Everyone has their kink. At the close of 2014, Pornhub published its annual State of the Union and revealed the interests of horny humans all over the world. Surprisingly, or not, the porn site found that the top searches in each country boasted national pride. The French searched for "French," Germany searched for "German," Italy searched for "Italian," and India searched for "Indian," suggesting that the regions have their unique preferences when it comes to boning. Surely, one would think, the same logic extends to boning accessories.
Sex toys are universal—and literally ancient; in 2005, a polished, sculpted 11-inch dildo from the Ice Ages was found in a German cave. But the same year the world's oldest dildo came to light, Durex published the world's largest sex survey of 317,000 people from 41 countries, which showed how different regions take their sexual enhancements. Out of the countries surveyed, the people of Taiwan owned the most vibrators, the United States tied with China in terms of their partiality to penis rings, lube was most popular in New Zealand, and Bulgarians overwhelming loved their pleasure enhancing condoms more than anyone else.
From DILDOKING in Berlin to Juse in the China, I set out to investigate if the stock of international sex mega-shops around the world could even further illuminate the cultural relevances of desire.
In Germany, the title of "most successful" company in the sex industry is slightly contested. Beate Uhse AG, which first opened its doors in 1962 and now has locations all over the country, claims that honorific on its Wikipedia page. (The Beate Uhse Group also owns the American brand Adam and Eve.) The Berlin-based DILDOKING, however, has been on the rise since 2004.
According to Beate Uhse AG's 2014 annual report, the shop's target demographic is women ("Dare to Experiment!" was that year's slogan) and their best-selling sex toys were vibrators. Additionally, the broads abroad went crazy over 50 Shades of Grey paraphernalia. I guess Mr. Grey will see you now is the same in any language.
As the latter shop's name would suggest, DILDOKING deals primarily in dildos, but also sells vibrators, anal beads (referred to on the site as "love balls"), fetish gear and more. The birthplace of the faux phallus, it's only fitting that Germany would be home to the aptly dubbed enterprise. According to my Brooklyn expat sources, DILDOKING's billboards, large and erect, are hard to avoid wherever one goes in Berlin.
Travel 4,566 miles across continents and oceans to Colombia and you'll find Godiva Sex Shop, the country's most prominent pleasure purveyor. Though the South American country is stereotyped for its outlaw cocaine culture and dangerous cartels, its signature sex shop is average. The top item on their product list? "50 Shadows," a 50 Shades inspired brand of fetish accessories. Could it be that E.L. James has created a cross-cultural desire singularity? Let's hope not.
Down the coast of the continent, Chile's largest chain is Japi Jane. Among the store's offerings on its aesthetically pleasing website are gold-plated diamond-shaped vibrators, standard dildos and butt plugs, and—prominently displayed on the homepage—50 Shades of Grey-branded kits, a full six months after the movie's theatrical release.
In Japan, where vagina art is illegal yet penis festivals thrive, the most famous sex toy shop is M's, a seven-floor mecca in Tokyo. The sex emporium carries Doll pillows, of course, in various options, and all the standard fare. Every part of the human body is available in fleshlight form and sold alongside seemingly innocuous bath soaps. Japan, it seems, wasn't all too titillated by 50 Shades, or at least that's what M's would suggest.
South Africa just ended their sex toy prohibition eight years ago, in 2007. Before then, it was illegal to manufacture or sell any "article intended to be used to perform an unnatural sexual act" under the Immorality Amendment Act of 1969. That same law, under apartheid, also made any relations between whites and non-whites and sexual activity "between men at a party" punishable by law. Now South Africa has Adult World, which has everything—even anime love dolls—except for 50 Shades of Grey merch. Some corners of the world, it seems, are still safe.
[Sex toy] popularity is greatly influenced by marketing and media and cultural attitudes help shape public discourse surrounding toys as well as access to these toys.
Juse, the biggest sex shop in China, has 500 stores nationwide. An article in China Daily reports that attitudes toward purchasing sex toys have relaxed in recent years and women are increasingly confident about shopping for them. Vibrators and S&M related toys are the shop's bestsellers.
I spoke to Mark Snyder, the director of exhibitions at The Museum of Sex, and he emphasized that the sex toy industry, like most industries, are ruled by trends (and best-selling erotica franchises). "Specific sex toys have come and gone through popularity, some forms remain 'classics' while others offer new innovations inspired by trends and advancement in technologies. Popularity is greatly influenced by marketing and media and cultural attitudes help shape public discourse surrounding toys as well as access to these toys," said Snyder.
The exhibit currently on view at The Museum of Sex, Hardcore: A Century and a Half of Obscene Imagery, features photographs of sex toys from the Victorian era. "Victorians often crafted their own sex toys from common household goods such as candles, broomstick handles and glass bottles," said Snyder. "While novelty rubber dildos were available for purchase from erotic peddlers in the second half of the nineteenth century, these were typically only produced in limited quantities."
Sex toys, it turns out, are more defined by time than space—and when it comes to getting off, it's a small world after all.