Sex Ed Sells: Manufacturers Educate Consumers, Retailers

For manufacturers of pleasure products, sex education is vital to business. Several companies have taken it upon themselves to guide consumers through sexual exploration by not just providing a wide range of tools but also the know-how to use them.

Manufacturers such as CalExotics, Pipedream, Doc Johnson and Topco have sexperts on staff to directly provide advice and information directly to consumers and retailers.

It’s less about making sex education ‘popular’ and more about relieving the taboo and shame associated with sex. Once we can achieve this, then sex education will become a routine occurrence. -Sabrina Dropkick

“I primarily talk to customers through email and social media,” said Sabrina Dropkick, Pipedream’s sexpert and social media manager. “The variety of questions is pretty vast, though the most common are probably toy suggestions, penis enhancement, and first-time anal advice. My favorite inquiries come from people who want to better satisfy their partner or want to introduce something new to their routine — I just love introducing people to the infinite realm of pleasure that sex toys can provide.”

According to Dropkick, offering sex advice and handling Pipedream’s social media go hand in hand.

“Since a majority of my work is done online, it offers people the safety of anonymity and relieves the anxiety typically induced by face-to-face conversation,” she said. “I also do a lot of blogging and we’re about to launch a new video series, and I think having these types of educational resources readily available is extremely valuable — it’s anticipating people’s needs and answering their questions before they even have to work up the courage to ask.”

Dropkick notes that the need for sex-ed is becoming more evident as it increasingly garners more attention from the media.

“John Oliver’s ‘Last Week Tonight’ recently did a phenomenal story on the crisis of sex education in America (only 13 states require that sex education be scientifically accurate — um, what?!) Celebrities are publicly coming out of various closets, sparking plenty of much-needed conversation about gender and sexuality,” Dropkick said.” And with the array of communities who gather online to share their experiences and network, there’s a place on the Internet for anyone to find the resources and relatability they need to feel more comfortable with and explore their particular sexuality.

“That’s what I think it’s really about — it’s less about making sex education ‘popular’ and more about relieving the taboo and shame associated with sex. Once we can achieve this, then sex education will become a routine occurrence. The more we talk about it, the more ‘normalized’ it becomes, and sharing our personal stories is especially effective because it brings a tangible life to the issues at hand.”

About a year ago Doc Johnson launched its “Ask the Doc” radio show on Playboy Radio. Hosted by Chad Braverman, Doc Johnson’s creative director, and Sunny Rodgers, Doc Johnson’s marketing guru, “Ask the Doc” has featured a variety of guests and takes calls from listeners on its show every week. According to Rodgers, the show was created in part based on the popularity of Doc’s customer service page on its website.

“We found more and more people were reaching out to us for sex advice and not just sex toy advice. Secondly, since Chad has been surrounded by this industry his entire life and at Doc Johnson for the past ten years, he gets a lot of intimate questions from near strangers when they find out who he is and what he does. Likewise, I’ve been in this industry working for manufacturers for over 15 years now and often get those same intimate questions. So when Playboy approached us to do a radio show we knew that it would be the perfect format to answer all the questions we receive and allow us to really connect to consumers and public at large. I can honestly say that we’re all very proud of how Ask The Doc continues to grow in popularity and how many people we are helping each and every day.”

Doc Johnson’s Ryann Brooks serves as the producer for the “Ask the Doc” radio show.

“Ryann schedules our shows weeks, sometimes months, in advance,” Rodgers said. “She makes sure that we have guests and topics, and most importantly, she acts as our liaison with anyone who has a question for us. Every week Ryann supplies Chad and I with a rundown that breaks our show into four segments. Our ‘Ask The Doc’ questions are always in our second segment. Chad and I usually have less than 24-hours to do our homework on each guest and topic.

“Every week we answer questions from consumers and the public on a wide range of topics — from simple beginner sex toy questions to advanced BDSM questions,” Rodgers said. “We’ve had guests that educate listeners as well — Dan Savage, a Dominatrix, an ER nurse, a Rabbi, swingers and a polyamorous trio, members of the Movember Foundation and quite a few bloggers and authors too. Emily Morse is an upcoming guest and we know she’ll impart sexual wisdom for our listeners.”

CalExotics has a team of “Expert Sexperts” that educate retailers and consumers on sexual health and wellness topics.

“We want to provide resources to the public on sexual health and wellness and the Expert Sexperts do just that with articles, blog posts, videos, events, social media and more sponsored by CalExotics,” said Nichole Grossman from CalExotics. “We support sex education whenever we can. We’ve teamed up with many universities to support their sex education endeavors. This includes major universities like Harvey, Boston and Northwestern. We provide free educational material and products to get students excited about sexual health topics.

“We’ve also partnered with the American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists and participated in their annual conference. We provided workshops with our Expert Sexperts Chuck and Jo-Ann Bird (the Love Birds) on the topic of sexual health benefits of sex toys and aids. This helps raise awareness at the professional level.

“We are always looking for innovative ways to further educated people and create awareness about positive sexual behavior.”

Grossman says CalExotics is expanding on its sex education offerings to serve retailers.

“In an effort to help educate the retail employee we have created the CalExotics Institute,” she said. “This online educational portal helps educate retail employees on CalExotics and JOPEN products. Many of the courses include videos from our Expert Sexperts where they provide tips, techniques and educational facts on sexual health and wellness topics.”

Kim Airs, a sexpert and industry vet who serves as Topco’s resident retail and sexuality specialist, says it’s essential to have a working knowledge of sexual function and safety when selling pleasure products.

“To associate a brand with a sexpert who has credibility and is trustworthy in advice and knowledge, gives the manufacturer an advantage in the sexual health products retail world,” Airs said.

Airs has been in the industry for more than two decades and says her expertise also stems from beyond that.

“I have always believed that the best educators are those who have experienced what they are teaching, no matter what the topic is. I am proud of the knowledge I have gained through experience as a sex-positive woman,” she said.

“When one is a sex educator, you listen to consumers at many levels who have an unending desire to learn everything there is about sex, sexual function and sex toys,” Airs continued. “I feel it is my life’s calling to present them with clear, concise, non-judgmental and accurate information. On the professional front, I am also proud to say that I have been a member of AASECT (American Assoc of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists) and am a charter member (since 1997) of ISSWSH, the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health which is a multi-disciplinary organization of doctors, sex therapists, researchers and others.”

 At Topco, Airs’ role is to train retail personnel not only about products but also how they are used, what they are made of, how they can be used for various sexual health conditions, as well as how they can be used for pleasure.

“I also teach sexual anatomy because while we know, for example, the G-spot is in the vagina, many people don’t know exactly where it is and what it can do.”

Patty Callahan, LELO’s PR communications and marketing manager, told XBIZ that when it comes to pleasure product design, “pleasure and health are two sides of the same coin.”

“It is possible to have one without the other, but the combination of both invariably creates a product that’s more than the sum of its parts,” Callahan said. “Aside from the products themselves, we are deeply involved in the promotion of good quality sexual health education. To this end, weekly we sponsor and support a massive amount of local lectures and talks, and we partner with various trusted sex experts and professionals all over the world to make sure a positive message about sex is spread in local communities. We help promote book tours for authors we trust, and in more ways than any other pleasure brand we are on the ground with the sex health professionals. We often receive emails from health and wellness experts who tell us they regularly promote our products in their sessions.

“Of course we work with many of those experts to create our products. When developing our prostate massagers, we worked closely with Dr. Charlie Glickman, who gave us valuable insight about the products, as well as advising us of common questions about prostate massagers that the average person may have. Every LELO products is created with the idea that sexual pleasure (and products that help achieve it) should be accessible and mainstream, enjoyed and talked about without shame or stigma.”

According to Callahan, sex education is becoming more mainstream. “And not just education about sex itself, but other issues such as equality, consent, gender roles and sexual alignments. It’s easier than ever to find information about even the most complex topic, and we notice consumers take full advantage. People take sex and sexual education very seriously (as they should) and we notice that our most consistently popular blog articles are educational ones that address common question about sexual health and wellbeing.

“The proliferation of social media has been invaluable for this. It’s now possible to ask an expert directly and receive a personalized response about difficult sexual subjects right from your smartphone.”

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