Sex toy sales triple during New Zealand's coronavirus lockdown

Charlotte Graham-McLay in Wellington
Photograph: Dave Lintott/REX/Shutterstock

They were warned by the officials against stockpiling toilet paper or flour. But that’s not all New Zealanders have been hoarding, according to the nation’s largest retailer of sex toys, which said sales of its products tripled after Jacinda Ardern announced a month-long lockdown of the country.

New Zealanders are permitted to leave their homes only to access essential services or take walks during the national shutdown, which began a fortnight ago and will remain in place for at least a further two weeks.

The measures generated mirth on social media about a possible baby boom nine months after the stay-at-home rules lifted, and worried family planning specialists as access to various forms of birth control dwindled.

Related: New Zealand sees 'positive' signs amid strict coronavirus lockdown

The restrictions also prompted a tripling of sex toy sales in the 48 hours before the lockdown was imposed on 25 March, and the prospect of a boring month indoors seemed to have prompted New Zealanders to stash adult products that they might not have tried before, said Adult Toy Megastore, a New Zealand-based company.

“We’re selling a lot of beginner toys ... all our beginner ranges are very popular,” said Emily Writes, a spokesperson for the business. “It definitely looks like people are saying: ‘I’ve got time, I might try something new.’”

Sales of condoms, lubricant, and menstrual cups were among the other purchases that spiked after Ardern announced the lockdown, as well as adult board games and – perhaps reflecting a wider trend towards disinfecting behaviour – sex toy cleaner.

Adult Toy Megastore told the Guardian it had experienced a number of significant sales boosts in recent weeks, all coinciding with major news announcements about the Covid-19 pandemic in New Zealand, Australia, and Britain. Purchases tripled in all three countries on the day the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic on 11 March.

Sales for the site doubled in Australia on 22 March when Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced bars would close, and in Britain on 21 March when Boris Johnson announced the same.

“Looking at what people were buying at that point it was all sex toys,” said Emily Writes. “It was like they were thinking, ‘We can’t go to bars, we can’t pick up, we can’t go on dates.’”

Adult Toy Megastore was deemed an essential service by New Zealand’s government and was allowed to continue operating during the shutdown because it sells condoms and medical items. All staff are working from home.

While hundreds of social media posts have been devoted to naming the generation of children born following the pandemic – popular choices include Coronials, Quaranteens and Baby Zoomers, named after the video-conferencing application Zoom – analysts said a baby boom nine months after the lockdown was unlikely despite New Zealanders’ apparent boredom.

“Uncertainties like this tend to see delayed fertility because people feel uncertain about the world they’re going to bring a child into,” said Paul Spoonley, a distinguished professor in demography at Massey University. “Those thinking of starting a family will probably put off that decision … I think the urge to delay will be stronger than the inclination to become pregnant, even by mistake.”

Couples who did not already live together had been separated by the lockdown, he added, and opportunities for casual sex had “evaporated”. After the shutdown eased, the country’s economic woes would also dissuade many from having children, Spoonley said.

Sexual health specialists were also not anticipating a baby boom, but warned some contraceptives were difficult to access in New Zealand during the lockdown.

A global condom shortage is also looming because of factory shutdowns due to the virus has disrupted factories and supply chains, United Nations warning of “devastating” consequences.

Restrictions on the operations of Malaysian contraceptive giant Karex, which makes one in every five condoms globally, means the firm expected to produce 200m fewer condoms than usual from mid-March to mid-April.

New Zealand’s Family Planning organisation had conducted hundreds of phone consultations each week, most of them requests for oral contraceptives which were running dangerously low in New Zealand’s pharmacies, said Beth Messenger, a spokesperson.

“Some of the pills were limited because there was a non Covid-19-related manufacturing issue,” she said, adding that others had not been stocked in large quantities. “In New Zealand, we’re about as far away from anywhere as you can get, which from a Covid-19 perspective is probably a good thing but it means it’s difficult to bring essential medications in.”

Due to the lockdown rules, Family Planning could only conduct in-person appointments, so clients were missing out on insertion or removal of IUDs or contraceptive implants or tests for sexually transmitted diseases. However, she said that because those complying with the lockdown rules could only have sex with those already in their homes, “theoretically STI transmission should decrease.”

The organisation also provided free or cheap pregnancy tests, and Messenger said many preferred to take these at Family Planning clinics because they could not afford to buy them from pharmacies.

“If people are pregnant, we want them to have the health care they need,” Messenger said, adding that Family Planning had urged the government to fund at-home tests during the shutdown. “If they don’t know they’re pregnant, they won’t be able to access it.”