For a while, Sexpo became synonymous with everything naughty and spicy, in many ways legitimising what has been a taboo topic in dinner party conversation: sex and sexuality.
The exhibition brought together an entire industry under one roof, and attracted everyone from high-collared conservatives through to the whips and chains squad.
At the centre of it all was Australian David Ross, who imagined the idea and first created Sexpo in Australia, later bedding down South Africa, the United Kingdom and Las Vegas, amongst others.
Ross’ Sexpo made naughty okay and even enticing.
Tell-all book with saucy industry stories
He’s about to release a book, due to hit the shelves before the festive season, that shares the intimate details of what happened behind the scenes at the events, as well as many aspects of the sex industry that everyday folk have no idea about.
“It covers the Australian roots of the show, it’s almost decade-long run in South Africa as well as in other countries,” says Ross, who was a hands-on brand custodian as the expo grew.
He has a particular soft spot for Mzansi, saying that he absolutely loves the place.
At Sexpo’s 20th birthday, and its tenth in 2016, Ross said at its Johannesburg launch, “my intention has always been, and remains, to bring all things sex-related out of adult stores and present them in a welcoming, comfortable, educational, entirely entertaining, safe and fun way and including health information has always been a big part of the plan”.
Remembering Sexpo in South Africa, who could forget the rows and rows of stands, titillation, stage shows and intimate nooks where nudity was celebrated, and naughty encouraged.
From intricate rope ties to every Fifty-Shades toy you could imagine, sexual health forums, strip-poker and from time to time, real porn stars in attendance to autograph DVDs. Half a decade on, DVDs are relegated to history, though, and the pandemic has changed a lot of the sex industry’s machinations.
“The adult business is very similar to other types of commerce. Online sales are quickly catching up to sales made from traditional retail outlets.
“That is not only about hard merchandise [adult toys], but it also goes to sex services in general, where sex workers have realised, spurred on by Covid lockdowns, that they can sell virtual sex online,” says Ross.
In the upcoming tell-all, he includes anecdotes that range from the sublime to the ridiculous, with a soupcon of danger.
During one exhibition, Ross says, “a colleague, and well-known bikie OMG [outlaw motorcycle gang] president took me aside from the bar at after-show-close drinks and told me an exhibitor owed him money. That exhibitor was and is a close friend of mine.
“The OMG president suggested I have a word to the exhibitor and let him know that if the money wasn’t paid, that he would end up in the Yarra River, minus his legs. I guess the money was paid as the exhibitor went out fishing, on a boat, with the bikie boss the next day…and returned.
“Unfortunately, the exhibitor had a heart attack after the show, but survived.”
He says that are tons of stories to be shared.
Of course, Sexpo would not be Sexpo if penile artist Pricasso was not in attendance.
During the show’s runs in South Africa the artist painted Jacob Zuma, Julius Malema, and a host of other political glitterati with his ding-dong while showgoers queued for hours for a naughty portrait.
“We found Pricasso while going through casting tapes before a show. I saw his submission and it was an on-the-spot decision to get this guy.”
Since then, Pricasso has become synonymous with the show, him and his brush criss-crossing the globe along with former Australian porn and nude queen Arianna Starr.
Sexpo has always been targeted at women, says Ross.
“I decided early that women were the key to a successful show, and so all the marketing was directed at women, as I knew that men were always going to come to a show called Sexpo.”
He says the sex industry is almost like a bit of a club, everyone with a common bond.
“On the downside, the discrimination that we suffer at the hands of banks and other financial institutions, and landlords, can make running a business very difficult.”
Therefore, he is currently on a relentless pursuit to gather support from the financial sector to view the sex industry as a legitimate business and offer its purveyors the same products, services, and protection that other industries and individuals enjoy.
“Although I feel great pride in having brought discussions about sex into the mainstream, one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the discrimination those who work in the industry suffer at the hands of business and employers, too.
“Many in the adult industry have spent their working lives as a single parent with one income and they’ve come up against industry-based discrimination, including from banks and other financial institutions, and landlords, only to find, at the end of their career, that life outside the adult industry bubble can be a lonely place,” he says.
“I have teamed up with a number of financial service providers to promote financial security to those in and around the adult entertainment industry – and guide today’s adult industry operators towards a life of sustainable financial security.”