Lizzy Kinsey and the Adult FriendFinders:
An Ethnographic Case Study about Internet Sex and Pornographic Self-Display in Hong Kong.
(Previously published in Culture, Health and Sexuality, Vol 12, Issue 6, May 2010)
This chapter investigates web users, their sexual behaviors and self-representations as observed on the sex and dating site http://www.adultfriendfinder.com. The website is a massive social network g（大型社交网络 da xing she jiao wang luo）for sexual self-display and encourages members to find real-life partners for sex–whether it be casual sex affairs between singles, swinging couples, or extra-marital affairs between “aba” (attached but available) individuals and their lovers. The paper analyzes the imaging strategies of Chinese and non-Chinese web users in reference to a playful adoption of commonplace notions of sexiness as “cybertypes.” The aim is to reflect on these online behaviors as changing sexual culture, while also debating the use of libidinal online personalities as a cognitive apparatus within sex research. The paper thus explores sexual identity within social networks as auto-ethnography, and the dual identities and boundary-crossing agencies of web-based researchers and their subjects.
Key Words: Internet Sex, Pornography, Globalization, Internet Culture
This chapter examines a two year case study carried out in Hong Kong and looks at cultures of self-display on the massive social network http://www.adultfriendfinder.com (hereafter AFF.com). The words, fantasies and imaging choices of web users are extensively quoted, though they wish to remain anonymous in this study. Women and men from Chinese and non-Chinese cultural backgrounds shared their sex experiences with the author through online chat, story-telling, and face-to-face interviews. Some of my interlocutors on the web site were willing to answer my questions through chat or email exchanges, while others were interested in a face-to-face meeting. I arranged these meetings in public spaces like restaurants or city parks. In most cases, I tried to have sincere and pleasant encounters and I interviewed people two or three times, while alternating the interviewing environment. I also made efforts to socialize and relax with people outside these sessions by having lunch or dinner beforehand or afterwards. 
An online personality was created that would suit the goals and philosophy of AAF.com, while allowing the author to explore sexual self-display(含性暗示的自我展示 han xing an shi de zi wo zhan shi) and the cultural context surrounding the website. In analyzing online exchanges and face-to-face encounters with Adult Friendfinders, I wanted to find out why culturally diverse women and men in Hong Kong had decided to use this US-based corporate network to seduce each other into the bedroom? Why were people adopting its sexualized personas and simplified pornographic identities as “cybertypes” ? Additionally, wanted to find out what their cultural associations with this network was and how was had been stimulating, privileging or hampering the dating game?
My study was restricted to people who use the site for arranging non-commercial sexual encounters, though it is also used female and male sex workers to attract customers. For instance, a 40 year old Asian woman “Poppy Nipple” is interested in erotic chat and email only and explains in her detailed profile that she works as a model for nude photography. Her language is very sexually charged and her profile picture shows a sexy lingerie outfit from the waist down. She writes that she is not a sex worker and is interested in using the site to develop online sex chats, though it is of course unclear what her real motivations are for using this site. Even though the website hosts such fuzzy work/play identities, the online strategies of sex workers fall beyond the scope of this chapter.
DIY Pornography: Living and Breathing with Cybertypes
AFF.com is a massive transnational social network run by a corporate-driven American entertainment company that allows people to buy a membership and upload sexually explicit photos and videos. It is one of the leading commercial websites of an ongoing trend towards Internet sexuality as participatory digital media or DIY pornography (自制色情内容 zi zhi se qing nei rong), involving a blurring between selfhood and the ephemeral signs, myths, and pathways of netporn culture (Jacobs 2007, 2). Web users across the globe are encouraged to formulate and depict sexualized selves to get access to other people’s databases and arrange cyber encounters or actual sex dates.
Friendfinder Inc. was founded in 1996 by a Silicon Valley company called Various that pioneered different sex and dating sites. In December 2007 the site was sold for a ground-breaking US$500 million to Penthouse, making a successful adjustment from traditional pornographic media to DIY pornography — the era of user-generated content and social networking. It thus became the world’s largest corporate network for adult entertainment, owning a booming family of sex sites and a combined membership of more than forty million. The network now caters to a wide range of cultures and communities based on various demographics such as age: seniorfinder.com, religion: BigChurch.com, JewishFriendfinder.com, and ethnicity or nationality: AsiaFriendfinder.com, IndianFriendfinder.com, Amigos.com, GermanFriendfinder.com, FrenchFriendfinder.com, KoreanFriendfinder.com, and Filipino Friendfinder.com. These websites promise endless possibilities for inclusive and imaginative self-display and sexual joy, but are they really helping people to experience stimulating encounters within the sex culture of Hong Hong? Although there are in theory very few restrictions on the kinds of sexy pictures and videos Hong Kong people can exchange, their choices are affected by engrained cultural behaviors, local social lifestyles and normative preaching by the expansionist corporate site itself.
One of the projected behaviors on AFF.com seems to be an assumed familiarity with pornographic clichés of gender and race; or a collective use of generic and predictable names, images and profiles. Nakamura (2002) has pointed out in Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity and Identity that digital networks are indeed socially transformative spaces precisely in how they allow people to play with stereotyped depictions of race and gender within emerging media cultures. As she writes: “Cybertyping is the process by which machine-enabled interactivity gives rises to images of race that both stem from a common cultural logic and seek to redress anxieties about the ways that computer-enabled communication can challenge these old logics” (Nakamura 2002, 5). It is hard to pinpoint who the perpetrators of this cultural logic are, as web users collaborate in creating the semantics of a new medium while equally challenging older cultural logics. Nakamura is interested in how racial identity, racial diversity and racist attitudes are engendered in machine-enabled communication practices and believes that cybertyping performs a crucial role within the signifying practices of networks.
Even though this analysis of AFF.com is not primarily focused on race and racial identity, it applies Nakamura’s philosophical approach to studying self-display. People may decide to disguise as “types” in order to maximize their chances at finding partners, though these signifying practices would obviously be hurtful and off-putting to potential partners. What would be the more complex inter-cultural probings and frustrations behind the use of a simplified social mask? Disguised as Lizzy Kinsey, I wanted to get more deeply involved in this mainstream network and witness its spaces of transgression as well as its boundaries. Boyd (2007) for example has equally functioned as a participant ethnographer of the social networks MySpace and Facebook to witness deep-rooted social divisions (社会分化 she hui fen hua) amongst US teens. Her study reveals how popular networks easily reproduce a social elitism or ethos of upward mobility that leaves behind the imaging processes of fringe or minority cultures. The self-representations of Hong Kong sex seekers are read against this background of social unrest within a potentially emancipatory sex site. Web users exploit social networks because they want to parade and display their subjectivities and social connections (Donath and Boyd 2004, 72). As players within AFF.com, web users show themselves and their social circles as sexualized subjectivities and cybersexual types. How can we capture and contextualize this process of sexualization produced by machine-generated human behaviors? Through my interactions with AFF.com as “Lizzy Kinsey, scholarly sex machine,” I acted diligently and emphatically to find my own answers and sexual connections, while inviting web users to cooperate in generating a unique kind of reflection.
The Lizzy Kinsey Online Experiment as Auto-Ethnography
In developing a theoretical perspective on Lizzy Kinsey’s online experiment, the study contributes to ethnography as a reflective and reflexive hearing of voices (Plummer 1995: XI). Plummer’s methods of garnering and dissecting sex stories allows for emotive-relational and culturally embedded exchanges.  I created the profile of a scholarly sex machine to attract people and to negotiate a sexual-intellectual kind of cooperation. At first instance, people started sharing sexual testimonies and fantasy stories as a form of symbolic interaction and cultural commentary. At a second stage, I asked several people to come out in a public space.and have a dialogue about Internet sex
In order to process these encounters, I became interested in mixing the genres of diary writing and academic analysis. This type of ethnographic enquiry has been associated with female or feminist writers and their attempts to maintain empathic and reflective voices to facilitate social knowledge and intimacy (Reed-Danayah 1997, 16). In August 2006, I uploaded the profile of Lizzy Kinsey, a 40 year old Caucasian bi-sexual woman, and the imagined granddaughter of American sexologist Alfred Kinsey. Alongside my scholarly ambitions to garner data and interview people, I wanted to experiment with my own sexual self-display. I wanted to attract web users and photographed my naked body, while trying to give a hint of my underlying research goals. The picture I selected shows a close-up of my naked torso and breasts, while sitting down on my knees with a pen lying on top of my legs. I have scribbled a written text on my stomach that reads “Are you Ready?” Lizzy Kinsey was cast as an outgoing and sexually active female who uses a pen as a reflective tool. The pen could be seen as an instrument to play with sexually or to record stories. Lastly, I followed the AFF.com fashion of the day and disguised my identity by cropping the picture and not showing my face. Hence I had created my own “cybertype” , which could be easily accepted within the network but was also a disguise that could be dismantled by my interlocutors.
Fig. Lizzy Kinsey’s first and second profile picture
In the written part of the profile, people were asked to send me their erotic secrets and stories, or to share experiences in a face-to-face encounter. The response was overwhelming as Lizzy Kinsey received five to six responses on a daily basis. The profile was rewritten a couple of times but it was always generic so that people would have to guess about the underlying motivations. By using the profile, I attracted and teased people who were interested in sex and in picking me up or chatting online, but I slowly revealed to them that I was a researcher who wanted to share and record experiences. Many people simply disappeared at that point, or they masturbated their way through these negotiations and then dropped off, but some remained on board and were willing to share more in-depth information.
I had extensive correspondences with about twenty people and conducted interviews with them either by email or through face-to-face meetings. I have selectively quoted from three of these interviews to elucidate topical issues within a representative cross-cultural dating environment. The second reason for highlighting these peculiar dialogues has to do with the theoretical and methodological focus of this essay, which is a qualitative and empathic analysis of cross-racial encounters as (auto) ethnography. The other interviews will be used in a larger study of Internet pornography and cyber identities in Hong Kong, which is funded by a Strategic Research Grant at City University of Hong Kong and consists of an analysis of different demographics and web communities.
The profile of Lizzy Kinsey allowed me to explore a particular environment and make use of my sexual body while attracting people who would help me along in my intellectual pursuit. I also used it as a tool to reflect on my own boundary-crossing experiment and to test out a collective self-objectifying impulse in Internet sex culture. Wendy Chun (2006) points out in Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia and the Age of Cyber Optics that a web user’s tendency to create sexual dairies and archives is part of a will to knowledge. . In The History of Sexuality, vol 1 The Will To Knowledge, Foucault explains the functioning of sexuality as an analysis of power related to the emergence of a science of sexuality (“scientia sexualis”). He criticizes the repressive hypothesis, or the widespread belief that we have repressed our natural sexual drives. He shows that what we think of as repression of sexuality actually constitutes sexuality as a core feature of our identities, and has produced a proliferation of sex and pornography discourses. This force not only lays in the search for sexual arousal or relationships, or the testing of moral boundaries and social norms, but also in the urge to build a new knowledge apparatus around habits of navigating and manipulating the products of web culture itself.
Through my profile I triggered people’s fantasies and desires to explore an unusual experiment at gathering social-sexual knowledge. It produced sparkling insights, but they were indeed often ephemeral and did not always lead to further contact. I was unable to get more significant insights from a large number of people who gradually dropped out, though their daily responses became a legitimate part of the ongoing experiment as a way to explore the dating rituals. A more diversified research team would no doubt have observed other aspects based on their own specific cultural backgrounds and degrees of willingness to participate. It would have been very interesting to collaborate with other researchers in this goal and to garner responses about other representative user groups, by employing several other subjectivities and cultural parameters.
The Cultural Sex Rituals of Adult FriendFinders in Hong Kong
AFF.com is primarily a site for heterosexual sex and dating activities, where people share pictures and movies via web portals and video transmission to seduce others into sex encounters. Members use the web site for daily browsing and to build a somewhat loyal network of friends. Even though the site spreads a promotional rhetoric of browsing for sex with instant results, as indicated by its slogan ”meet real sex partners tonight! (今晚就结交真实的性爱伴侣 jin wan jiu jie jiao zhen shi de xing ai ban lv)” it is also a virtual lounge with services and distractions for those who are stuck at home. People use the site to upload and tweak their profiles, to conduct live chats with remote or anonymous partners, to spy on photographs and video albums, or play silly games such as the Wet T-shirt Contest and the Naughty Carol Contest.
Every time an AFF member is contacted by another member, a happy upbeat announcement is sent to their private email account. In addition, AFF.com sends out a daily deluge of ads to its members, who would easily receive a daily average of four to five ads. The match-making engine is unrelenting and uses all its automated skills to encourage members to use various applications which will lead to them having sex. It is like a nagging friend who worries for your sexual well-being and wants you to go on a date as soon as possible. Members are given three to four encouraging messages every day, containing lists and thumbnail photographs of other members who have already contacted them, members who live in their vicinity and are ready for action, or members who match their profile. The network uses a pushy “you need to get laid (你需要现在就上床作爱 ni xu yao xian zai jiu shang chuang zuo ai)” or “you are ready!(你准备好了 ni zhun bei hao le)” rhetoric everywhere, even though such rhetoric would be clearly out of place or undesirable within a wide range of social circles. The site simply displays a lack of sensitivity towards the diverse demographics it is hoping to attract.
Moreover, the site pretends to be a potentially enormous sex aid for female and male users across different cultural regions and demographics, but it actually does not show any knowledge about gender or cultural differences in arousing members. For instance, the site has invited Internet pornography companies to place advertising and to offer video-on-demand selections, but these do not cater to Asian customers. When opening the Hong Kong site in either English or Chinese, there is an abundant presence of American porn(美式艳照 mei shi yan zhao) and Caucasian models（白种模特 bai zhong mo te）. The site also selects five to six naked pictures of female Caucasians within the AFF community to lure other members. Very few attempts are made to include ethnic diversity or offer male top model teasers for females.
In December 2007 there were about 100,000 male members in Hong Kong versus 8000 females. This uneven gender ratio is similar in most of their other websites, as there currently is a shortage of women who want to sign up. As a result of the uneven gender ratio, women who open profiles are automatically swamped with requests, while males may be starved for a reply for weeks on end. In Hong Kong the site is now available in Chinese and in English, but web users from Chinese and non-Chinese backgrounds mostly correspond with each other in English. This is probably due to the fact that the Hong Kong site from its inception has failed to attract the Cantonese-speaking cultural majority. Rather, it has attracted web users from several ethnic and linguistic backgrounds who all correspond in English. The site became very popular around 2005 and has continued to expand its membership. It had 60,000 members when I started my research in August 2006 and almost tripled its membership by the time I ended it in August 2008. Other cultures with a population size close to Hong Kong have attracted a larger membership, but the Hong Kong website has nonetheless spawned a substantial group of web users who actively upload content and pursue sex.
The site is a novel phenomenon in Hong Kong, where people are not encouraged to pursue sexualized self-representation or explore DIY porn environments as people have in Western cultures. As sexologist Dr. Man Lune Ng explains, Hong Kong is a sophisticated and Western-influenced metropolis with a high-tech infrastructure and diverse web communities, but there are severe undercurrents of moral and social conservatism. Hong Kong’s progressive communities and sex activists strive towards a sex-positive cultural climate, including freedom of speech and basic sexual rights. At the same time sex activism is hampered by intolerant attitudes and by mainland China’s war on pornography and its Internet censorship. Dr. Ng also observes that a clear sexual split is found in Hong Kong sex culture as the Chinese and Western mindsets often fight and crash vigorously with each other (Ng Man Lune 2006). These historically embedded tensions within Hong Kong’s post-colonial society contribute to a heightened atmosphere of anger and frustration amongst web users who are trying out a new multi-cultural environment.
But who are the cultural winners and the losers amongst the Internet hunters in Hong Kong? Since the Chinese male majority is underrepresented, there is indeed more room for non-Chinese males to attract women. The site has indeed attracted a large percentage of Caucasian males who use the site to hook up with Chinese women. Chinese women have taken advantage of this situation to test out cross-racial dating and cater their profiles to non-Chinese males. In order to understand this model of cross-racial desire, one could attempt a comparison with Karen Kelsky’s analysis of Japanese women and their romantic fantasies about foreigners or cosmopolitan culture. Hong Kong women seem to favor or romanticize the “foreign” status and sex appeal of the site to resist gendered expectations within the Chinese culture (Kelsky 2001, 2). At the same time, as will be shown in more detail later, they use commonplace notions of sexualized femininity to cater to male users.
Searching through a collection of Asian females who use English to seduce others but whose mother tongue is Cantonese or Mandarin, we detect a wide range of names and personas associated with “whore-like” or “bad girl” femininity (妓女般或坏女孩式的女性特质 ji nv ban huo huai nv hai shi de nv xing te zhi). In most cases the chosen names refer to universally sexy types and do not have any reference to ethnicity, such as “Exotic Allure”, “Naughty Mommy”, “Daily Diva”, “Wicked Angel” and “Sexy Bitch However, in about 30% of the cases, women include various ethnic labels, such as “HKWifey”, “SakuraHK ”, “HK Lulu”, “Your China Lover” or “Gloomy China”.
For their photographs, females mostly use images of their nude bodies or close-up pictures of their breasts, legs, buttocks, or vaginas. The difference between female and male profiles is that women use a larger variety of body parts, while males largely use a picture of their cocks. In the case of heterosexual swinging couples, the naked body of the female partner is often chosen to represent the couple. For instance, a 50-year old inter-racial Asian-Caucasian couple approached Lizzy Kinsey with this request for action: “We are more than ready. I would love to write on your body with my tongue and we could trace some interesting lines on you. Do drop us a line.” The profile image used by this couple is that of the Asian’s woman’s breasts, and they use this image to hide a fuller identity to maximize their chances at sexual seduction.
The Chinese female profiles establish a reversal of normative depictions of Chinese women as either well-behaved, good girls, or passive and pleasantly subdued bed partners. These reversals support the findings of Chinese feminist scholars who have found that women increasingly articulate lustful identities around acts of watching and consuming sex images (Ho and Tsang 2002, 71). Even though female erotic cybertypes are accepted and applauded within the cultural context of Adult Friendfinder, they are still at odds with or rebelling against the traditional patriarchal sex culture of Hong Kong.
Male profiles on AFF.com are focused on a potent sexual body, including a picture of the erect cock. About 50% of males who approached Lizzy used an image of their erect penis. Additionally, people used clichéd names like “EndlessFun”, “HK juicy lover”, “Black”, or “HK_puppy_dog.” These choices can be seen as lacking imagination or selling a phallic male ego, but it is important to note that males from diverse backgrounds participate in this trend and thus deconstruct of the idea of the ideal penis. One could indeed applaud this trend towards autonomy and diversification because it allows men to participate in definitions of sexuality and potency (Lehman 2007, 111). Nonetheless, the dominance of a phallic images reinforces a ideology of a forceful male seduction where women’s bodies are expected to adapt and act accordingly. Even though they cast the keen male genital in various shapes, sizes and skin colors, they also simply echo the “We all need to get laid here” rhetoric of the AFF.com ad campaigns.
Face-to-Face Meetings with Cybertypes
Adult FriendFinder is an expansionist business venture trying to sell the image of a euphoric sex hunter who finds his/her prey regardless of social divisions and backgrounds. The web site uses aggressive ad campaigns to convince web users to improve their technological competencies and learn how to upload and fine-tune suitably sexy profiles. Web users have internalized this rhetoric through self-objectification and the use of cliches, which can function as a useful mask within the online sex zone.The generic profiles of sexuality can be easily manipulated, fine-tuned or deleted on a website, but how do they cling to us as social agents within the Hong Kong sex environment?
Nakamura explains that one cannot just employ online personas without tapping into personal histories and cultural experiences of ethnic and social groups. Just as Nakamura theorizes cybertypes to reveal social and racial anxieties, I wanted to examine human stories and complexities behind the use of a mask. I interacted with the women of the profile Double Trouble, two Chinese women who also call themselves Nin and Ning. Their profile read as follows:
We welcome overseas applicants, Caucasians only…For those who have short concentration span: All emails without a recent face pic and cock size will be banned immediately … Ning has 34D bra size and her nipples of course are delicious. She is 5’2″ and has the smoothest white skin. She hates being spanked! Nin is the naughty younger sister, 30 years old. She is 5’6″, has small tits, keen nipples and a nice tan. She loves being spanked during doggy.”
Ning and Nin both love young hot white guys between 25 and 38, but not young at heart. They must be athletic and very tall and they must not have saggy asses. They specify that the penis they were looking for has to be a “Rock hard average cock (hump the magic seven …): 7 inches. Not too thick as we both have tight pussies. We will update our profile accordingly if they want to venture into huge black cocks or nine inchers.”
The tone of the profile was indeedhumorous and included a pictorial comparison between the bodies of Nin and Ning. But the profile also included those typical references to ethnic categories and body types that could be off-putting or offensive to many potential candidates. Why did they use these references and how were members responding? I first met with Nin in a restaurant where she was very friendly and generous, but her partner Ning had decided not to participate in the study. We talked about inter-racial dating and she told me that many local girls still dream about dating foreigners. We had an email exchange a few days later and the tone of her messages were humorous and witty, as we were both acting out our bad girl personas. She explained that she developed the “Double Trouble” identity primarily to cater to male fantasies, but it had indeed started to affect her sexual preferences. As a matter of fact, she was eager to discuss her boundary-crossing experiences and this is how we bonded on an emotional level.
I asked her about her relationship with Ning and why she had decided to team up with another female. Nin replied: “We aren’t lovers in real life. We have touched and kissed each other but that’s it. No oral sex or hand jobs between us.” She explained later that she believes that most women have a more fluid sexuality than men. Even though she did not think of herself as a bi-sexual woman, she still enjoyed observing her female partner. In the second interview, Nin clarified that she got turned on by seeing her friend having sex with a man because she would imagine what he would do to her.
Several weeks later, I conducted an in-depth interview while she sat at a computer and explained how she browses profiles and uses the website. She was projecting a different type of mood and personality and indicated that she actually did not like most of the male profiles on AFF.com and was looking for a deeper connection. When I pointed to the racial descriptions in her profile and asked her why she did not like Chinese men, she denied having a racial preference and brought it down to the issue of penis size:
I don’t have a racial preference but I do like men who are tall and relatively well-endowed (around 6.5 to 7 inches) so most of the guys I date are Caucasians. Of course not all Caucasians are well-endowed but on average they are slightly bigger/ thicker than Asian men. I have not been out with a black man yet. I haven’t been approached by one in real life. … I found out many women on the site (either from their blogs or their comments on others’ blogs) say size does not matter, but I disagree. I can feel the difference between having a 6-inch and 7-inch cock. I do like slightly bigger one but 8 inches are my maximum. Before I joined the site, I thought 6 inches was a below average size for white men but it turns out they are average.
Nin later confirmed that she preferred Caucasians because Asian men have smaller penises, and she even added that she thinks Indians are an exception and have slightly bigger penises. When I recalled her remarks about penis size and racial preference, she then qualified her attitude by pointing to historical-cultural factors:
I think it’s also a historical problem. Some people tend to think white men are better in bed because they are more experienced. They know how to please women etcetera. But you also have to consider the fact that all the expats have their own apartment but local men do not. How often can you have sex if you do not have your own place? It’s bound to be difficult, isn’t it? I also wonder if there are Chinese women who think it is OK to be promiscuous or sexually open in front of white men but not in front of Asian men, especially those who think they will marry an Asian man in the end.
Nin added that her attraction to Caucasians had something to do with the movies that she grew up with, the education she received and her major in English literature. She showed that her desire for Caucasian males grew out of complex individual desires and historical factors and that she ultimately acts out clichés to her own benefit. Her persona of a “bad girl with opportunistic taste” allowed her to easily control AFF traffic while hiding the more vulnerable or socially conformist layers of her personality. She used the profile to have a higher success rate on this cross-cultural dating ground, while trespassing restrictions about lustful femininity and alternative sex within local culture.
Kelsky (2001) has observed that the desire of Japanese women to avoid the traps of local culture may reinforce the traditional relations of power they appear to be undermining. The rebellious bad girl who dates “Caucasians only” is equally an example of a racist slur. Double Trouble was obviously trying to play it both ways by adopting a juicy label within the AFF community, while trampling on the norms of traditional Chinese culture and offending a large portion of the male population.
In order to find out how males were adopting and reacting to cybertypes, I also had face-to-face interviews with several AFF.com males. The first one who agreed to be interviewed was Damon Lust, a Caucasian male in his late thirties who had lived in Hong Kong for several years. He was the person who actually told me about the popularity of the AFF.com site. He was aware of the fact that I was a researcher and also wanted to wish me well on a personal level. He talked to me extensively about his sex encounters as we became friends and shared our thoughts.
I mostly talked to him about his relations with Chinese women and couples. Damon confirmed that there was indeed a lot of traffic between Caucasian males and Chinese females on AFF.com. He was very interested in meeting Chinese females who wanted to target foreigners like himself. He had created a profile to suit inter-racial desires, describing himself as a very handsome sexual and high-cultured foreigner interested in local dates. Damon was also eager to help me analyze the culture of the site in general and provided further insights about social class and power relations:
There is a Chinese revolution of sorts going on at this site, but it is a female revolution. The Chinese men do not seem that interested, even though many of them have extra-marital affairs by visiting sex workers or taking on mistresses from mainland China. The gwailo population like myself takes advantage of this situation as there are a high number of sex starved Chinese women who are relatively easy to get. But there is some kind of revolution in that these women are starting to take control of this situation and take pleasure in it, by talking about it and showing it off. They have more lovers than you think they do. And of course the Internet has made it is much easier for these women to participate. You’d be surprised to see how many respectable women are actually out there.
It became clear that the opportunistic bad girl type was influencing social relations within AFF.com community and allowing Chinese women to control traffic by attracting or rejecting foreigners. Damon confirmed that women acted out bossy personas to seduce him. When he had just signed up to AFF.com, he tried to meet with one of the sexually forward Chinese women who wrote him that “she was in a gangbang mood.” However he did not have any naked pictures of himself at that moment, so he lost his chance as she demanded to see a picture. He also told me that he got rejected in the same way by “Double Trouble.”
Even though AFF.com requires a membership, Damon believes that overall it has had a democratizing effect in Hong Kong society. He himself was able to go out with Chinese and Caucasian people from very different class backgrounds. He saw a clear difference between an AFF.com class and the traditional high-society or cosmopolitan class of Hong Kong. As he explained:
The site is perhaps still expat-dominated but it is very different from the social upper crust of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a very money-driven city, not just for those very rich people. The upper crust have sexual affairs with each other, but they really don’t need the Internet or digital technologies. They have extremely high-class prostitution and escort networks. The large presence of male Caucasians shows that the business class in Hong Kong is now using Internet sex to arrange casual affairs, when in previous times they may have resorted to entertainment with commercial sex workers.
I also conducted several interviews with Pong Leung, a 44-year old Chinese male and sports instructor who wanted to share ideas about power relations and social class. He used the name of an American celebrity in his profile and added pictures of his well developed back muscles. He did not mind meeting me for face-to-face interviews and told me that he had had on and off experiences with Internet dating for over ten years. Indeed, he had sent me a message on AFF.com in saying that he wanted to have sex with a blonde. I asked him where he got that idea, and he replied:
Hello Dear, Well, I am a local Hong Kong-er who wants to have sex with a Western lady. When I was young, I watched Charlie’s Angels (the very 1st version). I was totally attracted by the gals … Kate Jackson, Jacqueline Smith and the blonde… In my mind, I believe the blonde is the most beautiful creature in the world. So, I would love to have sex with a blonde…And I work hard on my English… build up my body…hoping that one day I will have sex with a blonde… so, please write to me, see what will happen. We may go swimming, enjoy sunbathing… enjoy a lazy afternoon in a hotel room… Once again, write me back and let’s have some fun.
Pong Leung turned out be a very friendly, shy and mellow person when we had our first lunch meeting. He insisted that I was a sexy person but was kind enough to stick to the ethnographic plot. He was quite insecure about his physical appearance and command of the English language. I invited Pong Leung for a second videotaped interview which took place while he browsed AFF.com. In this interview he told me about the difficulties he was experiencing in getting sex dates on the site. He showed fifteen profiles of Chinese women who stated that they wanted to only date Western guys or used the racist phrase “Caucasians only”. He said that it did make him sad but that everybody should be entitled to their own taste. He was almost certain that he would not get any dates with Chinese women but was not really in despair. He was very interested in having casual sex affairs, but believed that he eventually might get married and would try to meet a steady partner through very different channels. He used the site to browse profiles and DIY photos of women who had captured his attention. He also wanted to terminate his membership as he had figured out that the race/power dynamic was directed against him.
This analysis of Hong Kong social dynamics and cybersex types is based on a longitudinal ethnographic case-study where I gradually gathered stories and interviews by interacting with people online and in face-to-face encounters. These encounters were difficult to establish and developed only gradually, while I continuously observed the seduction games of a massive social network. The case study highlights a group of cultural diverse women and men in Hong Kong, who are highly computer-literate and sexually active individuals, and who help each other in constructing self-portraits and formulating new sexual identities. The chapter set out to find out why people wanted to explore this particular network for casual sex and DIY pornography and what their reasons were for adopting a specific type of self-display. Since I was personally involved and was hoping to find useful connections, I used my own masked identity and pornographic cybertype to gaze at others and to strike up conversations that were the raw data for this study.
Through participant observation and interviews, the study highlights that these types of profiles are collectively tested and endorsed. They are convenient and often humorous labels and provide an easy way for people to control subjectivity. Hong Kong sex seekers also adopt these cybertypes and their pedestrian, raunchy or racist connotations to create cosmopolitan subjectivities and escape from local biases against casual sex. The desire to escape into a foreign realm provides creative stimulation, but arguably reinforces a conservative-bourgeois cosmopolitanism rather than progressive sex culture (Kelsky 2001, 15).
Through my observations and dialogues I witnessed sexual euphoria and emancipation, as well as racial tensions and dismissive attitudes between men and women. It is interesting to note that Chinese women specifically use opportunistic profiles to attract foreigners, though they include elements of sexual excess to differentiate themselves within the local culture. As Lizzy Kinsey, I was investigating and playing with a desire to become part of this network, which to me also represents a realm of cross-racial desire to transcend my local alienation. I constructed my own persona with a bad girl flavour to be a sex machine on the site, yet a rebel within the context of academic research. By connecting with people through my own cybertype, I could relate to their layered identities and wait for deeper stories to be revealed.
Cyber sex identities and relationships historically have a lineage in non-sexual bonding such as chatrooms and online role-playing games. That is, web users first connect with each other as loyal and supportive online mates and they may gradually develop a intimate relationship that results in sex or friendship (McKenna 2007, 121). If we place AFF.com within this lineage of online intimacy, we can see that its apparent mission to arrange real-life sexual encounters based on minimum or no foreplay, is a novel type of sex that would be uncomfortable to a wide range of people. In this sense the AFF self-display strategies are totally different from those used by Hong Kong people on other dating sites or general social networks like MySpace and Facebook. People on general dating sites tend to write complex, lengthy and often idealized profiles that encapsulates their self-growth or the person they hope to be in future times (Ellison, Heino and Gibbs, 2006, 15). AFF.com members adopt curtailed identities as a convenient mask to hide while revealing pornographic selves and crossing boundaries. This strategy allows them to plunge into DIY porn as the mask itself is endorsed by the community while being enigmatic or dumb to the outside world. Nakamura shows that cybertypes are not dumb but have a life course with historically embedded cultural expectations, and they therefore cannot be seen as fleeting data-entities. The goal of my personalized and selective approach to ethnography was to genuinely befriend people and to be able to look behind their mask. In doing so, I invited them to respond to my own desires and frustrations as a researcher in a journey of sexual and cultural discovery.
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My interviewing process ideally consisted of three phases. First of all, I asked people to explainand evaluate their acts of socializing and managing identities within the AFF.com web site. Secondly, I asked them to talk about sex culture in Hong Kong and how they believed the web site was making a difference for Chinese and non-Chinese web users. Thirdly, in some cases I asked people to tell me a sex story about one of their more eventful encounters. I asked people in advance if I could record these conversations by means of audio or videorecording, and some people gave me permission to do so. I tried to maintain a comfortable “soft” and “warm” atmosphere for culling sensitive information.
 For some examples of artists who have created works arising from their participation in sex sites, see the work of Isaac Leung and Chantal Zakari. Zakari’s book webAffairs is an artist’s documentary of an adult video web community. She took on the identity of ”Show-n-tell” to document her story of being a participant in this community http://www.webaffairsbook.info/webAffairs1.html (accessed Oct 4, 2009). Leung is a Hong Kong artist and scholar who took on the identity of “Japan boy” to investigate power relations within gay cyber sex sites in his project: “The Impossibility of Having Sex with 500 Men in a Month-I’m an Oriental Whore” http://isaacleung.com/orientalwhore/ (accessed Nov 1, 2009)