14 May 2009

Inside Sexpo

Creepy, exciting, weird, naughty? Wilma Stassen and Heather Parker tell all about working at Sexpo.

You've seen the naughty posters sprinkled all over the Mother City and wonder what it's about? Now in its second successful tour of the country, Sexpo – a health, sexuality and lifestyle exposition – is on at the Cape Town ICC until May 17. Not sure if you should go? Health24’s Wilma Stassen and Heather Parker have the insider’s story about working at Sexpo...

From leather to lace, to things that go “brrrr-rrrr” in the night; past latex, lubricants and lingerie…. We’ve sauntered casually past things that would ordinarily make anyone stop dead in their tracks.

The ticket office is a scrum all day, every day, as people come for a peek at the exhibits at this naughty lifestyle exhibition for over 18s. Some... er... come more than once. "South Africans are becoming more comfortable with their sensuality,” said a spokesperson for the expo. “The focus is on fun as well as sexual health.”

That may be so, but when Health24 was there (at Sexpo in Gauteng), it was astonishing how many visitors even to our tame stand felt they needed to tell us they were there for business only. Of course. Because they were in the import business and were checking out merchandising opportunities. Or because they were working backstage, in charge of sports massage for the dancers. Not a soul admitted to the sheer titillation of a hall focused primarily on everyone’s favourite after-hours activity: recreational sex.

Why Health24 was there
For business only, of course. Sexual and reproductive health is one of Health24’s areas of focus. We were respectable (we had flowers on our stand, for heaven’s sake, and banned the body painters, the guys hawking little plastic vibrators that hook on to your electric toothbrush for easier travel, and anyone wearing too many ropes). So lots of readers came over to chat.

We weren’t about the giggly stuff, so people felt safe with us. So safe, in fact, that we found ourselves discussing their erectile dysfunction, how various remedies worked (or not). We found ourselves discussing their sexual incompatibility while their partners fidgeted, desperate to move over to Adult World. We discussed their herpes.

Those aren’t conversations journalists are used to, but it stopped feeling strange after a while – with pole dancers on one side and the Stud Butler on the other, ED is a walk in the park, as subjects go.

So what was there to see and do?
There were DVDs, dildos, vibrators, and kinky outfits. There was the butler, a sort of automated little man with a butler’s outfit, an adjustable stand, a selection of penile accessories, and a thrust hard enough to make his ironing board rock (a couple of days into it, the motion was as restful as the wind through pines – not).

Everyone’s heard about Tim Patch, aka Pricasso, the ‘penile artist’ who uses his penis as a paintbrush. Yes it’s weird, and no, I don’t know where he got his inspiration from, but for a mere R300, visitors could have their portraits done by this penis. The poor man must have done hundreds of paintings over the four days of the expo – which is a lot, even for someone using more conventional tools.

There was the nice man from Hot Ads who swopped us lollipops when we needed a sugar rush, for sachets of lubricant from Whet, which we used to lure people to sign up for our new weekly sex tip. There was a body painter who painted the most beautiful mythical creatures on her subjects’ bodies – and some of those bodies insisted on stripping down to their piercings for the painting. And there was a creepy, creepy figure in full-body latex, shoes that would rock Naomi Campbell, a wig, a mask and the most extensive Lara Croft breasts. Turned out to be a he, and not a young one either, under all that.

According to the organisers almost all the exhibitors had to restock their shops halfway through the expo and products that sold the most were lingerie, sex toys and DVDs.

People who came to see
Most surprising might have been the array of visitors. One might expect pimps, pervs and weirdos hanging out at an event like this, but in fact, everyone was there - the giggling youngsters, middle-aged couples looking to spice up their love lives, and even the intrigued grandmas and grandpas made an appearance.

“South Africans have been craving something like this,” Silas Howarth, director of Expo Works, told us. The goal was to make women feel comfortable, he says, “and it succeeded”. Almost half - 49 percent - of the visitors were women, he reported. “Visitors were generally happy and excited about it, and people thought the expo was classy, and not sleazy or dark.”

From all angles, this event was an enormous success. Visitors got more than they bargained for, exhibitors sold out their wares, and we learned a lot about what blows people’s hair back.

- (Heather Parker and Wilma Stassen, Health24, updated May 2009)

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