ADULT STORES: Dildos, vibrators, fetishes and edible underwear – they are all up for sale. In an investigation, our reporter brings you details of how Kampala’s adult population is quietly getting hooked to the pleasures of sex toys, in an industry that seems set to attract more
By Angela Nampewo, Daily Monitor, August 19, 2013
On the face of it, it is just a jewellery and clothing store in the centre of town. The shop is a street-side walk-in boutique measuring about 16 square metres, with much of the floor, wall and window space taken up by cloth-hangers, jewellery and hair accessory displays.
On one of the bottom racks, sitting among the shoe-boxes, is a slim, white carton, with pink lettering that at first glance could be mistaken for an underwear pack. The box contains a game. The adult game of cards is the teaser, which leads to the stash of sex candy in the back.
Having been tipped off by a colleague who stumbled on the city centre adult store while shopping for shirts, I call Sylvia, the 24-year-old partner and sales person for the sex candy shop. She arrived on a boda boda motorcycle, balancing two bags of goodies. I have been told that she charges Shs20,000 for ‘the session,’ during which she shows off the different toys and explains what they do. Having used some of the sex candy herself, she speaks of the products with conviction.
The candy store is owned and run by two female business partners, one in her thirties and the other one in her early twenties. Sylvia and her business partner started out partnering in a jewellery business. The two are surprisingly open about what they do.
The sex shop is not a formal business. Selling sex toys is a profitable side business, which they do on the down low. They do not advertise and they are careful about how they approach potential clients. Their erotic wares are not exposed in the shop. Unless one has a curious eye, the edible undergarments strategically placed on a shelf, could easily pass for regular underwear as sold in a lingerie shop.
Many of the sex store clients first come to the store in search of clothes and jewellery. If a customer lands on the mature content while trying on shoes, then the shop owner broaches the subject of the sex accessories. You have to have gained a certain level of trust with one of the two women to be let in on the stockpile of sex toys behind the rows of men’s shirts and glass displays of colourful trinkets.
People in the know, keep going in to purchase different sex enhancing items but there are also lots of walk-in clients who come into the shop to buy jewelry and end up ordering sexual aids. There is money to make in the business as the lowest priced item goes for Shs20, 000 and the highest Shs250, 000.
When Sylvia starts talking, you may be forgiven for thinking that she has been selling sex candy for the past five years. The way she explains the concepts, the 24-year-old is probably better informed than the majority of her clients.
“I have had to do extensive reading. I have had to be open-minded. There are things I have been exposed to…We don’t take anything for granted. Before you take a product, I will educate you. With products such as sweeteners, where you have to introduce a foreign liquid in your system, we have had to research. There is no side effect,” she says.
When Sylvia graduated in 2011, she had a passion to make her own money. She just did not plan on making it through selling sex toys.
“I was just supplying my jewellery. I had a supplier, someone who brings stuff from Thailand. In the beginning, my mother gave me capital of Shs100,000,” Sylvia recalls.
As her business capital grew, so did her circle of contacts. One year after leaving the university, Sylvia run into a friend who shared how she was making money in ‘dilly’ sales. ‘Dillies’ is slang for a sex toy known as a dildo. A dildo is a replica of the human male genitalia. It is used by women for self-stimulation.
Popular with clients
Sylvia’s first commodity was gum. Her contact travelled to China and came back with a special kind of gum, a sort of Viagra for women. Her first client, a man who tried the arousal gum on his wife, is said to have registered such amazing results that he called her early the next morning to order for more gum. Apparently, he had never seen his wife like that.
Sylvia told her friends about the gum. She even tried it out on herself. Having tasted the gum’s results, she gained interest and ordered more sex toys and sex sweeteners. She went into business.
Sylvia and her partner sell edible undergarments, waist chains, lubricants, toys like fetish handcuffs, dildos and attractants, among other things.
“We have sold more attractants than anything else. These are perfumed liquids that you can wear to attract the opposite sex,” she explains.
Essentially, this is the store-bought version of our natural pheromones. These have been the most sold things at the shop. There is a version for both men and women.
“The funny thing is that people that really love this stuff are guys. They want to buy for their women to try out. We have so many male customers you wouldn’t believe. People that want to spice up their sex life. There are people who are shy. These might openly reject the product but call you back to order privately,” reveals Sylvia. Her sex-toy customers grew straight out of her jewelry clientele, and these covered a broad spectrum of the corporate class in Kampala, say those working in banks. Sylvia has also hit it big, supplying her raunchy wares at bridal showers.
On the flipside, there is a section of people whom Sylvia says, are very conservative. Other people have the mentality that the toys destroy sex life. We try to get feedback from clients. We organise demonstrations. Most of the clients are grown up, well beyond the age of consent. The youngest clients have been a group of university students.
“For me to expose this to my client, we had to have a certain level of friendship. These are people she has supplied other commodities like jewelry. She does not sell to strangers. People could take it the wrong way,” says the candy store sales person, who juggles a full time job marketing car parts with an undercover part time stint selling edible underwear.
Neither Sylvia nor her partner is keen to be publicly identified with the sex store business because they are not very sure of the legal implications of dealing in sex toys. Neither of them can explain exactly why the sex accessories are not confiscated as they come through the airport. They imagine that it has to do with the fact that they do not bring in large quantities at a go, so nobody raises an eyebrow. The Uganda Penal Code Act does not pronounce itself emphatically on this trade either, except in Article 166, where reference is made to the prohibition of trade in obscene objects and any other objects tending to corrupt morals.
Uganda is a conservative society, even in the metropolitan Kampala. Sex-related topics are preferably limited to private, low-voice discussions and are not a publicly celebrated culture. More, deviations from natural forms of heterosexual intercourse are extremely frowned upon in Uganda. It is against this kind of social fabric that the underground sex-toy industry is working in Uganda. Using sex toys to pleasure oneself, or enhance one’s sex life, can be argued as a diversion from natural forms of sex, even as masturbation.
The sale of sex toys, and the slowly increasing rate of their purchase and usage, looks set to stir up fierce debate about whether they are obscene and immoral, or just a way of spicing up an adult’s sex life.
*The names of sources have been changed to protect their identity.
Impact on relationships
Any normal person has sexual desires. Given the nature of the economy, some partners tend to work distant from their partners. If one’s partner is not around, one might find it hard to tame their sexual desires. Some resort to masturbation. Others buy sex toys. Some people live a single life and yet desire sex so they buy toys.
For some, using toys is a way of HIV and other disease prevention. It could be preferable to use a sex toy instead of sleeping with a man who has multiple sex partners.
In relationships, sex toys could be used if one is not satisfied sexually but doesn’t want to stray from the relationship. However, such couples need to see a sex therapist or go through counseling if there are communication problems. Using sex toys could cause conflict where one derives more satisfaction from a toy than their partner.
Much as there are many reasons for using sex toys, individuals have the ability to control their sexual desires because sex begins in the brain.
David Kavuma, Lecturer and Counselling Psychologist with Mildmay Centre and Adonai Counsellers and Training
I use dildos: A customer’s experience
I bought a dildo one year ago from my friend who owns a shop that sells sex toys. I was supporting my friend’s business but I also wanted some excitement. The dildo cost Shs50, 000. When I bought it, I didn’t use it immediately. I kept it until one day when I was bored. I got it out and decided to try it.
Even though I am married, my husband does not know that I own this dildo. It is my little secret. I use it during the day when my husband is not at home. Using the dildo does not change anything in my relationship. Of course, because this is a plastic thing, it can never be the same as having sex with an actual person. It is just exciting to have a secret that nobody else knows about. With this dildo, I can do things that I would ordinarily be too shy to do with anybody else, including my husband.