MIDRAND, South Africa — Patterned after Australia’s Sexpo adult consumer show, South Africa saw its first-ever erotic conventionheld Sept. 27-30 at the Gallagher Estate, located in the town of Midrand, just outside Johannesburg.
Complete with workshops, sex toys, pole-dancing exhibitions, a giant bucking phallus and an artist calling himself “Pricasso,” the Sexpo S.A. introduced South Africans to a world of adult entertainment that would have been impossible 15 years ago when apartheid was still in effect.
But since the end of white minority rule in 1994 and the adoption of a new, much more liberal constitution, adult retailers and gentlemen’s clubs have become common in cities like Johannesburg.
“[The Sexpo] has been a long time coming," said a female show attendee from Johannesburg. “Everyone should come as it's not about sex only; the vibe is brilliant and relaxed and I'm waiting for the show on pole dancing.”
Show organizer Silas Howarth said the event’s organizers were surprised at the turnout, noting that when the expo opened on the morning of Sept. 27, there were nearly 300 people waiting in line for the show.
“We think that South Africa needs something like this to be more open about sex, [to] talk more about it," Sexpo S.A. organizer Silas Howarth said. “I really do believe that if you don't talk about sex in a healthy way, it can only lead to negative things.”
Reportedly, items like the Roger the Rabbit vibrator and cock rings were in high demand at more than 100 booths selling adult novelties.
Artist Tim Patch, aka "Pricasso," drew a crowd of willing models, as he drew caricatures of show attendees — using his penis as a brush.
Dancers on a live performance stage entertained expo-goers and, in the middle of the show floor, thrillseekers could ride the bucking penis.
Despite increasingly liberal attitudes toward sex, several local newspapers and officials noted that for most South Africans, sexuality still is largely a forbidden subject.
In South Africa, an estimated 18 percent of the population of 47 million people is infected with HIV, most of them black. Each day about 1,000 people die from AIDS and another 1,500 contract the virus, according to reports. Additionally, approximately 50,000 rapes are reported every year in the male-dominated culture where male promiscuity is accepted.
Despite being perceived as much more tolerant than other African countries in its attitude toward sexuality, same-sex marriages and adult businesses, the South African government has been criticized for not being more proactive with public health campaigns that might help educate the population about HIV/AIDS or give up-to-date information about sex.
“What can we do? It's happening under the blankets,” government minister Thoko Didiza said at a meeting held in June.
However, Sexpo S.A. hosted also a small number of booths for local HIV/AIDS prevention and education organizations in the hopes of raising public awareness about safe sex practices.
"We love it,” the AIDS Consortium’s Gerard Payna said. “It's a good platform for the AIDS Consortium to give information about the risks of AIDS and HIV. It's aimed at the upper-class, as can be seen, and we can use it as an opportunity to give everyone information.”