Sexual Healing or Hong Kong Hypocrisy?

Hong Kong authorities have engaged in one of their bouts of enforcing what they choose to claim is sexual morality using the law against the private practice by consenting adults of their sexual inclinations. Meanwhile commercial sex flourishes on a grand scale to the great profit of landlords hosting one-woman brothels – and of a police force which makes occasional much-publicized raids but otherwise tolerates it.

Last week saw the arrest of the organizers of group sex parties on various grounds including living off the earnings of prostitution and publishing obscene articles – namely photos of the parties. It was also alleged that a girl, 20, was the subject of attempted buggery. The group was said to have organized several parties well attended by members who paid HK$500 to join and additional sums to cover the cost of renting hotel rooms for the events. There was no suggestion that the participants did so other than of their own free will.

The police claimed that they were cracking down on “illegal sexual activity” and protecting teenagers from being lured into sex (as though they needed any lures). No evidence was given that any persons involved were below the age of consent – 16. The charge of buggery could only be brought because of a bizarre quirk in official morality which allows men to be buggered at 16 but girls not until 21!

The arrests were a reminder of a similar event in 2001 when 26 people were arrested and charged in connection with BDSM activities which took place in the dungeon of a sex appliance shop called Fetish Fashion in Hong Kong’s Soho district. The events had been taking place for a considerable time and were barely a secret but for reasons never explained the police first tried to accuse the organizer of organizing public sex displays and of making money therefrom – attendees paid HK$350 for the privilege of watching and if desired participating.

The charges were eventually whittled down to keeping a disorderly house and even that was thrown out by the court.

However, the net result was that the arrested participants were publicly embarrassed and some reportedly lost their jobs. Fetish Fashion and its dungeon, equipped with all the paraphernalia used in BDSM (bondage, domination, sadomasochism) sessions, was forced to close. Although the BDSM community in Hong Kong still exists, ever since it has kept a very low profile.

Unlike most major cities – and many smaller ones in Europe in particular Hong Kong appears to lack “swinger” clubs where heterosexual couples can meet for mutual enjoyment or group activities, or at least if they exist they are well underground. Couples wishing to contact others have to use internet and other forums to link up

Homosexuals however have no such problem. Gay web sites list about 20 saunas in Hong Kong which not only provide a place for people to meet but steam rooms and other amenities for group encounters, and individual cubicles equipped with condoms and lube to facilitate sexual activity. These places are open to any male 18 willing or to pay a modest fee – HK$100-150 according to websites – to meet and engage in sex with others, or just watch porn gay movies. According to the websites, there also more than a dozen gay massage establishments where “full service” is available at fixed price.

Official hypocrisy was also evidenced in the recent past by the prosecution of a website advertising prostitutes with their personal details, prices and address. Meanwhile media owned by large companies which run pages of ads for so-called escort and massage services, the thinnest of disguises for commercial sex, go unmolested by the authorities. There is a panoply of Hong Kong-specific websites such as www.161.sex.com, www.miss148.com and http://sex141.com/ that deliver amazingly specific sexual acts and the charges customers would pay for each in one-room prostitution houses that appear to be listed at every single stop in the city’s light rail transit stations. There are services provided at 27 MTR stops for the client who looks for convenience, along with Google Map pictures of the flats where they’re located.

The latest arrests cast Hong Kong in a curious light. According to independent research, Hong Kong residents have one of the lowest rates of sexual activity in the world, perhaps the result of stress or of cramped living conditions, as well as the world’s lowest fertility rate. At the same time, judging by the evidence of the number of brothels and – for the richer folks – of night clubs where girls are readily available for a price it has a very high rate of commercial sex. The gay community not only has plenty of bars and other meeting places but can use publicly accessible saunas for sexual activity. The Lan Kwai Fong and Wan Chai areas on the weekend throng with both males and females looking for sex – paid or otherwise. The traffic builds up in Wan Chai when the US Navy comes to town

If Hong Kong wants to try to be a world city all these activities, particularly non-commercial ones by consenting adults, must be tolerated. As it is, police behavior suggests that they prefer homosexual to heterosexual activity and paid sex to the free sort.