You’re probably used to buying drinks and snacks from vending machines around Hong Kong, but have you ever tried buying a condom or a cock ring this way? Well, now you can because there’s a vending machine at Cheung Kong Center in Central that sells sex toys and wellness products.
The vending machine – which accepts Octopus and Alipay – is part of AS Watson Group’s latest innovative shopping and lifestyle experience, CKC18, which encompasses a gourmet supermarket and retail zones dedicated to health and technology. If a vending machine that peddles sex toys seems out of place here, it should be noted that in recent years, Watsons has expanded the family planning sections in its stores to include more sexual wellness products. Further attempting to normalise sexual wellness products in Hong Kong is Smile Makers, a brand carried by Watsons. By repackaging lubes and vibrators in a chic, minimalistic, classy and even fun way, Smile Makers provides a sex product shopping experience that’s neither shameful nor illicit.
While sex toy vending machines have already appeared in Japan, Spain, America, and even mainland China, it’s a bold step for Hong Kong, which is slowly embracing its more sensual side after years of being ranked among the most sexless cities in the world. In fact, just earlier this year, our city hosted its first adult-only carnival, 18+, which – somewhat controversially – took place at Central Harbourfront rather than in the traditional red light districts of Wan Chai and Mong Kok. The city has also hosted the Asia Adult Expo – a trade show for sex toys – annually since 2013, as well as adult film festival Let’s Talk About Sex in 2016.
Even in media, we’ve seen a rise in sexual content. Vera Liu, owner of prominent adult shop Sally’s Toy, regularly dishes out sex advice and tests different sex products on her YouTube channel. The Lan Kwai Fong trilogy and 3D sex-comedy film Naked Ambition 2 were daringly raunchy for the Hong Kong film industry. And more recently, TVB aired Bang Bang Channel (formerly owned by ViuTV), which discussed sex-related subjects with celebrity host Vincci Cheuk Wan-chi. Other famous local personalities, such as Fiona Sit and tennis star Venise Chan, have broken taboos by appearing in contraceptive adverts that have been displayed all over town, including on buses and in MTR stations.
Raunchy acts from the 18+ Central adult-only carnival
With sex-related brands, media and events all helping to remove the aura of sleaze surrounding sex in Hong Kong and making it be seen as a normal part of life and health, Hong Kong is slowly tackling its uptight attitude towards sex. The arrival of the CKC18 vending machine is emblematic of this budding sexual awakening. However, the fact that the machine remained unused on the occasions when we visited Cheung Kong Center may indicate that even if people are open to buying sex toys, they still shy away from making the transaction in the open, where they risk bumping into friends or colleagues. Hong Kong is definitely becoming less prudish about sex, but we’ll need more time to tell if purchasing a vibrator from a vending machine is the new norm. By Sarah Moran