When Judy Yau organised a bachelorette party in 2019, she included a strategic stop at a sex toy store. She wanted to do more than pick a gift for the bride; she wanted to spark conversation.
“I’ve always been very open about topics around sexual pleasure, but I realised it’s not that common in Hong Kong,” says Yau, who worked in London and is now senior buyer for On Pedder, a designer footwear and accessories boutique. “When I spoke to friends here, I think they rely a lot on the partner for their pleasure and really do not know what’s going on with their bodies.”
Yau knew enough to bring her nine girlfriends to Sally’s Toy, run by pioneering sex educator Vera Lui and full of beautifully designed toys, books on sexual pleasure and body positivity, wellness products and lingerie. Uneasy at first, everyone ended up making a purchase. The staff even drew an anatomical diagram for the bride, offering advice on what to do where.
Fast forward to 2021 and—with the pandemic upending norms and putting wellness of all sorts at a premium—Yau saw another opportunity to push the comfort zone. She convinced the On Pedder team to host a pop-up on female sexual pleasure and knew just who she wanted to collaborate with.
“There’s nothing quite like what Sally’s Toy is doing, which creates a very safe space for women to explore, and it was their openness and professionalism that made me think, maybe this can exist in the luxury world too,” reflects Yau.
Lui was pleasantly surprised to hear from On Pedder, which occupies prime retail space in Central, opposite the Landmark Mandarin Oriental. After all, she had struggled to find a landlord willing to rent space for the first Sally’s Toy, plagued by assumptions of sex toy stores and their customers as dodgy.
“It’s quite a statement to Hong Kong, saying, ‘hey, this is something that can be displayed in a mainstream store,’” she says. “I agreed to do it mainly as a social experiment and a chance to let people know it’s alright to see sex toys so openly.”
RISING SALES AND “SEXCATIONS”
Despite the challenges of the last year, Covid-19 has had a silver lining: it's inspired some partners to explore new ways to connect sexually. According to Lui, her product sales have been increasing during the pandemic.
“I can see there’s a change of consumer mindset to try something new and playful,” she says. “Most of these people have never tried anything before or set foot in our stores, and now they’re investing in gateway products like massage oil or lubrication.”
Her observations sync with a Covid-19 sex study from the Kinsey Institute in the US, which found people were not necessarily having more sex, but they were more open to trying different things. In Hong Kong, the pandemic trend of staycation hotel deals has helped enable such experimentation and normalise the value of making time for sex in a relationship.
After all, intimacy has always been hard-won in Hong Kong, where homes are notoriously small and expensive, and it’s not unusual for couples to live with family after marriage. Travelling a few times annually was one workaround for young couples. Another was booking one of Hong Kong’s love hotels which rent by the hour.