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If you're researching auto repair on the Internet and stumble across www.stlasp.com, you might well hit your Web browser's back button before noticing anything amiss.
"St. Louis Auto Specialists," the banner proclaims, "brings you information on St. Louis auto racing."
Read on, though, and you'll raise an eyebrow. "This site is for entertainment purposes only. 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...."
These folks must really love their cars!
Beyond the homepage, it quickly becomes evident that "STLASP" stands for "St. 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." STLASP is the virtual forum in which they discuss everything from gardening to philosophy to how they prefer one another's pubic hair to be groomed. 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.
An escort herself, the site's creator says she founded STLASP in June of last year after moving to the St. 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 the women and give them a chance to feel safe and feel a connection with others that are in the same industry," says the woman, who agreed to be interviewed for this story on the condition that she not reveal her real name and that she be referred to as "Mac."
"There's a lot of power in numbers. 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
sex worker-rights organizations the Desiree Alliance and the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Mac's site is part of an emerging national trend: Prostitutes have turned to the Internet and small, independently operated message boards as a means of empowerment.
"From what I've been researching about the sex industry over the past 25 years, that is the biggest change," Swimme says. "Providers are talking to each other. That is a force to be reckoned with. That is where political power comes from, is that sort of community-building."
STLASP's "Reviews" section contains more than 7,000 posts. Many are based on a review template in which "hobbyists" share their experiences with local providers.
Did the ASP's photos accurately portray her?
Was she punctual?
Did she pressure you into tipping?
And, of course: "Activities between consenting adults (what did you do)?"
The reviews are peppered with abbreviations and jargon. An escort might be a "FOTC" (fuck of the century) or a DFE ("dead fish experience"). 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. "She will wear you out."
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.theeroticreview.com), claims his Web site was one of the first to encourage men to provide feedback about their clandestine encounters. Reached by phone in his Southern California office, Elms explains that he got the idea after being ripped off by a call girl.
"It was a way that people could be held accountable for their actions in this industry," Elms says. "Now girls prefer that they find clients on The Erotic Review. It already tells a guy all the juicy details, so he doesn't have to ask stupid questions."
Elms says his Web site, created in 1999, now attracts more than 300,000 visitors a day, and that half of the site's users log on more than once a day. He collects information about each person who registers an account and says the average hobbyist is between 35 and 55 years old with a median income of $80,000.