Single and excluded from the Beijing dating scene by the pandemic, Amy has been encouraged by other women in online chat rooms to find a solution to her forced abstinence from a sex toy.
“I used to feel a little scared and embarrassed to use them,” said the 27-year-old, who was unwilling to disclose her real name. “Then I discovered a new world.”
Amy is now considering expanding her collection.
Demand for sex toys is increasing in China, which is already the world’s largest exporter of bedroom aids.
This is in part thanks to the coronavirus, which has resulted in extended separations for partners due to lockdowns, and lengthy closures of public entertainment venues that have ruled out hookups.
But it’s also the product of a broader cultural shift in attitudes toward sex by a younger, more open-minded demographic.
“A lot of women … who are sexually active have a very open attitude to the use of sex toys,” Yi Heng, a prominent sex and relationship counseling blogger, told AFP.
“They see it as very natural and normal.”
Yi, who has more than 7,000,000 followers on the Twitter-like platform Weibo and hosts discussion groups on the subject, believes Chinese women are driving the market.
China is more commonly associated with conservative public attitudes towards prohibited sexual pornography, and authorities have launched periodic crackdowns against “vulgar” online content.
President Xi Jinping has pushed for a “clean and fair” cyberspace, and the Chinese government has sought to promote marriage and traditional family values as a way to revive declining birth rates.
But China’s divorce rate hit a record high of over 3.1 million in the first nine months of 2019, a sign of change in societal values.
As they become more independent about what they want in the bedroom, women in their 30s and younger are increasingly comfortable with the idea of using sex toys.
“Sometimes they don’t find the orgasms and pleasure that they really want, maybe because men’s bed skills aren’t good enough,” Yi explains.
“Women may then be more motivated to find a way to please themselves.”
China’s domestic sales of sex toys lag far behind Western countries or even Japan.
But, driven primarily by women and millennials, the country’s nascent sex toy market is valued at more than 100 billion yuan ($ 14.7 billion), according to Chinese research firm iiMedia.
Queries for the keyword “sex toys” on the Baidu search engine surged between January and June, according to Steffi Noel, an analyst at Shanghai-based market research firm Daxue Consulting.
But she added that the spike in domestic demand during the pandemic may not lead to major long-term growth.
“The people who bought (sex toys) during the pandemic were mostly first-time buyers,” Noel said, and for “70%” of them it will likely be a one-time purchase.
Meanwhile, the demand abroad is insatiable.
China now produces 70% of global sex toy exports, Daxue Consulting said in a March report.
The surge in orders has come “from France, Italy and the United States,” Noel said, “primarily for vibrators and sex dolls.”
In the first half of 2020, exports jumped 50% year-over-year, Chinese e-commerce giant AliExpress said, as factories rushed to meet demand in a world stuck at home due to virus.
“We export over 1,000 lifelike sex dolls per month … we have reached full production capacity,” an official surnamed Feng of Shengyi Adult Products Co. in the southern manufacturing center of Shenzhen told AFP.
The United States, Germany, and Japan are the top destinations for dolls that cost over 2,000 yuan (nearly $ 300) each.
“They don’t see (sex dolls) as a taboo,” Feng said.
“Now people are more open, and they don’t think these objects are very strange.”
Amy says she hopes that Chinese society will gradually accept sex toys more and more and that their use will eventually be considered normal.
“I hope everyone can experience this kind of happiness,” she said.
“It is something that you can give yourself and that is very easy to acquire.”
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