Sexual wellness is emerging as a beauty category in its own right, increasingly linked to holistic health, vitality and radiance. CEW Beauty Insider explores the segment’s key drivers, and the brands that are entering the beauty mainstream.
Where there used to be limited choice in terms of intimate skin care, grooming and sexual health products, there are now a growing number of brands redefining and broadening the wellness category, and offering fun, sensorial, and even luxurious experiences.
The global sexual wellness market – intimate care products that are geared towards self-care and sexual pleasure brands – is expected to grow from $23 billion in 2014 to $32 billion in 2019, according to Technavio, a market research firm. Moreover, sexual wellness products are expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of more than 9 percent by 2020.
Why the sudden rapid growth? The advent of the #metoo movement is empowering women to claim control over their sexual experiences, in addition to the explosion of Femtech (female-founded companies that are an integral part of the female wellness trend), and greater public discourse on sexual health, especially online. Sexual wellness brands, too, are contributing to the demise of sexual taboos and inhibitions around body care issues.
With clean beauty’s drive to eliminate toxic ingredients, many new brands are also emphasizing their clean credentials, especially for products such as tampons, lubricants and vaginal care that are inserted internally.
Millennials, in particular, are taking note.
Queen V is a mass brand with products that are pH-balanced and free of harmful ingredients. Founded in April 2018 by millennial Lauren Steinberg, whose father is a gynecologist (“I’ve been around vaginas my whole life!” she said), Queen V is already distributed in 4,100 Walmart stores across the country.
“Queen V is affordable and accessible to all. I don’t think women should have to pay thirty dollars for a vaginal cleanser. Walmart’s female buyer was willing to take a chance on us and took 11 of our products. We are also sold at Urban Outfitters and Free People. We defy Retail 101,” she said. “Queen V takes a really simple, three-step approach: maintaining, healing, and enjoying your V, and everything is color-coded by category. The brand destigmatizes the vagina. We have super-loud, bright products that normalize self-love.”
Lauren described the brand’s voice as, “young, wild and vagina.”
Swedish brand Deodoc, which was founded by two female sister doctors, Hedieh Asadi and Hasti Asadi, in conjunction with two other doctors including an OBGYN, was created for women who have problems with intimate area perspiration.
“We have seen countless numbers of female patients in our practice, and have listened to their concerns over the years. One of the most common questions women ask is about this issue,” said Dr. Hedieh Asadi. “Just like the armpits, the pubic area has hair and where hair is present, so is sweat. Due to perspiration, there may be a slight odor in the intimate area that has nothing to do with an infection.”
In addition to intimate hygiene products, such as Daily Intimate Wash and Intimate Deo Spray, Deodoc’s mission is to empower women with honest talk. “We want the days of referring to the vulva and vagina euphemistically as ‘down there’ to be over,” said Hedieh.
Megababe, which was launched two years ago by successful long-time blogger Katie Sturino, has a tongue-in-cheek approach to anti-chafe, non-toxic products.
“Because I was a blogger in the body positive space, I interacted with women every day. One thing that was talked about was thigh-chafe season. If you forget your chafe stick, it will ruin your whole day. I saw that women were fed up with products that didn’t work, and that were geared for male athletes with names like Fresh Balls for Her and Anti-Monkey Butt!”
Today, Megababe is sold in Ulta Beauty across the country, as well as select Target stores and goop.com. “We’ve made so much progress, but we’re not there yet,” said Katie. “Giant brands haven’t launched these kinds of products. I want to keep providing solutions for women, and making our products available in retail, so that they can continue going about their day.”
Menstrual care, too, is being transformed. Several indie brands such as Organicup are offering alternatives to tampons and pads by way of insertable, silicon menstrual cups. The fact that the cups are reusable makes them sustainable too. Period trackers such as myFLO app offer advice on how to be symptom-free, one of a number of hormonal tracking apps.
Sexual pleasure brands, too, are aligning themselves with the wellness trend as part of holistic self-care.
When UK-based sex toy brand Hot Octopuss opened a popup shop in New York called The Changing Room (the world’s first orgasm popup shop), no fewer than 1,000 women stopped by the store over two days.
“The popup was a brilliant experience for us. We were amazed at how many people turned up given they were coming to test a sex toy and talk about masturbation with media there. There were queues around the block for two days,” said Julia Margo, Co-Founder and COO of Hot Octopuss. “Some of the customers were mother and daughter pairs, which was interesting. It is definitely the case that women are becoming more open about sex, masturbation and the frustrations they may face sexually, and essentially starting to say, “No, this isn’t good enough. I deserve to experience good sex!”
“Sex has always been absolutely fundamental to wellbeing and health, and especially relationship health. It’s just that people haven’t been able to be open about that due to embarrassment about admitting that they want to feel pleasure.”
Hot Octopuss is actively working to banish residual stigmas around sexuality, and banish any kind of sex-negative culture.
“We are currently on a mission to tackle stigma around disability and sex, and aging and sex. Given the importance of pleasure to health and wellbeing, we are working to better understand how our products work for disabled people and people with erectile dysfunction, using our brand presence and blog to tackle views that older people or disabled people are somehow not allowed to be sexy or sexual. It is harmful to suggest that this is the case, and also clearly untrue.”