Out of the Shadows and into the Sensual Light, An Asian Sex Wellness Market Overview.
Girl Bosses of the 21st Century and Sexual Wellness
We Asian women have made incredible strides over the past 60 years, outpacing even our Western counterparts in many ways. There are more female CEOs in China than in the USA, for instance.
India, Pakistan, Thailand and South Korea have had female presidents or prime ministers, something America, Canada, France and many other Western nations have yet to do. We even dominate or partially dominate a swath of women’s sports, including golf, badminton, figure skating, tennis and gymnastics.
But Are We Getting Our Intimate Needs Met?
Despite all these amazing gains, there is little doubt that we are getting much lower returns on our most prized assets, so to speak, than our sisters in the West. Sexual wellness is an overstatement for Asian women.
And this is ironic for a region that pioneered sexual pleasure, from India’s Kama Sutra to China’s Dream of the Red Chamber. Japanese ceramic and jade adult toys date back centuries, as do the erotic prints, books and statues that decorated the homes of Japanese nobles.
Despite this rich erotic history, as Meera Navlakha pointed out in an October 18, 2019 article in Vice Asia (which we recap here), sex nowadays is generally treated in the region as something hushed and private at best, and taboo at worst.
The entire modern Asian sex industry occupies a moral and sometimes legal grey zone, and its façade, when seen, has often been a strange combination of vulgarity, glitz, and shadiness—in other words, male-centered and in need of renovation.
Projected 2019-2024 Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR), Asia sex wellness market: 7%
Sex-rated exports are okay, but domestic use….?
Asian governments and societies have generally been more comfortable with manufacturing sex industry devices for export than with developing a local sex industry market. Sexual wellness is considered a secondary concern.
As an example, China and Malaysia are two of the largest condom manufacturers in the world, and their products can be found from Oslo to Mexico City.
Interestingly enough, though, Malaysia does not promote domestic condom use due to religious concerns. Condoms are legal in Indonesia but carry a stigma. This ties to the reluctance of many men around the region to use condoms, something that we’ve written about before.
“There is still a lot of education that needs to happen when it comes to sex toys.” — Trina Yeung, Maison Mika
A Regional Need for Knowledge About Intimacy
Sex education, which is patchy worldwide, is also under-developed in Asia. Singapore teaches the mechanics of human reproduction in school, along with the importance of consent, but leaves out important elements such as pleasure, romance or even sexual wellness —not to mention toys or sex industry services.
China lacks even the Singaporean level of sex education, leading some parents to send their children to private sex-ed camps. Victoria (21), from Indonesia, says that young people in her country talk and joke about sex, toys and pleasure, but are still loathe to admit their own activities.
Nevertheless, she believes sex toy use in her archipelago nation is rising. She informed Vice Asia that she herself is a sex toy user. “I have been brought up in a less conservative [home] environment than many. I’ve been able to explore couples sex toys with my partner and it’s really brought us closer together.”
Sex Wellness In Asia: A New Awakening
“Being in charge of your own orgasm is empowering as f*ck.”—Millicent, Manila
On erotic markets, East and West
Two world-class cities, but with a huge difference when it comes to erotica: that’s something Trina Yeung immediately picked up on when she moved from Singapore to NYC. Unlike the obscure shops in the dimly-lit alleyways of Singapore, New York City adult retailers publicly and openly present a wide variety of offline and online experiences because sexual wellness is highly advocated for holistic well being.
Eve’s Garden, for instance, is laid out as an elegant, upscale female space: the kind of location where one might otherwise buy an Italian handbag, Belgian diamond necklace or French pair of shoes. For the more price-conscious, the city boasts the Romantic Depot, an adult megastore with aisles upon aisles of discounted items.
Best of all, women going in or out of any of these Yelp-recommended shops don’t fear social judgement of any kind. Naturally, sexual wellness becomes a social practice.
A Public Shift on the Asia Sex Wellness Industry
The same trend of openness might be happening right now in Asia. As Koichi Matsumoto, president of Japanese sex toy retailer TENGA said, “The growth of the sex toy industry (in Asia) might be correlated to the fact that society is slowly shifting its concept of sexuality from something that is shady and shameful to sexual wellness – something that can be pleasurable and fun for everyone.” And it is this wellness shift that Yeung capitalized on.
“We want to show women that there is nothing wrong with pleasure.” – Cecile Gasnault, Smile Makers
It was Yeung’s wildly different experiences on two continents that motivated her to found Maison Mika, an online adult store based in Singapore.
And while the store Website presents itself as elegantly as any gilded salon in Manhattan, London or Paris, it is tailored to the unique needs of Asian women and Asian culture, where sex is generally within a marriage or at least a formally committed relationship.
As Yeung put it, “The market here [in Singapore] is more traditional and people are generally more conservative than they are in the West. We wanted to be able to retain discretion for people and also provide a place for them to feel safe.”
The store certainly does that. Moreover, it takes on a sex education mission to empower Asian women, encouraging them to learn about their own bodies, sex, safety, health and pleasure. This is why the company prefers to promote itself as a sex wellness brand rather than just an adult toy outlet.
It ranks in the top 10 adult stores in Money Smart Singapore, earning that spot not only for its selection of brands such as Lelo and We-Vibe, but also for its reasonable prices.
Smile Makers is a similar Singaporean brand, offering vibrators, lubricants, and other toys and enhancements. Item designs and even names, such as The Tennis Coach, The Fireman, and The Surfer tantalize women’s senses and invite them to explore their bodies with them.
The brand is available both online and in a variety of brick-and-mortar stores in Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia. The company is selling in ordinary retail places, so that women will not have to trek into disreputable offline or online sites.
As Senior Marketing Manager Cecile Gasnault said, “We only wanted to sell the products in stores where women are comfortable shopping on an everyday basis.” She went on to say, “Sexual and personal pleasure has so many benefits, and truly belongs in health and beauty stores [and] we are sending the message that these products are normal, and there is nothing wrong with them.”
Indeed, the website of the brand is akin to that of a spa or health resort, clearly rooted in female aesthetics. The company has also held sex education workshops across the region, sometimes partnering with the Federation of Reproductive Health Associations Malaysia (FRHAM).
This is another Singaporean online store with a layout that allows more direct navigation, and if you want to learn about kink as fast as possible, it’s right there for you on the landing page. And that design may just be the point.
Business Director Lincoln Chua says the entire adult retail sector is much more accepted now in Singapore. “There isn’t as much stigma now in comparison with what it was like ten years ago,” he said. “The younger generation talk about sex toys [more] openly now.”
Asian Sex Wellness: a New Generation with a New Openness–and New Intricacies
Local Nuances Still Count
While female sexual empowerment is certainly growing in Asia, with women gaining the confidence to unabashedly focus on their own potential for ecstasy—with or without a partner—the region is unlikely to Westernize sexually.
A college sophomore in New Delhi, Penang, Shanghai or Tokyo is unlikely to post on her social media anything like what American college student Stephanie (19) revealed when she wrote, “I’ve already f*cked 50 guys this semester.”
Asian Women of Today: Options, Toys and Control
Here, successful adult retailers, service providers, and content creators recognize the continued need among women consumers for discretion, information, customer service, quality and design aesthetics that reflect both female desires and local realities.
And these new information platforms, services, and products are providing the current generation of Asian women with options and discrete levels of experience and exploration that their grandmothers may never have imagined.
Toys, in particular, allow either single or coupled women to directly gain more knowledge of their own bodies, especially the frequency, level and type of orgasm that they can generate. In short, toys enable both privacy and control. The Vice Asia article quotes Sienna (23) from Mumbai who said, “I also feel like sex toys allow you to embrace your sex drive without having to be stressed about if it’s appropriate for society or your partner.”
Usage of the toys also gave Sienna the nerve to come out as bisexual to her boyfriend, something that is not always easy to do in a society that looks down on relationships that are not heterosexual and where Western-style dating itself is fairly new.
Toys can also be special aids that allow couples to explore the intricacies of their own erogenous zones. Millicent (28) from Manila said that incorporating toys into her relationship created new vitality and passion—all based on how the items expanded intimate knowledge of both her and her partner’s pleasure points.
As she worded it, “Sex can be exponentially more enjoyable if you know your body better.” She also detected more openness in her country about the whole idea of sexual pleasure and a woman communicating her desires to a partner. “I’m happy that society does not penalize individuals (as much) nowadays for communicating about what gives them pleasure.”
Attitudes like these are becoming more common around the region. And this helps Asian women (and women globally) to close the orgasm gap, where women enjoy sexual peaks at only a fraction of the rates that men do.
Most popular sex products in Asia:
- Sex toys
- Sex dolls
- Female sexual lubricants
So Climb on Your Great Horse
Any way that you cut it, you’re an overachiever, and that’s probably why you’re reading this. But is that mindset carrying over into the bedroom? Are you as willing to explore, experience, and take risks between the sheets as you are in the stock exchange or surgical team? We believe that you’re ready to seize the fullness of life.
After all, Katherine the Great found plenty of time for love and lovers while forging an empire. So browse the toys, oils, scents, clothing, and services on offer. Get every item you need to saddle up. Then, like Katherine, climb on your great horse and ride. #OrgasmsMatter #AsianGirlBoss