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The Female-Founded Sex Toy Brand Giving Aussies The Sex Ed They Never Had

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My memories of sex education at school are frustrating to think about now. There was a brief anatomy lesson, a few warnings about pregnancy and STIs, and then we all had a good giggle putting condoms on bananas. That was it.
Instead of learning sex-positive messages about pleasure, affirmative consent or alternative contraception options, we were fed facts about what could go wrong — and even then, only through the limited lens of penetrative sex between men and women.
All of this reductive sex education naturally led to lingering questions. But answers we once had to hunt for in sealed sections of magazines are now out in the open thanks to people like Lucy Wark, founder of sexual wellness brand NORMAL. In tandem with creating a sex toy brand, she created a modern video course about sex, which is free, led by a sex coach and accessible to anyone online.
"We think it’s really important to normalise healthy, evidence-based and fun conversations about sex and relationships," Wark tells Refinery29 Australia.
We chatted with Wark to find out more.

Refinery29 Australia: Tell us about the ethos behind your business. What prompted you to get into the sexual wellness space?

Wark: Like lots of people in my generation, my sex education didn’t really cover lots of important topics — from discussing consent and respectful relationships to unpacking the messages we receive in porn, the full range of contraceptive options, LGBTQ+ sex and identity, and dealing with health issues that can affect your experiences around sex.
And in looking at what was available in the space of sex toys, it felt like a lot of the consumer experiences were way behind what we see in other categories. Shopping for products can feel confusing, overwhelming and often involves regretting high-value purchases. So we wanted to put high-quality education at the core of everything we do — whether it’s about how to choose a toy, or getting the information and support you need for a wider range of issues. 

Can you tell us about how NORMAL grew from selling sex toys to offering sex education?

Off the back of a large piece of work called The Big Sex Survey, where we spoke to over 1000 Australians about their sex education, we found that there were enormous gaps even in what recent graduates were learning. 
As a brand, we make a lot of resources in the sex education space, from a digital library of guides and explainers to Q&As on social media, but our biggest project to date has been The Modern Guide to Sex
We created this free video course and eBook with our amazing in-house sex coach, Georgia Grace, to cover all the topics we get asked about frequently. It’s basically all the topics you missed in sex ed, from pleasure, communication and exploring new things, to how to handle sexual dysfunctions, safe sex and contraception.
It was especially important to us as a brand that this course is designed for all sexualities and gender identities — so we deliberately included sections on P-on-P and V-on-V sex, and we focus on using language linked to anatomy, rather than assuming our users are heterosexual or cis-gendered

What has been the response from people trying out the sex education program?

It’s been a real privilege to get to help so many people with The Modern Guide to Sex. We now have users in over 40 countries, including many where LGBTQ+ people face enormous discrimination, and many where there is little to no sex ed in the curriculum.
It’s also been really wonderful to hear from people across generations about how the resource has helped them. We've had everything from parents looking for an evidence-based resource for a queer child, young people struggling with pain during sex and not knowing if they’re ‘normal’, to long-term couples looking for a conversation starter to help them communicate about their sex life.

You ran some very interesting ads during lockdowns. What sparked that idea?

I have to credit our awesome team for these! Our ethos is that we want to be engaging, empathetic and educational — we like to think the voice of the brand is a cool older sibling with a sexology degree. And we love a sex-based pun!
While there are some topics where using humour isn’t appropriate, if there’s an opportunity to connect authentically and humorously with something that’s happening in the news and our community’s lives (like our CUMTOGETHER and CUMONBONDI truck sales), we love to be able to do that.
In this case, we were chatting on Slack about how frustrating and exhausting the repeated lockdowns were, and also thinking about the consumer insight that it makes dating, casual sex and even relationships really hard — so the idea of running big lockdown-themed sales from iconic locations like Bondi, or encouraging people to get vaccinated, was a natural extension.

There’s been an increase in female-founded sex toy brands in recent years. As a previously very male-dominated industry, how have things shifted?

We’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs whose experiences and needs weren’t previously the focus of the industry enter the space in the last decade or so. They've brought with them new ideas about what products should look like, how brands should speak and what values consumers expect to see, which has been awesome. That includes everything from female-focused brands (or brands focused on people with vulvas), brands serving the LGBTQ+ community (like Folx), to brands working on issues of access and mobility (like Bump’n).

The conversation around sex toys and pleasure has become increasingly mainstream. Why do you think that is and what still needs to be done?

Our culture is changing quickly, and a lot of factors have contributed to that, from the #MeToo movement and amazing activists foregrounding the conversation about sexual assault, to the rise of social media and streaming services meaning we get to hear different voices and stories speaking about sex, dating and relationships. It’s also a big industry — the majority of adults have bought or used a sex toy — and we’ve seen retailers spot the opportunity and start launching sexual wellness as a category.
In terms of what’s still to come, there's so much! In addition to cis women and the queer community, I’m really excited to see more brands speak to heterosexual cis-gendered men because we hear from so many of our users about wanting to have positive role models and guidance for their issues. I think it’s also really important that if we’re trying to work on issues like reducing sexual assault and closing the orgasm gap, we’re not just speaking to one half of the population while demonising or silencing the other —everyone needs to be part of that conversation about pleasure and respect.
I’m also looking forward to seeing more companies tackling the question of how we innovate in the delivery of sex education for young people. It feels outdated that a generation of digital natives are still getting ‘the birds and the bees’ from their maths teacher in a classroom of peers. I think tackling a lot of these issues at the root is a critical piece of the puzzle.
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