Video/Words: Toy Story

Buying adult toys in Hong Kong can pose a gauntlet for the embarrassed shopper. Squeamish attitudes towards sex, combined with high population density, make for some potentially excruciating encounters with friends, family and acquaintances. If you bump into anyone, don’t even think to ask if they “come here often.”

As attitudes towards sex liberalise in Hong Kong, the old tortured routine of buying a dildo or blow-up doll is changing

By comparison, the scene in Amsterdam’s red light district or San Francisco’s Castro sees people admiring and purchasing toys with open abandon. But this is Hong Kong, apparently we don’t have sex much. To get their adult toys, the city’s inhabitants have had the option of sneakily popping down to Temple Street, the night market area that runs between Jordan and Yau Ma Tei, where one can swiftly disappear into the cover of darkness if needs be.

As attitudes towards sex liberalise in Hong Kong, the old tortured routine of buying a dildo or blow-up doll is changing. Not only does the city have a range of specialised shops, including Pink Pussy Cat, customers can order from online merchants such as Passionately yours or even Taobao. Alibaba reportedly lists more than 2,500 sex toy companies alone.

The thought of bartering for a rampant rabbit in the middle of the street doesn’t sound too appealing

Will this modernisation affect the potency of the traditional sex toy seller in the Temple Street market area?

A walk around the area shows traditional merchants still have vigor. Adult toy stall owners, many of whom are based on Shanghai Street, say their business is vibrant, with a mix of male and female customers from Japanese, to Mainland Chinese and locals. “Customers are not really nervous to buy these items, which are seen as part of enjoying life more than anything,” says a local sex toy stall owner who declined to be named.

The owner, who worked in a variety of what he calls “pointless” jobs before starting to run a sex stall five years ago, is confident that business has lasting power. He has a consistent stream of serious purchasers, in addition to customers that buy toys for the novelty value. A local customer, who wished to remained anonymous, had just purchased a HKD$40 sex toy out of curiosity: we asked him if he thought the area could maintain its stamina in the sex toy market. “I would say it (the market) is much smaller, and less merchants here. This is a positive evolution of the economy… every generation, it needs to change,” he said.

Daniel Davis, an expatriate who works in the construction industry, and is frequent purchaser of sex toys, says traditional adult shops still have their place. “Most of my purchasing when I was in the United Kingdom was online, but in Hong Kong it seems more practical to just pop in to the shop and there is no shame in doing so. I haven’t used the ones on Temple Street but the thought of bartering for a rampant rabbit in the middle of the street doesn’t sound too appealing,” he says.

So… do you come here often?

Still, the Temple Street area merchant has the merit of being more low-key than sex shops in commercial buildings. Long term BDSM (bondage, discipline and sadomasochism) outlet Fetish Fashion, which reportedly offered dungeons out to rent, was struck a fatal blow when the police shut down operations. By comparison, there are Temple Street merchants that have been trading their sex wares for more than 30 years, according to the seller we talked to.

Davis, the construction industry executive, thinks less is more when it comes to sex toys. “I once had a partner who cracked out a whip and insisted on beating me with it… not cool,” said Davis. “I honestly only would purchase for my partner and I to share, so probably something small and vibrating that maybe we could both use,” he added.

No doubt the adult industry will continue to remain both vibrant and vibrating, but only time will tell if the Temple Street market area can retain its place in the sex toy world.