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Adult Toys, Under Regulated, Overpriced and Over Here
Beijing now has no fewer than 600 “Adult Only Stores” including its first chain store in the genre called the “Eva Adult Heath Care Supplies Store.” The shops have been emerging all across China since the market first opened up in 1992.

One recent survey revealed that though 26 percent of women have visited an adult only store, this is still well below the 53 percent of their male counterparts who have. The survey also showed that though 83 percent of men were just there for condoms that also meant that 17 percent were looking for other sex products.

Most sex shops carry a broadly similar range of pills, devices and toys. The most popular items are those offering help for those with ED (erectile disorder) and sexual dysfunction problems. Different effects may well be claimed for different pills but often they share the distinctive blue color and rhombus shape of Viagra.

Aphrodisiacs are also on the shelves including stimulating perfumes like French-made Magic Love and Spanish Fly, most intended for women looking to put a sparkle into their sex life. But there are no assurances on the uses they might be put to.

Then there are the “life-like” dolls some made in the image of popular and attractive female stars. These stores will also sell contraceptives, but they charge well over the regular drug stores prices.

Sex shop managers are somewhat reluctant to give out their business details to reporters. However they don’t seem to have fallen on hard times. “It may not make as much money as a busy restaurant but everyone who comes in buys something,” said a clearly rather well pleased member of sales staff in a shop in Qianmen.

A storeowner said, “About 85 percent of customers are male. They range from 20 to 60 years of age but most are round about 40. They might be rich or they might be poor. Some drive cars and some are migrant workers.”

Nearly all the stores open 24 hours, but most customers drop in during the day rather than at night as might well have been imagined. Male customers most usually buy contraceptives and aphrodisiacs for their ladies.

Store owners around Beijing’s south railway station and in Qianmen and Xidan (Beijing’s famous downtown shopping areas) spoke fondly of customers who come from out of town and don’t engage in the usual haggling over price. And what super profits this can lead to when buyers’ unfamiliarity with these “special” goods makes them too embarrassed to try strike the same hard bargain that they would normally skillfully seek in a less extraordinary situation.

Examples tell the story. A box of 12 Durex condoms that wholesales at just 17 yuan (US$2.06) could retail at 60 yuan (US$7.27). A pack of three could well be marked up from 6 to 14 yuan (US$0.73 to 1.70) and even a single one might retail at anything from 5 to 10 yuan (US$0.61 to 1.21).

But even condoms are not the most profitable goods here. The real overpricing is reserved for the “lifelike” dolls and the aphrodisiacs. A typical doll might be marked-up from 500 to 3,200 yuan and a single aphrodisiac capsule from 20 to 150 yuan. One African doll, which had been a mere 150 yuan wholesale, carried a retail price tag of 1,558 yuan. This was a mark-up of a staggering 1,000 percent and such huge mark-ups cannot be justified by low turnovers as sex shop owners are enjoying healthy sales volumes.

There is a commonly held belief that sex toys are not really for married couples. On the contrary, this is a view disputed by the sex shop owners who overwhelmingly see adult toys as bringing the fun back into relationships.

“As time goes by in a marriage, sex life can become dull. Sex toys can help make things exciting again and strengthen husband and wife relationships,” said one 40-year-old female shop owner. Due to the naturally reserved Chinese character there is no reliable data on how prevalent adult toys are in China’s marital bedrooms.

Few of the drugs and aphrodisiacs sold in the adult sector measure up to government’s regular health standards.

Promotional materials are sensational and make exaggerated claims for the products. Fake addresses are given for the “suppliers.” Imported goods including medicines are sold without the benefit of Chinese translations of the instructions for their safe use. Dates of manufacture are a mystery and of course some sort of guarantee would be quite out of the question. Even worse, some stores sell outdated or fake medicines with the accompanying risk of serious health problems.

Ironically, this is one group of customers unlikely to pursue justice in the courts if they become victims of these poor quality products. Nor do they take their complaints to the consumers’ associations. Well they wouldn’t, would they?

In December 1992 the first adult product case to be brought was dropped without resolution due to fears over privacy. There seems to be nothing these consumers can do but accept any misfortune with resignation. But silence doesn’t mean there are no problems.

So far there is no single official body with a specific remit to set standards for, or to monitor the manufacture, sale and quality of products in this relatively recently emerging market. Those responsibilities that do exist are made less effective by being spread across the boundaries between and among several different government departments. Consequently there are loopholes to be exploited by both manufacturers and retailers. But now the Ministry of Health has drawn attention to the problem and started a process of setting standards for the sector.

Human needs are natural and people have a right to enjoy sex. No shame should be attached to the use by adults of sex devices and medicines. “The demand for sex devices in China has turned out to be much greater than we had originally imagined it would be. Though Chinese tend to be naturally reserved due to their roots in traditional culture, people have not rejected sex devices and once they want something, they buy it.” Said Wu Wei, who manages a large sex toy company based in Wenzhou City in southeast China’s Zhejiang Province. The company ranks in the top ten in its field worldwide.

Experts suggest appropriate use of sex products can improve the quality of sex life and generate some fun and what’s more, they say it’s good for people’s health.

(China.org.cn by Li Liangdu, February 8, 2003)

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