China opens up to sex toys as more women eye self-knowledge

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In an environment of misunderstandings and sometimes shame and prejudice, Wu Zheng is clearing the way to not only pleasure for women but more importantly, sex education.

Back in 2007, she quit her job as public relations to start sex toy brand TOIs with her partner Mai Zi in 2010. Before the launch, she worked as a toy tester and speaker at a “toy training camp” destined to empower women with knowledge about their bodies, their emotional and physical needs, and also adult toys.

“The most common problem at the workshops is the lack of knowledge about their bodies. They understand a little, but not completely. There are many misunderstandings and blind spots,” Wu told CGTN Digital.

The first camps she organized with around 12 women were “interesting.” “Half sat in front and responded to questions, sharing and discussing. The other half sat in the back listening shyly without participating.”

According to her experience, many people didn’t have access to sex education and there is also family environment to be considered. Due to traditional Chinese culture, women tend to take a more passive approach when it comes to sex, and in many cases, their knowledge comes from their spouses.

Besides, for Chinese parents, girls live in a bubble where gender and desire do not exist until around 25 years old, and then suddenly they are thrown into marriage and children, Wu wrote at TOIs webpage.

Although many women have a good education and job, they don’t take charge of this part of their lives and are dissatisfied, but don’t know how to communicate with their partner. Others feel that sex toys are a “forced choice” because they don’t have a partner, she explained in the website.

Many people “misunderstand an open sexual attitude as physical indulgence” and “sex education for sexual behavior,” Wu said, adding that for her “open sexual attitudes mean we learn more about sex from a diverse perspective, by being responsible for our feelings, and exploring our relationship with ourselves and our partners.”

“Sexology covers medicine, psychology, and sociology. We teach sex education hoping people can supplement their knowledge and have a comprehensive view. Sex is not only desire but many dimensions that should be integrated,” she explained. And mental state is one of them. For example, being afraid of sex or repulsed by touch might indicate the existence of an emotional wound or trauma.

Even though there are still some misunderstandings, there has been a gradual improvement and less extreme cases, like not knowing unprotected sex leads to pregnancy. “In these last few years, I feel that Chinese men and women have a more comprehensive and healthy understanding of sex,” she said.

Sex toy by TOIs. /TOIs

Discreet pleasure

Twenty-seven-year-old Da Chai participated in one of Wu’s workshops. “I learned about sex through friends and the internet, but self-pleasure was only at the training camp. We do talk about relationships among friends,” she told CGTN Digital, noting that society is more open to sex toys, “but I don’t know about sex.”

The bartender owns multiple toys that she uses with her partner, all bought online. Like her, Lika and A Zhai all prefer e-commerce platforms for convenience and privacy. “I will visit a store abroad because it’s a different environment, no one sees them as unusual,” 35-year-old A Zhai said to CGTN Digital.

Manufacturers worldwide are trying to reach a larger market via e-commerce sites, offering discreet deliveries and the added advantage of discounted rates, Grand View Research said in its 2020 industry report.

With five toys at home, Lika started buying them to “add some freshness and new experiences” to her marriage. For her, sexual education came from the Internet, a theme that is now discussed with close friends.

Freelancer A Zhai lucked out with one of her teachers in school. The open mentality and “different educational concepts” from studying abroad meant the topic was not forbidden or rejected.

“The current domestic environment is relatively open to the topic of sex. It used to favor boys and masculinity, but at this stage, more and more girls are speaking out, and mainstream media is ‘unlocking’ this; it’s a good sign,” A Zhai said.

According to Grand View Research, the global adult toys market size was valued at $33.64 billion in 2020. The female sex toys segment held the largest market share, with single women seen among leading contributors in the future. But couples are also expected to become big growth drivers.

In 2028, the global sex toy market is expected to reach $52.39 billion, Grand View said.

Educating the market 

With steady growth in sales, TOIs best-sellers are vibrating eggs for women. “We wanted to offer a fashionable and healthy platform with cost-effective, high-quality products that cater to Chinese women and their partners,” Wu said. On the website, the brand stresses the idea that sex is not shameful and women should face their needs.

When TOIs started, there were no companies in the domestic sex toy market and sex education field that provided products and education to Chinese women and partners as a female team.

“Most of them were wholesalers and retailers selling directly,” Wu clarified, adding that they needed to educate the public and the media as both were unfamiliar with adult toys. “It takes a long time to educate a market, but it’s worth the effort,” she noted.

The company also created a professional sex toy tester platform new in China, publishing reviews online from a feminine perspective.

Between 2016 and 2019, the market size of sex toys in China grew from 44 billion yuan to 119 billion, and TOIs is one of the more than 78,000 companies registered in the country in this industry, as of August 2020.

According to Steffi Noel from Daxue Consulting, 78.4 percent of those companies were registered in the last five years, as a result of market growth. In just the first seven months of 2020, the market saw 14,751 new companies, an increase of 16.4 percent compared with the same period of 2019.

Steady trend

Contrary to the rest of the world, where lockdowns pushed demand, in China “it was more a trend-based” evolution. Sales volume on Tmall and Taobao increased between February 2020 and the 11/11 shopping holiday, but the pattern was similar to 2019.

For Noel, demand in China has increased due to better acceptance among younger generations and the normalization of sexual topics and pleasure. The trend of wider acceptance will continue, the consultant remarked.

In the men’s segment, the demand for dolls has increased among Gen-Zs since 2019, especially in first-tier cities, “which can be surprising” because they are normally associated with older consumers.

As for Tmall and Taobao sales, the best-selling product in 2021 was dildos. Practicality and “cuteness,” meanwhile, are contributing to the rising popularity of vibrating eggs, as their less realistic appearance prompts online reviews.

Future trends in China include the development of less realistic, more innovative, and cute forms aimed at women, Noel observed. Besides, as many consumers are not first-time buyers and are looking for better experiences, higher-end products might be more popular.

But for Wu Zheng, the most important thing is that sex education can be a part of the family and school life, in line with child developmental psychology, to give every generation the correct knowledge to create happier relationships where communication is always open.

Source : cgtn

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