But after this weekend, this could all change - if the more than 50 exhibitors at the country's first adult lifestyle exhibition have their way.

Sexpo SA (or the Health, Sexuality and Lifestyle Expo, borrowed from Australia) is South Africa's first bid to bring the sex industry out of the brown paper packets.

For Chantelle Janse van Rensburg, the owner of Inamorata, it was too early to tell if she had made a mistake by coming to exhibit.

"It's no more koek-en-tee (at the hen parties); now they invite us to do sex toy workshops, where we explain how the sex toys work, and they have strippers." In fact, business has been so good that Janse van Rensburg has combined her "boutique" with a fantasy club, Pharaohs, in Midrand.

But the explosion of porn and the "adult lifestyle" industry never quite lost the sleaze.

The sex shops were tolerated and the videos were ignored - at least in public.

By Kevin Ritchie Once upon a time you could be arrested for flying into South Africa with a Playboy in your luggage.

In the dark days of Calvinist apartheid, if you wanted to see a woman take off her clothes, you had to go to Lesotho or Swaziland - and although it wasn't obligatory to shout "Vrystaat" when the stripper took off her last garment, many did.

Silas Howarth, the young entrepreneur who is behind Sexpo SA, says the key is to make "the adult lifestyle" industry accessible to people who think it's sleazy.

As David Ross, the founder of Sexpo Australia, puts it: "It's a permission giver. If people are a bit shy, they think 'well, there will be 40 000 others (the number expected to attend the expo from Thursday until it closes tomorrow) there, so it's not as if we're doing anything wrong'." As the exhibitors put the finishing touches to their stands, hours before the XXX-rated expo gates opened its doors, the excitement - and tension - was palpable.

Old wags claim censorship was so unyielding that the government censors even banned Black Beauty until someone pointed out it was a story about a horse.

The advent of democracy in 1994 liberated South Africans in more ways than the drafters of the constitution might have intended, the most obvious being the proliferation of hard-core pornography on video and magazines and sex shops on neighbourhood street corners.

"It's time people got comfortable in their own skin and live out their own fantasies, with a little help from businesses like us." Her business is to supply "sensual products for women", yet most of her customers are men who contact her on the Internet or come after hours by arrangement on "special days, like Mother's Day".

As her assistants put the finishing touches to special "teaser's hampers" which expo-goers can win, "full of sex toys to spoil their men on a romantic weekend away", Janse van Rensburg says she has seen a sea change in South Africans, especially among her clientele.