Sex in the city

2009-01-30 00:00

After a hugely successful inaugural event last year, the Sexpo franchise returns to Durban’s ICC next week for another four days of sexual diversity. Peter Machen spoke to Silas Howarth, the man responsible for bringing the Australian franchise to South Africa.

Peter Machen: Do you have a specific interest in sex, or is Sexpo simply an entrepreneurial activity for you?

Silas Howarth: People say you are more likely to succeed and live a fulfilled life if you choose a career around what you enjoy. I definitely enjoy sex, so what better or more fulfilling career choice than one that promotes it?

PM: Why did you choose to use the Sexpo franchise rather than coming up with your own event? I ask this only because it wasn’t a recognisable brand before it came here.

SH: Sexpo, although not necessarily a publicly recognised brand here prior to us launching it, was well known to those within the industry and brought with it huge international credibility because it has been so successfully run for so many years. Teaming up with the international Sexpo group also gave us access to a wealth of knowledge and experience as well as introducing us to the likes of penile artist Pricasso and the amazing Miss Nude Australia, Arianna Starr.

PM: Globally, attitudes to sex have shifted considerably in the last two decades. I can’t imagine a Sexpo taking place in South Africa 20 years ago. Can you tell me when sexually oriented expositions such as Sexpo first started taking place, and where the first such event took place.

SH: Sexpo, which originated in Australia, is one of the world’s oldest sexuality events and has been running there for well over 10 years. Now sexuality events are hosted in countries right across the globe from L.A. to Melbourne; even Singapore has a sexuality event. We realised that South Africa was seriously missing out and it is amazing to watch the sheer growth in visitors from show to show both internationally and here in SA.

PM: Do you think that such exhibitions play an important role in further opening up people’s attitudes to sex and sexuality?

SH: Definitely. Adults feel comfortable coming to Sexpo because it is not just a sex expo, it’s a lifestyle event, it’s a health event and it’s an event where you can explore all aspects of adult sexuality. Once there, people are able to learn, explore and have fun in a safe and relaxed environment. This makes people far more comfortable about their own sexuality …

PM: And do you think that a more liberal approach to one’s own sexuality tends to make one more tolerant of other people’s sexual differences? Do you get a full spread of sexual orientations visiting Sexpo?

SH: Sexpo is a celebration of sexuality. Knowledge and being confident and comfortable with one’s own sexuality does lead to tolerance of others. Sexpo has a healthy mix of visitors from both genders and all sexual preferences.

PM: What is the weirdest experience you’ve had at the Sexpo exhibitions in South Africa?

SH: Watching some of the moves on stage performed by visitors during the amateur strip competitions is both the weirdest and most hilarious experience by far. Last year at Sexpo Cape Town one of the male contestants, after stripping off in front of thousands of spectators, dived on to the ground and did “the worm”. A video of this can be seen at

PM: Recent national research suggests that South Africans are still fundamentally conservative when it comes to sexual matters. Is this more to do with the way that people respond to surveys, or do you think that South Africans are still a little nervous about sex?

SH: Probably a little bit of both. We have found that although as South Africans we come from a conservative base (and possibly because of it), we are actually a rather open and inquisitive bunch. Judging by the massive visitor turnout of well over 100 000 people flocking to Sexpo in its first year, we are overcoming any inhibitions rather quickly!

PM: Do you think that a more open-minded approach to sex has a positive or negative impact on people’s attitudes towards HIV and Aids? And what do you think of sex education in South Africa?

SH: An open-minded approach to sex is healthy because it gives people the opportunity to ask questions and become more knowledgeable about sex and how to practise it responsibly. I think that education is the key, but we also need to have a society that is open to discussions about sex and is ready to embrace the important advice.

PM: Are you able to reveal the total turnover for last year’s Sexpo in Durban? How many people attended? Do you expect bigger figures this year, and do you think previous consumers will return, or is it a one-off novelty for many people?

SH: We had around 25 000 visitors last year and are conservatively expecting well over 30 000 people to visit this year.

Sexpo opens on Thursday, February 5, at 11 am and runs until Sunday. Tickets cost R100 and there is no re-entry.

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