The sexual wellness market accounted for $39 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach $123 billion by 2026. Within that, the SexTech industry has been valued at $30 billion annually and growing at a 30% rate. The term “SexTech” applies to a wide variety of tech-enabled products and solutions, from sex robots to educational apps and platforms, as well as erotic virtual reality and porn. Is SexTech more about entertainment or health?
WHAT IS SEXTECH?
SexTech, or sex technology, is a vital component in the overall FemTech category. The global sex toy market is expected to grow by about 40% between 2015 and 2020, from approximately $21 billion to around $29 billion in that period. Purchasing and using sex toys is becoming more mainstream.
Indiana University studies found that 53% of women and 45% of men aged between 18-64 years had used a vibrator. The patriarchal norms that say a woman’s ability to bear children defines her sexual utility, and her body is merely for the sexual pleasure of men, are now yesterday’s news.
Fifty years ago, innovations in birth control had a remarkable impact on societies. Women got a chance to control childbearing, manage their careers, new labor market options opened up, and women were allowed to think about pleasure from sex. Even though women who use sex toys have been seen as lonely or sexually deviant for decades, now it is socially acceptable. What’s more, sex toys are now also treated as a useful aid in medical treatment and are prescribed by physicians more and more frequently.
SEXTECH AS A PART OF FEMTECH
As Ann Garnier said: “Sexual wellness is an exciting space. For far too long, women have been made to feel they’ve had to repress sexual desire. I admire the companies that are tackling this problem head on and empowering women. I also think that the companies addressing issues around low libido, painful sex, and other intimacy issues are doing important work. The majority of women don’t talk to their doctors about these solvable problems, which is unfortunate”.
Until recently, the SexTech industry was dominated by men. Products like vibrators and dildos, designed for women, were marketed with imagery that would target straight men instead of a woman. Also, the design of the products was based on what male executives though women might expect. Now, more women are taking control of their pleasure. They bring a woman’s perspective into SexTech companies or create their own ones, such as MysteryVibe’s Crescendo.
Innovation in this industry is happening at lightning speed. It won’t be long before SexTech will work with multi-haptic systems, AI, and biomimetics that spreads into other industries. In some places, it’s already happening. In 2016, Apple filed 38 patents for multi-haptic technologies and biological vital monitoring systems. The same tech that lets you engage with a smart sex toy will work its way into future iterations of the Apple Watch.
It’s crucial to recognize needs to serve women better, bringing in gender specificity for devices and solutions that are common to both sexes. It can’t be done without both men and women representation in each industry, but even if the product specifically targets women, it’s worth having men behind the scenes.
Inability to experience sexual pleasure can contribute to depression and anxiety, poor self-esteem, or sexual coercion. It can also promote the misconception that pain is a normal and acceptable part of sex for women, according to psychology professor Laurie Mintz, author of “Becoming Clitorate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters and How to Get It”.
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IS SEX A HEALTH ISSUE?
Is having an orgasm a health issue worthy of innovation? The UN’s World Health Organization includes pleasure in its definition of sexual health —for men and women.
There is a disproportion between men and women’s sexual pleasure. 87% of husbands and 49% of wives reported consistently experiencing orgasm. 43% of husbands misperceived how often their wives experienced orgasm.
While sexual satisfaction is a health determinant, clinicians should give particular attention to orgasm experiences, to potentially help both men and women have higher sexual satisfaction. This is a vast field for SexTech innovations.
The sex-positive movement is social and philosophical. It seeks to change cultural attitudes and norms around sexuality, promote the recognition of sexuality (in countless forms of expression) as a natural and healthy part of the human experience, and to emphasize the importance of personal sovereignty, safer sex practices, and consensual sex (free from violence or coercion). It covers every aspect of sexual identity, including gender expression, orientation, relationship to the body (body-positivity, nudity, choice), relationship-style choice, reproductive rights, and everything else society has lumped under the umbrella.
SEX TOY APPS AND DEVICES
Osé, a Lora DiCarlo’s robotic vibrator, developed in consultation with Oregon State University’s robotics department, was initially accepted into the CES show and given an innovation award. Shortly after, it was excluded because it didn’t fit into an existing product category. The device was also called «immoral» and «profane». After a few days of fighting with CES, the device was given back the award. This case was a huge move forward for women’s sex toys, bringing them out from the shadows.
Also, lo-fi SexTech has always discreetly held a place in the development of products such as warming lubes and lotions. Women who own their sexual lives are potent consumers. Gender is the most powerful determinant of how we see the world and everything in it. It’s more significant than age, income, ethnicity, or geography. Gender is often a blind spot for businesses, partially because the subject is not typically addressed in most undergraduate or graduate-level business courses, or the workplace itself.
Recent stats show 15% of Americans use sex toy apps (such as app-controlled vibrators) as well as 12% of Brits and 10% of Australians. But experts predict they will become a significant part of all of our sex lives over the coming years.