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Hong Kong: ‘If Men Can Have Affairs, Why Can't Women?’

Ashley Madison, a US-based dating website that advocates adultery, has recently launched its localized version in Hong Kong. With women as their main target for users and a security setting that allows private interactions, some conservative religious and social groups criticize the platform.

To address the moral panic from a gender and feminist perspective, contributing reporter for citizen media portal inmediahk.net N Chan interviewed an affair-seeker, Miss T, and a local feminist, Lee Wai Yee, about Hong Kong's sex culture. The article was originally published in Chinese on 29 October 2013. This trimmed English version was translated by Loh Yuen Ching and republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Screen capture image from Hong Kong version of Ashley Madison.

Screen capture image from Hong Kong version of Ashley Madison.

Adultry has recently become a hot news topic in Hong Kong with the recent launch of dating platform Ashley Madison. While some have slammed the website for encouraging infidelity, some have pointed out that there are increasing numbers of women seeking out affairs who will become active users of the platform.

Local forums and chatrooms for affair-seekers have long existed in Hong Kong, and the launch of a Ashley Madison website should not be such a big deal. It is impossible for a new dating site to suddenly stir up the sexual desire of women. However, the mainstream media's reports and comments about the new website are full of moral panic. What is so threatening about women's sexual desire? I interviewed an affair-seeker, Ms T, and feminist sex therapist Lee Wai Yee on whether then Internet can liberate women and allow them to express their desire.

Ms T has a stable relationship but is still looking for different sexual partners. She said there are many adult sites in Hong Kong that provide matching services for affair-seekers. Many women are openly seeking a sexual partner in the adult forums of Hong Kong Forum and Uwants. Some platforms are specially designed for that purpose, such as Adult Friend Finder. And people who are shy could also make good use of more private chatrooms and mobile apps.

If you are looking for an affair, it's as easy as a shake of your smartphone – “Shake” is mobile application from text and voice messaging service Wechat's feature which connects you to other users who are within 100 meter. The feature has been used to find friends and romantic connections.

Ms T said: “Regardless of the gender difference, the affair-seeking community is expanding.” She found her sexual partners mainly through adult forums and friend-finder sites, and she stressed that there wasn't money or material gain involved in the relationships. They are purely for sex. She could not enjoy sex with her husband anymore and had to seek sexual relationships elsewhere: “I have been married for five years. Surely my husband has sexual needs, but he did not ask me and chose to have an affair outside of our marriage. I know most men will do so, but I have my sexual needs too. I even asked him for sex but he did not respond to my request. I need an exit out of the situation. So if men can have affairs, why can't women?”

Yet, according to Mr A, a user of the Ashley Madison website, “Most women users here are looking for a deal that involves monetary exchange instead of serious relationship, and it is hard to find a good partner on it.”

Lee Wai Yee, a part-time lecturer on gender studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, columnist and sex therapist, pointed out that even though the online affair-seeking community has long existed, it has suddenly caught the mainstream media's attention because there is an increasing number of women looking to cheat, an intimidating phenomena for mainstream society.

Lee pointed out that sex was still a taboo in the 1970s, but in the past decade, assisted by private online community platforms, more women have started discussing their sexual experiences among peers, and topics related to sex have ceased to be off limits. The change has created spaces for women to face their own sexual desire. [...]

The mainstream media is lagging behind in sex culture. They continue to report sex and erotic news in a negative manner. Women involved in an affair are frequently depicted by the media as sluts, while it is normal for men to cheat. When women take an active role in sex, the mainstream media creates a moral panic out of the story as if the increasing number of female affair-seekers is a danger to society and men.

In fact, instead of calling Ashley Madison a dating website, local media has called it an “adultery site”. On the first day of its launch, the website had 14,000 registered male users and 7,500 registered female users. With men outnumbering women on the site, it is hard to support the argument that its mere existence will encourage women to be unfaithful, so newspapers reports packed the story with the fact that there is also a 20 percent increase in the number of men seeking counseling for their wives’ extra-martial relationships.

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