has plenty to offer, even if you think you are a sex guru. But it’s the first-hand accounts which offer the most powerful insights. Written in first hand and recorded as podcasts, these personal experiences are narrated in a simple, candid manner. They reveal how unique each sexual experience is, even when it does not involve sex.
The individuality of each experience is something Paromita says they want to preserve, even if it means not having clickbait-y pictures or headlines. “We don’t want to box experiences into preconceived notions. So whether it is a heterosexual or a queer person who wants to contribute something for us, we put it on the same plane, without differentiation,” she says.
The core team of Agents of Ishq is all of three people. But with time, people have come forward with their contributions. “I think that’s because we try to treat each story as a special one. We go back and forth, creating illustrations and treating it with a lot of care. I guess people see it as a place where they can talk comfortably and safely,” Paromita says.
The need for a comfortable and safe space is something Paromita has observed often in her experience of conducting workshops and curating content for the website. “There is a lot of shame and secrecy with which sex is seen. At the same time, there’s a lot of pressure to “act cool” and appear unbothered about it. Women are freer talking about their sexual lives but many of them don’t feel respected by men – something which isn’t really discussed. People of every gender, anywhere in India, from Lucknow to Dharavi are facing similar issues,” Paromita observes.
With Agents of Ishq, the idea is also to explore the grey areas between love, sex and desire and not necessarily treat them as separate from one another. “Hence the word ‘ishq’. Because it subsumes all three meanings,” she says.
Paromita Vohra, Creative Director at Agents of Ishq