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  • Aug 21, 2014
  • Updated: 12:07pm

Professor of porn reveals naked truth of web sex

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 November, 2011, 12:00am

In real life, Katrien Jacobs is a media professor at Chinese University. Online, she was 'Lizzy Kinsey - scholarly sex machine', with her personal details, including a self-snapped shot of herself naked, on Adult Friend Finder, one of the world's largest social networks for casual sex.

A US$20 a month fee was all it took for Jacobs to enter the world of online hook-ups, where the usual rules of courtship are turned on their head, and no one makes any pretence about their intentions.

What Jacobs found out during a two-year study forms part of her book, People's Pornography - Sex and Surveillance, a rare look from the ivory tower at porn in Hong Kong and the mainland, which is due to hit the bookshelves by the end of the year.

The book, an examination of sex culture and civil liberties, also covers the sex blogosphere, youth attitudes to porn in Hong Kong, and the Chinese obsession with cosplay, where people dress as their favourite Japanese animation characters.

The Adult Friend Finder community is swelling fast, with 160,000 members in Hong Kong, up from 60,000 five years ago. In a place like Hong Kong, known for its workaholism, conservative values and computer literacy, sites like this help users on the prowl minimise their time and maximise their exposure - in all senses of the word.

It is a radical departure from conventional dating websites, where suitors try to portray their best sides, each photo or profile description subtly hinting at how funny, charming and distinguished they are.

In this world, people offer a crude, nude profile picture, and list of carnal preferences. Finding a match is not a case of reading between the lines or looking for common interests. You just bash in your preference for age, weight, height, ethnicity, and the website spits out your erotic match.

'There is no subtlety. It's not poetic at all,' Jacobs says.

Although she received up to six offers a day, she says she never went home with anyone she met online.

'For me, seduction and flirting, I associate that with subtlety, otherwise it doesn't work. But in the online environment it doesn't work like that.'

Instead of individuality, the site encourages what Jacobs calls cybertypes, a clich?d, pornographic version of oneself, with the face cut out, and a one-dimensional username like 'Exotic Allure' or 'Endless Fun'.

'People like to imitate each other online; they like to have this collective identity a little bit. Not so much to be this individual, this very sophisticated individual, but just be a little bit of a one-sided identity for a while. Maybe just to try something out. That's the thing about an online environment: you can have so many layers of identity.'

Jacobs found more men online than women, and a high number of expatriates. As for professions, she spoke to everyone from bankers and property agents to construction workers and sports instructors.

Jacobs' field of research, pornography, is studied more closely in the US and Europe, but in East Asia, where cultural taboos often stifle such discussions, academic research into the subject is rare - particularly on the mainland, where an outright state ban on smut keeps it off the web. (That's the idea, anyway. But neither social conservatism nor the Great Firewall could stop hundreds of candid sex photos of the actor-singer Edison Chen Koon-hei with starlets spreading like wildfire across the web in 2008. Nor did it curb enthusiasm for this year's 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy, Hong Kong's first 3D porn film, which surpassed Avatar's opening day earnings.)

But it is hardly just Hongkongers who are into streamlined online sex. FriendFinder networks, a US-based company that owns Penthouse Magazine, claims over 484 million members worldwide on its sites, which span a range of niches from jewishfriendfinder.com (a Jewish community 'for friendship, romance, or marriage within the faith', it says online) to seniorfriendfinder.com.

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