Tipped to become a $39 billion market in its own right, sexual wellness has been steadily gaining traction as the latest taboo-breaking category to emerge out of the mushrooming wellness industry.
Sitting alongside sleep, supplements and aromatherapy, beauty and lifestyle retailers are finally buying into sexual wellness products, and positioning them as another layer within the rapidly expanding wellness ecosystem.
An aspirational pursuit tied up in self-care and holistic wellbeing, today, gels, balms and sex toys are big business. And with sales being given a further boost amidst the coronavirus pandemic, pioneering brands like Smile Makers — which aim to normalise the conversation around female pleasure — are seeing their daily revenues double.
Launched in 2013, Smile Makers progressive approach to sexual wellness is demonstrated in, not only the quirky aesthetic of its products including sex toys called the Frenchman, the Millionaire, the Tennis Coach and the Fireman, but in the brand’s educational and accessible tone.
Anchoring itself as a trusted and open adviser for sexual wellness and empowerment, backed by a premium consumer experience, the brand, which can only be found in everyday environments such as online beauty retailers, lifestyle and wellness stores, meets women where they already exist. And it’s a trailblazing approach that’s helping to shape the future of sexual wellness.
Having proven consumer appetite exists, Smile Makers is now on a mission to make the brand even more accessible.
Here, Marketing Director Cecile Gasnault shares more about how the startup is doing so, by reimagining female pleasure through a wellness lens……….
How is Smile Makers pioneering a new experience when it comes to female pleasure?
Walking into a specific type of store (that sells vibrators) can be stigmatising and make you feel embarrassed or even shameful. With that in mind, we wanted to develop a distribution strategy focused solely on mainstream retail — to bring the sexual wellness category ‘out in the open’ and communicate a very clear message: “there is nothing wrong with buying a vibrator.”
Also, when it comes to design, in the past most products didn’t look too elegant or empowering and the material used was often poor quality. More importantly, their ergonomics were anatomically irrelevant and a lot of them were clearly inspired by the male-dominated porn industry. That’s why we focused on creating vibrators based on scientific research regarding the female pleasure anatomy. We selected a manufacturer specialised in high-end consumer electronics (such as B&O and Olympus) and we pushed for the design of our vibrators to be approachable, sleek and chic.
So, how are you breaking down barriers and meeting today’s consumers where they already exist?
Firstly, our products are sold at people’s favourite health, beauty and fashion stores. That means, in the UK, you can buy our friendly vibrators and glamourous lubricants at Cult Beauty, Feelunique, Boots, Look Fantastic, Beauty Bay and Selfridges. By having that laser-focus on mainstream distribution we hope to demonstrate that a vibrator is a normal wellbeing product, just like shampoo or supplements.
Secondly, we also place a lot of emphasis on education. As previously mentioned, many “traditional” vibrators were not designed to optimise pleasure based on scientific research on the female anatomy. Therefore, we work with our retail partners and our own platform to make educational content and tools widely available for women to help them understand their pleasure better and find the best products for them.
Thirdly, we talk openly, clearly and respectfully about female sexuality every day on our own channels, and we use the pronoun “we” to lead the conversation. We interact and engage a lot on our social media and online channels with consumers to collect insights from them and we build our content based on that. This helps us to stay relevant and feed the conversation.
We also actively lobby for our retailers to openly promote the sexual wellness category. This is because seeing a big name such as Cult Beauty or Free People talk about vibrators has a massive impact, not just on our brand, but in driving the conversation in an empowering way.
What are you doing to further reframe sexual pleasure within the wellness lexicon?
We have seen both the wellness and beauty industries embracing a much more holistic approach these past few years — taking an increased interest in sleep, nutrition, mental health, intimate health and sex. And, there is a good reason for that.
Sex, like sleep, nutrition or sport, has a big impact on our overall wellbeing. To quote Dr. Juliette Buffat, Psychiatrist and Sexologist, “Having a fulfilling sex life clearly contributes to good physical and psychological health, whether the satisfaction is obtained solo or between two persons.”
There are many documented positive correlations between sexual pleasure and wellbeing, and so by researching and communicating the physical and mental health benefits of sexual pleasure, we believe we are helping to reframe the category within the wellness space.
So, as a brand operating within this emerging category what opportunities and challenges are you facing?
It’s been only 2 years since major beauty retailers in the UK started to take a serious interest in the sexual wellness category, and the communication around it is still very limited. But we’ve seen time and time again that when a retailer communicates about the category to their audience, engagement and sales surge. The appetite is here, however, what is lacking is the awareness.
The main challenge in boosting the development of the category, as a wellness category and not a side business of the adult industry, is the restricted access to advertising on the biggest ad platforms online. Drugs for male sexual dysfunction are allowed to advertise on a platform like Facebook, but lubricants that alleviate pain during sex — a problem that 8 out of 10 women have experienced — are banned. It will take time and grit to bring about change, but we’re hopeful.
What does the future of sexual wellness look like in your mind?
The future of sexual wellness is one of broad normalization. This means not only more tools for people to explore their sexuality but also more open conversations and more comprehensive and inclusive sex education.
The challenge around communication will lessen over time. The same way retailers have come to embrace sexual wellness as another wellness category, so will the big tech companies, and this will only help to widen the category’s reach.