What ever happened to Sexpo and will it be making a comeback in SA?
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The first time I attended the Cape Town leg of Sexpo, I remember being particularly self-conscious about my whereabouts. I had my story planned in my head should I bump into anyone I knew – “I’m here for work, why are you here?”
The event was my introduction to Pricasso, an Australian artist who is known for using his rather large penis to paint portraits (Google him, I dare you) and a world where sex wasn’t spoken of in hushed tones, and the latest Rabbit vibrator was proudly on display while salespeople urge you to come over and “give it a try.”
Over the years, the clientele started changing, the event went mainstream and now attracted married couples who were eager to expand their bedroom repertoire beyond lilly white sex.
And then the pandemic happened. February 2018 was the last we heard from Sexpo. Like many other events across the globe, it disappeared into obscurity.
So when I came across an email from David Ross, AKA Mr Sexpo, of course I was curious. He was planning a tell-all autobiography.
Starting off his introduction with “the book details my 36 years inside the adult industry bubble, including 18 years as Mr Sexpo, and explains how I exported the event to South Africa, and exactly what happened to the South Africa event,” I immediately fired off a response with “please, tell me more.”
Most will know Ross as the man behind Sexpo, first started in Australia in 1996 and then expanding it to South Africa in 2007.
To say he is a colourful character is an understatement, and the Aussie-born public speaker promises he won’t disappoint with the release of his book, saying “the autobiography is a salacious tale of sex industry savvy and what really goes on behind the facade of the adult entertainment industry; from boardroom to backstage.”
One story that comes to mind is a bizarre hostage situation at a crèche he used to provide messaging that Sexpo was a couple-friendly event.
“A couple decided to attend the event together, despite them having a domestic violence order against each other, then put their child in the crèche and proceeded to the show.
“Apparently, the male partner thought his girlfriend was looking too closely at a male stripper, and a ‘disagreement’ took place. The male went to the crèche and held staff and children hostage.
“Of course, our head of security called the police, who didn’t seem to give the matter the urgency it deserved. Left with little choice, security stormed the crèche and extracted the offender. The police finally attended and arrested the boyfriend.”
But to understand how it all started, you have to go back to the start. “The story really starts with a very serious car accident on Christmas Day, 1980, which forced me to leave my job as a motor mechanic,” he says.
“I invested some of my insurance payout in an illegal (at the time) brothel. After selling out a few years later, I went on to offer marketing and public relations services to the adult industry.
“I contracted to some of Australia’s most iconic (and infamous) clubs, such as Ladies for Gentlemen, Top of the Town, Daily Planet and Simply Irresistible. I also served as president of the Adult Entertainment Industry Association.”
His idea for the Sexpo concept was borne after meeting with Club X, a leading adult industry retail chain, and “the thrust of the brief was to improve the chain’s appeal to women”.
Ross has many stories to share, and considering he’s probably seen the good, bad and ugly side of the adult entertainment industry, it helps to have a sense of humour, which is probably why the working titles for his book have a certain cheeky ring to them.
“‘You can't polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter…’ (LOL) – this is a reference to making Sexpo and the adult industry, in general, more acceptable by presenting it in an appealing way,” he offers as a way of explanation while ‘How Mr Sexpo made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’ is the other alternative.
On when we can expect the book, well that depends on when and if he can secure 3 000 names on the list to have the best chance of getting a publishing deal.
Ross’s confidence in securing a book deal isn’t that far fetched. We’re betting South Africans will be champing at the bit to get their hands on it. Contrary to how the media portrays us, he believes that when it comes to sex, South Africa seem to be more accepting of the Sexpo brand than in Australia or the UK. “ I, personally, have found people very open about the subject,” he reiterates.
And that’s exactly what his initial aim of Sexpo was, taking a concept and taking it mainstream. “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. Once we convinced women that Sexpo was a safe space, acceptance came quickly,” he says.
But the question that remains is is Sexpo coming back to SA?
“I have spoken to the current owners of Sexpo, and I know they are open to a new licensing arrangement, so if anyone is keen on the idea, they can contact me, and I’ll be happy to put them in touch with the Australia office,” he adds.
“Failing a Sexpo revival in South Africa, as soon as we can travel again, I will be doing a speaking tour to discuss my book, and of course, people will always be able to attend the book launch party.”
In the meantime, Ross is advocating for people working in the adult entertainment industry.
“Although I feel great pride in having brought discussions about sex into the mainstream, one thing that definitely hasn’t changed over the years is the discrimination those who work in the industry suffer at the hands of business, potential employers, banks and other financial institutions.
“Whether it’s buying a car or renting a house, once one mentions work in the adult industry, things become much more difficult.
“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 - life outside the adult industry bubble can be a lonely place,” he laments.
To register your interest in an advance copy or invitation to the launch party, visit www.mister-sexpo.com