The first sex toy shop in Beijing opened in 1992, and there are now an estimated 2,000 “adult shops” in the capital. To gain some insight into this industry and the lives of those involved in it, we interviewed the proprietor of a small sex shop located in Sanlitun (三里屯), the entertainment district of Beijing and a popular hangout for foreigners. She declined to be photographed for this article, but was more than happy for us to photo her merchandise. The interview with her is as follows.
How did you get into this line of work?
A friend of mine from my hometown in rural Anhui province introduced me to this business. I was attracted to it by the fact that it doesn’t require hard work and that the start up capital is quite low. I founded the shop over three years ago, after moving to Beijing. I’m the sole employee. My friend is still involved in this industry and supplies me with merchandise.
Has this business been profitable?
I can earn much more running this business than I could in my hometown. I don’t have a high education level, so my alternatives would have been washing dishes or babysitting.
How much money does your sex shop make each month?
I’d rather not say, but it is two to three times what I would have made as a babysitter in my hometown.
Are the small sex shops in Beijing usually managed by migrants from the countryside?
Yes. This job is quite time consuming, so people from Beijing wouldn’t want to do it.
Can you please describe a typical day at work?
I open for business at 10 a.m., clean the shop and then wait for customers to show up. I usually keep the shop open until midnight. I work every day.
Do you ever take holidays?
Very rarely. I work even if I am feeling ill.
Where do you live?
In the back of the shop.
Are you married?
Would you ever consider dating someone you met through your business?
No, since any customer here must already have someone they are involved with.
How old are you?
You don’t look thirty.
I spend nearly all my time in this shop, so my skin doesn’t age much due to sun exposure.
What are your bestselling items?
The “sex medicines” are popular, especially imitation Viagra and traditional Chinese herbs, which have the same function as Viagra. The sexy lingerie items also sell well.
Are there any items that don’t sell well?
No. I’m a very good salesperson, so if there’s something here to be sold, I will sell it.
Can you please describe your customer base?
About 70% of my customers are Chinese and the rest are foreigners. Most are male.
The sexual performance enhancement products have a wide user age range. Customers for those products range between the ages of eighteen to eighty. In fact, I have customers in their eighties, Chinese and foreign, who enter the shop while using a cane. They come to buy the imitation Viagra or other performance enhancement products.
Is there any difference between what foreigners tend to buy and what Chinese customers tend to buy?
Chinese customers tend to buy condoms, imitation Viagra and traditional Chinese performance enhancers.
Foreigners tend to buy performance enhancers, dildos, S&M and bondage gear.
Chinese people never buy S&M gear.
What about customer habits? Do you notice anything you would care to comment on?
Some male Chinese customers in their twenties enter the shop visibly nervous. They’re sweating, despite the freezing winter weather. I try to soothe them and calm them down by explaining the normality of these items and the fact that they are not perverted for visiting the shop.
You must be quite open minded, then.
Actually, no. I came from a traditional household in a rural environment, so I am not personally interested in my products. This is just a business for me.
Would you care to share any memorable stories?
Okay. One time a customer entered the shop and showed off his cock. He then asked me if I thought his size was all right. I responded by splashing his cock with hot water, which made him run away. He never returned.
That’s a good story. I mean, it was a bad experience, but a good story.
Yesterday, a customer in his twenties walked in and asked me how I charge. I told him I’m not for sale, just like my mother taught me. He did end up buying some imitation Viagra, though. He comes in regularly and always asks the same thing.
Is there something else you’d rather be doing?
I’d like to save up enough money so I could move on from this industry and open my own restaurant.
For readers who are interested, the shop is located on the north side of Gongti Bei Lu, across the street from the north gate of Workers’ Stadium.