It’s no secret that sex is the grease that makes the internet go round, but one Hong Kong website inspires more carnal activity than any other – and it’s no simple porn site
It’s no secret that sex is the grease that makes the internet go round, but one Hong Kong website inspires more carnal activity than any other – and it’s no simple porn site. Patrick Brzeski logs into Go141.com (formerly Sex141.com), our city’s ‘Wikipedia for whoremongers’
Bi Bi is donning an undersized school girl’s outfit and holding her fingers to her chubby cheeks in a cutesy childish pose. Her open mouth and lascivious expression convey a very different message, however: Fuck me, they say, fuck me. And you can, in fact, for $380, at any time from 10am to 2am, seven days a week. Bi Bi’s address is listed right here on her profile next to her picture, along with the nearest MTR exit, a handy Google map, and a street-view photo of the doorway to the building in which she works. Also mentioned is her race – Chinese – and the various languages she speaks: Cantonese and Mandarin. Her measurements are listed as 34.5B-24.5-35; and her personal review reads: “Sexy & Glamorous, Optimistic Character & Zealous, Has a terrific shape of body!”
But if Bi Bi isn’t doing it for you, no worry: click the hyperlink to her building and you’ll see there are four other girls for sale all at the same address. Click her neighbourhood of Sheung Wan, and you’ll get the detailed profiles of 46 girls offering sex services nearby. Altogether, there are 26 districts of Hong Kong covered on this site, with the whereabouts and particular skill set of anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 prostitutes advertised at any given time. Hong Kong is small, so no matter where you are in the SAR, there is likely an available prostitute literally a stone’s throw away. If you’re in the right neighbourhood (Tsim Sha Tsui), there are hundreds within walking distance, 24 hours a day.
Sex141.com, the host of all this information, has been, since its establishment in 2003, a veritable Wikipedia for Hong Kong whoremongers. The general response among first-time browsers is generally some variation of the following: it blew my fucking mind. Within the site, in addition to the detailed ads for thousands of prostitutes, are thousands of exhaustively detailed user-generated reviews of customer experiences with individual girls (links to profiles included). There are chat forums, candid photos and videos of the girls at work, user discussion on topics as varied as the best food to have after whoring, the moral implications of visiting prostitutes behind your wife’s back, sex guides to various cities in China and abroad, how to unlock an iPhone 4, sports discussions, and endless analyses of the minutia of whoremongering in endlessly unspooling discussion threads.
But not only is the site exhaustively comprehensive, it is immensely, emphatically popular. At last measure, according to the web information company Alexa, of all the websites in the world, Sex141 was the 36th most popular among Hong Kong internet users, ahead of such flagship sites as Twitter.com, Microsoft.com, Ask.com, and Ebay.com. It is more popular than the homepages for major local media outlets such as the South China Morning Post by a factor of around five. Of all Hong Kong-based websites, it usually lands somewhere around 10th most viewed. It is fully bilingual, with more than 55,000 registered users contributing to its forums in both English and Chinese. Since its founding, countless copycat sites have arisen, but none have acquired the critical mass of Sex 141, and nearly all have languished and folded. Regardless of your views on the rights and wrongs of prostitution, Sex141 is perhaps Hong Kong’s first home-grown Web 2.0 phenomenon. More than just a one-stop resource for prostitute-goers, the site is a social experience, a pervy clandestine world unto itself, where a dedicated group of core users maintain, police and administer a vast reserve of pornographic crowd-sourced content.
Much can be gleaned from casual browsing, but Sex 141’s deep well of discussion forums are the main draw for repeat viewers. In order to access and take part in these exchanges, registration and the creation of an avatar is required, but it’s free and necessitates nothing more than a valid email address. The general vibe within the discussion threads is that of a close-knit underground community. Users address one another as fellow “bros,” “punters,” and “mongers” (as in, whore monger). The beating, pulsing, throbbing heart of the forum section is the “Reviews” area, where users post painstakingly crafted appraisals of the services of specific prostitutes. In writing these reviews, users follow a remarkably consistent format, rating the girl’s face, body, technical skill and service attitude on a five-point scale, listing her estimated age and cost, whether or not they would patronise the prostitute again, including original photos if they’ve managed to take any, and concluding with a detailed first-person account of their overall experience, with some of these narratives running as long as 2,500 words (about the length of this entire article). Throughout their posts, users liberally employ a set of coded acronyms for sexual acts, services, and addenda, which at times can lend the posts the curious flavour of an arcane form of technical logic, one perhaps designed to formalise and code the choreography of hardcore porn. Handbooks and useful Q&A sections are strategically placed throughout the forums to aid new users. One includes a glossary of the most common sex-cronyms. At last count, there are 211. Here are a few examples:
BBBJ = bare back blow job = BJ without condom
BBBJTCNQNS = bare back blow job to completion, no quit, no spit
DAP = digital anal probe
CC Rider = full service provider costing $200 or less
Fire and Ice = a blowjob switching between hot tea and ice
HDH = high dollar hottie
Spinner = very petite, thin girl
GFE = girlfriend experience
That last term seems to be of particular importance to Sex141 patrons. There’s a common assumption that prostitute-goers are in the game only for the sex, and generally anatomise the women they consort with in the most dehumanising and mechanical way imaginable (and the list above certainly seems to support such an assumption). But above all else, mongers get their most effusively gushy when the prostitute provides a GFE, or in other words, showers the man with sweetness and behaves as if she actually enjoys his company and genuinely wants to have sex with him of her own, uncoerced volition. The majority of the reviews make the rather improbable claim that the prostitute herself reached orgasm during the author’s session – often multiple times. Regardless, it seems to be the case that many of these users are seeking affection as much as sex, or at least prefer the fantasy of compassionate sex to the stark reality of a cold impersonal bang.
Within the forums there is a complicated hierarchy designed to encourage maximal contribution for community benefit. Users are awarded “karma points” when they post a review or add a comment to a discussion that other users find valuable or enjoyable. The more karma they earn, the higher their “reading access” (aka “RA”) and official title. As mentioned, members often post candid nude and pornographic photos taken during their liaisons, but in order to view these pics a user needs an RA of at least 20 (the corresponding title for which is “Musky Member”) or 30 ( “Carnal Lord”). There are, in all, 14 titles, including Lustful Lord (RA 40), Erotic Emperor (RA 60), Master Mongerer (RA 80), Forum Moderator (RA 150) and, at the very top, God of Sex141 (RA 200). Users at the upper echelon have some level of control over the site, with the ability to delete conversation threads and punish users who don’t follow Sex141’s surprisingly strict code of conduct, which includes rules prohibiting the mention of underage girls, aggressively impolite posts directed at other users, and insulting the appearance of girls other members have reviewed favourably (no hurting feelings here – what if he likes her?) Altogether, the conversational tone on the forums is very jocular, supportive and feel-good.
Hoping to get an inside account of users’ impressions of the site and the role it plays in their lives, we created an avatar and posted a message in the general interest “Chat” forum inviting users to get in touch with us via private message (another of the site’s functions) if they were willing to share their thoughts and their stories for use in this article. Somewhere between 15 and 20 comments quickly accreted around our post, many of them suspicious or downright hostile. After about a day, our entire thread was deleted. Shortly after, a new thread appeared, titled “Publicity, good or bad?” with the Reading Access set at 40 – a level that would be impossible for a new member to reach within the span of a few weeks. Within days, the “Publicity” post became the most viewed and commented upon thread in the entire “Chat” forum, despite its relative inaccessibility to most users. From that point on, any attempt we made to openly engage with the community resulted in instant erasure. The consensus among loyal users seems to be: no publicity is good publicity for Sex141.
We also tried to reach out to the site’s administrators via the phone number listed in their “About Us” section (which contains no information about anyone, by the way). An operator told us our request would be passed on to their marketing department. They also asked if we were the party behind the posts soliciting user stories, which we admitted we were. Our follow-up calls were met with claims that the company’s superiors had tried to reach our number but hadn’t been able to get through to anyone (our line is always open); and then a few days later, we were told that their entire team was in Thailand, working on the launch of a new Bangkok-based online sex guide and wouldn’t be at all reachable by phone or email.
For the most part, their media shy tact is pretty understandable, as the site and its employees sit in a precarious grey zone within a grey zone of the law, and they have had no shortage of legal troubles in the past.
Hong Kong law is designed to keep prostitution out of the public view and to prevent pimps from parasitically profiting off the work of prostitutes. The law states that prostitutes can only operate independently, within their own private premises, without soliciting or advertising in public space. It is illegal for any outside individual to live off the earnings of prostitution.
In 2005, the original founders of Sex141, two young programmers by the names of Cheung Ming-man and Chan Sai-Ngan, were found guilty of one count each of conspiring to live off the earnings of prostitution arising from the ads that appeared on their website. They were each fined $100,000 and sentenced to eight months in prison. Shortly after their conviction, the SCMP reported that Sex141’s service had been largely uninterrupted by the case and the site was still receiving over 100,000 page views a day. In two additional articles this year, the SCMP quoted local authorities saying that they can’t shut down the site, as its servers are now stationed on the Mainland. We have also read additional, unverifiable reports online suggesting that Sex141 is now maintained from the United States. It is impossible to track the site’s origins using casual online tracker tools, as they have masked the identity of their servers. No one really knows how many staff Sex141 employs in Hong Kong and how exactly the law would treat them if they are Hong Kong residents. And that’s good news for the site’s dedicated users – whose private sexual imaginations are intimately entangled with the site’s fortunes – and, believe it or not, it’s good for the prostitutes too.
Interested in the inside-inside take on the Sex141 phenomenon, we spoke with ‘Annie’ in the Causeway Bay one-woman walk-up brothel where she can be found 24 hours a day, every day except Sunday. Annie initially misunderstood our intentions, mistaking us for employees of Sex 141 (and it should be said, her attitude towards us throughout the time she thought we were from the site was overwhelmingly welcoming). She was also happy to be interviewed, once clarifications were made and we assured her we would pay her the usual rate she charges for time spent in her room.
Annie has been working as a prostitute for about three years, and tells us she has been installed in this particular unit for about six months. Her room, like most one-woman walk-up brothels, is spartan in the extreme – TV, shower, bed, god-awful neon lighting, and a few knick knacks, nighties, and assorted bottles of lube and boxes of condoms. She knows Sex141 well, as do all girls in her trade, she assures us. She’s a huge fan of the site, and says she’s seen a 75 per cent uptick in her business since she signed up about four months ago.
We ask how a girl like her ends up on the site and she fluently runs us through the particulars: first you call the number listed on the website (or get it from a friend), whereupon you are assigned a personal pin number. You’re then instructed to deposit $1,200 into a designated bank account (the current monthly fee for advertising on Sex141), and once your deposit has been received, the site sends a photographer to your room. Smirking coyly, Annie says she always tips the photographer (or perhaps even offers him sexual favours), hoping to induce him to be extra-careful to capture her in a most sexy light and to airbrush her photos with especial care (as Sex141 users and prostitutes all know, the photos on the site are heavily airbrushed).
“The photos are the most important,” says Annie. “The only things the guys pay attention to are the price and the photos.” There are two types of clients who come to the prostitute-filled walk-up buildings, according to Annie. Some guys go to the top of the building and walk down the floors one by one, browsing, ringing girls’ doorbells and walking away if they don’t like what they see. “We hate these guys. We have to get up and smile and try to look sexy and then they just slam the door without saying anything.” Others – clients with busy schedules or concerns about their privacy – will pick a girl they like at home, on Sex141, based on her photos, and then they’ll go directly to her door for sex. “I’ve gotten a lot more of these guys since I signed up for 141, and they are the best ones.”
After thanking and paying Annie, we dip out into the narrow hallway. A middle-aged fellow in smart business attire offers a polite nod as he passes by, beelining straight towards Annie’s room. As the elevator doors are sliding shut, we spy him slipping inside. Sex141, it seems, is about to chalk up yet another satisfied customer.
Additional reporting by Steve Cheng.