Nepal was the first country in Southeast Asia to approve same-sex marriage. Now, the country also has its first sex shop.
Nestled amid a string of clothes shops, Kathmandu’s “Condom House” is challenging the culture of silence around sex.
“My plan is to make this store a meeting point to talk about sex. So I have everything that people possibly need during sex,” explains owner Yubraj Neupane, pointing to an array of different condoms, lubricants, cock rings and other sex aids.
Neupane, a 33-year-old former health worker, says that buying condoms in Nepal is still seen as taboo.
“It’s so difficult,” agrees 30-year-old newlywed Rameshor Bohara.
“The shopkeepers make you feel so uncomfortable when you ask for condoms or any contraception. They give it to you secretly and look either side when they are doing it. It’s like they are involved in a criminal act!” says Bohara.
Both prostitution and abortion are illegal in Nepal and buying condoms, even in the capital, can be a challenge. While the Nepalese government has approved same-sex marriage ahead of most western nations, attitudes toward sex remain conservative.
“It's because we don’t talk about sex,” explains Kathmandu Bohara.
“My whole life, I have never talked about it in my family. Even my brother who is my age, I never asked him about anything related to sex. We don’t think that sex is bad, but it’s just a secret and too personal,” he says.
Neupane admits that it wasn’t easy to get a permit for his sex shop. When he first applied at the government office he was asked to choose a new name.
“I asked [the government official] why I needed a new name. I told her I was not starting a mango store or anything else. I’m selling condoms, so what’s wrong with the name? She finally signed the document. I imagine, if she has difficulties writing ‘condom’, how would she use one?” he asks.
“Condom House” has been open for two years now and attitudes are slowly starting to change.
A large number of Nepalese have traveled abroad for work or study and many have returned home with more liberal attitudes.
More than 100 customers visit the shop per day and openly ask for sexual advice, a stark difference from the abuse directed at Neupane when he first opened.
“To promote the store I would often sit on the road out the front and hand out free condoms. Many people, even young people, threw my pamphlets away in front of me and told me that I was ruining society,” he recalls.
Today, Neupane says the shops are fulfilling a need.
“I have sold lots of dildos for women. As you know many Nepalese men have to go abroad for work, so they give dildos to their wives. Everyone is different. They need different types of condoms for pleasure,” he explains.
Condom House now has four sex toy outlets in cities across Nepal, but Neupane has big plans
“This is a shop where people never hesitate to ask about sexual problems and how to get sexual pleasure. My dream is to open a condom shop at every city in Nepal.”
This article was first broadcast on Asia Calling, a regional current affairs radio program produced by Indonesia’s independent radio news agency KBR68H and broadcast in local languages in 10 countries across Asia. You can find more stories from Asia Calling at www.asiacalling.org.