2003-06-18 IGS Evening Seminar, Ochanomizu University, Tokyo, Japan
Spice Girls to Enjo-Kosai:
Formations of Teenage Girl’s Sexualities
Professor and Coordinator
Center for the Study of Sexualities
National Central University, Chungli, Taiwan
the last two lectures I have been describing an emerging female sexual
agency, in dealing with sexual images or sex work as a profession, which
has created serious challenges to a feminism that maintains a very rigid
gender framework. Although
my examples come from Taiwan with which I am more familiar, I believe
such an observation may have implications for the rest of East Asia,
which is something for you to think about.
Tonight I will move on to a topic that is most relevant for Japan
where the thorny term—enjo-kosai—originated.
Yet, instead of going backward to its roots in Japan, I would
like to provide one explanation as to why the term took root in Taiwan
so quickly and so easily, to the extent that it has come to encompass a
wide range of social/sexual intercourse, thus triggering massive fear
and worry among the morally righteous.
Furthermore, rather than treating enjo-kosai as an
isolated, particularized social phenomenon or “problem,” as many
adults have come to regard it, I am proposing that as body and sexuality
change their meaning and significance for the new generation of
teenagers living in a rapidly changing social world as Taiwan, sex work
known as enjo-kosai has also come to signify something very
different from what adults would have imagined.
In other words, the significant difference between adults’ and
teenagers’ attitudes toward enjo-kosai reflects not necessary a
decay in moral values but the changing reality of sexuality in history.
of teenage girls’ sexuality in Taiwan have always
been enveloped in stock descriptions of
emerging social problems: unexpected and unwanted pregnancies by careless
girls, brutal rapes or molestations of innocent girls by ruthless men or
impulsive youths, or the selling of unfortunate girls into prostitution
by heartless parents and traffickers.
Within such a social
context, the girls who insist on demonstrating some degree of sexual adventurism or
sexual self-determination usually end up being labeled as
problem girls treading on dangerous grounds and
doomed for tragedy. Still, in the past few years a much more pervasive trend
and a much wider range of teenage sexual expressions and activities have
forced their way unto the Taiwanese scene.
In fact, such demonstrations of teenage girls’ sexualities
have become so clearly in sight and so blatantly “in your face” that
adult concerns are raging to rein in such energies.
this lecture, I would like to trace out some of the most visible
formations of teenage girls’ sexualities in present-day Taiwan, enjo-kosai
being merely one expression among many, through which teenage girls are
exploring and thus forging their own sexualities out of limited social
means, as well as groping to construct their own reflexive project of
begin with a most popular topic, educators and women’s groups in
Taiwan have consistently criticized media representations of teenage
girls for creating a vanity-based false consciousness that serves to
sustain existing gender stereotypes and thus long-standing gender
inequality. Yet we cannot
help but notice the fact that teenage girls, through
organizing/manipulating such media images and commodities and becoming
themselves subjects, rather than objects, of desire, are also beginning
to arrive at a new self-consciousness, a new sense of subjectivity, that
may prove instrumental for their overall growth and development.
first inkling of a new image
of teenage girls hit the Taiwanese market in 1996 when Vivian Hsu(徐若瑄)
released her first semi-nude
photo album titled “Venus.”
the album’s design
may be targeting the
complex psychology of adult males in East
Asia with Vivian’s special blend of innocence and sexuality,
it also unwittingly opened a new door to self/sexual-expression for teenage girls.
Henceforth, innocence need not be divorced from sexuality; you can have the cake and eat it too.
industry, where numerous teenage girls had fashioned their own dream stories of
beauty out of limited means but unlimited fantasies, began to include more daring sexual images.
In one proud photo album
after another, young teenage girls peered into the cameras with their
own formulation of seductive looks and experimented with the various seductive
postures and images
they had long dreamed of assuming.
subtle combination of innocence and sexuality in looks is further
animated by the sexy dance moves of today’s
popular performers, from Korea’s S.E.S and Park Ji-Yoon, to Japan’s
Nami Amuro and Ayumi
Hamasaki, to Taiwan’s own A-Mei and Coco
Lee. As a lateral
development, low-cut super tight jeans, jeans that reveal the seductive
contours of the girls’ buttocks and thighs, even traces of the
G-string or thong underneath, have also become quite popular in Taiwan
in these past few years—a style of clothing that mediates between a
social context highly suspicious and disdainful of girls wearing
over-revealing outfits, and the teenage girls’ own growing desire for
sexual expression. If
tight jeans prove to be too challenging for those schoolgirls who lack
confidence in their lower body figures, many of them have chosen instead
to wear colorful bras inside their white uniform shirts so that the
blurry colorful insinuations could highlight their own upper-body figure
and announce their sexual restlessness.
Lest people should say that these sexual expressions are merely
catering to the desires of males, world-renowned bad-girl Madonna and
the UK Spice Girls have already created images of a female sexuality no
longer contained within or geared toward a desire to please men, but
instead, is highly energetic as well as obnoxiously provocative.
Their rhythm and dancing and, mostly importantly, “attitude”
certainly exemplify alternative ways for teenage girls to imagine how
their own sexual feelings and attitudes could be conveyed, aside from
the usual tame representations in Cosmopolitan or Vogue.
world of popular culture and commodities may have provided some raw
material out of which teenage girls could fashion their own sexual
representations and sexual subjectivities, yet their sexual construction
of the self at the present moment encompasses much more than mere images
and fantasies and commodities. In
fact, for this generation of Taiwanese teenage girls, hands-on
experience with sexual intercourse is no longer something totally alien.
increases in sexual activities among teenagers have been well noted in
various studies in Taiwan. A
2001 survey of young internet users reveals that heavy petting of the
lower part of the body, which is often considered to be a prelude to
actual sexual intercourse, is already practiced by 42.4 % of young
women, a four-fold increase since 1988.
Sexual awakening is also taking place much earlier than before.
With better nutrition and the encroachment of Western diets, 80%
fifth-grade girls in Taiwan have started to grow breasts; 34%
sixth-grade girls have experienced their first period; and 16%
sixth-grade girls admit to having had romantic relationships, according
to a 2000 survey.
Though still believing that children should be protected from any
talk of sex until late puberty, sex educators are now scrambling to
distribute sex education materials to fifth and sixth graders.
These measures further accelerate the process that Michel
Foucault has termed the “pedagogization of children’s sex,” which
seeks to manage, but will more than likely end up further inciting, the
sexual potentials of so-called underage youths.
the tug-of-war rages on between teenage sexual practices and their
pedagogization, dramatic changes in teenagers’ sexual attitudes are
also becoming visible.
Premarital sex is no longer a taboo. In
a survey with 14,269 of 16- to 25-year-old internet users, at least 60%
find sexual relationships acceptable if both parties agree to it, to the
dismay of parents and sex educators.
If pregnancy resulted, 38% youths would choose abortion; nearly
40% would choose marriage as a way out of the problem.
Interestingly, the study also shows that the former group
consists mainly of females while the marriage group consists of males,
signifying that today’s young women, with the help of new products
such as RU486 or other improved abortion procedures, would choose
freedom over marriage even when faced with the embarrassing situation of
As to the age-old question
of premarital co-habitation, values are changing too. Those youths who would choose to cohabitate make up 45% of
the sample group, yet half of the remaining 55% who are against
co-habitation resist living together with their lovers NOT because they
think it is wrong but simply because they want to “retain some freedom
for themselves” while maintaining such intimate relationships.
In these recent survey results, youths are demonstrating much
more calculation than simple willful choice.
only are youths more open toward intimate relationships, they are at the
same time open to multiplicities in such intimacies.
Television commercials for their favorite commodity—the cell
phone—blatantly characterize it as the newest tool for managing
multiple relationships. The
ad for one model advocates its new function that can send the same
romantic message to up to nine different receiving parties at one press
of a button. Another model
emphasizes its new caller-id function, in which the girl in the
commercial looks bored when flashing lights of varied colors announce
calls from her boyfriend and her best friend, but turns exuberant when a
different color light signals a call from the boyfriend of her best
friend. The cliché
critique of commodities for their “sexual exploitation” and
“sexual objectification” of teenage girls seems feeble in front of
such tremendous powers of multiple attraction and aggressive management.
teenage girls are already living in an environment with plenty of
exposure to things sexual, if they are already becoming fluent in the
language of desire, if their sexual values have already diverged from
puritanical morality, and most importantly, if sexual adventurism (in
the form of sex with multiple partners or sex with strangers) is
experienced as the latest in-thing instead of a life-and-death matter
for teenage girls (as it used to be for their mothers or
grandmothers)—then it is little wonder that enjo-kosai and
other forms of teenage sex work are taken rather nonchalantly by teenage
girls. It is simply another
form of sexual exploration, and with tangible as well as sizable
much as enjo-kosai (casual
been interpreted as an alarming phenomenon
teenage girls in East Asia
(thus worthy of social panic), its existence
in Taiwan has its own unique ramifications. First,
enjo-kosai has now become an umbrella
term for all forms of individually-operated sex work in Taiwan, be it
professional sex workers who are taking advantage of the term’s
amateurish connotation, or occasional practitioners who are taking
advantage of its imported cultural image.
In fact, the most frequently reported cases in the past year or
so have involved all kinds of young men who are offering themselves for
sale out of curiosity or out of a desperate need for a quick income or
even out of a desire to raise funds for a sex reassignment surgery.
has also become a new code-word for the popular but infamous game of
one-night-stands on the internet. It
not only adds a taboo fantasy dimension to the pre-game negotiations as
well as the actual sexual encounter, but also leaves room for post-game
demands for compensation should the encounter turns out to be unpleasant
In that sense, enjo-kosai is more of a space for sexual
negotiations than a fixed set of sexual transactions.
developments in no way deny the fact that there are quite a lot of
teenage schoolgirls who ARE conducting enjo-kosai in their
after-school hours. The
absence of work opportunities for teenage schoolgirls has only been
ameliorated in the past 15 years by the arrival of the fast food
industries and the convenience stores.
And as the service industries began to expand as part of the
transformation of Taiwanese economy, more schoolgirls entered karaokes,
coffee-shops, tea-houses, nightclubs, etc. to work as part-time service
crew. All of these jobs pay
part-timers by the hour on the basis of a fixed hourly wage, and judging
from the meager going rate (US$2 an hour), it is quite understandable
why some girls would look into other lines of work, better-paying work.
One 14-year-old girl who was caught by the police doing enjo-kosai
says that she had worked in a beauty parlor as an apprentice, and what
she earned standing all day long could not even compare with half of
what she earned “lying down” for a brief while.
She announces that she would go back to enjo-kosai as soon
as she gets out. While
women’s groups beseech the police to rid the internet of enjo-kosai
ads so as to “protect” the girls from exploitation by evil
customers, perhaps women’s groups should first take seriously the
girls’ complaints about the exploitation involved in the so-called
respectable and normal jobs at McDonalds and other such business
have attributed the popularity of the term enjo-kosai to the
Japanese drama 「神啊！請多給我一點時間」(「神様、パよ少ウクん」，kami
sama moo sukoshi da ke) which aired in
Taiwan from July to September 1999.
Yet as early as March 1999, the movie 「援助交際24小時」(“Enjo-kosai
around the clock”) had already caught the attention of the general
public which was trying to come to grips with the changing faces of
teenage girls. One senior
journalist even wrote about her worries over the possible convergence of
enjo-kosai with the Taiwanese “spicy/hot sisters” (辣妹),
who were “girls under the age of eighteen but radiating sexiness as
well as maintaining the innocence of a little girl, full of sex
appeal.” History proves
that the local term that captured the delicate combination of
innocence/detachment (out of reach) and enticing
sexuality/sophistication would easily be articulated with the imported
terminology—enjo-kosai—which also joined two seeming opposed
terms, sophisticated sex work and innocent teenage girls.
course the phenomenon now described as enjo-kosai is not the
first time Taiwanese teenage girls have come into contact with work that
makes use of their bodily image and even sexuality. Many teenage girls have
already had experience working as models,
not only in the traditional sense of taking the catwalk as fashion
models or joining various beauty pageants or talent shows; but also in
restaurant chains imported from the West
(i.e., Hooters), or in car shows,
software exhibitions, wine tastings, local betel
nut stands, male-dominated billiard
parlors, businessmen-frequented tea-houses,
gas stations, car-washes, and a
wide range of other businesses. Others
have found work providing all kinds of flirtation-oriented work in
karaokes, dance pubs, or regular night-clubs.
When these various kinds of body-related work border one another
in gradation, and when the legitimacy/respectability of “work”
gradually eclipses the stigma of “sex” in this age of heightened
professionalism as well as sexual openness, it becomes increasingly
meaningless to try and make a clear distinction between these other
forms of work and enjo-kosai, which for many is just one more
type of work that involves sex appeal.
In other words, this convergence of teenage work and sex work (enjo-kosai
in particular) is in fact far less a matter of “confusion of values”
than a matter of “profusion of jobs.”
A September 2001 survey of 16-26-year-olds reports
that sex work has become an acceptable form
of work for 70%
of the youths polled. And the younger the interviewees, the more strongly they side
with the new sexual values.
Japanese porn star Ai Iijima (飯島愛)
came to Taiwan to publicize her biography Platonic Sex in 2000,
as much as adults warned about her profession as a porn actress and one
time sex worker, teenagers flocked to the book exhibition to catch a
glimpse of the sex goddess they have seen so much of in the adult TV
channels. Many teenagers bought her biography and read her life story
diligently as a story of courage and honesty.
much as child protection NGOs would like to describe the enjo-kosai
girls as nothing but vulnerable, vain, and lazy, the girls themselves,
however, are accumulating their own hands-on wisdom in this
line of business. Contrary
to the guileless girls who are mostly phobic and scared witless in
emergency situations, some enjo-kosai girls have become quite
adept in reading people and handling complicated human interaction. To acquire their prospective clientele, they have learned to
target only middle-aged men, not because these men are more lustful, but
because these men, according to these girls, are more
“chicken-hearted”; in other words, they would not make trouble for
the girls should the transaction go awry—the unlawfulness of the
transaction, the mainstream social status of these men, and the stigma
associated with cross-generational relationships would all work to the
men’s disadvantage should they make any trouble that attracts public
attention. While statistics
show that many of these girls are runaways, school drop-outs, night
school students, cram school students, etc., many other enjo-kosai
girls come from perfectly functional families.
Their parents have good-paying jobs, and the girls have good
grades in school and they use the computers parents bought them for home
use to get on the internet and negotiate sexual transactions.
There was a case in which two girls in their early teens started
their own enjo-kosai business to avoid, according to them,
exploitation by the telephone dating service where they once worked.
While doing enjo-kosai, the girls kept a “desire
diary” detailing individual customers, personal tastes, prices
charged, merchandise purchased with the payment, calculation of
transactions needed for future purchases, etc.
Professionalism in such compensated companionship is neither
casual nor rare.
adults continue to lament this “confusion of values,” but the real
“confusion” seems to be something quite unexpected and troubling.
In the past, the “good girls” were always dressed in nice and
decent clothes while the sex workers dress lewdly.
But now the “good girls” are donning all the hot and sexy
dresses for their limited sexual self-expression, while the enjo-kosai
girls, the new generation of sex workers, carry on their business in
their school uniforms with student id cards in their pockets.
Both kinds of girls, and in many cases there is no clear line
between them, are actively striving to manage the delicate
multiplicities and complexities of sexual desires, which most adults,
born and raised in highly rigid social-sexual contexts, have little
knowledge, much less experience, about.
teen sex work may have another layer of social significance that needs
to be recognized. As the
world we live in becomes “a society of strangers,” the art of
socializing becomes more and more important, for it provides the
necessary means through which strangers (or acquaintances) may come
together and develop further contacts and relationships.
Historically, socializing in the public sphere in the Chinese
society had been the exclusive activity of men.
It was the prostitutes and other sex workers who first dared to
challenge social decorum by entering public space in their own fashion.
In fact, the first generation of women who enjoyed financial
independence, who divorced freely, who roamed public sites freely, who
dressed in the most glaring way, who smoked in public to express their
character and independence, who dated men freely, etc. were none other
than the prostitutes. Their
revolutionary move has made it possible for other women
(non-sex-workers) to also enter the public space and negotiate their own
social intercourse, maybe even sexual intercourse.
women in the past, teenagers are also suffering immense restrictions and
repressions in relation to their entry and activities in public space,
as well as their channels of contact with people of varied social
status. Under the triple
bind of gender inequality, ageism, and sex negativism, enjo-kosai
functions as a form of “social intercourse” that could open up
opportunities for youths to explore themselves, to get to know members
of other social groups, as well as to get to know the society of which
they make up a very important part.
Such social intercourse may very well amount to a nice afternoon
of company, a passing one night stand, a short-term friendships, a
romantic attachment, or even marriage—and perhaps all in connection
with some form of monetary gift. To
reduce such multiplicities in enjo-kosai to simple notions of
lop-sided exploitation or commodification is to overlook the efforts of
teenage girls to forge new possibilities out of limited space and means.
intercourse and sexual intercourse are different forms of modern
intercourse. In that sense,
enjo-kosai is a new form of social/sexual intercourse in a
sexually open society; and new modes of relations, emotions, and work
are being created in this process by, first and foremost, our teenage enjo-kosai
This paper was originally delivered as a country report at the
International Conference on Teenage Girls' Sexualities and Sex Work
in East Asia, Yonsei University, Korea, Nov. 2, 2001.
It will be published in full in InterAsia Cultural Studies
in Aug. 2003. The
present paper is an abbreviated and further modified version.
Photos of the celebrities mentioned in this paper can be found at
For example, women’s groups have
publicized reports on the rampant
“commodification” and “objectification” of teenage girls so
as to call on the society to “save” these young girls.
Educators and social workers likewise have warned parents to
“pay more attention” to their teenage daughters and monitor the
latter’s activities and acquaintances.
The easy association between teenage girls’ sexuality and
teenage sex work further invigorates the sense of urgency that may
activate all kinds of social prejudice in relation to age,
sexuality, sex work, etc. before the full scope of teenage sexuality
had a chance to be discussed.
Anthony Giddens, Modernity and
Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age
(Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1991), 52-55.
To avoid violating the age limit set by the law, the producer of the
album made sure that Vivian was already 18 before embarking on the
shooting. Still, Vivian
was packaged as a 13-15 year old girl in all the pictures taken.
The producer claims that
Hsu was chosen because “she represented a perfect mixture of
teenage innocence and subtle but sophisticated sexual desire.”
I might add here that
such tight jeans are also becoming popular among young males,
signaling perhaps an increasingly visible concern with sexiness that
goes beyond macho manhood.
The explosion in Taiwanese lingerie business in recent years attests
to the progress of the erotic revolution in which women are becoming
more and more concerned about the aesthetic and erotic connotations
of their intimate wear rather than the latter’s practical use.
Debbie Stoller, "Feminists Fatale: BUST-ing the Beauty
Myth," in The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order, eds. by
Marcelle Karp & Debbie Stoller (New York: Penguin, 1999), 46.
“Romantic” relationships in the past may entail little physical
contact, but for this generation of young people, physical, and
sometimes sexual, contact embodies the romantic in relationships.
Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: Volume I: An
Introduction, Trans. by Robert Hurley (New York: Random House,
Such changes in attitudes toward sex are partly constituted by
teenage girls’ favorite kind of recreational reading: romance
novels. In fact, a Feb.
2001 survey of romance novels in the market reveals that out of the
four million romance novels presently circulating in bookstores,
book rental places, and other channels of distribution in Taiwan,
90% of them included X-rated content, i.e., graphic depictions of
sexual intercourse and other perversions.
One trouble-shooting female politician was shocked to find
that many of these novels even included sections on incest, sex in
the presence of children, techniques to seduce men, and other
unbelievable and highly unacceptable deviances that she found
difficult to mention.
Although lesbianism remains mostly invisible in this
reproduction-oriented society, a recent survey of high school girls,
conducted in September of 2000, reports that 12% of high school
girls freely admitted to being lesbians, and 63% found lesbianism an
acceptable form of intimate relationship.
“If advertisers and marketing men manipulated teens as consumers,
they also, inadvertently, solidified teen culture against the adult
world…. Defined by its own products and advertising slogans,
teenhood became more than a prelude to adulthood; it was a status to
be proud of—emotionally and sexually complete unto itself.” See
Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess, & Gloria Jacobs, eds., Re-Making
Love: the Feminization of Sex (New York: Doubleday, 1986), p.
It is rumored that up to 70% to 80% of so-called enjo-kosai ads
on the internet are put up by professional sex workers who are now
exploring new means of reaching a wider clientele.
Just to give a few examples: ＜油漆工人上網援交送辦＞，2001年10月11日聯合報18版；＜籌錢想變性，男子援交被捕＞，2001年10月8日聯合報18版；＜大學生刊援助交際緩刑＞，2001年8月30日聯合報20版；＜十五歲男生援交＞，2001年8月4日聯合報18版；＜同學道相報，高職男生援交＞，2001年7月30日聯合報18版。
Recent police crackdowns on enjo-kosai messages on the
internet have forced netters to return to the more “innocently”
sounding term of ONS.
To insist on the definite distinction between sex work and other
kinds of sex-related work is to insist on the unique status of
penetration-sex as a unique form of intimate contact that carries
dire consequences for women. Yet
the point that I am trying to make here is that we are already in
the presence of a new generation of girls for whom sex no longer
carries such weight. Ironically, the women’s groups are now trying desperately
to restore this causal relationship between sex and disaster by
sending these girls to correctional institutions known as half-way
Another Japanese porn star Madoka Ozawa (小澤圓)
has made quite a few visits to Taiwan since 2002 and has been
featured in car shows, wedding shows, and furniture shows
among other non-profit oriented appearances.
Some parents and teachers are worrying that Ozawa’s image
is now being white-washed to such a degree that being a porn star, a
sex worker, would no longer carry the usual social stigma.
Therein lies part of the buried story of the sex revolution in