FRIENDS WITH­OUT BEN­E­FITS

India Today - - INSIDE - —Moeena Halim

When Pra­gati Singh first came across the term ‘asex­ual’ in 2014, she in­stantly iden­ti­fied with the la­bel. But as she scoured the in­ter­net for more in­for­ma­tion about why she didn’t feel the sex­ual at­trac­tion that ev­ery­body al­ways seemed to be talk­ing about, she be­gan to de­fine her­self as ‘grey sex­ual’ in­stead. Once de­fined as a com­plete ab­sence of sex­ual de­sire, asex­u­al­ity is now un­der­stood as more nu­anced, Pro­fes­sor An­thony F. Bo­gaert points out in his 2012 book Un­der­stand­ing Asex­u­al­ity. Grey sex­u­al­ity has come to stand for the spectrum be­tween an av­er­age level of de­sire (if there is such a thing) and no de­sire at all, with peo­ple defin­ing them­selves as demi­sex­ual or semi­sex­ual or asex­ual-ish.

Singh found that there were many oth­ers like her, through online com­mu­ni­ties like AVEN

Now, Singh has launched a friend-find­ing ser­vice, called Pla­tonic­ity, to help such folk make emo­tional con­nec­tions. It’s cur­rently run through Face­book, but Pla­tonic­ity will soon be a mo­bile app. “It is a plat­form to find oth­ers in your area for short- or long-term friend­ships and com­mu­nity build­ing,” says the 20-some­thing Singh, who had un­til re­cently been us­ing the alias ‘Grace’.

Ac­cord­ing to Dr Ra­jan Bhon­sle, pro­fes­sor of sex­ual medicine at G.S. Med­i­cal Col­lege and KEM Hos­pi­tal in Mum­bai, 7 to 8 per cent of Indians are asex­ual. “It could be be­cause of bi­o­log­i­cal rea­sons, caused by a ge­netic or hor­monal de­fect, or be­cause of a con­scious or un­con­scious sup­pres­sion of sex­ual feel­ings. Or it could be for tran­scen­den­tal or spir­i­tual rea­sons,” he says. Par­ents fre­quently bring their chil­dren to him when they refuse to marry, but he ad­vises against treat­ment if their hor­mone tests are nor­mal. “I see no rea­son for treat­ment un­less the pa­tient ex­presses a de­sire for it,” he says.

Two years ago, Singh found that there were many oth­ers like her through online com­mu­ni­ties such as AVEN, which she refers to as the go-to place for asex­u­als. In­dia did not have a com­mu­nity for asex­u­als un­til she set up In­dian Aces on Face­book in 2014, she says. “Mes­sages from peo­ple in Gu­jarat or from Kolkata ex­press­ing their grat­i­tude made me re­alise the sig­nif­i­cance of cre­at­ing a group and spread­ing aware­ness.”

Conventional dat­ing apps are next to use­less for “peo­ple who are slightly off about how they want to con­duct their sex­ual life”, she found. That’s why she asks first-time users of Pla­tonic­ity about their ro­man­tic ori­en­ta­tion as well as where they fall on the grey sex­ual spectrum—sex-favour­ing, sex-re­pulsed or sex-in­dif­fer­ent. Users are also en­cour­aged to re­veal per­son­al­ity dis­or­ders or phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties.

Two days af­ter she set up Pla­tonic­ity, Singh re­ceived 300 en­tries from In­dia and as far away as China, Zambia and Canada. And since she be­gan host­ing “off­line mee­tups” across Delhi, Ben­galuru and Mum­bai over the past year, she’s dis­cov­ered the com­mu­nity’s deep thirst for con­nec­tion. “When I speak on pub­lic plat­forms, peo­ple come up to me say­ing they’ve been feel­ing this way all their lives,” she says. Now, they know they’re not alone.

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