Paulo Roberto de Almeida
Shanghai Daily, May 28, 2012
About 50 people, almost all young men, lined up on Friday as the Athens Erotic Dream - Greece's biggest sex fair - opened its gates in a nondescript building squeezed against a highway on the outskirts of the capital.
The annual show attracted big crowds when it opened in 2008, at the height of Greece's debt-fuelled economic bubble. But interest has wilted alongside the Greek economy, mired in its fifth consecutive year of recession.
The austerity measures Greece adopted as part of the country's international bailout deal have led to record unemployment, while wage cuts and tax hikes have throttled consumer spending.
The sex industry is feeling the hit. The number of exhibitors has fallen by half since 2008 to about a dozen, said the fair's organiser George Chrysospathis - a grey-bearded, corpulent man whose jovial manner changes quickly if he spots anyone who has failed to pay the 15-euro (US$19) entry fee.
"We used to get 20,000-30,000 visitors, but this year I don't know, we'll just have to see," Chrysospathis said.
Only a quarter of the 300 to 400 sex shops that once existed in Athens have survived the crisis, and business looked bleak for those who brought their wares to the sex fair.
"Things look really bad, buddy," said stall holder Donatos Passaris, 38, standing in front of a long bench of vibrators, lotions and other sexual items.
Shoppers at the stands were few and Passaris brushed off questions quickly for fear of losing a rare customer.
"We're making just 20 euros a day, if at all," said Marianna Lemnarou, another retailer. "Some customers just don't feel like having sex - others can't afford to buy our stuff in the crisis."
An inconclusive general election on May 6, which plunged Greece into fresh political turmoil and fanned fears that the country might leave the euro, has worsened matters. "Since the vote, business has completely tanked," Lemnarou moaned.