You've heard about Japan's used underwear vending machines. They were in The Telegraph; they were in countless listicles about why Japan is a wacky place full of things that scare people from Middle England; they were probably referred to in one of those shit jokes Jimmy Carr does at the beginning of 8 Out of 10 Cats. You know about them.
However, what you're possibly less familiar with is the UK's steady trade of soiled-to-order knickers. Should you want, you can get your hands on pants stained with whatever manner of bodily fluid you desire, all of them produced bespoke by local British underwear artisans.
"Veronica Vixon", a 23-year-old who lives in Bristol, started selling her dirty knickers for £15 a pop on Craigslist when she lost her job as a care worker. She lives with her boyfriend, who takes photos of her modelling the merchandise for clients. I asked her what her boyfriend thinks of men using her sullied knickers as masturbatory aids. "He quite likes it, actually," she told me.
In fact, Veronica's boyfriend sometimes plays a crucial part in the pants she sells. Veronica explained how, very vividly, before running through some other popular requests. The main one is to wear the pants while masturbating, and "quite a lot want me to wee in them". A couple of punters have asked that she shit herself while wearing the underwear they've commissioned, but, understandably, it's not really something she wants to do.
Speaking to Veronica, I wondered who these guys were and what exactly motivates them to spend £15 on a pair of pants. Obviously the motives are sexual – as far as I can see, there's little other reason you'd want to pay for someone else's underwear – but what specifically do customers get out of the deal?
Paul founded the website SellYourPanties.com a few years ago with two of his friends. He says they were all "kind of geeks", and that after one of them had read about Japan's vending machines they figured they could move the business model online. One successful site later, Paul was ready with some statistics that began to shed a bit of light on who it is paying Veronica and her peers for their dirty underwear.
60 percent of buyers are under 40, he told me, and 92 percent are men. The other eight percent, as you might have guessed via a basic knowledge of human biology, are women, some of whom are sellers on the site. A third of the buyers are married and most are regular customers. Paul also gave me a breakdown of what the buyers do when they receive the used knickers; according to his stats, 31 percent masturbate with them, 30 percent smell them, 13 percent wear them, 12 percent put them in a drawer, 8 percent lick them, 5 percent just look at them and 1 percent wash them and wear them.
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I wanted to get a more personal perspective on the type of people who use Paul's site, so I reached out to a number of them for a chat. One guy, who describes himself as a "human toilet", was pretty representative of the more invested end of the scale. He told me that he's collected a couple of dozen pairs in the last 12 months, likes them "as dirty as possible" and enjoys burying his face in them.
Mid-range, there were the guys who've bought fewer pairs and prefer to wear them normally rather than over their face. "I'll put them on, pull them to one side and wank," said Satinpantlicker, a 32-year-old who lives in the UK. "In short, I do a lot of wanking!"
Romain, a single 31-year-old French guy, summed up the more – for want of a better word – romantic customers with the statement: "[I like to] look at them and imagine [the woman's] butt in them." And representing the somewhat innocent lot, 24-year-old Mark – a single guy from Australia – told me he wants used knickers simply so he can "keep them in a drawer". He's after pants worn by Angelina Valentine, his favourite porn star, who he's approached on Twitter. "I just want to have something of hers," he said.
According to Paul, buying the pants is a means to an end for most of his customers. He says that what the guys really want is someone to chat to – an online girlfriend. He told me the women who sell the most on his site are those who interact with their customers the most and build up their confidence in them. He admits that they also tend to be quite pretty, but makes it clear that "that's not the main criteria". What the guys really want, he says, is "open mindedness – someone who's open to discussion, who'll be a psychologist and a confidant".
Veronica Vixen agreed: "It's part of it, really. They enjoy that communication. They like to chat to you a lot through email, and you feel like you've got to know them, like a Facebook friend. They want someone to talk to."
Goddess Alexis, a 41-year-old dominatrix from Leeds, told me about the relationships she has with the guys she sends her pants to. "We talk about everything," she said. "You know, it's not just about bondage and fetishes. I'm their friend as well – their agony aunt. They talk to me about anything and I try to put their mind at ease. A lot of them feel like they're freaks because they have a certain fetish, but I say, 'Look, you're not – there are millions of people that are into this, it's just they don't talk about it at the bus stop.'"
I asked Romain if he likes to chat to the women he buys pants from. "Of course. It's a prerequisite to buy something from a girl," he explained. "I love letters and words. French is a language so vast, with so many different meanings. I appreciate [the] exchange with them. It's only this way a man can exclude girls who do it for money from those who do it to give pleasure to me and herself."
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Talking to friends about the used pants trade, many pointed out that it's probably not a bad way to make a living. But I'm not so sure it's quite the money spinner it first seems; Veronica charges £15 as standard, upping the price to £20 if the customer requests that the pants arrive containing a bodily fluid of their choosing. But selling an average of five pairs a week, that's an absolute maximum of £100, minus the cost of knickers, postage and packing.
Paul told me the average price on his site was €25 (approximately £18), and Goddess Alexis had just set up an account on Panty Trust – a competitor to Paul's site – where she'll be selling her pants for £15, including postage and packing. She currently sends them to her slaves as a treat. "I like to send some panties through the post and make someone's day – I know I'll get something back," she said. "They visit my wish list, they send me gift cards – oh, they look after me!"
Paul claimed that the most successful sellers on his site could make €2,000 to €3,000 a month. I asked Veronica Vixen and Goddess Alexis if they made enough to live on. Veronica told me her boyfriend is the main breadwinner, saying, "He pays the rent and bills. Anything I make is spending money." Goddess Alexis said she worked part-time, and Veronica added, "I do the odd cleaning job for ladies on my road."
So it's clear this is still very much a side earner for sellers, something they put considerably less thought into than some of their buyers might assume. However, that's not to say they're not somewhat invested in the men buying their pants. For many buyers, as Paul pointed out, the motivation seems to be the feeling that they're in a relationship with these women, that the online interaction is the first, second and third date, and that the knickers arriving in the post is the physical consummation of that relationship.
Of course, that can't be said for everyone. Some of them just enjoy finding really creative ways to wank.
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