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Sexpo Oh my goodness – it’s enormous! That’s the only reaction you can have to Sexpo, whether you’re referring to some of the erotica on sale or the size of the exhibition itself.
In the four years since its debut, Sexpo has become one of the country’s most popular exhibitions. This year 50 000 people drove to Gallagher Convention Centre and paid R130 to be entertained by a mind-boggling display of all things sexy.
It was huge fun. Nobody was embarrassed to pick things up and ask what it is and how it works. Complete strangers joked with each other at the stands, tried their skills at lap dancing, cheered as a couple were legally married on stage, and laughed at the antics of Andre the Hilarious Hypnotist and the jokes of John Vlismas.
Slightly dim lighting, background music and flashing lights on the two stages gave the cavernous exhibition halls an intimate nightclub feeling.
Even more intimacy came in The Lollipop Lounge and Ladies Lounge, where visitors paid another fee to be entertained by professional strippers doing the full monty.
Stands were selling kinky toys, erotic lingerie and raunchy weekends away. Durex was running workshops on sexual wellbeing and sensual massage. Pricasso was painting portraits with his willy.
Even a couple of churches exhibited. The Red Cross was there, along with Save The Rhino, given free exhibition space to promote the message that rhino horn is a flop as an aphrodisiac.
Visitors were happy, exhibitors were happy, and Sexpo director Silas Howarth was absolutely delighted. Howarth launched Sexpo in 2007 with his younger brothers Cairo and Calvin. Calvin had heard about Sexpo in Australia and the  brothers decided it was something they could replicate.
There are sexuality expos around the world, some of which are  hardcore, but Howarthsays Sexpo is health, sexuality and lifestyle  based on entertainment.
“The crucial thing is to keep it very female-friendly. You’ll never see live sex and because of that we have been able to move into the mainstream. The female focus is why Sexpo is so successful. Anyone can sell sex to men but you need the ladies to be there and to be comfortable with it.”
The inaugural Sexpo was tiny in exhibitor numbers, although it attracted 30 000 visitors. “Sexpo had never been done before so it was quite hard work selling it to exhibitors. I was told time and again that South Africans are too conservative for this,” Howarth says. “Now Sexpo is a household name and we have exhibitors phoning us up to book space rather than us having to chase them.”
International companies have joined in too as Sexpo’s reputation spreads throughout the sex industry abroad.
Howarth says the show is very profitable for exhibitors and for his company, and good value for visitors. “They pay R130 and the average person stays four hours. We stay open until midnight because it’s a party where the focus is on entertainment. There are plenty of other shows that just focus on the porn side but this is much more mainstream.”
Other visitors paid R220 for a VIP pass that gave them shopping vouchers, discounted entry to the private lounges, and reserved seats for the stage shows.
Howarth admits he underestimated demand for the VIP package and the 6,000 packs sold out by noon on the Saturday. About 63% of visitors are part of a couple, while groups of girls make a night out of it in The Ladies Lounge.
“I love sex and I think sex should be fun,” said Howarth. “Couples who in everyday life are too embarrassed to say, ‘Does this feel good? Is this nice?’ can come to Sexpo and it’s a fun and comfortable environment where they are being entertained and they can say, ‘What do you think about this, honey?’ It’s lovely when you see granny and granddad couples holding hands here, because this isn’t the dregs of society. It’s not a show for the raincoat brigade.”