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Of Hungary's 200 sex shops, some 20 serve a primarily male clientele in Budapest. But mothers also make their appearance in these boutiques, even if some have to overcome their shyness to do so. What are women looking for, and what do men spend their money on? hvg.hu asked proprietors about what's hot.

© Stiller Ákos
The vibrator, already popular 10 years ago, is now the undoubted hit, according to a former sex shop salesman. Groups of teenagers would arrive looking for a birthday surprise, normally amid howls of laughter. Sexy underwear was popular, too, with some even trying it on and asking shop staff for their advice. "I earned twice as much as I did anywhere else. There was a huge mark-up on the products, so they could afford to treat their staff well," remembers the university graduate, who is still only 28.

Nowadays, people are more matter-of-fact about visiting sex shops. Most shoppers are aged between 25 and 40, but shoppers in their 80s are not unknown. Most know what they want - few browse. Embarrassment is mostly a thing of the past, though there are exceptions, such as the young man who froze stiff when he recognised an acquaintance in some gay pornography.

Men make up some 60 per cent of the visitors, but the most recent change is that mothers have started visiting in addition to the more traditional clientele of young women and couples, according to Geza Kallai, the owner of a well-known chain's Hungarian franchise. On occasion, 10-strong groups of middle-aged women have entered the shop and bought up much of the shop's stock of vibrators.

There's always room for special requests, he adds, but not all needs can be met. He does not sell child or bestial pornography - which is available under the counter in some shops - and there are no video cubicles. There is no demand, since the shop's business model focuses on women - and so the interior design is lively, both men and women work as shop assistants, and products can be taken down straight from the shelves.

A shop on Dob utca is the second oldest sex shop in the city. It has offered video booths and a cinema for some 16 years. The number of film showings has fallen sharply over the past four or five years, since satellite TV has made sex films so much easier to obtain. Many of the shop's regulars are dancers or prostitutes. The shop even passes on defective merchandise to poorer clientele via a discount outlet a couple of houses down the street. "People buy non-functioning vibrators for HUF3000 instead of HUF15,000 - especially women who are too sensitive to the vibrations," said the shopkeeper.

Demand for porn mags has fallen sharply since the early 1990s, she says. They are now only the third most popular category after DVDs and sex toys. Despite advertising and a new website, turnover is falling by at least 20 per cent a year.

© Stiller Ákos
But the owner of Beate Uhse, a shop popular among women since its opening, believes in high-class intimacy. Kallai has ambitious expansion plans, aiming to open shops in the centre of town and then around the rest of the country. He has already found the ideal location, but thus far permission from the council of Budapest's fifth district has not been forthcoming for a new outlet just next Vaci utca. Kallai is surprised by the council's coolness towards the idea, since the city centre already has a numebr of sex shops and peep shows, and the location he has in mind, on Pilvax koz, is more than 200m from the Szervita ter church, which is a protected institution. Kallai envisages a chain with 12 or 13 shops - if he fails to open in the fifth district, he plans to look elsewhere.

It was 15 years ago that the fifth district council authorised a sex shop, giving permission for the Erotic Center to open its doors. Since then, the council has received no similar requests, a spokesperson told hvg.hu. But she added that it wasn't just up to the council: local residents also had the right to raise objections.

Curiously, there has been very little interest in web shopping. Shop owners told us that customers liked to feel the objects in their own hands, and they wanted to receive individual, expert advice. David Toth shows just how expert the advice of a 20-year-old can be. Working in a shop on Ulloi ut, he claims to have become a real expert after just a couple of months. "I needed time to learn how to speak about unusual subjects without changing my facial expression. After eight months I could react to the most surprising requests as if they were asking for a kilo of bread," he says, with a degree of pride in his voice.

Andrea Salgó

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