Sex toys are switching from hedonism to health

Last year, if you look at the sales figures, we spent an awful lot of money on masturbating. Perhaps understandably, 2020 was huge for sex toy companies. The UK’s biggest online adult retailer Lovehoney saw a year-on-year sales increase by 150 per cent in what one company representative described as “the biggest surge in sex toy demand since Fifty Shades of Grey was published.”
That sex toy sales skyrocketed during a time of sickness, fear, uncertainty and social isolation has given brands and individuals in the sextech industry unprecedented insights into people’s relationships with sex. The result appears to be that adult toy companies want their products to go further than getting you off. They want their devices to improve your health, maximise your wellbeing. 
In October 2020, luxury brand Lelo surveyed 4,000 British adults aged between 18 and 65. More than 30 per cent said stress, depression and anxiety were negatively affecting their sex life. In the 18-24 bracket this rose to 42.5 per cent.

Meanwhile, sales were booming, with Lelo’s year-on-year increase reaching 148 per cent in the peak of lockdown. The company also saw traffic to its educational blog, Volonté, double. Poor mental health, the brand concluded, was indeed messing with people’s sex lives. But not only was Lelo trying to gather and analyse information, it wanted to make sex part of the solution.
“In the past, people tended to focus on one area of human wellbeing. But the dialogue has changed. We have a more holistic view,” explains Lelo’s CMO Luka Matutinovic. “We now know that sex is one of the key ingredients. Orgasms give us serotonin and dopamine, which also boosts the immune system. It’s part of our whole wellbeing.”

These observations are echoed across the industry, and brands are attempting to offer health and wellness advice alongside sex products, while also foregrounding the supposed health benefits of sexual pleasure.

Last May, sex-toy brand Womanizer teamed up with menstrual cup company Lunette to conduct a five-month survey into the benefits of masturbation for period pain. The results, released in March, found that 42 per cent of participants found masturbation to be more effective than medication at relieving menstrual cramps. The study was only small – 486 participants – but Womanizer claims their research will “contribute to closing the gender health gap, which disadvantages women in medical advances and research”.
February saw the launch of ShushLife, a platform for online sex courses and workshops. Buyers of Lioness’s award-winning smart vibrator get exclusive access to a wellness newsletter and the brand are planning to launch masturbation classes this year. In January this year, they released the first data set from the Lioness Research Platform which consensually uses customer data to study physiological arousal and orgasm. 
For Lora Haddock DiCarlo, founder and CEO of Lora DiCarlo, this move comes as no surprise. “When we surveyed our customers and asked them why they masturbate, the top answer wasn’t because they’re turned on, it’s to destress,” Haddock DiCarlo says. “They want to sleep better, they want to feel good. There are times when meditation doesn’t do it. So aligning sexual pleasure with health and wellbeing is important.”
The brand launched a free sexual wellness coaching service in April 2020, sending eight of their customer services team to train as certified sex educators after spotting the need to provide more support, and not just on how to use the toys. Often, staff found themselves talking people through basic anatomy. “Some of [our customers] had never even looked at their vulva,” Haddock DiCarlo explains. “What I’ve found is that the biggest barrier, not only to purchase but even exploration, is education.”

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