A combination of China’s growing obsession with online shopping and the country’s slowly changing social values has opened a path for success for a previously taboo business. While the demand for sex toys may have always existed in secret, some of China’s young entrepreneurs are hoping to capitalize on the country’s newly open sexuality.
According to a report in the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong, one woman, Chris Wu, saw that China was missing a hugely profitable business: the sex toy market. Wu never thought she would end up being on the forefront of China’s sex-toy scene, but while attending the University of Leeds pursuing a master’s in public relations, she was exposed to the high-quality, “beautiful” sex-related products the UK had to offer. When she returned to Beijing, she was disappointed that the capital city didn’t offer similar options.
"That was when I first wanted to start my own sex-toy shop,” 33-year-old Wu told the newspaper. “I felt I needed more experience, so I worked at a PR company for five years and then started the business three years ago.” Wu’s online company, TOI’s Intimacy Boutique, employs a small staff of six, but she says it has been profitable for the last year and half. While Wu’s story may sound quirky and unusual, she isn’t the only one who has seen the demand grow for online sex-toy stores.
"Demand is huge because most people prefer the privacy of shopping for sex toys online,” Li Chengze, another young entrepreneur, said. Starting her career as a journalist, Li eventually opened her own online store, Xiao Ye, after she realized the sex-toy market’s profitability while working in the advertising industry for a year. Li, 26, launched her store only last October, but says she is already receiving hundreds of orders every month.
But online browsing isn’t just for avoiding an embarrassing exchange at the checkout counter anymore; people say they find it much more convenient and reliable. “I’m actually not embarrassed to go into sex shops,” one 25-year-old Shanghai resident told the paper anonymously. “But I can find a much better variety of products online.”
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According to Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce platform, its site currently has more than 2,500 sex-toy companies, many of which are small start-ups. The boom in sex toys, which were unavailable before the 1990s, reflects China’s modernizing society.
"They [young Chinese] are living in an increasingly sex-positive society,” Dr. Lucetta Kam Yip-lo, a gender and sexuality specialist with Hong Kong Baptist University, said in the report. “Many of the sex-toy shops are run by the government, and there’s been an emergence of new sexual activities such as partner-swapping and group sex parties among both homosexual and heterosexual communities in China.”