Porn Revolution

08.23.12

China Discovers Sex Online as Porn Invades Social Media

China’s embrace of social media is fueling a sexual revolution the government can’t stifle, as Chinese use microblogs and GPS-based apps to learn about sexuality, talk about sex and, yes, hook up.

The young doorknob-seller looked innocent enough in his profile photo, but one look at the picture he’d recently posted to his microblog changed all that: a pair of rambunctious lovers posing for the camera in hardcore flagrante delicto alongside what seemed to be his mantra: “sex is just another boundary, cross it if you dare.”

Porn has long lubricated the West’s Internet obsession. But to the dismay of countless netizens, Chinese censors typically block X-rated content and search terms pertaining to those predilections the government prefers were kept, um, under wraps. 

But as the recent scandal over leaked photos depicting Chinese Communist Party officials mid-orgy makes abundantly clear, Chinese people are just as kinky as the rest of humanity. Once, it was possible to keep this salacious fact a secret from the masses. Chairman Mao enjoyed a clandestine if regular flow of nubile young women delivered nightly to his private chambers, even as he preached a strict brand of communism that sought to turn China into a sexless society. Today, Chinese officials’ sexual proclivities and coterie of mistresses are a constant source of amusement to the public, which also is getting in on the action. 

The difference is that modern China has embraced social media, and this technological innovation is fueling a sexual revolution the government is unable to stifle. Like their Western counterparts, Chinese are using microblogs and GPS-based apps to learn about sexuality, talk about sex and, yes, hook up. 

Take Sina Weibo, China’s biggest Twitter clone. Some 498,304 users follow the handle “make love & stuff,” a microblog that exhorts netizens to “learn a different sex technique every day.” On Tuesday, users discovered how to do it in a pool, complete with a submerged photo for reference. 

Then there’s Sora Aoi, the Japanese porn star who joined Weibo last year and now has 12.8 million adoring followers, despite her G-rated content. Amateurs are also getting in on the action, baring skin and various throbbing appendages to boost their popularity. 

Yet visibility on China’s vibrant social media platforms means more than just retweets. A vast army of censors police Weibo for objectionable content, often deleting posts deemed politically sensitive or too salacious. Filters automatically foil NSFW queries, responding with “according to relevant laws and regulations, some relevant results are not shown here.”  In March, the government initiated a new policy aimed at better controlling Weibo’s unruly users by forcing them to provide real-name information when logging in. But it seems to have had little impact on the microblog’s thriving exhibitionistic culture. 

“People like to get off and Weibo makes that easy if you know where to look,” said Lu, 21, a university student who asked that his full name not be printed to protect his identity. Not only has social media given him a cram course in sex education, it’s dispelled the government-touted myth that his countrymen are far more chaste than, say, the Japanese, who are renowned for their myriad, if pixelated, perversions. “It’s shocking what some Chinese girls will show online, but you won’t hear me complaining,” he said.

“It’s shocking what some Chinese girls will show online, but you won’t hear me complaining.

While censors remove many smutty posts, the rapid-fire nature of Weibo and other social media sites make this technology far more resilient than just blocking a URL. “Websites are easy to control but Weibo is limitless,” said Pan Suiming, director of research on sexuality and gender at Renmin University in Beijing. 

As social media has gone mobile, so has cruising. Like Grindr, the gay app that shows users the photos and locations of nearby users, China is awash in GPS-loaded apps that make it, um, easy, to  find a “date” on the go.

On a recent day, hundreds of men and women were logged on to the social app “Momo,” which has become a convenient tool for arranging casual encounters since it was launched last year. While plenty of users are looking to hook up free of charge, the app is also popular with those looking to earn something in return for their affections. The same goes for Weixin, an app that allows users to “look around” for people nearby. Earlier this month, China’s state television aired a segment about a prostitute caught using Weixin for business, which was discovered after she was arrested and the police looked in her phone. 

“It used to be that you’d chat and make a plan to meet up and everything was cool,” said one male user who asked to remain anonymous. “But now it’s like you say hi and boom, she’s demanding 1,000 yuan ($157) a night.”

Both users and analysts see social media as creating a wider space for the discussion of sexuality in China. “Weibo gives people the freedom to express themselves and find others who like the same things,” said Wei Xiaogang, director of the Beijing Gender & Health Education Institute. “The younger generation is much more open. Just log onto Weibo after midnight and you can see everything.”