In 2019, Leung’s partner, Anli Wu allowed her to open her own lipstick brand as a birthday gift. It’s called Lab-i. Photograph by Chris Clemente
Culture Spotlight

Q&A with Manila’s First Lady of Sex Toys: “Filipinos have always been open-minded”

The woman behind Pleasure Place, the first serious adult store in the country, talks to us about rabbit vibrators, her Chinese roots, and what men won’t do 
Bam Abellon | Feb 14 2020

Eleanor Leung, 65, and Anli Wu 58, were childhood friends who felt a romantic spark between them just 15 years ago. Leung left her lucrative job in the United States and began a relationship with Wu who was living in the Philippines. “I came home for love,” says Leung, a silver-pixie-haired woman. 

In the US, Leung had a busy life doing home shows. She would bring the latest in fashion to the addresses of affluent women, such as politicians, wives of politicians, and their friends. When she returned to the Philippines, she knew she couldn’t just stay idle. Wu, on the other hand, was already busy with her manufacturing business.

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It was then when the two decided to put up the first serious adult shop in Manila (meaning it’s not masquerading as a joke/novelty store). Full of high end, high quality sex toys, they called it Pleasure Place — because for Leung, pleasure plays a big part in her relationship with Wu. 

“We were both seeking to start a business that was a little bit fun and unusual,” Leung recalls. “We were looking for toys, and we couldn’t find any good ones, so we decided to just put up the business ourselves. We stood true to our principle, that we will bring the very best in town.”

Pleasure Place has toys that range from PhP 75 to PhP 20,000. The Magic Wand (third shelf from the top) is what Leung calls, “the Rolls Royce of vibrators.”

Today, Leung is dressed in a black long-sleeved shirt with a popped collar, cigarette jeans, and eye-catching sparkly stilettos—but it’s also hard to not keep looking at her blue-lined eyes and bright red lips. 

Leung is as in your face as her look. And her unreserved nature has served her business well. 

Now operating for almost two decades, with four branches in Metro Manila, Pleasure Place isn’t just a store that sells sex-toys, lingerie, clothing, and bags anymore. For its loyal customers—and some new ones—it’s a place where they can express their innermost fantasies, struggles, and adventures in the bedroom. And Leung is always willing to listen and give advice.

Her “expertise” comes from reading books and years of listening to her customers. In our short conversation with the St. Paul College Manila graduate, we found out what she’s learned about the desires of the modern Filipino man—and woman.

 

Did you ever hesitate to open an adult store in a conservative country?

No. There was no hesitance, there was no fear, just (belief) in the fact that sex is universal and that people were going to be using toys. There were toys, but they were not as serious. You could find them in advertisements in newspapers. At the time, [comedian] Gary Lising had his thing. He had a few of those, but he wasn’t really serious. At the time, there were a lot of novelty toys.

These Jack Rabbits are some of the stores best-selling items. The purple one (rightmost) is the upgraded version.

 

Were you into the toys yourself?

They are a part of my life. I’ve been using toys way before I started the business. I would say I’ve been using them before I even reached 20 years old.

 

Have you always been this outspoken?

I’ve always been open-minded, not shy at all. I think it also helps that my parents and grandparents were very open-minded. We talk about sex at the dining table. It’s never a taboo subject. That’s why I find it very important that parents should learn how to talk to their children about sex in an open manner. And when they start asking the questions, answer them as sincerely, as straightforwardly, and as accurately as possible. And answer according to the age of the child.

 

Tell us more about your family.

I’m pure Chinese. Leung is a Cantonese name—Anli is pure Taiwanese. My parents are both gone, but if they were around today, my father would be 90 years old. My paternal grandmother would be in her hundreds. She was an artist, a stage actress at the Chinese opera. She was around artisans a lot; I don’t know if that could be a factor why I’m like this. 

My grandmother was among two wives, too. My grandfather had three wives—I grew up with two of them. We all live in the same household. It’s a very progressive household. My parents were my best friends. I’m the youngest among four children. We’re all like this, and we’re very close-knit. I can talk to people of all ages. It doesn’t matter who you are.

Leung says a lot of women come to her store for advice: “They still don’t know their own bodies, so they need help in choosing a toy.” She usually recommends the small clit stimulators for beginners and virgins.

 

How would you describe your regular customers at Pleasure Place?

They are anyone from 18 to 80 years old. And 99.9% are Filipinos and Filipinas. The Chinese don’t really want to come in here, maybe because of culture. We would deliver to them. They are still very, very uptight about buying toys in the open. But Filipinos are really ready. Men and women are becoming equal in number. They are from all walks of life, single, divorced, bisexual, straight, homosexual—they’re all here.

 

Would you say that Filipinos have become more open-minded about sex?

Filipinos have always been open-minded. They just don’t talk about sex. But when I, as an expert, would bring up the subject, they would start telling me about their sexual practices behind closed doors. And they are not shy of doing what everybody else is doing—except that they’re not gonna always share that with you. Most women share their sexual practices with their best friends. They exchange notes, they would tell me. I have intimate relationships with my customers, where they can tell me their most intimate bedroom practices.

 

How about the men?

When we started, I used to meet men who were very threatened with the toys. They don’t want to be replaced. They feel like with the toys, the women could not be satisfied by just them anymore. But I noticed that those numbers have dwindled. These toys are all interactive. It’s not just a woman’s toy. You can put these in men’s erogenous zones, and the couple could play together.

Men don’t normally like to share. They talk to me because they have no one to talk to. As long as it’s not mental, psychological, or emotional issue, I can help. I get a lot of phone calls and texts every day. We have a dedicated lecture room at the Makati City store, also used for bridal showers. They hire me to do the talks.

Eleanor Leung and her partner Anli Wu own the first serious adult store in Manila, called Pleasure Place.

How do you know which toys to purchase?

I’ve been in the business for so long. And also I know by handling the toy, I would know if the quality is good. And I would know exactly what kind of toy would suit a certain profile. We just really know what they need by looking at how the toys disappear from the inventory. I didn’t know that anal toys were fast-moving items. When we saw the shelves were being emptied out of anal toys, we just knew that people were huge practitioners of anal sex. And that’s not limited to homosexual partners. It’s a heterosexual practice. It’s really just by studying the market. Our consumers educate us, too.

 

How have sex toys evolved through the years?

They have definitely become more advanced. Let’s look at the rabbit vibrators. People are still into them, but the new ones are more ergonomic. It’s prettier and smoother now, and the material got an upgrade—it’s now made with silicone. They are also rechargeable.

I also noticed that most toys today are targeted toward the G-spot. Although the woman’s G-spot has been around since day one, right? But the toy manufacturers are now more aware of the fact that it is a very important part of her body.

 

Are you now a relationship therapist?

No, I’m not. But we have enhanced a lot of couples’ lives. They’ve told me that, personally. We’ve been able to open up a lot of doors. When women or guys come in here to tell me that their partners are lousy lovers, I tell them maybe you’re a lousy teacher. You have to be able to tell your partner exactly what you like, what you want, where you want to be stroked. How you want it done. 

Eleanor Leung has been in the adult-store business for around 17 years. She says a lot of women come to her store for advice: “A lot of women still don’t know their own bodies. They need help in choosing a toy.”
 

What’s the best sex advice that you’ve given?

You just have to learn how to communicate, and be honest with each other. A lot of them also talk about their fantasies. A lot of them are frustrated. If they can’t work out their fantasies with their partners, they seek other partners. That’s the problem.

I give them advice on how to have a more fun life in the bedroom, but not on how to improve their relationships.

I read books, especially about the positions, what to do. I also learn from talking with other people. I pass on my learnings to the other customers. And also I use a lot of common sense because I’m very active myself.

 

Photographs by Chris Clemente