BEIJING - The next time you walk into a sex shop in the United States, take a look at the wide range of toys and products on the shelves. Aside from the pornographic material, chances are that most of the vibrators, dildos and lingerie carry the "made in China" label.
Nothing unusual about that, you might think, but the irony is that China is a very conservative country where porn magazines, DVDs and websites are strictly prohibited, and where sex is still a taboo subject.
Yet, the country produces about 70 percent of sex toys for the world, a Chinese sex toy manufacturer, Romeo Jiang, said.
"China is the world leader in labor-intensive manufacturing and sex toy production is part of the manufacturing industry, so it is quite normal that China accounts for a high percentage," said Ma Xiaonian, a sexologist and the deputy director of China Sexology Association.
Nearly all the sex toys exported come from factories in Guangdong, in southern China, and Zhejiang, in the country's east, said Jiang, general manager of Bestgreen, a Chinese sex toy manufacturer from Shenzhen in Guangdong province.
"Fifty percent of our customers are from the US and 30 percent are from Europe," said Jiang, who entered the sex-toy industry in 2003. Last year, Bestgreen's turnover was between $2 million and $3 million.
"We were originally a trade company before we started the adult-product business, so when we got requests to make vibrators from an American customer, we decided to enter the market."
Jiang's factory produces different types of sex toys, including vibrators, dildos and fetish clothes. They are exported at prices ranging from 50 cents to $100. Vibrators, for example, are sold to dealers at about $1 and end up retailing in the US for anything from $10 upwards.
"Most of the profit goes to the dealer and importers. Our profit margin is only around 7 percent," Jiang said.
The sex toy industry in China, with more than 1,000 manufacturers, has been worth about $2 billion a year for the past few years.
A report released by China Market Research Center said in just the first five months of this year, revenue reached $940 million.
South Africa takes almost 20 percent of the export market, with South Korea and Russia ranking second and third. Unusually, the US takes up about 2 percent of the market.
And the best-selling item: products to enhance sexual arousal such as stimulus condoms, which account for 21.5 percent of the market, the report said.
"It is very different from the past when adult products, including condoms, were not even allowed to be imported into China," said Ma.
"Now China produces most of the global adult toys and the Chinese sex-toy industry has been booming in recent years," added Ma.
Now, the trend is to make sex toys more functional using physiological characteristics, which means a product should have more stimulus to arouse sexual sensations.
Ma said that in terms of sexual culture, China has also come a long way, since the mainland's first sex shop opened its doors in Beijing in 1993.
Sex toys as an aid are very helpful to single-parent families, married couples and singles to live a healthy way.
"Using these can help couples maintain their marriage and perhaps even make it more satisfactory."