LAST_UPDATESun, 22 Jul 2018 9pm

A Closer Look At Adult Novelty Stores In Malaysia

“I’m doing nothing wrong here. I’m here to do a bit of research. Yeah nothing is wrong,” I assured myself.

Yet I paced around the mall corridor for 30 minutes and spent another 5 minutes in front of the premises before deciding to enter the store in one of the shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur.

I soon noticed that I am not the only one. I noticed several teenagers lingering in front of the storefront, perhaps curious just like I am. Yes, ever since I learnt what a dildo is I have always wanted to go inside one of these places and have look at other varieties.

After mustering enough courage and telling myself it is much needed research for my work as a journalist, I walked inside. It is a small place, small enough to be a store room. Inside was dimly lit with yellow light with shelves mounted on the walls filled with various lubricants of brands that I never heard of and of course the toys.

Even when I am inside the shop I still feel embarrassed and could not look into the shop assistant’s eyes when she offered her service (no, not that kind of service).

The toys do not interest me (well, maybe just a little) but I questioned my sense of embarrassment when entering the store to look at all the toys. They are basically just replicas of human genitals made for pleasure.

Sex Toys And Malaysian Culture

Unlike European cities such as Munich and Amsterdam where adult toys stores are located in premium mall locations splashed over several storefronts with luxurious décor, adult toy stores in Malaysia still have a seedy reputation, lurking in lesser known malls tucked discreetly away.

Perhaps the sellers know that most Malaysians are still ashamed to be seen buying them, to be physically present at the shop. Hence they turn to the Internet to ply their trade and they offer discreet shipping.

After I visited the shop, I managed to talk to one of the mall patrons. Adam (not his real name) shares with us his two cents regarding sex toys and Malaysian culture.

“I think it is normal for people to feel embarrassed talking about sex and sex toys, sex-related matters will always be considered taboo no matter how open you are.

“I always make sex jokes among my friends but when I want to buy lubricant and condoms, I would feel really embarrassed, now if I were to buy sex toys, can you imagine how embarrassing it would be?” he commented.

Another mall patron Kamal agrees with the statement that most teenagers nowadays are more open to other cultures and are able to think more maturely about sex thanks to the wider access to information on the internet. However when it comes to sex toys, he is not willing to give it a try.

“It’s a pass for me. I don’t think I will ever try sex toys. Even talking about buying one is out of the question. Beside why would you buy sex toy when you can buy other kinds of toys?” he jokingly said.

Curiosity is part of human nature of curiosity otherwise we would not have the proverb ‘curiosity killed the cat’. For someone who would never think about buying or entering an adult shop suddenly wants to buy one, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, Professor Dr Osman Che Bakar from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) in an email reply to Malaysian Digest said there can be many reasons.

Prof Dr Osman Che Bakar Senior Consultant Psychiatrist UiTM. File PicProf Dr Osman Che Bakar Senior Consultant Psychiatrist UiTM. File Pic

The items can be fascinating (believe me, I was there and was really fascinated by all the toys) and sexually stimulating (hence the name sex toy), therefore many would buy it out of curiosity to explore or just to give it a try.

People use sex toys for a wide variety of reasons. Among problems faced in a relationship between husband and wife are sexual inadequacy and having an inactive sexual partner. So to compensate, they turn to the artificial-real-looking human genitalia.

Increasingly, in some Asian cultures like in Singapore, South Korea, Japan and China, sex toys are gaining acceptance and popularity in use among couples.

Sex toys are also used by individuals with high sexual interest or increased libido as they wish to enhance their sexual performance. Others who lean toward fetishes in sex prefer to get sexually aroused through contact with non-living objects such as sex toys.

Any of the above reasons can be a strong enough reason for one to overcome embarrassment in purchasing and using a sex toy.

Talking about sexual health of married couples, researches have shown that using an adult toy in their sexual activity can have a positive impact. However, most married couples still feel ashamed of being seen and judged on using such tools.

“Though these adult toys could have a positive impact on the sexual relationship of couples, matters related to sexual intercourse are not something that people could talk openly, for it often ends up with an embarrassing or awkward situation.

“Normally if they wish to buy the items they have to exercise lots of caution and not to show them overtly.

“It is normal that we care so much of what other people think about ourselves because an approval from others gives us a higher sense of self-esteem and the respect has great impact on our self-worth; on the other hand their criticism or teasing would cause a painful emotion leading to embarrassment, shame and low self-esteem,” Dr Osman explained.

The Shame And Stigma Attached

“It is fairly appropriate for you to have indecisive and ambivalent feelings of whether to do or not to do when facing with situations which could bring shame or negative impression on you," explained Dr Osman.

"In this context, being seen in the act of perusing these toys to buy, people may perceive you as sexually permissive or have sexual inadequacies. Of course you feel even more embarrassed when talking about these topics to someone of an opposite sex,” Prof Osman added.

“Whilst you curiously want to explore and look the available items, you are also worried of what people would think about what you are doing in this type of shop. Issues related to sexual pleasure are always considered as taboo,” he further explained.

“Embarrassment is considered one of the self-conscious emotions, quite at ease in the company of guilt, shame, and pride,” Maria C Lamia wrote in her column 'Intense Emotions and Strong Feelings' in the online journal, Psychology Today.

Lamia further observed, the experience of embarrassment cautions you to your inability to act as indicated by certain social benchmarks, which undermine the convictions you hold concerning how others assess you and the courses in which you assess yourself.

No matter how modern we Malaysians consider ourselves to be, we will still hold to our Asian cultural roots where talking about sex openly will be considered taboo. Referring to my personal experience visiting the adult shop, I do feel extremely embarrassed and feel that people are judging me for entering such shop.

“It's interesting that in specific situations and social circumstances, behaviour that would ordinarily be considered embarrassing is embraced as amusing and humorous or it is disregarded as an embarrassment to the perpetrator.

“Embarrassments usually result from accidental behaviours that lead you to feel negatively about yourself--even when you had no intention of violating a social standard." Lamia concluded.

Sex Toy Industry Thriving Globally

The racy movie 50 Shades of Grey proves that sex really does sell. Since the movie was in production until its release recently, interest in sex toys has picked up and the adult toys industry is bracing for a big boost from the movie's popularity.

Even before the movie was released, sex toys were already big business. According to the website, sex toy statistics which were compiled through an international survey in July 2014 estimated the industry to have a growth rate projected at 30% annually. 70% of sex toys are produced in China.

Annual revenue of the sex toy industry worldwide is a staggering USD15 billion. The statistic also shows 20% of men were reported to have used a vibrator and 50% of women reported having used sex toys for first time in their early 20s.

Among all sex toys that are available, online purchases of vibrators took the first place as the most bought item at 19.2% compared to plastic penis or dildo with 16%. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the United States reign supreme at first place for countries with the highest number of Google searches for sex toys.

Last year there was a sex toy expo in China and of course there was media covering the expo. The expo was so large in scale that patrons get to see hundreds, perhaps even thousands of varieties of items being offered by manufacturers worldwide. I couldn’t help to be amazed and flustered while watching the video recording by a china-based tv station at the event featuring its reporter interviewing vendors demonstrating the different products on display.

The huge throng of business executives, traders and wholesalers all going about in a business-like manner talking about manufacturing, wholesale purchase and import/export arrangements is no different than what takes place at a computer tech expo or an auto machinery expo, except we are talking about sex toys! The scale of the expo sheds light on the financial and economic scale of the sex toy industry in China.

Like many other Made In China products, sex toys manufactured in China find their way to Malaysian shores, either by online order or through the handful of discreet stores situated in certain malls in the city.

Although not specifically stated, Malaysia’s legal framework does not provide for sex toys to be sold openly in retail as a business entity. There exists Section 292 of the Penal Code which covers distribution and possession of pornographic material which can easily be used to prosecute any individuals found selling obscene objects. It remains to be tested whether sex toys and its wide range of uses can be categorized as obscene.

- mD