Embracing the anonymity offered by the internet, more and more Hongkongers are turning to “confession pages” on social media platforms to discuss their most intimate problems – sometimes even before talking to their partner.
HKFP spoke to administrators of Instagram “confession” pages as well as an NGO about the phenomenon, and about changing attitudes to sex and love in the city.
Topics readers share range from relationship bickering to people questioning their sexuality, as well as confessions of having cheated on their partners, to people worried that they have contracted a sexually-transmitted infection. Though posts attract a wide range of comments lately, some netizens still leave problematic comments, such as homophobic and sexist remarks.
Mel, the creator of Instagram page meltoo.edu.hk, told HKFP she decided to publish her comics about feminism and sex education online after an incident which made her question the different treatment of men and women: “I faced a huge backlash after berating a guy for his looks and posted our conversation on LIHKG (a local forum). People were not only criticising me for what I did, but also criticised my looks and body-shamed me,” said Mel.
“After learning that what I did was wrong, the incident also made me think: if it is wrong to bully a guy for his looks, why do they make it seem okay to berate a girl for her looks?”
Mel then spent a year reading up on body positivity and feminism and eventually created her own Instagram page. She also worked with NGOs such as Rainlily and AIDS Concern on issues of sexual violence and sex education.
“I experienced almost a second culture shock when I looked at issues in Hong Kong after I read up on feminism,” said Mel.
Some trends and social norms are deep-rooted in society, such as the expectation that males in a relationship should pay for dates and act as breadwinners, and people often have misconceptions about feminism.
“A lot of people think that feminism is about women asking men to pay for them, but it is actually about things such as equal pay so that we don’t have to rely on men to contribute resources.”
Aside from her own comic page, Mel is also a contributor to confession page sexy_love_stories, where she tries to advise people who submit stories or relate issues they encounter.
The decision came after she noticed a victim of sexual violence being bullied online after another page posted her experience.
“I have seen in one post where a victim of sexual assault said she was pressured to interact with her abuser by her family since she was a kid, and could not bring herself to report the case to the authorities,” said Mel.
“And some comments in the post were asking if the victim wanted to be abused since she continued to meet with her abuser. They were mocking her childhood trauma. That was the breaking point for me to start giving advice online to people.”
As well as posting anonymous contributions, Mel would also comment on other pages’ posts in order to fight back against malicious comments.
Kitty Choi is director of Sticky Rice Love, a NGO and sexual well-being platform aiming to change society’s views on talking about sex. She said that over the past two years – possibly because of the #MeToo movement – more people had started to talk about their experiences of sexual abuse on these platforms.
“Then the topics shifted from experiences of sexual abuse to more generic sexual or relationship problems which people faced. There is also more discussion of unconventional relationship types such as SP [sexual partners] and open relationships.”
Choi said the popularity of these anonymous confession pages reflects Hongkongers’ reluctance to talk about sex in their daily lives.
“These posts really helped us to understand that Hong Kong people’s values when it comes to relationships and sex are quite varied,” she said. “Our organisation promotes informed choice….but looking at the posts made us realise that a lot of people are out of our circle.”
At first, Sticky Rice Love tried to monitor these Instagram confession pages and sought to comment on some posts whenever possible, but they soon realised they could not keep up with the speed, said Choi.
“But lately we have also noticed there is a division between these pages. Certain accounts still have some really toxic posts that perpetuate victim-blaming or values that we think are not ideal, but some other pages improved a lot,” said Choi.
“Even if it’s not NGOs trying to leave comments, a lot of individuals will say something really positive and spread correct sexual health knowledge.”
Saam Yee, meaning “aunty three” in Cantonese, the administrator of another confession page called couple.murmur, said she had not expected to feel a heavy sense of responsibility when she started the page.
“But slowly I got more followers. With a lot of students watching my page, I feel that I have a responsibility to promote fundamental moral values that won’t harm others.”
Saam Yee had wanted a platform where people could seek the advice of others on relationship problems.
While she does not provide professional advice on her page, she appreciates it when other pages such as Sticky Rice Love post educational comments on her own post.
“I welcome them leaving comments like these, I think some of these pages’ professional analysis is awesome,” said Saam Yee.
“I’m not good at expressing myself, sometimes I don’t think I can express my own advice well…I really appreciate these pages helping by commenting with professional advice.”
From her own experience dealing with people submitting anonymous stories, she said that Hong Kong people can sometimes be quite conflicted when it comes to relationships.
“While some people have a ‘fast food mentality’ where they think that pursuing someone for a month is already a great effort, there are also a lot of people trying hard to maintain their relationships.”
Ana, a volunteer in Sticky Rice Love, said many couples are unable to communicate effectively.
“Often, no matter what problems the post was talking about, people would advise the person to break up with their partner,” she said.
“While a lot of people may just think it’s a joke, it also shows that a lot of young people in Hong Kong don’t know how to solve conflicts in their relationship.”
“Some people will go online to our page and ask for our advice even before trying to talk to their partner,” said Choi. “Especially on sexual issues, they would think that they can’t discuss it with their partners; they would only endure the problem by themselves.”
“When society thinks that sex is a taboo subject, it makes it more difficult to talk about intimate relationships,” said Choi.
She said her organisation now makes more effort to teach people in a relationship how to communicate, in addition to sex education.
Ah Sze, a social worker who also volunteers for Sticky Rice Love, said many Hong Kong people believe emotional violence in a relationship is normal.
“A lot of people think their partner is their possession. They would think ‘If we’re dating, why can’t I look at your phone?’ and some people would even ask for their partner’s social media account passwords,” said Ah Sze.
Choi said that while there are some changes in society, such as a greater willingness by schools to provide sex education, there are still many factors impeding progress.
“There are intersecting factors such as government, religion, or even mass media and society’s negative portrayal of sex making the situation worse. It’s not like if we changed the government’s attitude, then the rest would fall in line.”