Singapore may not be as conservative as you think.
After the Fifty Shades Of Grey book was released in 2011, adult toys here flew off the shelves.
The erotic trilogy by British author E L James has led to an impressive uptick in the sale of Geisha balls (otherwise known as Ben Wa balls).
The adult toy was used by the main characters in the book, which was recently made into a movie. But it is not all play, and women also use the tool to exercise their pelvic floor muscles.
Owners of Alice Maple, an online adult toy store based here which opened eight years ago, said 70 per cent of the spike is linked to the sale of a remote-controlled version of the toy.
"We used to sell 10 a month," said the store owner who wanted to be known only as Mr Francis. The 34-year-old runs the store with his wife.
"Now, we sell between 40 and 50 a month," he added.
He said majority of these new customers "are married couples in their late 30s".
Tools used for BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) are also proving to be a hit, thanks again to the book series.
Mr Kelvin Khor, 30, the owner of another local online store, www.horny.sg, said: "Since the launch of Fifty Shades, there has been a spike in the sales of BDSM products such as handcuffs, bed restraints, floggers, hogties and so on."
Mr Khor said the male customers are mostly keen "to impersonate Christian Grey", the male protagonist in the book series.
One of the most-mentioned toys in the book, used by the male character, are leather handcuffs.
"I usually sell about 40 sets of leather cuffs and restraints a month, but that has gone up to about 55 sets," the adult store owner said.
But most couples are still too shy to walk into an adult toy store at the mall.
He said: "We have closed-door private appointments for our customers for maximum privacy. They either come into our showroom or chat with us over the phone.
"We'll listen to what they need and recommend appropriate toys."
The book series has had such an impact that Mr Khor started bringing in Fifty Shades merchandise.
He said: "We have the Fifty Shades Of Grey universal bed restraint with detachable cuffs, flogger, crop, clamps, blindfold starter kit and a few more."
Mr Francis admits that he too has had "couples citing the book".
The craze for such adult toys began when the Fifty Shades series - dubbed mummy porn - became a worldwide phenomenon.
The book features Anastasia Steele, a geeky insecure college misfit, dating Grey, a handsome billionaire entrepreneur, who maintains a pristine reputation in the public eye.
That, of course, is not who he really is.
His tortured past and rough sex obsession begin to surface when Steele is introduced to his kinky realm in the Red Room of Pain, a hidden den of pleasures in his swanky penthouse apartment.
Behind those fictional locked doors is where Grey keeps whips, paddles, chains and an assortment of other bondage gear.
The uncut R21 erotic romance movie premiered here on Feb 12.
BDSM versus no BDSM
It was Fifty Shades Of Grey that led this married couple of 15 years to engage a dominatrix.
After Madam Chelsea Ng and Mr Terence Sim read the steamy novel in 2012, they were inspired to dabble in some BDSM to up the ante of their sex life.
Once they hired a man to join them, and later, a woman. They have not looked back since. The couple described their experiences with the two as "exhilarating, thrilling, and enjoyable".
Said Madam Ng, a property agent: "It was satisfying, even though we were cautious, uncertain and a bit scared the first couple of times. After reading the book, I suggested to Terence that we could consider a whole new aspect of sex."
"He then read the book and was very excited. He was more excited than I was," she revealed.
But adult toys are not new to the couple, who are both 46 and have no children.
Madam Ng, who disclosed that she and her architect husband now spend $500 a month on intimate toys, said the lovemaking props have always been a part of their sex life.
She said: "It added much oomph to our relationship, especially in bed. BDSM just took our sex life to the next level."
And even though they own a generous stash of sexy paraphernalia, new buys still get their pulses racing.
She said: "Let's just say that each time a new sex toy arrives in the mail, Terence and I can't wait to get home."
There is no need to delve into BDSM just to spice up the marriage, said one Singaporean couple.
Ms Yanna and Mr Danial, who wanted to be known only by their first names, said "they never had to do anything differently."
Ms Yanna, a 35-year-old housewife, told The New Paper on Sunday: "Both of us are happy with our conventional bedroom fun.
"It's not that we are not as exciting, but conventional sex really isn't as boring as some married couples make it out to be.
"It is precisely because sex happens less often now (because of the children) that it becomes all the more exciting."
Ms Yanna gave birth to their first child about five years ago and their second, two years ago.
Mr Danial, a corporate communications manager, 39, joked: "I don't think I need to whip Yanna to get her into bed with me.
"At least not yet."
The pair said intimacy is "as healthy as it was when they tied the knot in 2008".
He said: "We used to have sex about three times a week when we first got married.
"Now, we get it on about thrice a fortnight because we are both exhausted from work and Yanna from looking after the children."
So are they keen to incorporate BDSM themes into their sex life?
Ms Yanna said: "Knowing us, we'll probably start laughing at each other because we won't have a clue how to use (the tools).
"Best to leave all the Fifty Shades-type of kinky stuff to directors and authors - because we probably won't do BDSM justice. They definitely do a better job at it."
Want great sex? Talk about it
When it comes to achieving a fulfilling love life, it seems communication is sexy.
Marriage counsellor John Vasavan, said: "As long as the pair is prepared to spice up their sex life, and if they are talking about it, chances are, things will indeed spice up."
Close to half of the 506 Singaporeans surveyed in the 2012 Durex global sexual well-being survey believe they become better husbands, wives or partners when they have good sex lives.
But the problem is, few couples talk about sex.
In Singapore, only 22 per cent of those surveyed said they talk to their partners in a bid to spice things up.
And about the same proportion said they go online to learn more about being intimate with their partners.
Mr Vasavan, who has been advising couples for more than 20 years, said intimacy is an integral part of a marriage.
"It is an opportunity for them to unleash their sexual desires and explore each other with non-verbal communication," he said.
If the sex gets boring and is affecting the marriage, couples should try different things, advised Mr Vasavan.
"Couples should do whatever they feel comfortable with and consent to.
"BDSM is an option (of something different). If they do decide on it, communication should continuously flow because both of them need to tell each other what they like and what they don't.
"They also need to make sure they are mentally and physically prepared."
Are Singaporeans keen?
One in four said yes to experimenting with adult toys and about one in 10 said yes to role-playing games.
The counsellor reiterated that trying to improve one's sex life is a method of improving the marriage.
Mr Vasavan said: "The action-response process by one party to another during sex is part of the communication that leads to bonding."
"When there is bonding, there is love."
This article was first published on Feb 22, 2015.
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