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Quality of sex products sparks concern
By Li Jian (Shanghai Star)
Updated: 2004-07-25 16:49

Li Jinfa (not his real name) was lying in bed. What he was finding hard to endure was not his lonely nights but the anger he felt towards his toy woman.

A man looks at the ads outside a sex products shop. [file photo]

The toy woman was supposed to be his "sex comforter". Li had bought "her" from a local sex shop for 900 yuan (US$108).

On his wage, this was not a small sum, almost one-month's pay, and he took a long time thinking about the purchase before finally making up his mind to buy ''her''.

However, the decision didn't bring him much happiness. Despite all his care in using "her", she burst from time to time. He went to the designated repair shop to have his "woman" mended three times in the first six months but that didn't help much.

"It was not a small amount to have it repaired - the money was almost enough to buy a new TV set," said Li in an interview with Modern Family magazine.

He took the sex shop to Luwan District People's Court, sued it for selling a sub-standard product, and demanded his money back.

However, the sex shop had all the legal licences necessary for selling the product and insisted that the toy woman had blown up simply because of Li's improper use of "her".

Li was having enough difficulty in finding the evidence to prove his charges without also having to endure the embarrassment of people around him gossiping about the case.

"In their eyes, I was firstly abnormal in using the toy and, secondly, I was shameless in bringing such a case to court," he said.

To make matters worse, he found the media started to show an interest in his case. It looked like it might not be long before he became a "famous" person in the city and "that sort of fame would be awful", he was quoted as saying.

After some agonizing, he decided to withdraw his action against the sex shop.

Although Li finally gave up, he had proved himself to be very brave compared with many other users of sex products who either regard the shoddy goods they have bought as bad luck and don't say anything or who quickly surrender after an initial argument with the sex shop.

A woman surnamed Lin bought an electric sex comforter for 300 yuan (US$36) from a local shop only to find that it broke within a fortnight of purchase. When she tried to obtain a refund from the shop, the owner told her that "the product has no quality problem - it broke because you used it too often".

After being told this, Lin was so embarrassed that she even abandoned her original intention to complain to the Consumers' Protection Association.

The association said complaints about sex products were very rare in Shanghai. "So far this year, no one has reported any quality problems with sex products," according to Lao Jianhong from the association. "Although we can conceal their names, most people still find it too shameful a topic to talk about."

Inadequate supervision

"However, what really matters is that the sex product market is free from any official monitoring or management," said Professor Tong Chuanliang from the Shanghai International Peace Maternity and Child Health Hospital.

Sex products used to be supervised by the Drug and Food Administration but on August 28 last year, the administration lost responsibility for monitoring the market.

"Sex products are not so much medicines or medical equipment to cure diseases as 'entertainment' tools," said Zhang Renwen, an official from the Shanghai Drug and Food Administration.

Oversight of the market has passed to the industrial and commercial bureaus of the government. However, as most sex product shops are open only at night, inspections can be quite difficult.

To make matters worse, there is still a lack of any specific regulations covering the quality standards for sex products in China.

All this has contributed to a mushrooming in the number of factories manufacturing sex products with some 10,000 now competing in the market, making China the world's major producer and giving the country 70 per cent of total world sales.

"But a large percentage companies are not qualified to develop and produce adult products," Professor Tong said. "They earn big money by imitation and producing counterfeit products,"

The China Youth Daily reported that a sex toy in China priced at around 500 yuan (US$60) costs only 40 yuan (US$5) to produce and keeping costs down was a major reason for poor quality.

An examination conducted by the State Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision last year found that only 70 per cent of condoms sold in the market were safe.

Irresponsible ads

And the picture for sex medicines was even more worrisome.

A recent survey in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangdong showed that 98.5 per cent of sex product shops were selling fake Viagra or other medicines supposedly containing sildenafil citrate - Viagra's active ingredient.

Sales of these fake medicines made up more than 55 per cent of the revenue of the sex shops and in Beijing the figure was as high as 72.2 per cent.

A survey of 225 purchasers of the fake Viagra and other medicines found that 40 per cent of them were now suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes and mental depressive disorders.

"The consumers will not launch a lawsuit or appeal unless the medicines cause big problems, which just makes the counterfeiting more serious," said Professor Tong.

In his eyes, to improve the situation, effective control over the rampant exaggeration contained in advertisements for sex products was necessary.

For example, the mail boxes of city residents are often crammed with advertisements for sex toys and exaggerated descriptions of the effects of sex medicines. A similar position exists on websites.

Every sex product shown in the advertisements is described as being a miracle which will ensure a better sex life and which will also cure people with sexual dysfunction.

"What I am concerned about is the influence on youngsters who are exposed to the advertisements and to adult products shops everywhere," said Hu Xiaoyu, another doctor from the International Peace Maternity and Child Health Hospital.

"There is an adult product shop near the primary school my son attends," said Qiu Ling, a mother living in Hongkou District.

"He passes by the shop every day which displays sex toys and sexy pictures in its windows. Although children need sex education, it is too early for them to know about sex products."

But the real situation is that the shops are not banned from selling sex products to children and the children are encouraged by the shops to try out the products.

A 13-year-old boy in Hongkou District was found by his mother to be using a sex toy which he bought from a sex product shop near his home.

"He has been silent and depressed in recent months and would go to bed as early as he could. I was so shocked to find he was using a sex toy," the mother said.

She vowed to launch a lawsuit against the sex product shop. But she will find there are no regulations forbidding sex product shops from selling their goods to children.

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