Sex toys and health: is the revolution coming?
Copywriter Mairi, discusses the health benefits of toys, yes those kinds of toys, in what might be the most romantic blog you read this Valentine's day.
In December, the Drum posted a picture of a billboard on their Instagram page. The ad in question was for a German firm called ‘Womanizer’. The content of which - allegedly the first of its kind - promoted a new sex toy. The comments heralded the creativity of the advert, but the post queried: Do you think it’s appropriate to advertise sex toys on billboards? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer was an unequivocal yes. One commenter even ventured:
We advertise condoms and lube…and there is nothing seen as inappropriate about that. Men’s pleasure vs women’s.
What is it about female pleasure that can take a billboard from shockingly good to shockingly crude? Why is it that even as a proud feminist, I still find myself checking there’s nobody peeking judgingly over my shoulder as I write this? Maybe you’ve even done the same whilst reading…
Since January, I’ve seen sex toys venture out from behind their marketing red curtain more and more often. Flooding the ‘new in’ pages of everyday ecommerce sites. After two years of legally enforced ‘me time’, we should have seen it coming. But for me, where it’s going is even more unexpected.
Firstly, it’s interesting to observe that over the past few years the cultural zeitgeist around sexual expression has started to change. I’d argue we’re far more likely to challenge the idea that ‘pleasure’ is the sole property of men. Just as our commenter above did. And we see this reflected in marketing.
Brands like Durex - which arguably once upheld a very male-centric viewpoint - are now steering the shift away from it. Showcasing all genders and sexualities. Normalising sex, instead of fetishising it, and being much more candid in their marketing. With these more inclusive - and less sensational - narratives around sex infiltrating the mainstream, it follows that there might be new audiences open to purchasing sex tech. People who may have previously considered it too niche. Too sexy. Too ‘kinky’. And it makes sense that the industry would want to cash in on this.
But even more interesting, to me, is that the ecommerce sites who are newly stocking this kind of technlogy aren’t sexually liberated lingerie firms like Savage X Fenty, or even off-shoots of Durex itself. Instead, they include Cult Beauty and Beauty Bay. What’s more, Harper’s Bazaar gave ‘sex tech’ an honorable mention as one of their ‘8 beauty trends that will explode in 2022’. Sex tech is starting to align itself with an industry that’s infinitely palatable to the masses: health and wellbeing. The real question is why?
A cynic might reduce the answer simply to profits. The Global Wellness Institute estimates that by 2025, the wellness economy could be worth more than $7trillion. And in 2020, $955billion dollars came from personal care and beauty alone. Earlier, I did a quick Google trends search and found ‘vibrator’ had a new breakout topic: Goop. it would appear even Gwyneth Paltrow’s multimillion pound wellness empire has space for sex tech. This repositioning within such a lucrative industry is a smart move, there’s no denying it.
But as feminists, there’s an opportunity here too. In aligning itself to wellness, the sex tech industry is helping to validate the rhetoric that female pleasure is normal, ‘healthy’ and important. It serves as proof that female health takes many forms. And if it profits from this, women could profit too.
I’d like to see investment into womxn’s health businesses and technologies continue to grow. Research into health conditions which only affect AFAB people - like endometriosis, vaginismus and ovarian infertility - start to flourish and change lives. And I never thought I’d be pinning my hopes on sex toys to help achieve this. But if this new direction pays off, we might see a world where female health - sexual or otherwise - is validated as being as important as all other genders’. Deserving of the same level of investment - and maybe even a few more billboards.