When Wu Zhenwang opened a sex toy store in 1994 in Wenzhou, southeast China, the locals there got to see what vibrators and inflatable dolls looked like for the first time. It was more conservative back then, when people in China first had sex at an average age of 22.4, five years older than in the United States.
“Over the past twenty years, Chinese consumers have had more open attitudes towards sex,” said Wu Wei, the son of Wu Zhenwang. “The number of people who use sex toys has increased dramatically, with an annual growth rate of 60 percent.”
Wu Wei is the president of Lover Health Science and Technology Co., Ltd, a leading sex product company in China, which manufactures sex toys, condoms, costumes and lubrication. Lover was ranked “among the world’s top 10 makers of erotica” in 2002, according to Reuters. The Economist described the company as “monopolistic” and several Chinese media dubbed him the “sex toy tycoon”.
As an industry insider, Wu has witnessed how the internet has contributed to the positive change.
Nowadays, around 15 percent of all Lover’s products are sold to the domestic market. In 2005, when the company didn’t have any online stores, the figure was less than 10 percent.
The internet not only helps with sales, but also provides an open platform for customers to express their private feelings.
“This is my first time to use a vibrator. I had orgasm several times. This feels better than my ex-boyfriend!” A female customer commented on Lover’s flagship online store on Tmall, a business-to-consumer online marketplace run by Alibaba . In China, it is still taboo to express one’s sexual feelings so straightforward in real life.
Wu said that every time people learned about his job, they would exclaim “wow, what a mysterious industry!” The 46-year-old man is from Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, which is regarded as the cradle of private businesses in socialist China. Wu and his father are typical Wenzhou businessmen – bold, adaptive and willing to do whatever is profitable.