Feeling the vibe of Hong Kong's sex toy market
Some would argue that taking out a large, maroon vibrator over drinks at posh bar Café Gray is embarrassing. But not for the ladies at Passionately Yours, an online adult products boutique that regularly holds toy-sharing sessions -- like a Tupperware party, but with state-of-the-art sex toys.
As the sleek cylinder revs up via ingenious Bluetooth technology, pulsing in time to Britney Spears' "Piece of Me," the founders of the Hong Kong-based online sex boutique muse on the merits of wireless masturbators. Their female audiences is enraptured. Waiters and patrons carry on their business unmoved.
The lack of reaction is noteworthy in a city where public talk of sex remains scandalous. That we are surrounded by a crowd of expatriates probably has a lot to do with it; generally speaking, Hong Kong's Chinese population is cagier about sex than its Caucasian minority.
I find that in Chinese culture in Hong Kong, there is an infantilism of women. — Kat Leung, Passionately Yours
"People here can't talk about sex socially," says Kat Leung, one half of the charismatic pair that runs Passionately Yours. "It's a hard wall to break down."
That wall, she believes, is a vestige of the Confucian doctrine that has guided China's outlook for millennia.
"I find that in Chinese culture in Hong Kong, there is an infantilism of women. They are encouraged to be meek, ignorant and dependent on their men," says Leung. "So, even if you are smart, or you do know about your body, you're encouraged to pretend you're this cute, virginal, totally unspoiled little girl."
Leung helps organize "Passion Parties," where she and her business partner (who prefers not to be named) aim to tap into taboo by creating a comfortable environment in which to explore the world of sex toys. The gatherings, booked via phone or email, are private.
Reflecting the global sex toy industry's focus on female desire, Passionately Yours caters almost exclusively to women. While men's products like the Blossom Sleeve (which mimics the effect of fellatio) and prostate massagers ("Try convincing a majority of your straight male friends that they need one of those") sell well, women's toys are markedly more sophisticated. Case in point: the OhMiBod, a vibrator that moves in time to music from your iPod. Then there's the Lelo G-Wand for G-spot stimulation and the We-Vibe for something its manufacturers call "harmonic throbbing."
"Men are probably a lot easier to please," said Leung. "They have a more natural relationship with their genitals."
In Asia, the adult industry's focus on the female market is a more recent trend. Kenny Lo, chief executive of Vertical Expo and organizer of the Asia Adult Expo (August 20-22 at The Venetian in Macau), explains that trade fairs like the AAE have traditionally targeted men. Over the last ten years, however, surges in the number of single, affluent women in countries such as Japan -- and to a lesser extent Hong Kong -- have increased demand for female-focused adult products and entertainment. Now, more than 60 percent of business in the region targets women.
"It's an important shift," says Lo, who notes that more than two-thirds of exhibitors at this year's Japan-themed AAE will cater to women. Vibrators and lingerie top the list of bestsellers, with average per-purchase spending estimated at HK$3,000.
The AAE launched in 2008 and remains the only event of its kind in Asia. Lo expects more than 30,000 visitors this year. Around 90 percent will come for pleasure, not business. Like the ladies at Passionately Yours, Lo acknowledges Hong Kong's conservatism, but believes that attitudes toward sex and adult products in Hong Kong are changing. "You can buy vibrators [by Durex] in 7-11," he points out.
Leung adds that nightlife events of a more open nature have "popped up like mushrooms" in the last two or three years. Parties such as June's Masked Lingerie Ball at M1NT, regular pole dancing and burlesque shows, sexed-up Ladies Nights at Solas lounge, as well as Passionately Yours Sexy Salon evenings are becoming more popular in Hong Kong. She feels that "attitudes are improving."
It's a profitable time to be in the sex toy business. In addition to selling online, Passionately Yours hosts Passion Parties at clients' homes, providing discreet one-on-one sex toy tutelage. By contrast, the company's Girls' Night Out events take place at Soho's Varga Lounge, named after the Peruvian painter of pin-up girls and erotica. While these evenings follow the same fun, educational premise as the Passion Parties, they tend to be rowdier. Although not as rowdy as some would like.
"I have guy friends who are like, 'So do y'all have an orgy every time you throw one of these parties?'" said Leung, who laughs at the unlikely suggestion.