trends

Meet the Latest Trendsetters in Sexual Wellness

Meet the Latest Trendsetters in Sexual Wellness

With only 13 states legally requiring sex-ed in schools — and none of it focused on pleasure — most people are left on their own to discover themselves sexually. Often that means learning from porn and masturbation, but without much understanding, shame is always part of the course.

Megwyn White, a sexual wellness expert and Satisfyer’s director of education, says that although sexuality is an integral part of our lives and encompasses so many facets, the stigma surrounding it makes people scared to explore it outside of the bedroom.

Platforms like Brooklyn’s annual Sex Expo are a strong voice lifting up pleasure products and other ways to explore sexuality for every identity and orientation, in a safe, open, and healthy way.

“[Getting sex-ed from watching porn] can often lead to unrealistic comparisons, and expectations when it comes to sex,” she said. “As people learn more about their bodies, sensual urges as it relates to their biology, and also how the plasticity of eroticism, can change over someone’s lifetime.

“Exploring sexual wellness products becomes a means of staying tuned into the pulse of sexual energy as it relates to both intimacy and to one’s overall health,” White continued. “Many people who lack education around sexuality will end up relinquishing their desires, and not explore themselves because of conditioning they may have received culturally or in childhood.”

Dr. Sadie Allison, a sexologist and founder of GoLove CBD Naturals and Tickle Kitty, says that the abstinence-only education that is taught to students today skips over foundational teachings for a healthy sex life, such as masturbation and communicating one’s sexual desires.

“As a result, young adults grow up and find themselves in adult relationships without the knowledge and tools to successfully navigate their sexual relationships, connections and intimacy,” she said.

Thankfully, with the growth of the sexual wellness industry, many more brands and retailers are stepping up to the plate to provide the knowledge and boost the sexual confidence of today’s consumers.

White says that through various initiatives, Satisfyer is always promoting sexual wellness.

“We contribute to the collective discourse around sexuality through contributing to editorial outlets that range from everything from masturbation, couples play, addressing issues of erectile dysfunction, and understanding how sex toys can be a part of your daily self-care practice,” White added. “Our brand has also created in-person events bringing in educators and experts within the field to broaden the dialogue and introduce the public and press to relevant scientific research to not only de-stigmatize sex, but also introduce them to the mental and physical benefits of exploring their bodies’ sensuality on a regular basis.”

Tatiana Carrera, a sexpert and author of the self-help guide “Oralicious — The Truth About Oral Sex, Intimacy and Passion” says that sex education should be considered essential.

“Sex education expands on, enlightens and teaches us about the elements that make up the essence of our bodies, minds and sexual energy,” Carrera said.” I like to equate it to learning about the Periodic Table of Elements, and how water is derived from hydrogen and oxygen, the basics. And this is a very important life lesson. For instance, I consider our five senses — taste, sight, smell, touch and sound — to be the basic elements of sex education. I remember being absolutely shocked at learning that our lips contain 10,000 nerve endings! Knowing about and learning more about our bodies are the key ingredients to a vibrant and wonderful sex life.”

Echoing the quote by psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden, “Pleasure… is not a luxury, but a profound psychological need,” Carrera says that that is the basis behind her brand, Oralicious.

“We all need pleasure and the physiological, psychological and emotional benefits it provides,” she said. “So, I use the Oralicious brand to help others get back to the sexual ‘basics,’ focusing our attention on the building blocks, by redefining the importance of a ‘basic’ kiss and tapping into those vital five senses during foreplay, so that everyone can truly enjoy the sexual pleasure journey the way that our bodies were designed and intended to be enjoyed.”

With increasing awareness surrounding sexual wellness, including its presence in mainstream media, sex education is becoming more normalized. For years, the Sex Expo in New York has consistently drawn growing crowds year after year with a two-day sex-ed bonanza.

“Platforms like Brooklyn’s annual Sex Expo are a strong voice lifting up pleasure products and other ways to explore sexuality for every identity and orientation, in a safe, open, and healthy way,” Carrera said.

At this year’s Sex Expo NY, Carrera will be hosting a session titled “The Pleasure Journey: Getting Back to the Basics.”

“We live in a fast-paced, instant gratification, and sexually charged culture that moves from point ‘A’ right to ‘Z’ when defining how orgasms are and should be obtained, often ignoring points ‘B’ through ‘Y,’” Carrera said. “I show couples how taking a moment to learn how to actually enjoy the sexual Pleasure Journey by kissing, incorporating our five senses when we are in the act of foreplay, and finding our erogenous zones will help both men and women achieve an explosive orgasm.”

“Shameless Sex” is a podcast hosted by industry vets April Lampert (the global head of sales for Hot Octopuss) and Amy Baldwin, a certified somatic sex and relationship coach, co-owner of Pure Pleasure boutique and representative of the well-known lubricant manufacturer Uberlube. The duo will be doing double-duty at Sex Expo with Lampert serving as the event’s host and Baldwin hosting the workshop “Shameless Sex Presents Pussy Pleasure 101,” while manning a booth to meet with fans of their podcast.

Sliquid also is taking the initiative to educate consumers at Sex Expo with their Lube 101 and Q&A session at the event. Sliquid’s “lube educator,” aka vice president of sales and merchandising, Michelle Marcus will offer a more in-depth look at the wide selection of lubricants available in today’s consumer marketplace with a key focus on ingredients to better understand the who, what, when and why when choosing the perfect lubricant.

“Sharpen those pencils and break out the paper, because this is one class you won’t want to skip,” the company said about the session.

Certified aromatherapist and sex educator Taylor Sparks will return to Sex Expo New York for the third year in a row with her Organic Loven line of pleasure products and to host another one of her standing room-only sessions. Sparks will present a workshop titled “Spanking for Lovers: Your Ass or Mine?” highlighting the benefits of spanking in sex.

“In this fun, interactive seminar based on the popular book, ‘Spanking for Lovers,’ we cover the culture, anatomy and positions of spanking,” Sparks said.

Seminar highlights include finding out what a “spankophile” is, and learning about the anatomy of spanking, as well as discovering great spanking positions for any body type, any ability and any age.

Sex educator Leidy Dahiana will be introducing Sex Expo attendees to “The Erotic Blueprints,” which will help people familiarize themselves with the words and style of touch that turn them on the most.

“We are all different and it’s not a one-size-fits-all operation,” Dahiana says. The session will teach attendees their erotic language and how to pair it with the right touch for greater arousal, deeper connection and more juicy orgasms.

This year’s Sex Expo New York will mark Sybian’s fifth year in a row as a sponsor of the event. Pro-cannabis sexpert Ashley Manta, creator of CannaSexual, will be hosting a class at the event as well as visiting Sybian’s booth for follow-up questions from attendees. In the “Enhancing Your Pleasure” session, Manta will dissect how sex and cannabis is discussed, and how we can set ourselves up for success with the right tools and supplies, as well as a few best practices for optimal cannabis-fueled sexy times.

With two full days of all things sex, fueled by an open communication and pleasure-based education, Sex Expo has become a hotbed for retail sales. Adult retailers of all varieties, ranging from local stores such as Romantic Depot and nationwide chains like Pleasure Chest and Babeland to online retailers and home party companies like Bedroom Kandi and Athena’s Home Novelties, are frequent participants at Sex Expo. Many retail staff also make the trek to Brooklyn to gain valuable insight to help them best serve customers.

“Last year’s event was my first foray into the wider world of the business, and it was an amazing experience,” said Raichel McCarthy, assistant manager at Love Stuff and More in Hamilton, New Jersey, who penned a column titled “The B2B Benefits of Attending Sex Expo NY” about her experience at the show. “I made a ton of connections and was able to put faces to those in the industry whom I had previously only known as vague figures mentioned by my GM or read about in industry magazines.”

Dr. Sadie Allison is a bestselling author who’s written six sex-technique books. In 2001, she launched Tickle Kitty Press to offer the titles “Tickle Your Fancy,” “Tickle His Pickle,” “Toy-gasms!” “Tickle My Tush,” “Ride ‘Em Cowgirl!” and “The Mystery of the Undercover Clitoris.”

“Retailers I believe have a responsibility to offer some level of sexual wellness education because consumers go to brick-and-mortar stores expecting that level of knowledge,” Allison said. “The sales reps at the retailers are on the front lines and have a huge impact on the individual’s love life. Not only will more sales take place when the sales person can offer sex and pleasure education beyond the product specs, but they have the opportunity to positively impact that consumer’s life that go far beyond what they realize.”

Without pleasure-based sex education, people often don’t focus on their own unique desires, needs and limits.

“Pleasure as a concept is something that leaves many people — adults especially — feeling unsettled because it’s so rarely discussed privately and publicly, and it’s something very intimate, individual and personal, which requires a level of vulnerability that many of us feel unprepared for, said Anne Hodder-Shipp, a sex educator and founder of Everyone Deserves Sex Ed (EDSE).

She founded EDSE to provide “a foundational understanding of human sexuality, including anatomy, gender and safer sex, to transform the way professionals think about their business.” The sex-ed certification program is available for all adult industry professionals.

“Personally and professionally, I believe that anyone choosing to work in the sexuality field has a social responsibility to provide accurate information — or, at the very least, avoid misinformation — along with whatever they’re trying to sell,” Hodder-Shipp said. “Especially knowing that the public often sees the adult industry as more informed or sexually aware than any other.

“If we’re going to profit off of people’s curiosity, uncertainty, fear, arousal, etc., we have an ethical obligation to support their journeys in return,” she added. “Not only is it the honest, socially responsible thing to do, it also is great for business — nothing builds a lasting bond faster than trust and support, and when a shopper learns that a brand is there not only to sell them a product but also respond to their comments/inquiries (even if it’s with 'I’m not sure but I can find out for you’), they stick with you.”

By offering in-store workshops, retailers such as The Pleasure Chest, Self Serve, Good Vibrations and She Bop boost traffic to their storefronts and attendees are more compelled to shop following an informative workshop.

“Every product used in demos is available for purchase once the workshop ends and most stores offer attendees some kind of discount as a thank you and an incentive,” Hodder-Shipp said. “You really can bank on the curiosity, empowerment and excitement that access to sexuality information inspires in people.”

A 2007 study by sex researcher Debby Herbenick assessed the extent to which consumers of adult retail stores present “teachable moments” for consumers, and found that a significant amount of adults often rely on retailers, including online and home parties, for sex education.

“I’m a big proponent of educating people that are already interested,” said Alicia Gauvin, executive director of The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health. “It’s a good way of giving medicine with the sugar. It’s our responsibility as an industry to be able to answer questions and be a resource.”

Temmy Wallace, owner and CEO of iCandi, credits adult retailers for being game-changers when it comes to exploring sexuality and pleasure, starting decades ago.

“It’s important that we continue to do extensive research to persist in being a go-to resource for sexual wellness,” she said. “The more information you can provide, the more customers will trust and purchase from your brand. Once the potential consumers become well informed, the more comfortable they are to experience our pleasure products which opens the door to them exploring more of our selection and purchasing them as gifts for others.”

CalExotics conducted a study last year in which 90 percent of respondents said they had not received any formal sex education as an adult, and 16.9 percent said they have never had a formal sex-ed class at any point in their life.

“This is very telling of how much our society lacks sex education,” said Nichole Grossman, CalExotics’ director of marketing. “Plus, 70 percent of those surveyed said they would benefit from taking a sex-ed class as an adult. Another point that shows our lack of sex education and the need/demand for it.”

Describing today’s society as “puritanical,” Gauvin says that unfortunately a lot of people still rely on doctors, religious mentors and therapists for sex advice; and many are left wondering “am I normal?” When sex information isn’t being withheld, it can also form pressure for people.

“Adult retailers are bridging the gap of enabling people to talk in stores, and allowing them to ask questions around functioning,” Gauvin said. “What is the best toy? What is the best position? We could be very prescriptive in our culture. The media hypes up certain things … like the rabbit vibe in ‘Sex and the City’ — just because this product is the best for this person doesn’t mean it’s the same for everybody.”

Alicia Sinclair, a certified sex educator and founder of COTR, Inc. — a manufacturer of premium pleasure products — says that companies should support retailers with quality products paired with sex education.

“Retailers are on the front lines and what they’re selling is their ammunition,” Sinclair said. “They need products that provide education, are welcoming to consumers and create positive experiences because you want those customers to come back and buy more products. You want them to have enjoyed the experience.”

Thanks to the pleasure products industry embracing its role in promoting sexual wellness, product packaging has become more inclusive.

“On a simplistic level, if you look at the way sex toys have been marketed — even just two years ago — it’s so archaic,” Sinclair said. “I often make a joke about when I went to buy my first sex toy, it was a rabbit vibe and there was a woman posed spread eagle on the packaging. I remember thinking ‘who do they think is buying this product?’ It was like there was no thought in the consumer experience.”

With its millennial-friendly approach, Emojibator is using its platform to promote sexual wellness.

“Sex is a natural fact of life, and yet when I first started Emojibator, I noticed there was so much taboo, ignorance, lying and confusion around sex,” said Joe Vela, the company’s CEO and founder. “Since realizing the number of people we could impact with the Emojibator platform, it’s been our goal to promote sexual health, sex positivity, and celebrate pleasure. In 2018, we launched the MasturbationMonth.com site, and our blog The Flirt Face to promote sex-positive health education from our network of contributors.”

Gauvin says that the evolution of product packaging could be a sign of the industry’s move towards inclusivity.

“I hope it’s not being performative — it’s a thing that all brands do, it’s marketing,” she said. “But it’s important that they’re thinking about more markets and listening to more communities (not just abled bodies) — I’d like to see more of it.”

White admits that pleasure products of the past didn’t leave much to the imagination. Today, however, manufacturers are being more creative with unique designs.

“These less-gendered designs open a new paradigm of sexuality — one which is based on mutuality and nuance,” she said. “We have only just begun to see this shift. As the space of sexual wellness education evolves, so will the design and integration of products into our unique lifestyle.”

COTR’s b-Vibe brand has become the go-to brand for anal play products and education. The brand is consistently featured in mainstream publications as a resource for anal play information.

“I really feel like we’ve made a big impact on how people talk about anal play,” Sinclair said. “b-Vibe’s website has become a resource more than an online store and I think that platform has allowed us to push the conversation far more than if we were just selling products.”

All of b-Vibe’s offerings are paired with the brand’s “Guide to Anal Play” booklet. The company recently upped the ante with its Anal Training Kit and Education Set, a seven-piece collection of items and a thick, large book of anal play tips and information.

“I think that’s what I’m most proud of as far as sex education,” Sinclair said. “It has all of our products and tells you how to use them. It has all the information on why it feels good, and positions. We (literally) have your back with the book because it answers all of your questions.”

Pioneering pleasure products brand CalExotics has also been embracing sexual wellness throughout the years. The brand offers educational videos on topics that range from dyspareunia to domination with sex educators such as Dr. Jill McDevitt.

“Our goal is to provide users access to information, and to create pleasure products that support and enhance sexual wellness,” Grossman said. “One great example of this is our new dilators endorsed by ob/gyn Dr. Sherry Ross, and our Impulse collection. These products help consumers experience a satisfying sex life, while also combating the effects left on the body from things like aging and pregnancy.”

Grossman says that CalExotics’ mission is to provide pleasure products that support the sex lives of all consumers regardless of gender, identity and orientation.

“We believe it’s important to be as diverse as the people who buy our products,” Grossman said, adding that, “As the needs of consumers change, the industry evolves, and the current market reflects that. Consumers now can walk into a store or shop online and find the perfect product for their needs.”

Pipedream Products has Sunny Rodgers as the on-staff intimate health and wellness expert, which allows her to provide solid sexual wellness educational information to customers and end-consumers. The entire team stays abreast on the latest trends in sexual wellness in order to incorporate them into new product development.

“The Pipedream development team is always looking for ways to create new products for which consumers are looking, and especially for items that provide solutions to these issues,” she said.

Rodgers, a 20-year intimate pleasure product industry veteran who’s working toward her doctorate degree, recently announced the launch of Institute of Intimate Health and its Intimate Health Advisors certification program. The Institute for Intimate Health offers knowledge and certification combined with ongoing, up-to-date information and mentorship.

“The more useful information and help that can be given to consumers, the more empowered and healthier the consumer will feel when using products,” Rodgers said. “Sex education promotes sales because this type of education shows people the healthy benefits, both physically and mentally, that can be obtained via sexual pleasure. When consumers learn that orgasms can release healthy endorphins that naturally relieve stress, consumers tend to then view intimate pleasure products in a more favorable light; which, in turn, can lead to increased purchases.”

According to Vela, because of the societal taboos that persist, the work of providing sex education never ends, because “there is still so much to uncover.”

“Any brand that wants to further itself, its industry, and society would be wise to inform its customers,” Vela said. “I think education, sex education specifically, makes for a richer, healthier society and the adult industry has the responsibility to educate where mainstream media and the government ignore these topics.”

International pleasure products brand Svakom is taking a unique approach to spreading sex education.

“Svakom since a year now has focused in creating partie called ‘F**k Taboos’ in which we focus mainly on two things interactive workshops and partying,” Svakom sales manager Alex Feynerol said. “Why is partying such an important aspect of our events you might ask? Well simply because people who would come to an event with the sole purpose of learning about sexual health are more than often people that know enough about it, while instead our goal is to attract people that never even thought about attending workshops and making them understand how many interesting and curious facts they didn’t know about sex. The results have been crazy with each single event registering around 300 paying participants.”

Feynerol says that he’s noticed conversations about sex shifting in recent years.

“People are more interested, they start to ask questions and for advice,” he said. “I’ve seen also a higher number of consumers that finally understood that cheap doesn’t necessarily mean better while talking about vibrators. More and more people are now investing in higher quality toys knowing that it is a better deal for both their wallets (high-end toys usually come with warranties while the cheaper ones don’t and tend to break easier as well) and their bodies.”

Educating about sex and supporting sexual wellness is central to Hot Octopus, says Julia Margo, the company’s co-founder. On the company’s blog, Hot Octopuss shares information and ideas about how to improve sex, especially for people who may not always feel included in the dominant narratives about sex — such as for those who are age 40 and above, or those who are disabled.

“For instance we have a ‘diverse and accessible sex’ section which hosts sexual wellness content for anyone who has additional needs, is queer, trans or non-binary, has erection problems or is interested in sex in later life,” she said. “Generally as a brand, all our marketing and PR is aimed at tackling stigma around sex and sexual pleasure and helping to support more open conversations.”

Noting the growing demand from health-conscious consumers for quality lubricants, Allison has created the first sexologist-formulated, water-based CBD sexual wellness lubricant.

“Women of all ages are more sexually active than ever, from young adults to peri-menopausal woman and beyond,” Allison said. “This demographic is looking for lubricants that are body-safe and effective. When I found there weren’t many products suitable to recommend that offered this level of quality and care for the female body, I decided to formulate one myself.”

Allison said she chose to add CBD, cannabidiol, to the lubricant for its ability to reduce anxiety and inflammation, which she calls “the ultimate root cause of what many women of all ages are struggling with in their intimate lives.”

“CBD binds with our own endocannabinoid systems receptors to help reduce inflammation and activates pathways that reduce anxiety,” she said. “Delivering this medicine in a water-based formula through the mucosal membrane of the vagina provides very targeted results that women want and in a natural way.”

Satisfyer’s latest device for sexual wellness is the Satisfyer Men wand, which is designed to offer stimulation that is reminiscent of pleasure from a human hand.

“This product features 50 different vibration programs, which are meant to stimulate blood flow, and the arousal network within the penis,” White said. “In general, this type of product is a great way for men to increase sensate experiencing and learn how to pleasure themselves to keep the erectile tissues strong and toned.”

According to Margo, the industry still needs some work in order to best serve a diverse community.

"We all continue to make assumptions about how products should be used, too, but in reality sex toys can be a lot more versatile than we think, and we have learned a lot from our trans, queer and disabled customers when they’ve given us feedback on ways they’ve used our products that we would not initially have thought of. It is tricky from a commercial perspective to ensure no one ever feels excluded, but some of the mainstream language around sex toys can be quite alienating if you don’t identify with it. I also don’t think there is enough thought given to toys for gay couples, which is shame on many counts — it’s a massive potential market.

“There is clearly a growing shift among consumers towards more openness to information about sex and pleasure products generally,” Margo said. “Despite this, there are still many challenges for those of us in the industry to educate, inform and destigmatize. We are a bit of a way from sex toys being products that the average consumer will post about having purchased on social media and recommend to their friends.

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