Let’s Talk About Sex

It recently came to our attention that the accessibility of “sexual wellness products” has been causing a stir in public discourse. “Sexual wellness products”, a poetic euphemism for sex toys, are now available in various supermarkets, pharmacies and online retailers.

At milieu, we asked users if sex related items (e.g. sex toys) should be sold openly at supermarkets and this is what we found:

The opinions of our users were starkly dichotomous. Opinions were split down the middle with an almost equal number of people on both ends of the spectrum. Out of 4,020 respondents, 52% welcome the sale of these products whereas 48% are against it. This is evidently a contentious issue which requires further examination.

The Cross Examination

While running through various discussions on The Straits Times and The New Paper, I observed certain underlying sentiments that have caused this great divide.

Proponents of this more liberal approach toward “wellness” retail generally agree that the accessibility and convenience this brings is beneficial. The products are harmless and should be treated as such. There is a glaring market demand for these products and retailers have a right to address this.

Opponents of this trend, in contrast, converge upon a common theme: they do not want their children exposed to these products.

To be fair, the opponents put up a fair point. We have a right to decide how we raise our children. Every family unit is built upon a different moral, spiritual, or religious philosophy. We should, as much as we can, build a community that caters to our diversity.

But, is this singular issue enough to counter the abundance of arguments that support the sale of sex toys in accessible public spaces? Is this singular issue as strong a force of resistance as our survey result suggests?

Examination In Progress

Sexual wellness products were once confined within the perimeters of adult sex and novelty shops. Their growing variety and accessibility is a reflection of unsatiated market demand and increasing societal broad-mindedness. Looking at the mammoth variety of product offerings under redmart’s Sexual Wellness page, one can only surmise that the industry is booming.

Apart from catering to offbeat fetishes, these products also address the needs of people who experience a myriad of sexual predicaments related to desire, arousal, orgasm and pain. With the shrinking size of our homes, our citizens may need as much help as we can get. Not everybody is imaginative and agile enough to “Josephine Teo” their way through.

Should these legitimate consumers of sexual wellness products be forced to visit tacky neon-lit adult sex shops in order to satiate their needs? While there is nothing wrong with visiting such shops, they are often anchored in seedy and cumbersome locations. Studies have shown that the vast majority of consumers are women. Should we not offer them a little convenience as they go about procuring items for their household needs?

The first step to meaningful discourse is often to de-stigmatize the target of contention. What exactly is so disturbing about a vibrator? How is it very different from other sex related products such as condoms or lubricants? I honestly cannot think of a product of human creation more harmless than a humble benign vibrator. You cannot stab a person with it, you cannot smash a person’s head with it, and unless you are a boa constrictor, you almost certainly cannot choke on it.

Children are our future

Yes, we have a right to choose how our children are to be raised. But should our right to avoid perceived undesirable exposures triumph the needs of others? Should a booming industry that contributes significantly to our economy be curtailed because some of us are unable to explain to our children what vibrators are? If we are unable to craft an acceptable narrative to explain sex wellness products to our children, how are we going to talk to our children about famine, disasters, wars and the dangers of crime? Are we going to shield them from the news and everything else that is happening around them?

We live in an age of information overload. Safety in ignorance just does not work anymore. There are too many things that we already disagree on; freedom of speech, free trade, climate change, fake news, test balloons, crispy chicken rendang. These debates will rage on for a very long time. I hope that we can at least agree on something as placid as a humble vibrator.