What role does sex education and concern for sexual health play in the manufacture and marketing of pleasure products? What value can be placed on the input of sex educators and experts? We contacted representatives of some high-profile novelty industry players and asked for their assessment.
First, what is the role that sex experts and sexual-ed teachers play in the creation of pleasure products?
Simply put, sex educators are both the gatekeepers and the guides to a world of multilayered joyous sexual discovery, and increasingly invaluable to the business. -Karianne Ronning
At LELO, according to a company spokesperson, “We’re constantly working closely with sexual authorities in the development and the marketing of our pleasure products. The launch of our latest product, the LUNA Smart Bead, a personal pleasure trainer designed to help users develop the intensity of their orgasms, was guided by a number of different sex experts and the marketing of it has also been influenced by their feedback.
“It’s important to rely on established and experienced professionals in an industry that’s as intrinsically personal as sex—it’s easy to spot a product that’s been simply churned out to fill shelf-space instead of studied and refined and understood. Having reliable experts on hand is essential to the high quality of our products.”
For Desiree Duffy, director of public relations for California Exotic Novelties, “sex education and sex experts—the Expert Sexperts as we call them — play a huge role in our business. Susan Colvin, president and CEO of the company, started the whole concept of sexual wellness in the pleasure product industry. As the first woman-founded and operated major pleasure product manufacturer, Susan and the all-woman product development team understood the importance of educating people about the sexual health and wellness benefits associated with sex toys, from the very beginning.”
CalExotics’ team of official Expert Sexperts includes Jaiya, Chuck and Jo-Ann Bird (The Love Birds) and Sunny Megatron. “They are in integral part of our sex education initiatives,” Duffy continued. “They are our like our brand ambassadors on Club CalExotics—which is our award-winning online community where we promote sexual health and wellness. They answer questions, write articles, offer expert advice, give product reviews and host informational webisode series like ‘Bedroom Insider’ and ‘Kinky Korner.’”
Duffy pointed out that, additionally, “CalExotics supports the message through other channels, like our recent sponsorship of the AASECT Convention. There, the Love Birds hosted a seminar to a standing-room only crowd of sex educators and therapists about the benefits of introducing sex toys into their repertoire. We also partner regularly with major universities like Harvard and Boston University to support their student sexual wellness fairs and educational workshops.”
Richie Harris, CEO of pjur USA, agreed that when it comes to creating pleasure products, sex educators “play a huge role. The more consumers know from experts and trained educators, the healthier life is from a sexual health and wellness viewpoint. This is true not for just sexual health, but health in general. In sexual health, it is very important, as in most novelties, these are products that go inside the human body, and buyers as with lubricants should be aware of all the benefits and risks.
“Lubricants, for example, are supposed to be registered with the FDA as they are Class II medical devices. Consumers should know that products that have not gone through the FDA registration process are not fully vetted for safe use. Some novelties use proven safe ingredients while others do not.”
According to Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright, whose line of sex toys is manufactured by XR Brands, “Sexuality educators and experts can be utilized in a number of ways, including acting as points of contact in working with the media, as researchers, heading up survey efforts, as consultants to companies seeking to make better products, and as sources of general information regarding sexuality.”
She emphasized that “sexuality education, coming from the sex toy industry itself, is critical in creating and supporting sexually healthy and empowered individuals. Ignorant or misinformed consumers are, otherwise, limited in their ability to maximize their sexual pleasuring and take care of themselves, their partners and their relationships.
“Providing such sex-ed from qualified sexuality educators/experts allows for quality control and gives consumers peace of mind in the sense of support that’s provided, and confidence in using the products they’re buying.”
As Sabrina Dropkick, sex educator and social media manager at Pipedream Products, pointed out, “Consumers are becoming much more educated about their sex toys—especially in regards to materials and pricing. Everyone is scouring the Internet for the lowest prices while simultaneously demanding the highest quality body-safe materials. Social media also makes us, as a manufacturer and sex educators, much more personable and accessible, making it simple for customers to reach out for questions, clarifications, and help in choosing the perfect toy.”
“By default, anyone the consumer comes in contact within our industry becomes a bit of an educator,” said Joanne Queenin, executive administrator of Sportsheets International. “For many consumers, the clerk, home party consultant or the online sex blogger provides more education than they received in school or in some cases, even from their doctor. Because the medical profession does not embrace or promote sexual health for the most part, consumers are left to seek out information on their own. To that end, we at Sportsheets take great pride in our monthly educational tools that we provide our customers and retailers and their sales and service staff.”
Adam Lewis, CEO of the British company Hot Octopuss and co-creator of its main product, the male stimulator Pulse, added, “This is becoming ever more important as science, engineering and ergonomics play an ever increasing role in the design of sex toys. The need for explanation with these toys is greater than ever as their shape and design often defy logic, leaving the prospective user at a loss to their intended purpose. Sex educators are able to inform prospective users about new products and how they work.”
For Karianne Ronning, managing director and co-founder of Laid, the first Norwegian company to design and manufacture products for sexual pleasure and well-being, the answer is plain. “Simply put, sex educators are both the gatekeepers and the guides to a world of multi-layered joyous sexual discovery, and increasingly invaluable to the business.”
Nina Helms, owner and founder of Sex and Health Enthusiasts (S+HE), agreed, finding that “sex educators, counselors and therapists are playing a larger and larger crucial role in our industry’s success. Physicians don’t have time nor extensive education into the mysteries and or dysfunction associated with our sexual health. Therefore it falls to the focused and trained expertise of sex counselors and therapists to fill in that gap. It has happily become more accepted and less taboo, as many things in our industry, for people to share and seek out help with their sexual histories, hang ups, hurdles and curiosities.
“The sex counselor/therapist community can recommend the use of products our businesses provide to help them address some sexual health issues. They can also help those who are seeking more pleasure or greater adventure in a relationship to experiment and explore what our industry has to offer. Retailers with well-educated sales staff and informative sites will have an even greater edge going forward as they will better serve people who are embracing their sexuality and those who are working on it.”
Good Vibrations, while not a manufacturer, is one of the nation’s most respected retailers and was founded by sex educators. Says Executive Vice President Jackie Strano, “Education is the cornerstone of our business and sometimes you have to educate before you can entertain. Good Vibrations helps gives permission to our customers who want to explore their authentic sexual selves. We want to help them get the best products and information for their budget and personal needs and desires.
“Here at Good Vibrations we have Dr. Carol Queen, our staff sexologist and our admin budget and priorities include making the Education Department an integral part of our core business model. Dr. Queen personally trains the staff who interact with our customers and we have ongoing educational training spearheaded by the Education department.”
That brings up the second question: How do sex educators support sales and customer service?
At LELO, “Sex educators help support our sales directly and indirectly. Indirectly, the information, guidance and feedback they give us helps to shape the design and technology of our products, which means that when a LELO makes it to market it has already had the vast majority of issues that would result in a customer service inquiry ironed out.
“Sometimes, a sexual health professional will often identify one of our products as particularly beneficial for the treatment of certain issues — another way in which experts support us and we support them. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”
In the view of Sportsheets’ Queenin, “Sex educators are communicating about products that improve sexual health and improve relationships. Online sex educators have helped create a forum for discussion on sex positivity and sexual best practices.”
S+HE’s Helms added, “My company Sex and Health Enthusiasts has been very well supported by well known sex therapist and psychiatrist Dr. Dorree Lynn. She recommends our line as well as a select few others like Sex Butter and OhMiBod. She personally endorses us and backs that up by having an e-commerce site where she offers them to her followers. I have had other counselors and therapists recommend our products and brands on their social media, radio shows, podcasts etc. This helps drive sales as well.”
Norway’s Ronning said about Laid, which she runs in partnership with Line Iren Andersen, “The majority of consumers still have limited knowledge of what pleasure products are in the market and how these may enhance their sex lives. Stereotypical views and/or lack of awareness are still direct hurdles to overcome to increase sales.
“We believe they are best overcome through manufacturers/brands working directly/indirectly with sex experts/educators as they essentially work with people’s minds first, then their bodies and what ‘tools’ there are and how they can be applied. This leads to more knowledgeable and confident customers, who are comfortable with their preferences, If those preferences include pleasure products, they are likely to spend their money on the right tools across their lifetime.”
According to Hot Octopuss’ Lewis, sex educators “better educate the market, meaning that customers are able to make better buying decisions about which products are best for them. This ensures a better match between product and customers, thereby reducing returns and the need for customer support.”
Pjur’s Harris also emphasized the importance of education. “We are a unique company, in that the more consumers know — and I mean know the facts — the better pjur’s business. Why? Because we are a health first company and always have been. If consumers want a healthy choice in lubricants, they land on pjur as our products are all FDA compliant and registered, we have done the safety checks and tests to give the end customer complete confidence. This means experts help our brand organically.”
Pipedream’s Dropkick has found sex educators working through social media to be key. “Social media has raised the customer’s standards for customer service. Waiting a week or three for an email is no longer acceptable now that social media offers instant engagement. More and more customers are funneling their inquiries through social media channels, which is the sex educator’s primary source of contact outside of direct email.
“This direct accessibility with a real person makes the customer feel much more safe, they build relationships, and over time the sex educator gains the customers’ trust as they begin taking our suggestions and advice, both personally and when choosing a toy.”
Dr. Fulbright also underlined the importance of social media contacts, asserting that sex experts can “use their online/industry presence and social media platforms to make consumers aware of new and upcoming products or even provide product reviews.”
She continued, “Sex experts and educators who have developed a solid PR platform can be of value in putting their name or brand behind a product either as a spokesperson or helping to develop a product line.
“Sex experts can also be brought onboard a company as part of its team, whether behind the scenes in brainstorming better products or helping to garner publicly and bolster its reputation as a quality, trusted brand. They also can act as resident ‘sexperts’ for companies’ websites, answering questions and writing articles.
“Companies and sex experts can further work together in promoting sales by providing online videos explaining the products or simply offering education via online programs, teleseminars or webinars, by creating a regular PR platform, like a blog, newsletter, or podcast show, or by drafting branded books or e-guides or hosting ‘live’ discussion forums.”
At CalExotics, said Duffy, “our Expert Sexperts, the entire concept of educating the public about sexual health and wellness, and our activities on Club CalExotics, all serve to help the consumer understand our mission. Through this education, we establish a brand identity that resonates with consumers.
“For example, if they read an article by Sunny Megatron, and it teaches them how to use fetish products, they will remember that brand when it is time to make a purchase. People gravitate to what they know, and if they know CalExotics and our fetish brands, like the award-winning Scandal and the Entice Accessories collections, that drives sales.
“We do all of this as our way of supporting our customers,” she concluded. “As a manufacturer, we don’t sell direct. We want to promote and brand our products, collections and our company so that it makes for faster, easier and higher sales at checkout.