Sex toys, aphrodisiacs: Profits rise as condom shops expand range of products

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A salesman at a Ho Chi Minh City condom shop holds forth on an aphrodisiac made in India to a customer

A man steps into a condom shop in Ho Chi Minh City and, without a murmur, coughs up US$100 for a vibrator.

This is becoming an increasingly common sight in the city, as more condom shops have begun to sell sex toys and aphrodisiacs on the side.

The problem is they are unauthorized, smuggled from overseas through dealers.

"If a shop only sells condoms, it will definitely make losses," Tuoi Tre quoted the owner of HT shop on Ten Lua Street, Binh Tan District, as saying.

"Condom shops these days sell all kinds of toys."

A man known only as Ngoc, a distributor of condoms and other products, said: "It costs VND20-30 million (US$960-1,440) to open a condom shop. But if you can cleverly add other products, you just need two generous customers a day to earn millions of dongs."

Tuoi Tre reporters, who went to many condom shops pretending to be looking for jobs, found that some made profits of dozens of million dongs a month.

Most shops mark up the prices of the toys and other stuff by up to seven or eight times.

For instance, they buy Viagra at VND35,000 ($1.68) for a pack of four capsules and sell to customers at VND220,000 ($10).

Pham Kim Binh, chief inspector at the city Department of Health, said aphrodisiacs and erectile dysfunction drugs have to be prescribed by doctors while their distributors must get licenses from the Ministry of Health.

But the lure of massive profits has seen many people open condom shops.

Tuan, the owner of a shop on Pham The Hien Street, District 8, said the shop usually has its doors open only a fraction when there are customers so that they do not worry about being spotted by someone.

Ngoc, the distributor, suggests to shop keepers that they should only display products meant for external use since they attract lighter penalties if detected by authorities.

"But products that have to be consumed can expose the sellers to severe punishment and so should be hidden away," he said.

The shops mostly get customers between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., with few turning up during the day. Some are in their 60s and 70s.

Truong, another distributor, said most products are smuggled from China and Malaysia, and dealers are not clear about their origins themselves.

"Customers should be lucky to get a good product. I just hope they don't pose a threat to their life."

A shop owner admitted candidly that most aphrodisiacs for women have little effect. "But the customers just have to put up with it. They can't make a fuss since it is just embarrassing for them [to be buying the stuff]."

The profits and demand mean the sex toys business is in robust health. The only annoyance is the occasional police bust like the one on May 24 when a truck was caught unloading several vibrators and aphrodisiacs in District 6.

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