November 10, 2009
An eight-foot penis wobbles into view, causing a ripple of excitement in the crowded showroom. “It’s Penisaurus!” shouts a customer.
At Sexpo, the replica genitals are as big as the profits, as the adult industry emerges from the worldwide recession streamlined, globalised and hungry for more.
Tens of thousands of fans packed Sydney’s Entertainment Quarter for the recent adult show, with Penisaurus and Tittysaurus — an enormous pair of walking breasts — only part of the attraction.
There’s the grotesque Penis Man, another Sexpo mascot studded with dozens of male genitalia, as well as floor displays and even a fairground ride: the dubiously named Gerbil Train. Nude showgirls writhe in simulated ecstasy, big-name porn stars appear on stage and of course there’s Pricasso, the artist who paints with his penis and buttocks.
There’s strip poker, lap-dancing, and a surf simulator where customers can ride a board naked and win their height in beer and porn. Plus there’s a peep show, amusements, a throw-the-dildo competition, and even a hypnotist. Meanwhile, dozens of stalls are doing brisk business selling the latest in vibrators, toys, lingerie and imaginative sex equipment.
Customers browse the We-Vibe, a U-shaped vibrator which has taken the industry by storm, and the popular Sex Sheet, a non-slip bedspread featuring handles and manacles. Adultworld’s John Buckland, who was running seven stalls, was expecting to sell thousands of 20-40 dollar (18-36 US) ‘show bags’, each containing a magazine, DVD, calendar, a “huge” vibrator and lubricant.
“I’ll sell 2,000 Hustler bags, I’ll sell 2,000 Penthouse bags,” he said.
“We’re selling a hell of a lot more adult products in the last 12 months. I’ve been in the business 16 years, there’s been a massive increase.”
It all translates into a healthy business for Sexpo, now in its 13th year and enjoying rapid growth without a downturn in sight, economic or otherwise.
“We’ve had our best year ever and it’s been probably the worst economic year since the early 1990s,” said general manager Rob Godwin.
“We went into this year’s Perth show a bit aware of the financial crisis, but by the Sunday we had 30 stands sold out of stock — literally nothing left on their stands.
“They were flying in stock overnight to sell.”
More than 60,000 customers were expected at the Sydney show, one of four in Australia and three in South Africa which will attract a total of 300,000 people this year.
Sexpo, which bills itself as the world’s leading adult exhibition, is launching in New Zealand next year and is planning its first London show in 2011, as well as a partnership in the United States.
“We’re the biggest adult lifestyle show in the world — we’re a global brand,” Godwin said. “We grew 35 percent last year. I want Sexpo to go out to the world.”
Fiona Patten, Sexpo spokeswoman and convenor of the Australian Sex Party (motto: “Where YOU Come First!”) said it was a sign the adult industry had fared well in the financial crisis. “It’s been coined the lipstick economy. When you can’t afford those big luxuries you buy the little things, and I think the sex industry fits into that,” she said.
“You can’t afford a romantic dinner but you can afford a DVD and a toy and you can have fun in another way.” The industry has also been helped by a steady push into mainstream retail outlets and a surge in interest among younger customers, who made up a large portion of the Sexpo crowd.
“The adult industry is entering into other places. You’re starting to see vibrators sold in (pharmacy and beauty chain) Priceline. You’re starting to see that kind of mainstreaming which I think is really healthy,” Patten said. “We’ve found Sexpo has been generally increasing. Our demographic is changing though — we’re finding our age bracket is going down and ticket sales are going up.”
According to Godwin, it’s also been a time of consolidation with a series of smaller shops and businesses replaced by bigger, more dominant players. “There’s some new companies coming to the marketplace but you’ll find it’s the larger companies that are dominating,” he said.
“What you’ll find in America, England, Europe and Australia, people that own their brand and have a recognised brand will succeed. Our sister company Club X’s sales have grown this past year. “It’s all about owning the brand. The porn stars that are still succeeding in America and Europe are the ones that own their own content and own their trademark, which Sexpo do.”
Adultworld, with seven stalls and locations, is one of the businesses with a significant presence at Sexpo while smaller enterprises are few and far between. “A lot of independent businesses went out of business because they couldn’t afford to keep up,” said Adultworld operations manager Paul Roberts. “The larger ones kept going because they could afford to bring in the stock.”
Independent retailer Veronica Richards was forced to look on enviously from her Sexias stall, selling self-designed lingerie. “With larger companies the market can be quite flooded,” she said. “The product is more accessible so it’s a lot cheaper. But I prefer quality rather than quantity.”
For Sexpo’s largely youthful clientele, it was simply an interesting day out.
“It’s just a fun thing to do. We’re from Hunter Valley (outside Sydney) and there’s not a lot of interesting things to do out there for our age-group,” said apprentice chef Whitney Barrett, 20. “I think people are just exploring their sexuality, they’re more open about it now.”