With 11,000 points of sale and 60,000 salespersons, the Brazilian market doesn’t have to shy away from comparisons with the European and North American markets. We spoke with Paula Aguiar, president of a Brazilian association for the adult market. In our interview, she grants us fascinating insights into the biggest South American market and she explains why cosmetics, lubricants, and consumables are so very popular in this region.
You are the president of the Brazilian Association of Companies of the Erotic and Sensual Market. What exactly is the goal of this organisation and which role do you play in it?
Paula Aguiar: The Brazilian Association of Companies of the Erotic and Sensual Market (ABEME) was created on July 2, 2002, in São Paulo, just after the Erotika Fair of that year, supported by the major companies on the Brazilian market.
ABEME’s major objectives include: a union of the companies; the fight against prejudice toward the professionals who work with erotic products; providiing consolidated numbers (data) to the economic press; giving content and information to businesspeople as well as welcoming new entrepreneurs. We also propose laws and norms that affect our market.
In September of 2010, I assumed temporary ABEME presidency, then being voted into this position in August 2013. My role is to represent the businesspeople and the market in front of society, public agencies, and press, guiding people’s interest to our products and business. I went to Marketing School so proposing innovations is also an important part of my work at ABEME. Being part of the Terminology of Assistive Products ISO Committee (theme: products for sexual activities for people with motor or intellectual deficiencies) and the Committee of Regulation of Mechanical Contraceptives (condoms, IUD) are among my responsibilities as well.
Paula Aguiar is president of ABEME, the Brazilian Association of Companies of the Erotic and Sensual Market
I started working in the erotic market in 2000, as e-commerce manager for a sex shop. Since then, I worked for factories, developed product lines (in 2016: ‘Sex’ Athletes’ for the Olympic Games, ‘Best Age’ for people over 60, among others), worked in distribution and in virtual sex shops. I coordinated courses about the market and I have been promoting fairs, events, and business.
I wrote my first book in 2008, talking about the origins of the erotic market in the world and in Brazil, including reports I heard from the pioneers in my country. I have published 15 books about the market and erotic products so far, including the Gospel Guide of Sex Shops (that shows how to sell sex toys to religious people); Erotic ABC, the sex dictionary (to provide shopkeepers with a guide on fetishes and sexual dysfunctions), and the e-book Vibrator, the Book (that talks about the sale and use of different types of vibrators).
In 2016, the global erotic market turned 70 and I gave lectures all over Brazil, telling the story of Beate Uhse, because it is important to get to know the woman who created all of this. Her story is inspirational for our home-based consultants, about 60 thousand women selling products in a door-to-door business model. Across all regions, Brazil has about 11,000 points of sale for erotic products (sex toys).
What are the latest developments in the Brazilian adult market?
Our major concern is to train the people currently working in sex shops, who are looking to provide more professional service to their customers. The employees must have knowledge of the use of the products they are selling; they need to know how to properly answer the questions customers may have. It is common that, in sex shops, the role of the employee is more than that of a mere store attendant. They are sexual counsellors, confidants, educators, and knowledge disseminators. The concept “educate for consumption” is being fully developed. All of the big brands rely on sexologists, sexual educators, products coaches, handbooks, and explanatory e-books, not to mention sexuality Youtubers who give hints on how to use the products. Courses, lectures, and workshops are taking place on a regular basis. The idea is to generate a big amount of knowledge that, within a short period of time, will strengthen and expand the market. Today, only 17% of the Brazilian population use some sort of erotic product.
“Today, only 17% of the Brazilian population use some sort of erotic product.”
Brazil has had some turbulent economic and political times. How did these developments affect the adult market?
We saw an increase of almost 20% in 2013. Since the end of 2014, the market has been declining because of the difficult situation. Unfortunately, the current crisis has affected the growth we were experiencing. However, we are still one of the few market economies with positive indexes (3%), which is due to the sales channels’ efforts and the search for new customers, selling products outside of sex shops, at events, shows, bazaars, and common events, for instance.
The interest of the best Brazilian manufacturers in exporting sensual cosmetics has also proven an effective a way of facing the current crisis.
Brazil is traditionally a Catholic country. Does the adult industry feel this in their day to day business? How accepting is the public of erotic products?
For more than a decade, we have been advertising, through print and television press, that sex toys are helpers in marriage, connecting couples in their intimacy and being a source of dialogue about their relationship, about pleasure, and sex. As far as the religious aspect is concerned, there are Couples Meetings in churches; the products also traditionally a big part of lingerie showers, as a gift to fiancées who will marry in church (event created by Fátima Moura, more than 15 years ago — friends and/or sisters throw a party for the bride-to-be, call a sensual arts teacher to give a sex and pleasure lecture, teach how to use erotic products, give sexy underwear and sex toys to the bride-to-be; it is a fun meeting for everyone).
There is still a lot of prejudice but more and more women of all ages are accepting these products. By separating these products from pornography, we can attract more customers. Today, less than 1% of the items sold on Brazilian sex shops are related to explicit sex (photos or porn movies) which helps with the religious question.
Informing people about STDs and HIV in particular is an important aspect of the work of Brazilian adult retailers
Do you spot any new trends in the Brazilian market at the moment? Which products are in high demand right now?
Accessories and technology have never been the strong point of the Brazilian industry. On the other hand, the cosmetics industry is probably among the most successful in the world, and has been a big reason for the Brazilian market growing and prospering. To give you an idea of the potential of these products in the country: There are more than 40 flavours of oral sex gel, including traditional sweets like the famous brigadeiro (chocolate based), typical fruits such as açaí, guarana, and litchi, drinks like caipirinha, Amarulla or red wine, and even Bahia pepper. The concept of “adult candies” is immensely popular, as well as sexual health topics and social responsibility inside of the erotic and sensual industry.
Apart from products for oral sex, other products that are very successful include gels that diminish pain during anal sex or stimulate the genital organs through warming, cooling, pulsating and swelling effects. There are also lotions that make the woman “tighter” and other great sales successes that were created in Brazil, such as the explosive balls – gelatinous capsules filled with coconut oil or other vegetal oil – that must be inserted in the vagina a few seconds before the penetration and “explodes” because of the body temperature, serving as a lubricant and intimate perfume. It is a pleasant and hot sensation.
Supplements and energising capsules are also popular novelties. For instance, the famous “witch powder”, made from guarana, catuaba and other “aphrodisiac” plants, has had a guaranteed place in the market for more than a decade. It is the indigenous wisdom of the Amazon brought to the erotic market.
Not only is Brazil a market with over 100 million consumers, it is also a country where a lot of adult products are being manufactured. Could you tell us a bit more about the situation of the manufacturers in your home country?
Brazilian businesspeople relentlessly seek to expand their customer base, and even in times of political and economic crisis, their products releases do not stop. They invest in fairs in São Paulo (Erotika Fair – June, 2017) and Rio de Janeiro (Sexy Fair – April, 2017) where the season’s new products are presented and sales trainings and commercial lectures are conducted.
As far as products are concerned, highlights include the Gospel segment, super heroes, and Olympic tributes, a premium line with caviar, a segment for people with special necessities, projects dedicated to building self-esteem, supporting feminine empowerment, and fighting prejudice, regulatory issues, not to mention projects to prevent STDs and HIV/AIDS. These are some of the subjects always on our agenda.
In some categories, there is great competition, which makes it important for the manufacturers to be present at events, in the press, and in the daily lives of shopkeepers and consumers.
Paula Aguiar in her store in São Paulo
In recent times, lotions with jambu extract – called the “liquid vibrator” – have gotten especially popular. How do these products work and why do people love them?
This is a really successful product and it comes in different versions: spray, gel, or lip gloss, with strawberry, mint, and chocolate aroma. It can be used on the genital area or on the lips. But there are people who use it on drinks, by adding or putting it on the edge of the glasses or on the straws. The idea of a gel that creates the sensation of a vibrator, without the concern about motors or phallic designs made the product a hit in Brazil. The creativity of the Brazilian brands seems to be endless.
Is there something manufacturers in other countries could learn from their Brazilian counterparts?
I believe one suggestion would be to document the history, consumption, and collect statistical data; get organised in an association and seek to break taboos and prejudices related to the industry. We also consider the erotic product as an important tool to improving people’s sexual health and, therefore, seminars, congresses, and training courses for retail sales staff must be based on education on the use or consumption of the products, on their quality and on the sexual wellness effects for the consumers. Providing training and information materials (about the correct and responsible use of the products) is the responsibility of the manufacturers.
How hard is it for Brazilian companies to export such products to the EU? Are the regulations in both regions similar?
Brazilian companies have much more difficulties because Europe still does not know the full potential of our products and not because of bureaucratic issues. Brazil has some of the most rigid legislations in the world when it comes to cosmetics and foods (ANVISA – regulatory agency similar to FDA and CE).
It is not easy to receive ANVISA’s approval, there are deadlines and the costs are high, especially for cosmetic products and intimate lubricants. It is more difficult to get the necessary documents for exportation from the Brazilian regulatory agency than to get the release in the importing country.
Sex expert Neusa Pandolfo at “Sexy Fair”
What would you say are the biggest problems the Brazilian adult market is facing right now?
Well, the crisis affected the whole country and this is reflected in the sales. The Chinese invasion is also a big concern for the manufacturers and importers of renowned brands, but that is a global concern that affects other markets as well.
Which trends do you expect to shape the Brazilian erotic market in the future?
Starting this year, we are launching a study and regulation committee that will involve certification and technical standards for the products marketed in the country. This is a pioneer project, worldly speaking. All of this is happening as a partnership among manufacturers, importers, and industry entrepreneurs, with ABEME’s collaboration. It is a way of introducing our organisation to the society, showing that we are a serious industry.
The tendency is to turn the erotic product into an accessory of sexual empowerment, a tool for feminine pleasure, a way of connecting for couples (hetero, homo, bi, or any form of love and pleasure) without prejudice, if possible.
In Brazil, we respect the 70 years of history since our pioneer Beate Uhse started it all, but we go further, we want to make history by making sex shops public utility stores, because of their relevance in the fight and prevention of STDs, but also because they cater to needs and necessities related to the sexual health of the consumers.