According to Yang’s (2001) research, about 70 per cent of male respondents in Taipei had visited sex-related establishments on at least one occasion. It has been argued that the use of commercial sex in Taiwan not only serves as one of the ways men build up male bonds and/or brotherhood, but also as a rite of passage whereby boys become men (Hwang 2003: 104). Thus, men who are not interested in (or who do not ‘dare’ to) buy sex are the butt of jokes by peers and may be suspected of being homosexual. Yet as far as mainstream sexual morality is concerned, men who buy sex are still considered to be ‘deviant’ or ‘problematic’. Some interviewees thus reported being ‘stared at or laughed at by passersby’ when walking into brothels. The sexual stigma of being a paio ke (punter) can thus make buying sex intimidating for first-time customers.

Men’s first visit to a brothel is rarely undertaken alone. Most interviewees described their first visits to sex workers as motivated by peer pressure and attempts to protect their masculine identity (in terms of not being seen as ‘unmanly’ by friends). Alcohol was usually involved in these first visits. Some interviewees reported that experienced friends would propose to ‘wan nu ten’ (‘go play with women’), so a night out drinking thus ended with visiting sex workers.

For me, the first time was due to friends’ taunts… They said something like ‘Ha, you don’t dare to do it, do you?’ … It’s a very common growing-up ritual among young men, you know. (Lin, 33, Internet studio owner, married)

Could you believe that I kept my virginity till 29? … One night I got drunk and then it was done to me. I didn’t even notice what the woman looked like! (laugh) … Later, my attitudes toward buying sex were a bit weird. I mean, once someone invited me to ‘piao ji’ (‘go-whoring’), I would just go with them. It seemed to tell people ‘[Y]eah, I can do it, too!’ (Ho, 38, sales, married)

Fracher and Kimmel (1995: 142) have argued that it ‘is through our understanding of masculinity that we construct a sexuality, and it is through our sexualities that we confirm the successful construction of gender identity’. This suggests that ‘going-whoring’ can function as a site where (young) men negotiate their masculine identity and simultaneously manage the social stigma of being a lascivious ‘piao ke’. Hence the social pressure of peers in the growing up ritual justifies ‘going whoring’. As one informant, Ho, described it, ‘since every man commits the same crime, no one is guilty’. Nonetheless, the sexual stigma of ‘piao ke’ is deep-rooted, so ‘whoring’ frequently happens after significant alcohol consumption has reduced inhibitions.