that after 1949, Chinese society was more conservative than in ancient China, said Peng. Things have changed following social and economic reforms that began in the late 1970s, but many Chinese still hold conservative views towards certain elements of sex, such as homosexuality and pornography. Pornographic websites and publications are banned, while young homosexuals often marry to conform to society.
But over the last decade, the subject has become an increasingly open topic for debate, mainly due to the Internet.
Many online communities, such as those for gays and lesbians and those seeking partner swaps, have sprung up over recent years, said Fang Gang, director of sex and gender institute at Beijing Forestry University.
The country's state-run broadcaster has aired a programme featuring a controversial sexologist, who on the show called for the legalisation of homosexual marriages, while an annual sex fair in Guangzhou in southeastern China drew 250,000 visitors last month. Fang said sex is far more than a physical act. It is a barometer of the entire society. With a more free society comes a more free attitude towards sex, and vice versa, he added.
Lin said around 70 percent of his clients, mostly in their 20s and early 30s, were male. Most purchase items -- the favourite being a double vibrator -- for their girlfriends.
At Yamete Love Store, in a residential area of downtown Shanghai, customers can browse items ranging from inflatable dolls to sexy costumes amid low-key lighting as mellow music plays. Most of the items are imported from Japan and Sweden, and carry prices from $100 to $210.
Most shoppers, though, still seem to prefer buying online.
I feel too embarrassed to buy any sex toys in actual stores, said Candice Zheng, a 25- year-old office worker in Zhejiang province, south of Shanghai. I just order them from on-line shops. †