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Creative Review · The changing landscape of sexual wellness brands feat. SMAKK's Katie Klencheski

Sexual wellness is no longer a novelty. There are opportunities here for brands, especially if they widen the conversation and make sure everyone has a voice, says Katie Klencheski of branding agency SMAKK

WRITTEN BY: KATIE KLENCHESKI - Click to read on Creative Review

Sex is universal and normalising the range of conversations around it invites more people to express themselves safely and joyfully. The alternative – shame, guilt and questions like ‘am I normal?’ – have caused mental anguish for so many people. Meanwhile, positive, inclusive, open, accessible conversations around sex desires, preferences, needs and health concerns foster good mental health as well as studied, measurable wellness benefits. There’s no question that sexual wellbeing is wellness, and not only health adjacent, but health – period. But do brands belong in this conversation?

With the mainstreaming of sexual wellness products – from supplements to vibrators – brands are now front and centre in making pleasure accessible, and driving conversations around pleasure. Stores that are already equipped to cater to consumers’ wellness needs – from CVS to Sephora – are helping to recontextualise conversations about sex to a venue that makes it easier for people to address intimacy through the lens of health and strip away shame and stigma.

Media and content are also a part of the shift, especially on platforms like TikTok that encourage more authentic sharing. The rise of sexual wellness influencers and the many voices sharing and interacting means more frank conversations about sex and sexuality, normalising anything and everything that was previously not ‘mainstream’. Brands are also in these places, engaging with these issues and communities on their terms. But as the conversation has evolved brands have taken on greater responsibilities and expectations. To not only progress but foster greater inclusivity, they can no longer rely on the novelty of sex to garner attention.

RISING TO THE CHALLENGE

Now the playing field is level and sexual wellness products are everywhere, brands in sexual wellness have to take a page from other consumer product playbooks. They need to clearly know their white space and audience. Their brand storytelling has to be strong. They need to actively speak to the unique needs and desires of their consumers, and they have to have strong product differentiation and reasons to believe. Studies have shown that consumers are going to expect more – from better performing products and great design to safety standards and demonstrable efficacy. Like other categories, the table stakes for consumer consideration are going up. Brands that get ahead of that by raising their standards, educating their consumers, talking to underserved consumer groups, and developing great brand storytelling and visuals will be the next crop of category leaders.

This means playing a positive role in driving forward conversations around sex, wellbeing and health. Sexual wellness brands are especially well positioned to empower their audiences through education around these topics. But like any brand, they can use their soapbox for good and spread radical self-acceptance or create desire for their products through negative marketing that makes consumers feel like there’s some sexual standard that they don’t measure up to.

Some brands are already using this opportunity to diversify their approaches. Maude utilises understated, minimal design, likening their offerings to other home accessories. They’ve made their products more appropriate for a magazine like Dwell as opposed to Hustler – sending the cue to their consumers that sexual wellness products can be a sophisticated addition to a well-curated home akin to a bottle of Aesop hand soap. This has helped normalise conversations around sex as just another part of what happens in our personal spaces.

Meanwhile, Dame and Goop are using fun, covetable design sensibilities mixed with health-oriented conversations about ‘female orgasm disparities’ and the ‘Pleasure Gap’ to speak to the real need for vibrators.

Foria, a plant-based sexual wellness company, has taken consumer education to a level of excellence with a ‘learn’ section on their site that dives into very specific sexual education topics, from vulva mapping to anal sex, as well as the science behind their formulas and ingredients. These are brands forging new paths in sexual wellbeing. But there is still so much more that brands can do to foster even greater inclusivity.

GOING FURTHER

The opportunity now is inclusion – connecting with consumers that haven’t been part of the conversation and understanding that many people feel left out because of age, body type, abilities, and orientation. This matters to consumers in Gen Z as much as Boomers who are perceived to have ‘aged out’ of the conversation – despite evidence to the contrary.

For example, in helping build brands for both Tabu (a sexual wellness brand for women over 50) and Wild Flower (creator of the award-winning genderless Enby vibrator), we approached our work via a sexual wellbeing lens with the central thesis that healthy, satisfying sex lives are a human right.

This meant creating audience profiles for each brand that led to the development of inclusive messaging and brand identities meant to connect with those humans – the ones other brands typically leave out – and address their specific needs.

In Tabu’s case, brands in sexual wellness often forget that the oldest millennials are now entering the perimenopausal period. These women have grown up in the heyday of D2C brands and have higher expectations when it comes to their health and wellbeing. For brands looking to be more inclusive, they must be prepared to answer questions that speak to the often-ignored needs of these communities.

They have experienced an uplevelling of other categories around them – like skincare, supplements, and personal care – and expect the same from sexual wellness. They have had a front row seat to the destigmatisation of other categories, and now see health and wellbeing as a critical piece to any brand or product they invest in. So, where are the range of brands catering to this growing audience?

For brands looking to be more inclusive, they must be prepared to answer questions that speak to the often-ignored needs of these communities. How will this make my life better? How will this bring me the greatest value? How will this help me be the best version of myself out in the world? These people expect solutions to speak directly to them while aligning with their overall lifestyles.

This type of commitment to normalising the range of conversations around sex invites more people to express themselves safely and joyfully. In this role, sexual wellness brands should embrace their ability to empower their audiences, using their power for good to spread radical self-acceptance and build a culture of sexual wellbeing that is more accessible and healthy for all.

Click here to read on Creative Review

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