Sex Shops Now Outnumber Starbucks in China

Sex Shops Now Outnumber Starbucks in China
Alejandro Freixes

BEIJING — China produces 70 percent of the world's sex toys, despite strong regional taboos surrounding sexuality, and its sex shops now outnumber Starbucks.

The coffee giant has more than 1,500 stores in China, but that's small potatoes compared to the countless dispensers of condoms, vibrators and costumes. Taobao, the online retail giant operated by Alibaba Group in China, lists thousands of sex toy companies.

Best-selling merchandise include sexual arousal enhancers, like stimulus condoms, and vibrators. Given the country's one-child policy and preference for sons, there's about 116 boys born for every 100 girls. That lop-sided gender growth has led to approximately 33 million more men than women, causing intense sexual competition. Some turn to sex dolls for relief, in an increasingly popular online community where 20,000 members refer to themselves as "friends of dolls." 

Ever since the first sex shop opened in Beijing in 1993, the industry has expanded rapidly, as China's sexual culture evolved. In 2008, 180 exhibitors from eight countries came together for the 5th China International Adult Toys and Reproductive Health Exhibition, drawing more than 30,000 people. The biggest B2B expo, though, is still eroFame in Hanover, Germany.

The over $2 billion Chinese sex toy industry relies in large part on exporting, particularly to South Africa, South Korea and Russia. As for the U.S., it only accounts for a very small percentage of the Chinese export market, with an estimated 2 percent back in 2010. American sex toy companies sometimes prefer to keep their production within the States, like California-based Doc Johnson, which manufactures the majority of its products in North Hollywood. Its competitors include CalExotics and Pipedream Products.