Sex toys. Asking about them in polite society usually causes raised eyebrows and mumbles about inappropriateness, but you don’t need to be a private detective to discover that they’re bought, sold and used anywhere you care to look in Africa.
The sale of sex toys is illegal in many countries, although some governments rely 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.
What seems to be happening is that governments are anti-sex toys but the people aren’t. The internet has made it easier for anyone who wants an erotic helper to bypass the law, but it’s importers who shoulder the risks since they’re the ones likely to have their goods seized at customs. This probably accounts for the relatively high prices of sex toys in many countries.
Countries such as Zimbabwe and Mauritius have actively said no to bedroom trinkets but there are websites that offer tips on how to sneak your sex toys on holiday.
Here’s how the sex toy situation differs from country to country:
South Africa: a thriving industry
You might be surprised to learn that it’s only in the last decade that it stopped being illegal to manufacture or sell sex toys in South Africa. We have the apartheid government to thank for the Immorality Amendment Act of 1969, which prohibits 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. It’s 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 is that in South Africa today you cannot throw a stone without hitting an Adult World, although some of its branches so dark and seedy you worry you’ll catch an STD just walking in.
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. It’s women and couples oriented – they even manufacture their own lubricant and the owner gives advice to couples in her consultation room.
Then there’s the annual SEXPO, showcasing the best of the best in terms of sex toys, costumes and general erotica. Not to mention the hundreds of online stores such as HoneyHoney and FemmeSensuelle.
Ronnie’s Sex Shop in South Africa Photograph: Steve Cornish/flickr
Kenya: the taboo is fading
Taboo surrounding sex toys in Kenya has pretty much faded, especially in Nairobi where more and more sex shops are opening. One example is River Road – although be warned it’s also where to go for anything from AK 47s to fake death certificates or Harvard Masters certificates, printed while you wait. There’re also online sites such as Bored of Men.
Kenyan law prohibits 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. He added 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 such as 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”); The Secret Kenya and kenyasecrets.com (“the finest and biggest collection of sex toys in Kenya), offering same-day deliveries.
This more relaxed attitude means Kenyans no longer need to have their sex toys mailed in discreet unmarked packages. Women are now spending up to 10,000ksh ($ 112) on vibrating bullets, but you also have shops like the aforementioned 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.
Zimbabwe: confusion over the rules
In Zimbabwe 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 when she held sex toy auctions in Harare and organised peep shows whilst selling a selection of lingerie – all of which was labelled “immoral” by government officials.
Vannessa Chiyangwa’s case 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.
“Anyone who wants to do that business should first bring them [the toys] to our offices for approval,” he added.
Perhaps the board’s staff members want test drive the products, for quality control? Joking aside, the rules are confusing. It’s illegal to import sex toys but you must have your sex toys approved by the censorship board before you’re allowed to sell the illegal imports? Perhaps the government is trying to encourage local sex-toy manufacturing.
People have been caught smuggling sex toys into Zimbabwe, with some of the main culprits being foreigners attending the Harare International Festival of The Arts. Apparently officials confiscated the highest number of sex toys during the festival. Arty folk, eh! But more seriously, this is probably an attempt to crackdown on lefty festival with it’s “foreign” connections.
The Board say 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). But this claim was 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. And seeing as the festival was only a few weeks ago, they must have all new stock.
Nigeria: contraband but rampant
If you read the article This is Africa posted recently about Nigerians and their sex toys, you probably assumed sex toys were legal in Nigeria. Not so. They are 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, even in the northern states that abide by Sharia law. Perhaps government officials have enough wahala on their hands to add chasing after sex toy importers to the list, or maybe they know they’ll be onto a losing battle if they do.
Sex toys know 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). 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. 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.
On the upscale end of the market, there was an influx of Swedish-made sex dolls into the country a few years ago. According to the product specs, the dolls’ skin was “99.8% human texture”– as it should be with a price tag of $ 6,000. Clearly imported for the rich, these super dolls. The dolls last two years, are completely adjustable to any position, have 100 sensors all over the body (including 30 in/on the private parts) and get “wet” and moan when penetrated, apparently. “Best money you will ever spend,” said one man who is either the sole importer or a very, very happy customer.
For those not wishing to break the bank, there’s Intimate Pleasures, Nigeria’s first online sex shop catering specifically to women. The owner, feminist writer and human rights activist Iheoma Obibi, also holds wellness classes and intimacy afternoon sessions.
There are shops selling sex toys in Ghana, offline (in Accra some street hawkers even sell them) and online Area 51, GH erotic (where you can WhatsApp your order). Though, again, the Ghanaian government considers sex toys “obscene” and has been known to close down sex shops;. In Swaziland, women have been known to throw “product parties” and there have been calls for the government to legalise the sale of sex toys. Supporters say 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. Governments, we want our sex toys, and we will get them any way we can, whether you like it or not!
A longer version of this article originally appeared on This is Africa
toys shop – Google News