Face mask? Tick. Detoxifying bath salts? Tick. Vibrator? Tick. Yes, it is 2019 and sex-care is finally an accepted part of self-care. Female pleasure is no longer a taboo topic to be whispered about in hushed tones, and women’s sex toys are stocked alongside serums instead of exclusively in X-rated stores. It may have been twenty years since the Rabbit vibrator shot to fame via “Sex and the City” (seventeen years for the Magic Wand’s “SATC” episode), and Carrie et al discussed orgasms over egg white omelets, but it has only been recently that female pleasure has become a recognized part of the wellness industry.
In fact, female pleasure is set to be one of this year’s biggest beauty and wellbeing trends as brands realize the potential of this burgeoning market. The 2018 Global Wellness Summit Report highlighted that: “Sexual pleasure brands are strongly aligning themselves with wellness, and sex is fast shedding its taboo status.” Plus, recent research from analytics firm Technavio predicts that the global sexual wellness market will grow to approximately $32 billion in 2019. It seems sexual pleasure is now being positioned as a fundamental element of a 360° holistic approach and valued equally alongside the likes of sleep, nutrition or fitness. Importantly, this focus on female pleasure is not limited to women in sexual relationships but those enjoying solo sex too. The vibrator market is set to surpass $6 billion this year.
“Female sexuality, particularly focused on pleasure, has until relatively recently been left out of a mainstream conversation,” psychosexual therapist Kate Moyle says. “Sex education traditionally focuses on the biology of reproduction so it’s no surprise that women feel it’s a private subject, even more so when it’s a solo activity,” she added. Melissa Fabello, a social justice educator, echoes this view. “Women are taught from a young age that sexual pleasure is something that men experience, and women offer,” she says. “Women are taught that their bodies are shameful and that their sexual desire is dysfunctional.”
However, thanks to fourth-wave feminism and the body positivity movement, both ignited by the growing power of online communities and social media, the conversation around female pleasure is changing. While the concept of female pleasure itself is nothing new, the way the media and brands now speak about it so frankly is certainly a sizeable shift. Naturally, sexual health has become big business as brands capitalize on the normalization of sexual wellness and destigmatization of sex toys. According to The Business of Fashion, CVS now sells 45 vibrator options while Target stocks 74 different models.
In the same vein, there is a new breed of sexual health brands aligning their aesthetic and marketing messages closely from the world of wellness. Take New York-based Maude, a female-founded brand on a mission to modernize sex — and solo sex. With a minimalist aesthetic, an inclusive message and a streamlined range of products (including natural latex condoms, organic lube, a massage candle and a vibrator) they are appealing to the new age consumer.
Of course, improving knowledge around sexual health and the availability of sex products can only be a good thing. After all, experts agree that we should give sexual health the same attention as other areas of our wellbeing. “Sexuality is a part of us rather than something that exists in a separate entity,” Moyle emphasizes. “Treating it as a part of self-care is important as it ties into how we see and feel about ourselves. When we are feeling positive, confident and safe about our sexuality, that impacts how we feel about ourselves.”
It can also form an integral part of self-discovery. “The body is designed to experience pleasure and there should be no shame in exploring it,” Moyle says. “Understanding your body, how it works and what feels best for you is going to contribute to more sexual self-confidence, both alone and with a partner.” This is what Fabello describes as lighting up the ‘mind-body connection.’ “You’re able to respond in real-time to messages from your body and to experience instant gratification for it. It’s empowering to recognize that you have the means to bring physical pleasure to yourself, especially in a world that so constantly prioritizes sex with other people.”
And solo sex can increase body confidence. “We need to experience our bodies running, moving, dancing and relaxing. We also need to learn to look at, and touch our bodies, with a sense of curiosity and delight rather than judgment and negativity,” says relationship therapist Karen Aram. “Deciding to find positive language to describe what we see and feel under our hands immediately starts to change our perceptions of ourselves.”
For women at the beginning of this solo-sex journey, Fabello advises firstly engaging in self-pleasure for its own sake. “Don’t get too wrapped up in the idea of self-empowerment, the goal of orgasm or the eventual pursuit of partnered sex. Don’t put pressure on yourself and just have fun.” Moyle agrees and suggests treating the process primarily as exploration. “Don’t wait for something or someone to come to you to encourage you to start this process. All you need is yourself and if you want something to be different, you have to try and make it so for yourself.”