SHANGHAI Nov 20 Sex toys in China are not hard
to find. They're sold in "adult health" shops around the
country, available in hotel minibars, and even on sale by the
checkout counter at some convenience stores, next to the gum and
Yet this is a country where just 30 years ago public
criticism erupted when a magazine published a picture of a
couple kissing on its back cover.
The about face in attitudes towards sex in China, which
began when the prudish Communist government launched its opening
and reform drive in the late 1970s and has been catalysed by the
Internet, is creating a prime business opportunity for the sex
toy industry, insiders say.
The market will grow to around 40 billion yuan ($6.4
billion) by 2014 from around 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 told Reuters. "Sex toys 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 Co Ltd convenience
stores throughout Shanghai. With price tags of $15 to $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 Ltd, 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.
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.
FORBIDDEN PUPPY LOVE
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.
But over the last 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 sex and gender institute at
Beijing Forestry University.
The country's state-run broadcaster has 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 southeastern China drew 250,000 visitors
Fang said sex is far more than a physical act.
"It is a barometer of the entire society. With a more free
society comes a more free attitude towards sex, and vice versa,"
Lin said around 70 percent of his clients, mostly in their
20s and early 30s, were male. Most purchase items -- the
favourite being a double vibrator -- for their girlfriends.
At Yamete Love Store, in a residential area of downtown
Shanghai, customers can browse 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
(Reporting by Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Kazunori Takada and