Sexual wellness is the major market for the beauty industry heading into 2020, according to a global report. From toys to lubricants, supplements, and tonics, the report details what both startups and traditional brands are offering and how consumers are driving demand for more innovative products that address both physical and emotional needs.
Jeb Gleason-Allured, Editor of Global Cosmetic Industry Magazine, which issued the report, says the trend reflects the fact that younger consumers frame sexual wellness as both a wellbeing issue and a political one.
“The sexual wellness space gives women and gender non-conforming people the opportunity to access products made for and by them. The founders of today’s brands are much closer to those buying the products than traditional major brands,” he says. “This is a very personal category that incorporates a sense of liberation, self-determination, and self-possession.”
According to research from Arizton Advisory & Intelligence, the sexual wellness market is predicting revenues of $39 billion by 2024 as brands offering lubricants, topical products, period care, hygiene products, toys, accessories, supplements, and apps embrace a modern, “shame-free” attitude towards innovations in sexual health.
What’s Behind The Boom
Sex and relationship therapist, Lynda Carlyle believes there’s a number of reasons sexual wellness is currently booming and will continue to.
“Women’s sexual health has been largely ignored by the medical fraternity and research, and women were just expected to put up with the lack of recognition,” she says. “We won’t accept that anymore. Social media has opened up discussions and support around sexual matters, so there’s less shame in talking about it. The market for sexual wellness is fed by people believing they need to buy a product for every aspect of their personal care, and also the drive towards natural products over pharmaceutical options.”
The boom of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, with its eclectic and enthusiastic embrace of jade eggs and vaginal steaming alongside general food and fitness discussions, has made it an everyday normality to speak openly about intimate body parts and functions. An increasing number of celebrities are openly admitting to bisexual lifestyles, being transsexual or transgender, gender fluid or just freely, frankly talking about their sex lives. The greater coverage of sexual topics has provided an avenue for businesses to deliver products that satisfy this sexual curiosity and exploration.
Polly Rodriguez, the co-founder of Unbound, theorizes that the current political climate has enabled the sexual wellness industry to thrive.
“I think the election of Donald Trump and subsequent attack on reproductive health in our country has left womxn, non-binary, and trans women with no choice but to be more vocal about our bodies and our rights,” she says. “There’s also the demographic shift of womxn getting married later and having more discretionary income of their own because we comprise a bigger portion of the labor force.”
Self Sex Devices
The majority of products cater to women, but startups like Svakom, Unbound, and Dame have created products that don’t specifically apply to either gender. Dame has created sexual devices that are designed to work with the body, without impersonating genitalia.
Unbound creates pastel-colored products that could equally be displayed on a nightstand as used for their primary function: self-sex. The color scheme and ergonomic designs reflect both a gender-fluid approach to sex toys but also more closely align with beauty and fashion products than flesh-colored or neon-bright sex toys. The brand made $4 million in revenue in 2018, mostly thanks to the Saucy device that more closely resembles a spaceship than a penis. Many of their products are discreet and look more like jewelry than sex toys.
“We try to not associate typically gendered colors to products, which is why we offer teals, seafoam greens, periwinkle, and forest green alongside royal blues and pinks,” says Rodriguez. The functional design and aesthetic of their products are the results of a thorough process that Rodriguez likens to the formulation of cosmetics and health products.
“We have a robust product development process inclusive of market research, extensive surveying, prototyping, and team input. Product is the one workstream at Unbound that touches every individual that works here so it’s the time when we get to collaborate the most, which I love,” says Rodriguez.
Established two years earlier than Unbound, SVAKOM began as a startup in 2012 in response to the founders’ belief that the quality of sex toys was unreliable and their appearance was “vulgar.” They also rejected the use of unqualified silica gel, which they’ve claimed is a serious health risk to users. Since sex toys are largely unregulated by the FDA, the purity of silicone can vary, especially in cheaper products. The brand has won global awards in innovation, design, and technology. It can also lay claim to being the only high-end sex toy brand invited to provide product for the 2017 and 2018 American Emmy Awards, American Music Awards, and Academy Awards. Products include vibrators, clitoral stimulators, heating vibrators, anal sex toys, and kegel balls all in shades of purple, pink, blue, and black. The G-Spot Warming Vibrator wouldn’t look out of place on your desk alongside an iPhone or the latest Fitbit. Ergonomic, fuss-free, elegant: these are a far cry from the embarrassing beige dildos of generations past.
“If you look at the products launched by [sexual wellness brands] Maude, Quim, and their peers, you’ll see the attention to detail on the ingredient front in particular,” says Gleason-Allured. “This is not unique to sexual wellness. Sustainable and safe products are table stakes for any brand looking to succeed in 2020’s beauty/personal care space. “
Kristen Presti, Director of Product Development at iLabs, works with the beauty and personal care industry to foster innovation. She reports that products are being formulated to care for the vulva and vagina with the same approach as caring for the face.
“We understand that the V-area is somewhat different than the rest of the body or the face in terms of microbiome and pH, so we need to use products that were specifically developed for that sensitive area,” she says. “In-demand V-products include masks, cleansers, mists, wipes, creams, and gels with a variety of claims and benefits.”
On their website, Ferly states that sex is taboo but it shouldn’t be, “it should be about as normal as taking a nap or going for a run.”
Ferly, created by Billie Quinlan and Anna Hushlak, is an app that offers audio guides to mindful sex. All of their content is backed by research and was created by psychotherapists or tantric sex professionals. The content is as diverse as programs, guided journaling, erotic plays, and podcast-style expert advice. The app was backed with over $1 million from venture capital firms and investors and since its inception in 2019, has attracted users from 53 countries. According to their research, over half of women aged 16-64 in the UK report pain, anxiety, or discomfort during sex. Ferly’s design and content were driven by the need to provide a safe space for women to discover what sexual pleasure means to them beyond the ideas peddled by media and male-created pornography.
With a similar goal in mind, brand strategist, Gina Gutierrez, and software engineer, Faye Keegan, devised the idea for Dipsea during a late-night conversation at Keegan’s kitchen table. The app offers erotic stories and you can filter stories based on gender, sexuality, and even your current environment (i.e. you likely wouldn’t want to hear the same story commuting home on the train as you would in bed alone!).
As a response to research indicating that discrimination was rife between patients and health providers based on gender, sexuality, and race, allbodies was founded to provide sexual health education vetted by medical professionals. The platform offers live online classes with experts covering sexual pleasure, fertility, mental health, and reproductive health. Alongside classes, they sell birth control, fertility supplements and tests, and sexual pleasure products through their online store.
Inclusive, Indie and Innovative: The New Wave
“Women, not exclusively cis, are front-and-center in this new wave of sexual wellness brands,” says Gleason-Allured. “Look, for instance, to Quim, which features the tagline ‘A self-care line for humans with vaginas and humans without vaginas who love vaginas.’ By focusing on people rather than gender norms, today’s brands can make the category more inclusive than ever. This also takes the center of gravity away from men for a more welcoming and fairly balanced approach to sexuality.”
The sexual wellness industry hasn’t reached its climax yet, but it’s doing everything possible to ensure we’re reaching our own.