Beijing Sex Shops Signal A New Cultural Revolution

Within walking distance of our guesthouse in central Beijing, I was surprised to come across three shops specializing in adult products and noticed even more interspersed throughout the city. Nothing like that had ever crossed my sights when I spent a year living here as a student a mere decade ago. Today's shops sell massage devices, oils, lingerie and other treasures once striclty forbidden in the People's Republic.

The presence of such emporiums represents a major pendulum swing back from the cloistered revolutionary China of the latter half of the 20th century. Sexuality was largely repressed under Mao Zedong in an effort to place men and women in equal roles, even to the point of ignoring basic physical differences between the sexes.

A rising Chinese middle-class influenced by globalization, and a generation removed from drabber years of oppressed sexuality, have combined to fuel a new interest in the recreational aspects of sex.

 

Photo by Katie Hayes

 

While the majority of the shops are small enterprises on secluded side streets, Adam’s House is a well-lit franchise on one of Beijing’s major thoroughfares. Fu Jing, the 50-year-old shop manager, says there are Adam’s House shops in all of China’s major cities. She said business isn’t great today, but it’s getting better as she sees Chinese society changing. For now she's able to stay afloat thanks to the the high profit margin on her products, most of which come in English or Japanese packaging.

But the shop has some uniquely Chinese characteristics. A wedding gift box that includes condoms, oils, and CD for newly married couples was also for sale.

The most expensive item in the store was a 1,500 yuan ($215) blow-up doll. (For reference, a 5-yuan bowl of noodles is easy to come by in Beijing.)

So what does the proliferation of sex shops in the Chinese capital tell us about changing China?

“We can definitely say that the Chinese people are much happier with their ‘nighttime life’ than before,” Fu said.

Actually less kinky than before...

As I recall the way that sex shops were allowed to legally operate was by promoting them as medical devices (which is how vibrators got their start in the US as well). While sex shops were less common in Beijing 8-10 years ago, they tended to be staffed by women in nurse outfits. It always struck me as odd that something meant to color them as more legitimate made them, at least to my degenerate mind, a lot kinkier...