October 1, 2007 / 2:06 PM / 12 years ago

Once-puritan South Africa holds its first sex fair

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africans queued to learn about sex toys and pole-dancing this weekend, at the first sex fair ever held in a country founded by conservative Christians and still home to many sexual taboos.

Artist Tim Patch (L), who calls himself 'Pricasso', paints a picture of Olga Braude (R) using his penis at the Sexpo in Johannesburg, September 28, 2007. Patch has painted portraits of some of the worlds most famous people including George Bush and Queen of England. REUTERS/Antony Kaminju

The exhibition, modeled on a show running in Australia since 1996, would have been unthinkable 15 years ago when South Africa was still ruled by Afrikaners, the white descendants of the original, largely Puritan Dutch and French settlers.

During the apartheid era, customs officials not only confiscated pornography brought from abroad by travelers, but sometimes detained those trying to import it. Strip clubs did not exist and handcuffs, though abundant, were not fur-lined.

The end of white minority rule in 1994 and the establishment of a new constitution — generally considered one of the most liberal in the world — unleashed a torrent of hard-core porn. Sex shops and strip clubs blossomed.

Although authorities tolerate the lifestyle, it remains one that few South Africans openly discuss or admit to supporting.

Meanwhile, South Africa has one of the world’s worst AIDS epidemics.

An estimated 12 percent of its 47 million people are infected with HIV, most of them black. Sex is the main channel of transmission in a culture where male dominance is rarely challenged and promiscuity often tolerated.

Each day about 1,000 people die from AIDS and another 1,500 contract the virus.

Amid the racy lingerie, pornographic DVDs and exotic sex toys, the Johannesburg “Sexpo SA” made room for a handful of health advocacy groups to set up stands, including the LoveLife Trust, the national HIV prevention program for young people.

Silas Howarth, the 28-year-old South African who organized the exhibition, said around 40,000 people paid the 89 rand ($13) admission to the fair. He said there were plans to hold similar events in coming months in Durban and Cape Town.

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