opinion

How Sex-Ed Lays the Groundwork for Well-Informed Shopping

How Sex-Ed Lays the Groundwork for Well-Informed Shopping

We often do some research before making purchases, whether by delving into a company’s background, exploring specific products or simply making sure we understand how to use something before we buy it. In the realm of pleasure products, however, it is common to encounter customers with little or no knowledge about the products we offer — or even a clear idea of what they are looking for.

Stepping into an adult store with hundreds or even thousands of options can be overwhelming for such customers, and it falls to retailers and manufacturers to guide them through their journey. Of course, initiating these conversations can be challenging, particularly since we have no way of intuiting a particular shopper’s background and potential sensitivities. That’s why, especially for customers encountering sexual health information for the first time, an education-forward approach is crucial.

Unsurprisingly, one of the demographics most curious about sexual exploration is young adults.

A Conversation Long Overdue

Despite the seeming wealth of information offered by the internet age, the state of public sex education remains less than ideal. Whether because of misinformation about sexual function and anatomy, or feelings of shame and embarrassment when asking questions, discussions about sexual health can feel scary or taboo to many people. As customers explore their sexual desires for the first time, retailers can help build their confidence by providing easily digestible information and establishing their stores and sites as spaces for education.

That can include creating resource pages with information from health organizations and educators, or offering basic classes that familiarize customers with products and how to use them safely. For manufacturers, offering information on safe storage, cleaning and usage, plus employing or at least consulting sexual wellness experts to provide feedback and guidance, is crucial for building trust with customers.

Fortunately, we are entering an era where discussions about sexual health topics are becoming more commonplace. Online discourse about sexual health received a boost during the COVID-19 pandemic, when pleasure product companies and sellers had to get creative about hosting educational spaces. Zoom parties and virtual sessions replaced traditional in-store events, offering more folks an accessible resource where they could seek information and learn about products.

For many retailers, this helped build community with consumers looking to expand their knowledge in pleasure and explore products they might have otherwise overlooked. Meanwhile, better understanding which products fulfilled their needs made consumers more confident about their buying decisions, online and in-store.

Pleasure: The Next Generation

Unsurprisingly, one of the demographics most curious about sexual exploration is young adults. This trend is increasingly visible on college campuses, where student and university organizations offer programs and courses centered around sexual health and wellness. As these learning opportunities expand, individuals in this demographic are excited to discover new experiences and products, prioritizing not only pleasure but also their overall sexual well-being.

Helping these young adults establish a strong knowledge base as they embark on their sexual journey presents an opportunity for developing brand loyalty early on, leaving a lasting impact as they continue to explore their sexuality. They tend to flock to the latest trendy toy, sometimes sparked by something in popular media. Their questions, comments and activity on social media often indicate where their interests are leading them, offering valuable insight into upcoming trends. As they age, brands can monitor those trends and grow alongside them.

There is a theory that having an abundance of choices actually makes it harder for us to choose. Psychologist Barry Schwartz called this “the paradox of choice” — and it is always a danger in adult retail, where shelves and websites can, to the uneducated eye, appear crammed with similar or seemingly identical products that all blur together. After all, if you never tried a soda, would you be able to differentiate between Coke and Pepsi? Probably not, at least until you sampled various brands and learned to distinguish among them.

When faced with multiple dildos or strokers that may initially look or feel the same, how can someone without much experience using these products make a truly informed decision? By providing the tools to educate and inform customers, we help cultivate their ability to differentiate between similar items. This helps them make buying decisions they are more likely to feel good about later — which, as every retailer knows, is how you get a repeat customer.

Prioritizing educational initiatives, whether through online resources, virtual events or partnerships with educational institutions, allows the pleasure products industry to break down taboos, reduce misinformation and empower individuals to make informed choices about their sexual health. Embracing a culture of education helps the industry shine as a beacon of empowerment, promoting not only pleasure but also a holistic approach to sexual well-being. This not only fosters a more confident and informed consumer base, but also cultivates long-lasting relationships between brands and their customers. As societal attitudes toward sexual wellness continue to evolve, retailers and manufacturers have ever more opportunities to become catalysts for positive change — and boost their business in the process.

Nathan Hammerle is the marketing coordinator for Sportsheets and a sexual wellness educator certified through Ohio University.

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