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Sex Toy Startup Playroom in China Comes With an Education in Wellness

Playroom is an early-stage venture out of Shanghai and its INSEAD MBA co-founders think that China needs more than just sex shops–the country needs education, too.

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China is no stranger to innovation, but sexual innovation? That’s another beast. So three young entrepreneurs–Jason Ong, Cece Liu, and Jany Wang–decided to get their foot in the door, with a focus on sex toys and sexual health education and wellness, as the demand for clean, fun, and playful sex products is rising, Ong and Liu tell Fast Company.

While still in the early stages of developing their company–called Playroom–Ong and Liu have big plans. The idea for a hybrid e-commere and educational website came to them when Liu and her friends were shopping for bachelorette presents in Shanghai. What they found was a vast abyss when it came to clean, friendly sex toy retailers and an abundance of “seedy and sketchy” sex shops, says Liu. 

Now the team–a mix of INSEAD grads, finance gurus, and social media pros–is gearing up for a soft rollout and a gradual launch of Playroom, given that the trio all have full-time jobs elsewhere and can’t yet afford to give up their steady incomes. The first step will be the launch of the e-commerce website with educational information and about a year down the road the launch of a “cheery playful” retail space with events in Shanghai, says Ong.

“Economically, China is booming,” says Liu. “But socially it’s not quite there yet.”

Liu, a Chinese American of Shanghainese ancestry living in New York City, says that while growing up in the U.S. she was exposed to sex ed classes from a very young age, but in China that’s not the case. And while sex toy companies Oh Toys, Bloomnine, and Amy’s Bedroom are all operating in China, what they lack–and the niche Playroom fills–is the equally important component of knowledge about sexual aids, health and wellness, and
how relationships can be enhanced through toys and games, says Ong.

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“Interest is growing,” says Ong, who points out that with an ever-increasing population of migrant workers from China’s rural areas–who leave behind their wives in villages–there is a growing sexual frustration among China’s women, particularly in rural areas. He says the women have even started to turn to sex with animals and using dirty objects (which sounds outrageous, but a number of articles have actually verified this fact). “But,” adds Liu, “in the category of sex toys the problem with rural areas is that the interest in hygenic sex toys is nonexistent because they don’t realize the alternatives that are available to them.”

So, needless to say, there is a demand and need for sexual understanding, toys, health awareness, and more. And while the team is going to start small, with a focus on Shanghai, it’s clear to them that the issue of sexual health runs deep in China and the demand for Playroom could span the entire nation, not just upper income professionals in big cities. We’ll keep you posted as things progress, and in the meantime you can keep up with them on Twitter and Facebook.

Follow me, Jenara Nerenberg, on Twitter.

About the author

Jenara is an overseas reporter for Fast Company and a freelance writer/producer in Asia, regularly on CNNGo, and a graduate of Harvard and UC Berkeley.

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