Sex toys are still a difficult topic in many South Asian countries. In India they're often sold as massage products because officially they’re banned. Even though the demand on black markets across the region is high, a law change is nowhere near in sight. But across the border in Nepal, the authorities have shown a much more progressive attitude towards the positive effects of sex toys.
“When new customers come here the first thing they ask us is ‘Is this legal?’ When we show our licence they are relieved to find out that it’s legal what they are doing,” says Manish Paudel, the owner of the first shop for sex toys in Nepal.
Paudel’s shop Sweet Secret is located on one of Kathmandu’s busiest streets, but the entry is discretely tucked away in a corner ally. That was one of the criteria the government office set for Paudel before he could open his shop. Though legal in Nepal, his products cannot be openly displayed.
To Paudel this limitation is not an issue. With a steadily growing client base, his shop has become so successful that he’s opening three more branches across Nepal in the coming months.
Promoting safe sex
Sweet Secret provides a wide range of imported products, from dildos and colourful vibrators to blow-up dolls. But most customers that come here are not looking for the more ‘kinky’ toys. It’s the basic condoms that sell the best.
“Condoms are slowly becoming widely available in supermarkets all over the country. But people still feel uncomfortable buying from there. Here they feel like we have seen it all,” says Paudel, who started his career distributing condoms and promoting safe sex in Nepal’s rural areas.
“Because of my long career promoting safe sex as an NGO worker in Nepal it was easier for me to convince the authorities of the health care reasons behind opening this shop.”
Paudel says a lot of his customers are infected with an STD and are looking for safer ways to enjoy themselves. By using sex toys they are not spreading the disease.
Nepalis are becoming increasingly aware of safe sexual behaviour, a report by the National Centre for AIDS and STD Control in Nepal recently confirmed. In 2011 the number of HIV infections and active Syphilis cases stabilized.
Co-owner of Sweet Secret, Prabin Dhakal, says he tries his best to boost his customer’s morale when they come to him with questions. Sex education in Nepal leaves much to be desired, he says.
“There are men who come in here with the question if a blow-up doll feels the same as a real woman. Of course it's plastic – our toys are only a substitute, not the real thing!”
To address the many questions they get from the often shy Nepalese as effectively as possible, there is an online question desk on the shop's website. The owners say they receive about 200 questions a day via this service.
“We take the time to answer all these questions. We have now invited a doctor to come to the shop once a week, so our customers can consult him before buying our products,” Dhakal explains.
Nepal’s sweet secret is slowly becoming a topic of public discussion, with more sex shops opening around the country. Nepali men who go abroad to work now pick up toys for their wives before they leave. And who knows, they might be taking Nepal’s changing morals with them across South Asia’s borders.