Asking about them in polite society usually causes raised eyebrows and mumbles about their inappropriateness, but you don’t need to be a private detective to discover that they’re bought, sold and used almost anywhere you care to look on the continent.
At the same time though, the sale of sex toys is illegal in many countries where they’re being sold, although some governments don’t even bother putting the trade on the books, seemingly relying on social shame – which is fading fast – as a means of regulation. Nonetheless, even where selling them remains illegal, sex toys still manage to creep across the border.
Basically, what seems to be happening is that the governments are anti-sex toys, but the people aren’t. The internet has made it easier for anyone who wants a sex toy to bypass the law, but it is the importers who shoulder the risks, since they’re the ones likely to have their good seized at Customs. This probably accounts for the relatively high prices of sex toys in many countries.
So what does this mean for the continent’s sex toy trade, where there’s a market but being a supplier isn’t always something you can broadcast in public?
Countries such as Zimbabwe and Mauritius have actively said “no” to bedroom trinkets but, being popular holiday destinations, there are websites that offer tips on how to “sneak your sex toy in when going on holiday”.
The situation in a few countries:
South Africa says OK to a little sexual aid
Sex toys are very much legal in South Africa. But before you shout “Of course they are, it’s South Africa!”, you might be surprised to learn that it’s only in the last decade that it stopped being illegal for South Africans to manufacture or sell sex toys. We have the enlightened apartheid government for the Immorality Amendment Act of 1969 prohibiting the sale of any item “intended to be used to perform an unnatural sexual act,” an amendment apparently intended to prevent the use of dildos by lesbians. Gratifying to be able to report that South Africa now has one of the most liberal constitutional and legal frameworks in the world on matters sexual.
What that means in South Africa today is that you cannot throw a stone anywhere in the country without hitting an Adult World, its branches so dark and seedy (at least all the ones I’ve seen) that you worry you’ll catch an STD just walking in. If they own any chic, couples-friendly branches, I haven’t come across them yet, and don’t know anyone who has. (Incidentally, the chain, which has 60 stores nationwide, is currently embroiled in a tiff with the ANC for opening a store opposite Parliament in Cape Town.)
Adult World’s selection of products ranges from videos for all tastes (BDSM, lesbian porn, women in cheerleader outfits) all the way to 10-inch long replicas of male genitalia.
There are more tasteful shops around, such as the Whet Sensuality Emporium in Cape Town (more tasteful, no doubt, because it’s women- and couples-oriented; they even manufacture their own lubricant) whose owner also gives advice to couples in her consultation room. This is beautiful cream room decorated with orchids, lounge chairs and futuristic sci-fi sex toys that look like they travelled back in time from the year 2085.
There is also the annual Sexpo, showcasing the best of the best in terms of sex toys, clothing (costumes) and general erotica. Then there are clubs like the Pharoah Private Fantasy Club where they ask “Whats your flava?” Okay, I’m not sure if that has anything to do with sex toys, but I like their opening question. Not to mention the hundreds of online stores such as HoneyHoney and FemmeSensuelle.
Discreet unmarked packages
Taboo surrounding sex toys in Kenya has pretty much faded, especially in Nairobi where more and more sex shops are opening, offline (River Road is where to go, although be warned, it’s also where to go for anything from AK47s to fake death certificates or Harvard Masters certificates, printed while you wait, no less) and online. The latest to join the online fray is wittily called Bored of Men.
Kenyan laws prohibit the sale of pornography and “obscene materials,” but according to Nairobi lawyer Humprey Manyange, there is no law in Kenya that prohibits the sale, distribution or circulation of sex toys under the Penal Code or any other law. He added, though, that “…there should be caution on the mode of display and selling to avoid the disturbance of public peace and breach of public morality”.
Kenyans are spoilt for choice online with stores like Doctor Crocodildo, Pazuri Place (who claim to have delivered over 1 300 packages since 2009), RahaToys (“If you are in Nairobi, we send the delivery guy to bring the item to you” – now that’s service!) , The Secret Kenya and kenyasecrets.com (“the finest and biggest collection of sex toys in Kenya,” with same-day deliveries) – don’t ask me why my Kenyan brothers and sisters are in such a hurry to get hold of their sex toys. Door-to-door delivery and the more relaxed attitude towards sex toys means Kenyans no longer need to have their sex toys mailed in “discreet unmarked packages,” which was the case for years. Women are now spending up to 10 000ksh ($112) on vibrating bullets, but you also have shops like RahaToys where you can get a super stretchy gel erection ring for the low low price of 420 Ksh ($4) or a ‘Fetish Fantasy Series Door Swing’ for 5 590 Ksh.
And if you’re after a sex doll, you can get one of those, too.
Sex toys on the (not so open) market
In Zimbabwe, Vannessa Chiyangwa, the daughter of a well known businessman (who also happens to be a former Zanu-PF MP as well as a cousin of Robert Mugabe) caused tongues to wag not too long ago for holding sex toy auctions in Harare . If you’re going to sell them, might as well keep it classy with an auction. She also held peep shows whilst selling a selection of lingerie to further boost business. All of which was labelled “immoral” by government officials.
That enterprising lady’s case actually revealed a contradiction in the government’s official position on sex toys. According to Zimbabwe Revenue Authority’s director of legal and corporate services Florence Jambwa, the importation of the toys into the country is prohibited under the Customs and Excise Act. However, Censorship Board secretary Isaac Chiranganyika said whoever intended to import or trade in sex toys had to seek permission from the board. He also said, “Anyone who wants to do that business should first bring them [toys] to our offices for approval.” The Board’s staff members must test drive the products, after all. For quality control purposes, of course. But joking aside, this is confusing. It’s illegal to import sex toys but you must have your sex toys approved by the board before you’re allowed to sell the illegal imports? Perhaps the government is trying to encourage local sex-toy manufacturing.
According to this article in The Standard, people have been caught smuggling sex toys into Zimbabwe, and some of the main culprits have been foreigners attending the Harare International Festival of The Arts (Hifa). Apparently, it’s during the festival that officials confiscate the highest number of sex toys. Arty folk, eh? But seriously, this is probably an attempt to diss lefty Hifa with it’s “foreign” connections.
The board says they’ve kept all the vibrators and dildos impounded over the past two years (most of the sex toys are for use by women, but there are some ‘female organs’ among the contraband), a claim contradicted by Florence Jambwa who says they destroy all the sex toys they confiscate. Sounds like the Censorship Board members are having a whale of a time at home.
Sex dolls, door swings and same day delivery
If you read about Nigerians and their sex toys on This Is Africa recently, you probably assumed sex toys were legal in Nigeria. Nope. Contraband, according to government officials.
Nigerians might come over all abashed when you raise the topic in public, but sex toys are starting to become more popular in the country, even in the northern States that abide by Sharia law, but either government officials have enough wahala on their hands to add chasing after sex toy importers to the list or they know they’ll be onto a losing battle if they do.
The ownership of sex toys knows no age, social class or marital status barriers in Nigeria. In Lagos, one newspaper journalist found more than 20 shops selling sex toys (mostly small stalls), and one trader, who preferred to remain anonymous, said most of his customers were couples, with the male partners saying they preferred to have a toy as a “competitor,” rather than another man. On the other hand, another trader said she had to take her business online because people who had the “balls” to enter her shop just browsed a lot without buying much. Her sales went up by 120% with the move.
That said, Nigeria women were far from amused a couple of years ago when they noticed a sudden “influx” of Swedish-made sex dolls into the country.
They reportedly saw this as “a sign of the end and the beginning of Sodom and Gomorrah” aka “Jesus is coming”.
According to the product specifications, the dolls’ skin texture was “99.8% human texture,” but with a price tag of $6 000 they’d better be, right? Clearly imported for the rich, these super dolls. What about the man on the street, I ask. The dolls last two years, are completely adjustable to any position, have a hundred sensors all over the body (including thirty in/on the private parts), get “wet,” and moan when penetrated. The “best money you will ever spend,” according to one man who is either the sole importer or a very, very happy customer. No wonder my Nigerian sisters were in an uproar.
One woman wondered “…what technology is turning the world into; even my husband saw it on the internet and he developed interest in it. My fear is if he gets it, it will be the end of our marriage.” Another was certain her husband would go for it, but said it was none of her business. One randy commenter said he’d forego a car to buy such a doll!
For those not wishing to sell or forego their car or break the bank, there’s Intimate Pleasures (Nigeria’s first online sex shop catering specifically to women), the owner of which, feminist writer and human rights activist Iheoma Obibi, also holds “Wellness and Intimacy” afternoon sessions.
There are shops selling sex toys in Ghana, offline (in Accra, at least; some street hawkers even sell them) and online (Area 51, GH erotic; you can even WhatsApp your order), though, again, the government considers sex toys “obscene” and has been known to close down sex shops. Women in Swaziland throw “product parties,” and have been calling on the government for years to legalise the sale of sex toys, stating that there’s no valid reason why women should be deprived of their inviolable right to choose how they pleasure themselves.
This appears to be a case of governments failing to move with the times, and to comprehend the reasonable desires of their citizens. I’m willing to bet that all the officials making it unnecessarily difficult to get hold of sex toys own sex toys themselves.
Governments, we want our sex toys, and we will get them any way we can, whether you like it or not!