The article explores these issues in depth, from the impact of technology access on consumer culture, to the need for investment in culturally sensitive solutions, and the legal ambiguities surrounding sextech.
The final article (Part 3) will be published before July 31, 2023.
Although Africa has seen a decade of remarkable growth in the mainstream technology sector, the development and expansion of sextech in the region remain hindered by a variety of obstacles. These challenges range from limited access to affordable internet and digital devices to deeply rooted cultural and social barriers that stand in the way of progress and adoption of new solutions in this unique market.
To better understand the current state of sextech innovation in Africa, it is crucial to delve into its historical context and examine how present-day challenges, such as restricted access to technology, scarce investment opportunities, and stringent government regulations, continue to impede the growth and acceptance of sextech within the region.
By analyzing these factors in-depth, we can identify potential avenues for change and strategies for overcoming these barriers to drive sextech’s development forward.
When technology is out of reach: The impact on consumer culture
In the past 10-15 years, Africa has experienced tremendous growth in its technology sector. This progress, particularly after Mark Zuckerberg’s visit to Sub-Saharan Africa, has led to an increase in African tech startups and entrepreneurs, who are developing innovative solutions to traditional regional challenges.
Today, Africa’s tech ecosystem boasts an impressive seven unicorns (emerging companies valued at $1 billion or more). While this is a noteworthy achievement, it represents only a small fraction of the global tech ecosystem.
One of the main factors contributing to this disparity is limited access to technology. In education, there is a significant gap between the resources and tools students should have and what they actually have access to, including data.
The 2021 Ibrahim Forum Report reveals that 82 percent of students in Sub-Saharan Africa cannot access the Internet, and 89 percent lack household computers. Additionally, around 20 million people live in areas without mobile network coverage.
Limited access to digital devices and the internet has hindered skill development for students in Sub-Saharan Africa, with far-reaching implications for sextech’s grassroots growth. Digital skills are increasingly important across various industries and sectors.
Affordability of mobile internet in Sub-Saharan Africa is another major barrier to sextech adoption. Access to the internet is essential for using sextech products such as AR and VR porn; however, high mobile internet costs prevent many from regularly accessing the internet.
As a result, people in the region may be unaware of the latest sextech offerings or unable to afford them even if they know about them. Those with financial means may still be reluctant to spend on sextech due to cultural and social factors that influence decision-making.
Conservative views on sexuality and sexual health in some African societies may deter individuals from exploring and adopting sextech solutions. Furthermore, even if 1GB of data were more affordable in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to other regions, high-end product prices can still be discouraging for average consumers.
For example, the Meta Quest 2 virtual reality headset costs $399, which is three times the minimum wage of $65 in Nigeria. This makes it a luxury item beyond the reach of most individuals. In countries like Uganda, Rwanda, and Malawi, where minimum wages are even lower, people would prefer more affordable alternatives.
The cost of sexbots and sex dolls that provide the full experience can reach millions in local currency, further limiting accessibility to these sextech products.
Investing in inclusivity: The case for culturally sensitive solutions
Recent data from The Big Deal reveals a concerning trend for African startups: a 68 percent decline in funding from last year to 2023. This significant drop raises questions about the ability of African startups to attract investment.
Sextech’s emergence and growth in Africa is a multifaceted issue that demands considerable investment to address effectively. Unlike other tech startups, sextech companies in the region must navigate an intricate web of social and cultural challenges, complicating the development of innovative and culturally appropriate solutions.
The scarcity of investment in the industry intensifies these obstacles, hindering sextech companies’ ability to conduct thorough research and develop products that resonate with the African market.
Additionally, inadequate investment in African startups can foster a negative perception among potential investors. This impression may imply a shortage of profitable opportunities in the African market, making it challenging for sextech startups to attract investors and secure the necessary funding for growth and innovation.
Between the lines: The legal ambiguity of sextech and government regulations
While the sextech industry has experienced considerable growth and acceptance in some regions globally, government regulations can hinder its progress in others. For instance, in certain areas of the United States, the sale of sex toys remains illegal under state or local laws, despite the thriving sextech industry.
States like Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia continue to impose varying degrees of restrictions on sex toy sales.
Regrettably, African countries also face similar challenges. Many have laws and regulations that limit the sale, distribution, and use of sextech products.
In Zimbabwe, strict laws under Section 47(1)(b and c) of the Customs and Excise Act prohibit importing goods deemed “indecent, obscene or objectionable” or any goods that might “deprave the morals of the inhabitants, or any class of the inhabitants of Zimbabwe.”
In 2015, a Zimbabwean citizen named Mponda Ayanda Unity was arrested for allegedly selling sex toys in violation of the country’s regulations.
Zambia enforces stringent regulations as well. Possession of obscene materials is an offense in Zambia, with Section 177 of the Penal Code and Section 177(1)(b) criminalizing participation in such businesses.
Kenya is another African nation where both pornography and obscenity are closely monitored. While there are no laws against owning sex gadgets, societal norms often regard them as unclean and immoral.
These moral standards enable certain individuals to police and question others’ personal choices regarding their sexual wellness and well-being.
“When I was studying sexual medicine, I received some materials from the US, including books and videos explaining various sexual problems. However, they were confiscated by the post office. I was then summoned to a small room with three investigators who tried to find out why I was importing pornography and sexually explicit materials, which is against the law. I had to provide proof that I wasn’t promoting sex and immoral activities in the country,” Osur recalled.
Underground channels do exist in Kenya that supply these products, but the risk of arrest and prosecution deters many from indulging. According to Internet Censorship Report 2023, other countries with similar laws against pornography content include Uganda, Tanzania, Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, and Eritrea.
In Nigeria, the legality of sextech is a grey area. Although the country does not have laws that outrightly ban the use, manufacturing, and sale of sextech, restrictions exist that hinder the importation and distribution of indecent or obscene articles.
Charting a new course for sextech in Africa
Although the sextech industry in Africa faces numerous challenges, there remains hope for its future.
The first step towards change is addressing the lack of access to affordable internet and digital devices.
Collaboration between governments and private sector stakeholders is essential to enhance the region’s digital infrastructure, making it easier for individuals to access the internet and digital devices. Potential solutions include investing in digital literacy programs, providing subsidies for digital devices, and implementing policies that promote affordable internet services.
The second step involves encouraging investment in the sextech industry. This can be achieved by creating an attractive environment for investors, offering incentives for investment in the sector, and promoting the potential of the African market to draw more investors.
Lastly, a shift in the legal and regulatory environment is needed. Governments must review and amend laws and regulations that impede sextech’s growth and adoption in the region. This might involve engaging in dialogue with industry stakeholders, conducting research to understand these laws’ and regulations’ impact on the sector, and implementing policies that foster sextech’s growth and acceptance.
While the path towards embracing sextech in Africa may be long and filled with obstacles, the potential benefits for individuals and societies make it a journey worth pursuing. With the right policies, investments, and societal attitudes, the future of sextech in Africa could indeed be promising.