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Shanghai expo touches sensitive area
By Vince Lee (Shanghai Star)
Updated: 2004-08-06 16:01

Although he has held many expos before, both big and small, Liang Helin, a business manager of China International Exhibition Centre Group Corp, appeared nervous about the coming expo of "adult products" which opened on August 6 and will end on August 8.

This is China's first adult products expo ever held in the country. The expo is expected to attract over 4,000 participants and over 80,000 spectators.

"Sex and adult products are a sensitive topic in China. We are a little worried about the reaction from the audience," said Liang.

On the other hand, however, the expo has received cheers from manufacturers and distributors of adults products.

"We had already rented out all 200 booths from early this month, but we still have many businesses applying for exhibition space," said Liang.

Nearly all China's major manufacturers of adult products will be present. Chinese companies produce over half of the world's adult products.

Foreign manufacturers from North America and Europe will also bring their new inventions to the expo, accounting for 10 per cent of the participants.

The expo will highlight the thriving market for adult product in China.

Huge market

Adult product shops with exaggerated advertising posters can be easily found in city streets.

There are over 2,000 adult shops in Beijing and the number exceeds 2,500 in Shanghai.

Tinkling advertisements for adult products also bombard the country's computer as the Internet has spread throughout China.

According to the China Sex Health Committees, the annual sale volume of sex products in China exceeded 100 billion yuan (US$12 billion) in 2003, a figure still rising by 30 per cent annually.

Sales of sexual potions and medicines amounted for 50 to 60 billion yuan (US$6 to 7.2 billion) a year. Sales of sex toys and vibrators have also been rising since 2000. By the year 2004 over

10,000 Chinese companies were involved in the sex product industry.

The sex product industry has shown strong growth, driven by rising demand. Take sex toys for example. People begin to gain reproductive and sexual abilities in their mid-teens but they usually do not get married until 25. There is a long period when the unmet craving for sex is high. Sex toys provide one solution to this problem.

"The market for sex products is going to enter a new phase, featuring high quality products that improve people's sex lives," said Su Weiguo, director of the committee.

Sex products used to be limited to condoms and vibrators. Condoms can help extend the length of intercourse as well as preventing pregnancy, while people used to be so ignorant about adult products that vibrators were once used for massage.

"Nowadays high quality equipments and medicine to improve sexual life has become ever more," said Professor Tong Chuanliang from the International Peace Maternity and Child Health Hospital.

According Wang Xi, the owner of a sex product shop called Tianmimi (sweet) in the Hongkou District of Shanghai, sex toys contribute 60 per cent of his sale volume.

"As sexual and family concepts undergo great changes and sexually transmitted diseases remain rampant, sex toys have become a better choice for safe sex and self-discipline," said Professor Gu Donghui, vice-chairperson of the Department of Sociology at Fudan University.

The market has grown even faster since 2003 when such products escaped from the monitoring of the drug administration. Since August 28, sex products have not been regarded as medicines or health equipment which requires special regulation.

According to the China Sexology Society, at present, the major users of sex products are the handicapped, people with sexual dysfunctions, singles and soldiers. But ever more people use them to improve their sex lives.

"There are 20 million handicapped people in the country and sex products play an important role in their sex lives," said Professor Tong Chuanliang.

Statistics from the China Sexology Society show that one quarter of Chinese men suffer from sexual dysfunctions or psychosexual disorders, while 6.5 per cent suffer from various sexual diseases.

"Such people need sex products to meet their needs for sex, which used to be ignored and criticized," said Professor Tong.

Open topic

Sex, a sensitive issue, is being talked about more frequently and more openly in China. Last year saw a clash of sexual attitudes as the topic gradually became more prominent.

For instance, a bed designed for sex turned up in the market. This was claimed to help people get more fun from sex by making many different positions possible.

The attitude toward sex in gradually changing. "People attach more importance to their sex lives and its quality as their life conditions improve," said Professor Tong.

Women are changing their role in sexual life. "They do not want to fall prey to men's sex toys and are not willing to play a passive role in sexual life," Tong added.

According to a survey conducted by Sohu, one of China's leading websites, 69 per cent of Shanghai women agreed that a harmonious sex life is necessary for a happy life and family, with 88.9 per cent saying they would be willing to try new positions or sexual techniques to have more fun.

"Although they have the courage to challenge traditional sexual ideas, their knowledge about sex still lags behind their thoughts," said Professor Tong.

A survey showed that only 21.5 per cent of men know where the clitoris can be found and 59 per cent thought sex toys would not help them improve their sex lives.

"Chinese sex culture has withered in recent times, although it prospered during other periods of history," said Professor Xu Tianmin from China Sexology Society.

Most Chinese people have little access to reliable and accurate information about sex, due to traditional sensitivities about the issue. Such sensitivities have become even more of an issue as the population becomes more sexually active at an earlier age.

Except for condoms and other pregnancy prevention medicines and devices, China has lagged behind in the invention of sex products, most of which are imported from Europe and China's Taiwan and Hong Kong regions.

Although China has been the biggest manufacturing base for sex products, satisfying 70 per cent of the world market, the country lacks research and development skills.

Recently, the first ever website giving advice on sexual health to young people has been launched in China in hopes of educating them on the subject. The interactive website encourages young people to openly discuss their love lives and all matters related to sex.

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