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Sextech in Africa: Envisioning a pleasurable future (Part 3)

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This three-part article series explores the state of sextech globally, with a focus on Africa. Covering barriers to innovation and acceptance, opportunities and the potential for Africa in relation to sextech.
This article discusses potential solutions to the challenges facing the sextech industry in Africa, including efforts to change policies and attitudes towards sextech in the region.
If you haven’t already read Part 1, Exploring the past, understanding the present and Part 2, Addressing current barriers to innovation, you can jump back and check those out first to get some context.

It won’t be ‘news’ to anyone that reads SEXTECHGUIDE regularly, but the sextech industry is projected to be worth billions of dollars annually, driven by innovations in virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and other cutting-edge technologies. In Africa—a continent intertwining diverse cultures with rapidly growing technological adoption—the potential is as promising as it is complex.

Africa’s largely young and tech-savvy population embraces new technologies, including those related to sexual wellness, where they are available. The increased availability of high-speed internet has opened doors for digital platforms that offer sexual education, therapy, and access to products that promote sexual health.

The potential, therefore, in Africa extends beyond mere commercial opportunity. It represents a chance to address critical issues related to sexual health, gender equality, and personal autonomy. From providing access to sexual health information in regions where traditional education may be lacking to offering therapeutic solutions for sexual dysfunction, the applications of sextech could be vast and transformative.

In countries like Nigeria and South Africa, there’s a range of ways in which governments, businesses, and individuals are navigating this ill-defined terrain.

For example, despite official restrictions, the Nigerian government appears to be relatively lenient towards the ownership and purchase of sextech. While a huge chunk of the sextech infrastructure exists online, there are walk-in sex stores around the country that sell a wide range of products, including sex toys, lubricants, and related items. This suggests that the government may not actively enforce these restrictions, creating a somewhat permissive environment for the growth and adoption of sextech in Nigeria.

“I may be naive, but it is my belief that were a Nigerian individual to devise an innovative concept regarding sextech and subsequently establish a company in any state in Nigeria, there would be little interference, given our inherently commerce-driven mindset,” says John (pseudonym), a high-level Nigerian government official.

Tech journalist and writer for TechCabal, Muktar Oladunmade also agrees with the idea that the billion-dollar industry will thrive, albeit for a different reason.

“I think a sextech startup can be launched/founded because Africans love sex and have it, but issues around public perception and the price point can be challenges. Public perception, in the sense that Africans have a lot of shame and a sense of community. I think anonymity would definitely help here.”

However, the absence of clear regulations and laws regarding sextech in Nigeria creates uncertainty for entrepreneurs and innovators in the industry. It limits the availability of products and services and creates an ambiguous legal environment that can stifle investment and innovation.

To create a more enabling environment for the growth of sextech in Nigeria, policymakers must work towards developing clear regulations and guidelines that promote sexual wellness and the responsible use of sex-related technology. This can include education campaigns to raise awareness of sexual health and wellness and to reduce stigmas associated with the use of sextech products. With clear guidelines and a supportive environment, Nigeria can leverage the potential of sextech to advance sexual health and wellness in the country.

A group of people envisioning a pleasurable future of sextech in Africa while wearing VR glasses.

Overcoming challenges

South Africa, a significant player in the global sextech industry, with a thriving market for sex toys, also had a rule but the rule had little to do with sex toys and more to do with homosexuality. It is worth noting that in the past, the Immorality Amendment Act of 1969 imposed restrictions on the production and sale of items designed for “unnatural sexual acts,” primarily focused on same-sex activities. Despite this historical obstacle, the country’s current stance on sex toys reflects a progressive attitude towards sexual liberation and personal autonomy.

“I know somebody in particular who found that using vibrators helped her to heal her incontinence. This woman, who uses a wheelchair, was previously completely incontinent, but now she has regained control over her bladder. So it’s actually been life-changing for her,” says Lisa Welsh, a sex educator living in Durban.

The sex advocate with My Sexual Health, a South African platform providing access to reliable sexual health providers, asserts that despite encountering curiosity, the subject of sextech remains shrouded in societal stigma.

“People often email, asking ‘Please tell me this comes in discreet packaging. I don’t want anyone to know I’m ordering.’ They don’t even discuss it with friends and often wonder which toy is best to start with,” says Welsh.

It’s clear that despite the increasing popularity of sextech products in South Africa, significant taboo and stigma still surround them. Many people still feel uncomfortable discussing personal sexual preferences and may feel ashamed for considering sextech products. These feelings are understandable, and individuals can’t be faulted for them.

A solution for foreign sextech investors or locals looking to create startups could be leveraging the anonymity Muktar mentioned, along with marketing techniques adopted by sex toy vendors in Nigeria and Africa.

Sextech products can be incredibly beneficial for individuals, digisexuals, and couples alike; they can help to increase pleasure, explore new sexual experiences, and even improve overall sexual health. By leveraging the anonymity provided by the internet, promoting education and awareness about sextech products could be an effective way to enter the industry.

Changing Policies

Despite its substantial financial worth, the sex technology industry continues to encounter various impediments on its path toward establishing a comprehensive framework that other nations can emulate.

Dr. Markie Twist, an esteemed sex researcher and co-author of the insightful book The Internet Family: Technology in Couple and Family Relationships, astutely says that “no country has excelled in adopting sextech practices in ways that are ethically, relationally, psychologically, emotionally, and digitally healthy… Driven by the presence of restrictive policies, progress in this domain remains hindered. However, amidst these challenges, there is an individual trying to transform the landscape for women in Zimbabwe.”

Recently, a Zimbabwean women’s rights NGO called WALPE, led by Sithabile Dewa, filed a lawsuit against the Zimbabwean government for its ban on the importation and ownership of sex toys.

One of the arguments presented by Dewa in her suit was that she should not be prevented from engaging in self-exploration and experiencing self-sexual gratification due to a law. So much so being separated from her husband. Her other argument was that her use of these devices was to “avert the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases by engaging in casual sex, which in [any] case, is against my moral convictions.”

The complexities of cultural norms and societal expectations have, to a large extent, obscured the fundamental truth that as human beings, we possess an innate right to make decisions and pursue personal fulfillment. And for this Dewa, the only way that changes to occur might be to challenge outdated and sexually repressive laws.

“Men write laws to a great extent. And they don’t write laws that wouldn’t benefit them,” says John.

However, laws don’t govern only men. There is enough information and proof in the world to prove that there are more female sex toys than there are male ones because it is easier to stimulate the vagina than it is a penis. Suffice to say that while male toys have seen a spike in sales in recent years, female toys have always been the star pupil. This begs the question of whether there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

Dewa also points out that, “There is a lot of misconception out there that sex toys are meant to replace men which might be one of the reasons why they want to stick to repressive laws. Raising awareness on the use of the toys is pertinent for men to understand that they can actually be used to enhance sex between partners.”

Joachim seconds the notion of how important the sex technology industry could be in Africa.

“I would, from my experience would say that we should be open to developing a more vibrant sex-technology industry with a view to diversify sexual practices as a way of sustaining long-term relationships that a lot of conservative and religious people believe in,” he said.

The long-standing exposure of Africans to restrictive societal norms has posed a formidable challenge in distinguishing between personal preferences and conditioned beliefs that deem certain behaviors unacceptable. Consequently, these biases are often concealed in certain legal frameworks, hindering the growth of sextech in Africa and beyond.

To facilitate advancement in a truly inclusive manner, there is a pressing need to re-assess and revise existing laws that circumscribe sexual conduct, while embracing the diverse perspectives of all genders.

That way, it becomes incumbent upon each individual to ascertain what works best for them, and embracing the use of sextech as a means of achieving personal pleasure should be regarded as a natural and acceptable choice.

Another thing to do would be to break down the stigma by promoting positive, sex-positive attitudes. This means acknowledging that sexuality is a natural and healthy part of the human experience and that there is nothing inherently wrong or shameful about exploring one’s own desires and preferences.

By creating a culture that supports sexual exploration and expression, we can help to eliminate the stigma surrounding sextech and other sexual products.

An unwritten future

From unravelling the historical context and current barriers to innovation in Part 1, examining present-day challenges and opportunities in Part 2, to contemplating potential solutions and the future of sextech in Africa in Part 3, we have embarked on a captivating journey through a complex and evolving landscape regarding sextech in Africa.

We’ve observed how Africa’s sextech industry stands at a virtual intersection where technology, culture, law, and investment must unite to unleash its vast potential. The continent’s young and tech-oriented population, combined with an increasing appreciation for sexual wellness, paves the way for growth and transformation.

However, this path is laden with hurdles. Overcoming the digital divide, cultural taboos, legal ambiguities, and insufficient investment requires concerted efforts. We’ve seen that fostering collaboration between governments, private stakeholders, and local communities is vital to bridging these gaps.

Throughout the series, we have emphasized the importance of creating sextech solutions that resonate with Africa’s rich cultural diversity and respect its varied values. We have called for a reevaluation of laws impeding industry growth and urged for increased investment in infrastructure and education to make sextech more accessible and widely accepted.

In summary, our journey has taught us that the bright future of sextech in Africa is within reach if we commit to a collective effort that harmonizes technology with cultural norms, legal frameworks, and economic realities. By wholeheartedly embracing this multifaceted landscape and working collaboratively, Africa can position itself as a global sextech pioneer—harnessing innovation to foster sexual wellness, gender equality, and personal autonomy. Though the journey is intricate, the profound commercial and societal rewards are well worth putting in the effort.

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