Sex toy industry booms as mainland Chinese spice up their love lives
Thirty years ago the publication of a photo showing a couple enjoying a chaste kiss caused an uproar on the mainland.
But today sex sells. When the country launched its opening and reform drive in the 1970s, attitudes started to change and so, it seems, did private pleasures.
The sex toy industry is booming. Toys and aids are sold in “adult health” shops around the country, are available in hotel minibars, and are even on sale by the checkout counter at some convenience stores, next to the gum and sweets.
The market will grow to about 40 billion yuan (HK$49.3 billion) by 2014 from about 10 billion yuan at the end of last year, predicts Lin Degang, chief executive of an online retailer of sex toys, www.oyeah.com.cn.
“Within five years, sex toys will be a common commodity for everyday use,” he said. “They will be a key element of a fashionable lifestyle.”
Sex toys have become so ubiquitous that various kinds of vibrators can even be bought at FamilyMart convenience stores throughout Shanghai. With price tags of US$15 to US$17, they are sold by the cashier, along with condoms.
Highlighting expectations of a strong upward trajectory in domestic sales, two private equity firms in August jointly invested 300 million yuan into Love Health Science & Technology Co, the biggest Chinese sex toy manufacturer.
Sex toys have existed in China for centuries. The concubines of Chinese emperors who failed to find sexual satisfaction often turned to them, and there were also sex toys for men, according to Peng Xiaohui, a professor of sexology at Central China Normal University, in the central city of Wuhan in Hubei province.
Their use was forced underground after the Communist Party took over the country in 1949 and adopted policies aimed at repressing people’s personal desires, including romance and sex, in favour of ideas of revolution and collectivism.
Even teenagers were officially “forbidden” to have crushes on each other.
“We can say that after 1949, Chinese society was more conservative than in ancient China,” said Peng.
Things have changed following social and economic reforms that began in the late 1970s, but many Chinese still hold conservative views towards certain elements of sex, such as homosexuality and pornography. Pornographic websites and publications are banned, while young homosexuals often marry to conform to society’s mores.
But over the past decade, the subject has become an increasingly open topic for debate, mainly due to the internet.
Many online communities, such as those for gays and lesbians and those seeking partner swaps, have sprung up over recent years, said Fang Gang, director of the sex and gender institute at Beijing Forestry University.
The country’s state-run broadcaster aired a programme featuring a controversial sexologist, who on the show called for the legalisation of homosexual marriages, while an annual sex fair in Guangzhou in Guangdong province drew 250,000 visitors last month.
Fang said sex was far more than a physical act. “It is a barometer of the entire society,” he said. “With a freer society comes a freer attitude towards sex, and vice versa.”
Lin said about 70 per cent of his clients, mostly in their 20s and early 30s, were male. Most bought toys for their girlfriends; the favourite being a double vibrator.
At Yamete Love Store, in a residential area of downtown Shanghai, customers can browse through items ranging from inflatable dolls to sexy costumes amid low-key lighting as mellow music plays. Most of the items are imported from Japan and Sweden, and carry prices from $100 to $210.
Most shoppers, though, still seem to prefer buying online.
“I feel too embarrassed to buy any sex toys in actual stores,” said Candice Zheng, a 25-year-old office worker in Zhejiang province, south of Shanghai. “I just order them from online shops.”