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Pursglove doesn‘t remember Michaels specifically, but says: ”I don’t doubt it -- [that process] illustrates how a good number of policies on eBay developed. Especially in the early days, when we were smaller.“
Today, eBay‘s little red-light cyberdistrict draws everyone from amateurs to adult-video stores to Video Age, Inc. and Vivid Video, the leading producer of adult films. Many of the bigger players sell discounted products under pseudonyms. Other companies, such as Danni’s Hard Drive and Seymore Butts, have caught on and are considering eBay as an auction venue.
With an inventory of 36,562 items last time I checked, merchandise runs the gamut: books, magazines and videos (from the supposedly homemade ”My drunk ex-wife naked on tape“ to slicker professional porn or videos advertising ”imported, nasty, hardcore“ images). There is clothing, there are sex toys, even odd paraphernalia like pheromone oil concentrate (”attracts women like magic!“) and curiosities such as the ”automatic pussy machine“ (boasting ”no partner needed“). One woman, ”Mistress Andria, Dominatrix,“ was last seen auctioning off a slot for a sex slave. And then there are those airing -- or in this case selling -- their dirty laundry.
To find out more about who was stocking, and sampling, eBay‘s adult cyber shelves, I decided to join the sellers. Logging on with a fake user name and a free, anonymous e-mail account (”pntygrl“), I scanned in photos of my underwear and provided credit-card info, and my three-day auction was up and running. I held my a breath and waited, as if a bidding war would suddenly burst forth onscreen over my cotton briefs. But nothing. I checked back hourly, but still, nothing. And silly as it was, each time the boldface zero popped up beside my auction, I felt a tinge of insult. Perhaps it was the competition, I placated myself -- just look at them.
Other sellers featured glossy, professional color shots of slinky women in risque positions modeling their wares. My auction sported a slightly blurry, crooked photo of my underwear lying neatly on a chair. And the others, they had themes: ”Stewardess’ Panties,“ ”Used Prom Panties.“ I hadn‘t thought ”Journalist’s Panties“ sounded all that enticing, so I had gone with something standard, like ”soft, white“ in the description box. One prospective bidder e-mailed me: ”Maybe you could put a little more info in your description? Makes me curious what your body is like.“ Fine, don‘t bid then.
Luke Ford, whose porn-gossip Web site has earned him the title ”the Matt Drudge of pornography,“ reassured me over the phone that many of the underwear sellers are, in fact, professional entertainers. ”Tons of porn stars are making their living that way,“ he says. ”They make thousands of dollars a month selling personal belongings and funneling people to their own sites.“ Dave Michaels agrees, adding, ”Not many are ’studentsamateurs‘ like they say. That’s part of the fantasy.“
Indeed, it‘s all about the fantasy. Jenna Jameson, the current ”it girl“ in porn, uses eBay to sell -- among other things -- audiotapes she records to order for winning bidders. ”I’ll act as if I‘m having sex with them and say their name . . . or talk about my feet -- whatever they want,“ she says of the tapes, which go for $1,000 to $2,000 a piece. ”But it pays my rent -- and I have a very big house.“
Other adult businesses push the illusion further. Many used-lingerie auctions I stumbled across turned out to be small cottage industries operating behind a fake composite character (”18-year-old-student-who-needs-cash-for-books“). One seller, ”Sarah,“ was actually a couple; the man and woman (who requested anonymity) provided sophisticated order forms allowing buyers to customize purchases (dottedcottonfull-back? redsatinthong?) They also invited customers to personalize fantasies by instructing ”Sarah“ what to do in the underwear before mailing.
Lane, the online-porn researcher, estimates that only 5 percent of the female adult sites are run by individual women; the rest of the panty ladies are marketing fictions devised by ”cyber pimps.“
Arsalan Arif, an economics major at George Washington University by day, says he’s the biggest adult-CD-ROM distributor on eBay, with 40 to 50 auctions up at a time. (”I have two employees, and all they do all day is sit there and monitor other people‘s auctions, so we know.“) What started in an upstairs bedroom of his parents’ house in Wichita, Kansas, during winter break is now a bona fide business incorporated under the name of S&I Records.
”We gross $9,000 to $10,000 a month. My primary job used to be asking my parents for money,“ he says. ”Now I‘m able to pay my own tuition.“
Arif says that in just the last few months, he’s watched eBay‘s adult section shoot up. ”There used to be four parts to it -- CD, DVD, Photographic and Video. Now there are, like, 17,“ broken down into specialized categories such as Adult Figurines, Nude Animation, Pinups and Post Cards.
Due to loose policing policies, Dodd explains, adult sellers frequently slip around eBay’s rules. ”Most of it is legal, but there‘s the occasional questionable video with underage actors,“ he says.