You wouldn’t typically consider vibrators or lube as part of your beauty regime, but soon you might. Sexual pleasure products have been infiltrating the wellness and beauty scenes recently and are slowly becoming daily care necessities, much like a good under-eye cream or body oil.
Although demand for sex products is universal, historically very few brands have spoken honestly and respectfully to women about their sex lives. Nowadays, as society challenges taboos around sex and female-led sextech companies strive to provide retail experiences that aren’t shameful or seedy, sexual pleasure is going mainstream – so much so that products like sex toys, condoms and lube are no longer exclusive to sex shops or the pharmacy's "family planning" aisle.
According to a recent study by the market research firm Technavio, the sexual wellness industry is growing exponentially and will be worth $32 billion in 2019 – it’s true what they say, sex sells – and the 2018 Global Wellness Summit Report states that "sexual pleasure brands are strongly aligning themselves with wellness, and sex is fast shedding its taboo status." Products that were once sold in basement sex shops and spoken about in hushed tones have become this generation’s go-to form of self-care, and sexual pleasure is 2019’s wellness cause célèbre.
What’s interesting is that the idea of sexual pleasure, rather than be dependent on your partner, is being internalised as part of self-care.
Lucie Greene, worldwide director of trend forecasting agency JWT Innovation, believes sexual pleasure will be this year’s biggest wellness trend. "We’re seeing a move away from sexual fulfilment and health as an overly eroticised tone [and] sex is being positioned as part of a 360 make-up of being a healthy person," she tells Refinery29. "We’ve seen a marked rise in this and raised awareness that sexual fulfilment is something to focus on and optimise. What’s interesting is that the idea of sexual pleasure, rather than be dependent on your partner, is being internalised as part of self-care. It’s also being linked to skin health, appearance, and general glow and vitality – as a beauty proposition."
That sex (solo or partnered) is good for your wellbeing isn’t exactly a revelation, and brands are finally tapping into that by marketing sexual health products like toys, lube and condoms as everyday body care, bridging the gap between sex and wellness. Cult Beauty, the beauty junkie’s online mecca, sells aphrodisiac supplements, Boots has started stocking So Divine vibrators, and body care brand Nécessaire, launched less than two months ago by Into The Gloss cofounder Nick Axelrod and former Estee Lauder executive Randi Christiansen, offers lube as one of the three products in its range.
By bringing sexual wellness into the mainstream, brands are destigmatising sex goods by marketing them as any other wellness product. "The other interesting thing is the design of many of these brands. The new language around sex is sophisticated, straight-up and pithy. There’s a tasteful level of humour and empathy," adds Greene. Brands like Nécessaire are catering to the millennial zeitgeist and overcoming the taboos and misconceptions with Insta-friendly aesthetics, offering products you’d proudly display on your nightstand next to a Le Labo fragrance or a Drunk Elephant serum. Take Lelo, the Swedish sex toy company created by three designers whose popular products are crafted with the same Scandinavian sophistication that we've come to expect from our homeware.
"More and more women are aware how their sexual health is linked to their overall mental and physical wellbeing," says Jacqueline Husin from Smile Makers, whose vibrators are sold only in mainstream health and beauty retailers. "Noticing this, retailers, from drugstore chains to department stores, have launched new sexual wellness categories to cater to the woman who cares about all aspects of her health, from inner to outer beauty."
By positioning sexual pleasure in the beauty and wellness sphere, brands are promoting the idea that body care goes beyond scrubs and lotions, and aligning themselves with a more modern and sex-positive understanding of sexual pleasure. Sceptics might argue that making sex goods "trendy" is nothing more than a marketing ploy, but the bottom line is that sexual pleasure is being normalised.
"It's great to see more mainstream retailers promoting sexual products, moving away from the narrative of sex-related items being seedy and only available in sex shops or online," says Ruby Stevenson, sex educator at Brook, the young people's sexual health charity. "It’s hard to tell how attitudes could change, but it'll improve accessibility to products that should be normalised."
"We're taught to be aware of our physical and mental wellbeing far more than the sexual side of our identity, so it's nice to see this being celebrated in varying ways," adds Stevenson, who believes that making sexual pleasure more mainstream would also open up the conversation around sexual violence and consent. "In the aftermath of the #MeToo movement I think it's important to shine a light on pleasure-focused consent. Culturally, there's so much fear around the word 'consent' when in reality it's an essential part of all sexual pleasure."
Stevenson rightly points out that while making sex toys more available isn’t enough to eradicate sexual violence (we need to reform laws to ensure just legal systems, more support for survivors, and informative education from an early age), it’s a good place to start. "I make sure to shout about positive pleasure-related messages as well as addressing sexual violence. It's so important to make people aware that consent is not a constraint on your pleasure, but an integral part of it. I'm excited for how these conversations will evolve in 2019!"
Female sexual pleasure has been neglected for way too long, so the more sex products enter the wellness scene, the closer we’ll get to erasing the stigma and taboos around sexual pleasure.