It’s time sexual wellness got real

category - female futures
category - society
sector - diversity & inclusion
sector - health & wellness
type - opinion
Opinion
Why the most interesting part of sexual wellness R&D is how it’s helping brands and consumers better understand sexuality through an intersectional lens

Phallic shaped products, black leather, pink vibrators, and red lace… these are some clichés long associated with the sexual wellness category. The problem is not the leather or lace, but the fact the offering gives a limited – and therefore quite scripted – vision of human sexuality.

Positively, in the last decade, boutique brands like Smile Makers, Elvie and Hanx, among others, have considered the topic of sex with fresh eyes, breaking away from traditional associations between sexual products and services, and the adult entertainment world. Their proposition has been to acknowledge that sexual wellbeing is part of our overall physical and mental wellbeing, just like what we eat, how we sleep, or how we exercise.

This change in paradigm is fuelling fast growth. The sexual wellness industry is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 9.4% from 2020 to 2025, reaching a value of £29bn ($40.4bn, €34bn) in 2025, with sex toys and lubricants anticipated to be the fastest growing segments (source: Market Data). Interestingly, female sexual wellness seems to be growing even faster at a 11% CAGR, according to Technavio. More importantly, this changing attitude to sexual wellness is helping to normalise the topic of human sexuality and discussions surrounding it.

If we look at the future of sexual wellness, exciting explorations in R&D are pointing towards technology for pleasure. We’re going to see very interesting developments for new sensorial experiences, whether new textures or interfaces. For example, self-learning toys that adjust stimulation to the user’s preferences, as well as more customisable experiences through connected devices. I also anticipate virtual reality (VR) or AI-enabled erotica that evolves the story to what the reader responds to, and new stimulation technologies allowing precision movement.

But in my opinion, the most interesting part of sexual wellness R&D is how it’s helping us to better understand human sexuality. The way it has been traditionally researched is very heteronormative, with a shocking gap even between knowledge of male and female sexuality. This results in a partial and very binary knowledge of sexual health – nothing close to the world’s diverse reality.

Published by:

20 April 2021

Author: Cecile Gasnault

Image: Dell XPS Youniverse by MPC & YMLY&R

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Brands have a role to help progress this simplified understanding. They can do so by conducting surveys, partnering with research centres, gathering data from their own communities and developing more specific products. Let’s take three examples:

Sexual wellbeing is impacted by life events. For people with vulvas, sensations in the pelvic floor are going to fluctuate across their lives and with events like puberty, pregnancy, perimenopause, menopause… We’re starting to see the emergence of a specific offering for these life moments and this will be a change that endures.

Gender and sexual expression also shape our sexual wellness. Scientific studies have just started to emerge in the field of transgender endocrinology. More is needed to understand how hormone treatment and gender transition impacts a person’s sexual wellbeing and experience of pleasure. We’re already seeing gender neutral products or brands addressing the LGBTQI+ community, and again this will only strengthen.

Thirdly, sexual wellbeing is impacted by some physical conditions, be it polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, cancer treatments or a physical disability. Such conditions are rarely spoken about through the lens of sexual wellbeing and pleasure, but I believe we’ll see better and more relevant solutions in future. At Smile Makers, for example, we already partner with sexual health experts to test how some of our products can help their patients navigate conditions like vaginismus or vulvodynia.

These three scenarios alone show how important it is to develop a more precise and diverse understanding of sexuality. The future of the sexual wellness industry is to embrace its role as a factor of change for a more inclusive society. The way it develops its offering can fuel the development of new knowledge. The way it shapes its offering can embrace a richer and more real representation of human sexuality. And finally, the way it delivers its message can advance a respectful, informed and open-hearted conversation about sex.

 

Cecile Gasnault is brand director for Smile Makers as well as creator and founder of its Vulva Talks programme.

‘The future of the sexual wellness industry is to embrace its role as a factor of change for a more inclusive society’
Cecile Gasnault, brand director, Smile Makers

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