Sex! Now that we’ve got your attention, we’d like to talk about… well, sex actually.

 

The reason being that once regarded as salacious, sex – and the conversations surrounding it – is now being rebranded as essential to self-care. Today, the myriad health benefits of sex and masturbation, from body confidence to better sleep and even pain reduction, are being celebrated.

 

In response, brands are creating products and services to educate and empower consumers in pursuit of sexual health and pleasure – from vibrators disguised as jewellery to freely-available apps and YouTube videos offering practical sex tips to the young and old alike.

 

It is a paradigm shift that is also being reflected in the media, with books and movies promoting more realistic and inclusive depictions of sex. All of this is partly driven by an increased focus on women’s health in particular. And with virtual sex now a reality, we can expect technology to further redefine what it means to be intimate in the modern age.

 

Even if you’re not in the business of sex, this is all reflective of a larger societal conversation about inclusivity – and just as in other areas, consumer choice and empowerment seem to be the order of the day.

 

One estimate puts the size of the global sexual wellness market in 2019 at just shy of $40bn, a figure that is estimated to grow through a CAGR of 13.4% to reach $123 billion by 2026. This was just one reason why Foresight Factory chose to focus on this topic as part of our recent Trending 2020 conference. We also carried out some original research that took a peek underneath the duvets of consumers in the UK and USA, asking probing questions about sexual attitudes and behaviours.

 

The UN’s World Health Organization includes pleasure in its definition of sexual health—for men and women. The Global Advisory Board for Sexual Health and Well Being has even argued that sexual pleasure is a human right. And the women driving the sex tech revolution know this, so are repositioning sex as just another facet of holistic health – in a bid to break down taboos and put all pleasure on equal ground. Not only does sex have proven benefits for physical health, it also lets us open up conversation about important social issues, and educate and empower ourselves in pursuit of pleasure and happiness.

 

Scientific study after study has shown that there is a huge gap between male and female sexual pleasure – dubbed the orgasm, or pleasure gap. Not only does it advance the patriarchal norms that say women’s bodies are merely for the sexual pleasure of men, but also the taboo against female sexual pleasure in our society leads to its own health problems. Inability to experience sexual pleasure can contribute to depression and anxiety, poor self-esteem, or sexual coercion. Foresight Factory research shows that while 54% of British men agree that, “in sex, all that makes for pleasure should be allowed”, the corresponding figure for women is only 37%, suggesting there is an attitudinal disconnect between the genders on this topic even now.

 

A familiar story of inequality was clear at this year’s Consumer Electronics Showcase in Las Vegas, where a robotic vibrator (the Ose by Lora DiCarlo) was initially accepted into the show and given an innovation award in robotics, only to later be excluded and the award revoked because it didn’t fit into an existing product category. The device was also called “immoral”, “obscene” and “profane,” according to statements the Consumer Technology Association made to the press.

 

That said, however, Lora DiCarlo’s prize was subsequently reinstated, and the Consumer Technology Association is changing its rules to allow sexual technology products as part of the health and wellness section of the show, on a one-year trial basis.

 

There’s no getting away from the influence of technology in today’s world, and the bedroom is no exception. While the idea that we’ll soon all be having sex with robots might seem like a dystopian bad dream, it’s an unavoidable fact that last year 35-year-old Japanese man Akihiko Kondo married a holographic VR avatar he’d been in love with for years. What’s more, Foresight Factory research showed that over a quarter – 26% – of British men aged 30-44 said they actually prefer online sex to physical sex.  

 

While it’s easy to think that technology can only have a corrosive impact on carnal relations, some developments, such as teledildonics, make it easier for couples to enjoy intimacy even when separated by great distance. A whole slew of sexual aids, educational apps and other tech-oriented products are likely to swell the future growth of the category.

 

With sexual health becoming more mainstream, and more widely discussed, there are likely to increasingly be implications for brands and companies in a wider range of industries.

 

There is certainly a lot to think about. For example, how long will advertisers get away with featuring gratuitous, sexualised content without facing a consumer backlash? Do brands have an opportunity to gain market and mind share by actively supporting the sexual, political and financial equality of women, rather than reinforcing tired gender stereotypes? And which sectors and categories can sensitively reposition their products and services as an aid to a fulfilled sex life? 

 

Foresight Factory’s new Sexual Positive trend forms part of our Trending 2020 report. In the report you’ll be able to explore more new and established trends that will shape consumer experience in the next year. You’ll also have access to the data and analysis behind the trends and recommendations on how to apply trends. Click here to find out more.