When asked what her pussy smelt like, feminist writer Eve Ensler responded ‘my husband’s face’. There’s apparently over 2000 different lactobacilli molecular scent notes that compose the smell of pussy, and Eve Ensler’s husband’s face is just one of them. Although many have been rationed into thinking they should mask their fanny’s fragrance, there’s a whole world of women out there making decent dough out of it. Men admiring the scent of a woman is not a new phenomenon, although out-the-closet panty sniffing is.
Coming from Japan originally, where until recently one could literally purchase soiled undergarments out of vending machines as if it was a can of Diet Coke, there’s a culture of underwear selling online happening as we speak. Unlike prostitution it’s a completely legal, and a global phenomenon that is incredibly popular in Europe, the US, Japan and Korea. If this isn’t a good dinner time conversation topic, I don’t know what is. Bring it up with any audience and I bet you you’ll find it’s always contentious. It’s interesting that something legal, safe, lucrative and completely separate from any actual sex act would have people so disgusted and divided. I floated the topic to various people about letting others sniff their scent for skrillah and found that the real question wasn’t so much would they sell their worn knickers but more a case of how much they’d sell them for. Everyone has a price. Some obscenely high and unachievable, but still, a price.
You may be wondering just how much people get for soiled underwear, and what ‘goods’ are in high demand, so I investigated. Although fortunately for me I wasn’t going in blind, I already knew the biggest online underwear site, pantydeal.com, from the several times being a student and a freelance writer had left me strapped for cash. Although I’d never actually done it, this was only down to my sheer laziness and absolute ineptitude at taking a half decent picture my own arse. It’d been a while since I’d graced the dark depths of sex-worker sites, so I when I did the obligatory ‘forgot my details’ email reminder, I was proud to see my 19-year-old self had given me ‘High Class Hoochie’ as a pseudonym. So far so good.
Pantydeal.com operates on a non-judgement policy, where punters shouldn’t be judged on their requests, and equally only respect should be shown to sellers. It didn’t take long for me to realise that it’s more than scent that people are after, but also your favourite knickers, socks, bras, hosiery etc. From the length of wear (typically between 1-3 days) to piss, shit and period stains, the imagination runs wild with combinations and menus. Personal videos, photos, skype calls are sometimes offered, which may or may not include masturbation, sex with a partner (whilst wearing the underwear) and knicker-wetting for those customers that like to be urinated on. Period panties coming with a used sanitary towel are another popular choice that some may find gruesome.
Finally, I got to talking to Xanthe* from Atlanta, who agreed to dish the literal dirt on online panty selling. She’d been doing it for 9 months and said she hadn’t looked back since. I knew we’d get on like a house on fire when I asked her what title she gave herself. For political correctness I timidly suggested ‘panty seller?’, ‘businesswoman within the sex industry?’ she replied proudly, ‘I am a webcam model aka professional masturbator who has an affinity for selling panties.’ I wondered whether she had business cards that said that. She went on to tell me her panty-selling story started when her job in the financial field fell with the economy, and she decided to channel her dominance in life and relationships within the sex industry, finding that private cam shows, phone sex, sexting and panty selling was her niche.
After a little research I came to understand that much of the internet’s panty selling came from sites such as Ebay, Craigslist and Reddit. For better scope I spoke to Manchester-based Chelsea* whose situation was quite different. She’d been doing it for 6 months alongside her part time film editing job and said that selling her underwear was an easy way to feed her lingerie habit. Chelsea sells photos, videos and garments. She gets £30 for underwear, £5 for a video and £1 for a photo, although due to the changing nature of requests the price may also fluctuate. I asked her what she will, or more specifically won’t do (in terms of cum/sweat/period etc), she was surprisingly open too – ‘I always find a customer who asks for urine or excrement doesn’t follow through with the order when you agree to it. I think I would turn down excreting in a pair and then continuing to wear them, also wearing pants longer than 72hours is a no. Cum and sweat are fine. Period I would consider but I probably wouldn’t like wearing them for a full day for sanitary reasons.’
‘What’s your most common request?’ I ask Chelsea, ‘I have had so many requests for a “piss” video, but usually I find the ones that make outlandish demands never follow through. Typically, it’s for just worn underwear that’s been worn for 1-3 days. Often they don’t want it to be too heavily soiled and some will settle for one night of wear.’ Despite the demands for shit-sodden pants, neither women feel they’ve had any ‘weird’ requests.
Interestingly, pantydeal.com almost always refers to the customers as men instead of gender-neutral nouns such as ‘customers’ or ‘clients’. Surely some people buying women’s used underwear online weren’t male? When I asked both women, I really hoped that there’d be diversity in their answers, but disappointingly Chelsea had only ever had one female client, and Xanthe said her ‘average customer is white men, aged 25-45, middle class and married.’ Immediately I had visions of all the husband’s I knew draping period-ridden pink lace thongs over their face and inhaling like they were using a paper bag after having some kind of asthma attack.
Researching this topic made me reflect on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black series 3, where protagonist Piper starts a prison-girl-panty business. This dramatically saw an increased interest in the panty-selling industry and sales soared in 2015 upon the series’ release. One of the things we learn from OITNB, is that fraud is an occupational hazard. By fraud I mean certain ‘goods’ sometimes aren’t up to standard and complaints are made. This in turn can lead to negative reviews which for obvious reasons is bad for business. I ask the women if there’s any tricks of the trade to upsell their dirty unmentionables, I’d read that sometimes saliva or snot is used to replace the appearance of vaginal discharge, and some women were even pricking their finger for blood when they weren’t on their period.
Xanthe’s clients usually come from her camming, so naturally most customers buy ‘goods’ after they’ve watched a 5-minute video of her ‘creaming her pants for $40.’ Like a lot of sex work though, an alter-ego is often formed for sexiness and safety – a real identity isn’t revealed, sexual desires are enhanced, age perhaps may be altered. It’s not so much lying as it is another facet of your own personal identity. But I was curious as to whether the women we see in pictures and on profiles were the same IRL. Chelsea admits ‘I do sometimes let a client believe I have a partner if they insinuate it as it gets me out of other situations such as meet ups and skype calls, really I just live with roommates.’
But when it comes to her appearance and age Chelsea is one of the few that are honest and reflecting on what most customers really want she says that she doesn’t lie about her age but assumes that most men ‘like the “teen” fantasy’ as ‘being in [her] early 20’s goes against [her] whenever it’s mentioned.’
It’s easy to see that the visual aspect to upselling the products are as important as the verbal. Descriptions and photographs are graphic to draw a vivid picture of the scent the soiled garment will have, and the woman that have worn them. As well as the questionable and unfortunately popular ‘teen fantasy’ category, there’s also BBW (‘Big Beautiful Women’, or ‘Black Beautiful Women’), Asian, MILF, gay and all other genres you’d expect to see in porn. There’s the underwear categories, too – pantydeal.com’s own suggested services say ‘fetishists have different tastes; some love worn thongs and briefs, others G-strings, French knickers and boxers with all sorts of vaginal fluids… In fact, the combination of vaginal juices and pee is a definite turn on.’
Chelsea’s reasons for accuracy in her images aren’t just about good customer service, they’re to protect herself too; ‘photos are always honest, I just learnt the good angles to accentuate my body, but I try be honest about having smaller breasts as I’ve had a few hurtful comments in the past. I try be upfront so a customer can decide if they don’t like that before they contact.’
Body confidence is an important part of the role, and Xanthe’s profile portrays a sexually confident woman that knows what she likes. She says the biggest misconception about her job is that a woman ‘must be nasty or a whore to sell worn panties’, and goes on to explain it’s ‘not true, I’m neither. But I’m very sensual & sexual. And people are blind to the fact that those are two different things.’
Chelsea finds men online, like a lot of women find men in life, to have a big effect on the way she sees her body, but says she’s learnt to find her assets – ‘I have my issues with confidence, but I’ve learned the good parts of my body, one of them being my butt. I think it can be a confidence boost but to be honest I am more interested in the financial gain then the compliments.’
Although she takes insults ‘with a pinch of salt’, it was clear that there were emotional obstacles to overcome. Deviance with friends and loved ones is a common occurrence with sex workers in this part of the industry. It was clearly rare to find women as open as Xanthe about their occupation, and even she confessed her openness was encouraged by her boyfriend being a male erotic dancer that found what she did attractive. Chelsea on the other hand admitted that it had caused her previous relationship to end, and that she’d only ever told one friend due to a shame she carried about how she made money.
But where does the shame really come from? Is it from society’s constant disgust for the natural scent of a woman’s vagina and its juices? Or is it from the shame that we perceive there to be in working in the only industry where women are almost automatically paid more than men? A subject of serious debate, and one with so many pros and cons that it deserves careful consideration. But even after all my questions and research, I still wasn’t too sure just how much my ‘goods’ were worth.
*Names of the women have been changed for protective reasons