An edited version of this article was originally published here for Nulune; a strategic advisory company striving for a better tomorrow. Founded by my dear friend, Alice Bodkin, Nulune’s mission is to engage brands in conversations around sustainability and wellbeing and to inspire new ideas and disruption for the future. Knowing my love for all things sexual wellness, Alice asked me to write a piece about this area – how fortunate am I to also be permitted to publish this on my blog?!
As attitudes towards health, wellbeing and fitness evolve, it’s no surprise entrepreneurs want to monetise this opportunity.
For the last 20 years, society’s attitudes to mental health have improved. Despite the first attempt to adopt mental health support as part of the wider scope of the NHS occurring in 1959, it wasn’t until 2002 that NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) published their first official guidance on helping individuals with mental health difficulties. Since the 2000s, schools have taught that ‘good health’ encompasses positive mental health, provision for workplace stress has improved and there are countless blogs, Instagram accounts, books, TV shows etc. on wellbeing. As with all emerging markets that reflect societal norms, whilst there has been a positive change in the market of mental health and wellbeing, there is still a long way to go. Every year, individuals, charities and policy-makers campaign for further amendments to legislation in a bid to support more vulnerable individuals. Yet change is slow when stigma weighs what you’re fighting for down.
The Empowered Market for Sexual Wellness
- It’s no wonder that it’s taken much longer for the sexual wellness market to find its place. For decades we have known that sex sells (and it does, to heterosexual men), but this isn’t what’s selling sexual wellness. With women being the core market for the sexual wellness industry, they’re seeking honesty and relatable brands, not pornographic cliches. And this came into sharp focus at the end of 2017 when women called ‘Time’s Up’ on systemic sexual abuse across the globe. Following the #MeToo movement, women felt angry yet empowered; as more women began to feel their voices were being heard, discussions around consent went viral. The up-and-coming media platform of podcasts started to flood with sex-positive talks and interviews, the Femtech (technology focused on women’s health) industry garnered more coverage and the sexual wellness industry boomed from this moment on as a new wave of feminism ensued in the face of patriarchal wrongdoings.
Women felt empowered to take charge of their bodies and their sexuality and Millenials and Gen Zers were keen to get involved. Young women across the globe saw their mothers, older sisters and aunts standing up to sexual harassment and drove the change to call sexual harassment for what it is. In fact, according to Oxford dictionaries, the word of the year in 2017 was ‘youthquake, a significant cultural, political or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people’. How telling this is of the impact the younger generation had in 2017…
- According to Arizton, by 2025 the sexual wellness market is expected to be worth $40 billion. Primarily driven by a female audience, this digital marketplace offers space to convey the message that sexual wellness is acceptable (as are products that promote sexual wellness). This is achieved by impactful campaigns, culminating in effective branding. And so, as with all marketing, it’s important to remember your customers. Make client avatars, devise focus groups; speak to the people to whom you’re marketing. And this is no different to marketing sexual wellness products. Remember these younger generations. Business Insider reported Michael Wood (self-claimed Generational Expert) calling Gen Zs ‘Millenials on Steroids’. Much like the generation before them, Gen Zs are outspoken in their beliefs and opinions, but to a larger degree. These youngsters might be outspoken and eager to jump onboard the sexual wellness bandwagon but remember their bank accounts! A global recession in 2008, crippling university debt and a pandemic that keeps on going does not a wealthy youngster make.
So Who’s Doing It?
Founded in 2008, Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand Goop has been in the press a lot. Although Paltrow’s company is frequently accused of dolling out unsubstantiated scientific advice, Goop exemplifies how sexual wellness is a mainstay in the wellness industry. At the time of writing, the second product on Goop’s Wellness section is a vibrator, trumped only by weighted wrist bangles (excuse me?!) and followed by calming oil (at a whopping £83 for 30ml). In fact, of the first 12 products featured, four are vibrators and one is a pelvic floor exerciser. Clearly marketed towards a wealthier customer, Goop might not be the first place a Millenial or Gen Z would go for their sex tech, but Paltrow is certainly spearheading the sexual wellness movement. Other sexual-wellness brands have exploited younger generations’ environmentally-conscious attitudes toward purchasing and living. The Natural Love Company (founded in 2019) ‘curates… design-conscious’ sex toys at prices to suit varying budgets. Similarly, sustainable and ethical sexual-pleasure companies are cropping up, promoting their products made from wood or glass, or that are solar-powered or have low air miles. Eco-friendly and rechargeable sex toys are becoming increasingly popular as people avoid the guilt of throwing away AAA after AAA.
Foria aligns sexual wellness with CBD and their best-selling product is ‘Awaken Arousal Oil’ (100% plant-based CBD oil for intimate pleasure) – bringing eco-conscious, earth-loving attitudes into our bedrooms. Plastic ending up in the oceans has been in the news for a long time and intimacy- and feminine-hygiene-brands are listening. Tampons, sanitary products and condoms are washed up on coastlines across the world and Dame have have made the first reusable tampon applicator – ideal for women who remain nervous about the much-promoted Mooncup. There are even enough companies creating eco-friendly condoms that an article has highlighted the top 10.
In the absence of excellent sex-ed and as an antidote to porn, apps are picking up the pieces. Apps such as Emjoy and Dipsea offer free trials and subscriptions to help women (and men) become more in-tune with their bodies and awaken their sexual confidence or, as Emjoy pride themselves on, they ‘help women achieve sexual wellness’. Aiming to inform, educate and empower, audio-erotica stories provide the excitement of a sexy story, realistic expectations and believable narratives without the shame or guilt (self-inflicted or otherwise) of watching pornography.
Even the very existence of the wellness industry shows the value we place on feeling happy and healthy. And rightly so. When people feel happy and fulfilled in their lives, they are more productive members of society. For many, part of feeling happy and fulfilled is to have good sexual health and an enjoyable sex lie. If the buying habits of Gen-Z and Millenials have anything to teach us, it’s that our happiness doesn’t have to cost the wellbeing of animals, the happiness of others or the state of the planet.
In such a short amount of time, there have been big improvements in the wellness industry – and sexual-health education and provisions in general. Yet much like sex education curricula, there is still a long way to go. #MeToo might have sparked the sexual-wellness revolution, but it’s up to entrepreneurs and sex-positive pioneers to continue to push for changes to negative, and damaging, attitudes towards sex. Since time immemorial, we have seen that when sexual liberation beckons, there is a backlash, but right now is a pivotal time for sexual wellness brands, and we must keep pushing for sexual empowerment and wellness for a happier planet.