Support Local Journalism. Riverfront Times Press Club. June 04, News » Feature.
If you're researching auto repair on the Internet and stumble across www. Louis Auto Specialists," the banner proclaims, "brings you information on St. Louis auto racing. Read on, though, and you'll raise an eyebrow.
It is a place where users can post fantasies or stories for other members to view The information on this site is intended for adult audiences only, by definition, in the state of Missouri, you must be 18 or older to view the information on this site Louis Adult Service Providers" — an entirely different kind of body work.
Here the "providers" are prostitutes — or, if you like your euphemisms, escorts — and their customers are "hobbyists. They alert each other to possible police stings and scam artists in the "erotic services" section of Craigslist.
And customers — seemingly all of them men — write and post lengthy reviews of their experiences with the call girls. Louis area from Southern California, where she'd been involved in a nearly identical online community. She found that the message board not only made her job safer by allowing her to screen her clients, it also created a tight-knit network of the region's online escorts, providing a forum for them to share knowledge, including concerns about potentially dangerous johns.
I'm trying to educate them to be as independent as they can and make smart choices. The idea of escorts on the Internet is nothing new — the oldest profession has long embraced 21st-century technology.
But according to Stacey Swimme, co-founder of. That is a force to be reckoned with. That is where political power comes from, is that sort of community-building.
Many are based on a review template in which "hobbyists" share their experiences with local providers. The reviews are peppered with abbreviations and jargon. When johns say "CMD" carpet matches drapes or "Hardwood Floors," they're referring to their date's body hair, not her taste in interior decorating. While phrases like "She spoke French without an interpreter" and "We took a trip to the Mediterranean" carry one meaning in a newspaper travel section, on STLASP they refer to oral sex without a condom and anal sex, respectively.
Reviewers may wax passionate: "I would advise you to take your vitamins, drink lots of fluids, eat your Wheaties, and get plenty of rest before your date," one recently wrote. Or merely state the obvious: "The massage is not therapeutic, not a professional style, muscle-relaxing type massage. But if you enjoy a very pretty girl spreading lotion all over your body, you will be pleased.
The practice of posting online reviews of escorts dates back about ten years. David Elms, creator of The Erotic Review www. Reached by phone in his Southern California office, Elms explains that he got the idea after being ripped off by a call girl.
It already tells a guy all the juicy details, so he doesn't have to ask stupid questions. Elms says his Web site, created innow attracts more thanvisitors a day, and that half of the site's users log on more than once a day. From the sex worker's-rights perspective, Swimme has no qualms about the commodification that is taking place.
She suggests that the practice of posting reviews adds legitimacy to an otherwise illicit transaction. Elms goes as far as to compare the john-escort dynamic to the purchase of expensive electronics: "It's like a consumer-reports magazine that has buyer reviews of car-stereo performance. The quest for rave reviews and the booming business that comes with them can be hyper-competitive.
One of the oldest and most popular review Web sites, bigdoggie. The practice does have its critics. Amanda Brooks, author of The Internet Escort's Handbook, a three-part series first published in that professes to "address every question that a woman could ask before she becomes a sex worker who advertises through the Internet," points out that women can be pressured into doing things they otherwise wouldn't do, for fear of the online backlash.
At STLASP, Mac says when she first got into the business, the creator of one review site pressured her to have sex with him in exchange for positive reviews.
Despite that experience, Mac remains a strong advocate of posting the critiques "for the sake of quality control. Several times women have been caught creating fake profiles in order to post positive evaluations of themselves. Once, Mac says, a man posted a negative review that an escort later claimed was completely off base.
Elms says he has confronted similar issues. Then again, Elms adds, reviews are rarely two thumbs down. You still have the male ego to deal with. Since then an average of 50 new people per day have registered for user names.
A counter at the bottom of the site's main tallies the current membership at nearly 2,; altogether they for more than 19, posts. Registration is free, and all that is required to access the forums is an e-mail address, a user name and a password. Fearing the site has began to attract too much attention, Mac recently posted a message saying she is considering a moratorium on new memberships. For a site that specializes in sex, STLASP's appearance is remarkably sterile: blue text on a plain gray-and-white background.
The site is divided into several sections, each of which contains its own message boards. In "Providers" users can see which women are "Available Today" and browse the personal Web s of two dozen escorts.
Most of the posts are found in the "Hobbyists" section, which features the "Discussion" board, where the men and women tell jokes, swap stories and ask each other questions about nearly everything under the sun. Mac says she has invested several hundred dollars in software, server space and the domain name.
She estimates that she generally spends multiple hours each week dealing with programming glitches, creating new features and moderating disputes between users. Having had no prior Web-de experience, she concedes she may have gotten in over her head with her not-for-profit endeavor. The more I invest time into it, the more it becomes a bigger part of my life. And since I've been spending like five hours a night on this Web site, I'm like, 'Oh my God, it's taking over now. As an advocate, I'm always thrilled to support the work of individual sex workers who pioneer their own free-speech spaces.
One of Mac's earliest posts under her "Admin" handle is a lengthy "code of ethics" that lays out rules for maintaining civil discourse.
We all have a different perspective on life and general topics so respect others and they will respect you. The software for the forums automatically censors some content. Try to type the words "sex" or "money" into a post and they're instantly altered to "sensual fun" and "donation.
Such safeguards don't bar the site's users from self-indulgence. Women post pictures of themselves, often blurring their faces but not much else in hopes of concealing their identity. Men ask which local strip clubs offer "full service" and tip each other off to "UTR" under the radar adult establishments, such as a salon in a St. Louis suburb that offers a haircut with a happy ending. They frequently poke fun at their "Auto Specialists" pretext with thre like: "Pole position-how do you prefer to start the race. Some exchanges border on the cerebral. Observes one user in a February post on a lengthy thread entitled "Morality, Ethics and the Hobby": "Our Western society's anti-sensuality attitude foundations were laid around CE with the philosophy of St.
It can be traced further back to the Gnostic Christians rejection of the physical world and the body as well as some of the letters of St. For providers it means not treating the hobbyist as just another envelope but as a fellow human being that wants to do what comes naturally.
In another thread begun in March, a poster writes, "The way I see it, indulging in this hobby is wrong. But I still do it because there is pleasure involved. I just haven't been able to cheat my inner moral compass into believing that it is OK," concluding in all-boldface, "It's wrong.
Still, I do it. In an e-mail in which he declined to be interviewed for this story, STLASP's moderator, a user Mac deputized to police the forums for spam and other prohibited content who posts under the handle "luvs2duit," described the STLASP community. The fact is, many of us are much happier than our repressed neighbors. A sandy blonde in her thirties, Mac says she has been an escort for the past three years.
She says that in addition to working on a graduate degree at an area university, she is her family's main breadwinner. Before moving to Missouri, Mac says, she lived and attended college in Southern California. A single mom at the time, she began working as a stripper to make ends meet. Eventually, she says, she began commuting to Las Vegas on the weekends to work at the city's lucrative strip clubs. When she suffered a knee injury and could no longer dance, she became an escort.
She says the decision was as easy as clicking a mouse: She placed an ad in the "erotic services" section of Craigslist. Mac had little trouble emotionally adjusting to her new lifestyle.