A sex doll shop in Hong Kong lets customers try before they buy, and police are concerned it blurs the lines between brothel and retail

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  • A new adult entertainment store in Hong Kong is blurring the lines between brothel and ‘try before you buy retail.’
  • The shop charges customers an hourly fee to play with a sex doll as a means of encouraging them to buy.
  • Laws regarding sex work in Hong Kong mean prostitution is not illegal, but soliciting is against the law, as is running a brothel of two or more people, or living off the earnings of prostitution.
  • Police are looking into it because of potential legal implications, since the law could view the store as a ‘sex-doll brothel.’

In dimly lit rooms on the fifth floor of an industrial building in Hong Kong, scantily clad women wait for customers who have paid HK$500 for an hour of alone time.

Condoms are in plentiful supply, while the workers at the Kwun Tong business are ready to fulfill a customer’s every wish – although as plastic sex dolls they play a passive role in proceedings.

This is sex and shopping in 21st century Hong Kong, where the line between brothel, and try before you buy retail, has been well and truly blurred.

Laws regarding sex work in Hong Kong mean prostitution is not illegal, but soliciting is against the law, as is running a brothel of two or more people, living off the earnings of prostitution, or controlling a woman for the purposes of prostitution.

The business in Kwun Tong is billed as an adult entertainment shop called This Mary. The hourly fee to play with one of the three dolls is part of the marketing pitch aimed at encouraging customers to buy a human-sized silicone sex doll, which sell for between HK$18,000 and HK$30,000 (US$3,800).

A Hongkonger, who only wanted to be identified as Rex and is new to the sex trade, opened the business after stumbling upon sex dolls last year after working as a salesman. The 30-year-old visited two adult fairs earlier this year and spent HK$300,000 launching his new venture two months ago.

Rex bought the dolls from a dealer in mainland China, which is one of the largest makers of adult toys, alongside Japan and the United States.

But business has not been that good, hurt by a lack of promotion and his overheads, which he puts at HK$40,000 a month, are beginning to cause some concern.

“It was a bit better in the past month,” he said. “There was zero business in the first month because I did no promotion … because I couldn’t find a channel [for this adult service].”

There were other concerns too, mostly surrounding the legal implications of a business that could be seen as a sex doll brothel. And then there was hygiene.

Rex said he had that aspect covered. Customers would be required to wear a condom and the dolls will be soaked in disinfectant for about 30 minutes after each session.

Police though have told the Post they were looking into the matter, while barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung said although the shop did not fit the definition of a vice establishment in law, it may breach the Hotel and Guesthouse Accommodation Ordinance, which stated premises offering accommodation for a fee for a period of less than 28 days must be licensed.

However, Rex considered his business to be more like a showroom or venue for parties, although he also said he provided a service to people who struggle with intimacy issues.

“I’m helping with their mental needs,” he said. “Some men have been single for a long time and do not have many chances to meet women.

“Someone may want to talk to people, but perhaps they are not good at social skills, and so they talk to the dolls. It’s more than sex.”

Family doctor and sex therapist Dr Angela Ng Wing-ying said she would not see the use of a sex doll by a person as a problem, as long as they could still relate sexually to other people.

Joseph Cho Man-kit, a lecturer from Chinese University’s Gender Studies Programme, said the business was a product of individualistic consumer culture and capitalism.

“The dolls are serving many purposes and satisfying the demands and desires from different people,” he said.

While brothels featuring silicone sex dolls, and increasingly newer robotic models, are not new in Asia, they sparked an outcry in Europe and the United States when operators brought the business to the Western Hemisphere.

In Europe, the first brothel of this kind was opened in Barcelona in February last year. It was forced to move to a location known only to customers a month later after the landlord cancelled the firm’s lease.

A similar business was opened in the northeast of England in January, where for £100 (US$128), people could spend an hour with a plastic partner in a room.

It was forced to shut down a month later after complaints from the neighbours.

In France, the first sex doll brothel – also with three rooms – opened in Paris, in January. Clients were charged €89 (US$101) to spend an hour with a silicone sex doll.

But critics have accused the business of encouraging rape and a motion calling for its closure was put to the city’s governing council in March. The brothel remains open.

In the United States, an attempt by a Canadian sex doll company to open its first outlet in Houston, Texas, ended up with a ban against its expansion plan early last month.

Houston’s city council made an amendment to an ordinance after a unanimous vote prohibiting companies from renting “anthropomorphic devices” to customers on the premises. Residents remain free to purchase the devices for use in their own homes.

On mainland China, where making sex dolls is a lucrative business, there have not been reports of sex doll brothels being opened.

But, in September last year, a sex doll sharing service, or “girlfriend sharing”, provided by sex product retailer Touch was launched in Beijing, with plans to expand across the whole country.

Dolls were promoted as being available for short-term companionship with a daily rental fee of 298 yuan after users had paid a deposit of 8,000 yuan.

The plan triggered heated debate and was suspended by authorities just four days after it was launched.

This article first appeared at SCMP.com. Copyright 2018. Read the original article here. Follow SCMP on Twitter or Facebook.

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