Normalising sexual wellness
Conversation and our societal relationship towards sex and self-pleasure is changing. These topics that are historically steeped in shame and taboo, while gradually shifting over time, have recently been experiencing a more rapid change.
Celebrities, health experts and brands are all championing this shift towards a culture that speaks freely about sex in the same way one would about sport, art or any other hobby. We may go as far to say that holistic health is incomplete without the inclusion of sexual wellness as well. This new wave of sex positivity is driven largely by open discussion, inclusive sex education and a shift in media reporting.
Since her rise to fame as Anastasia in the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, Dakota Johnson has been a symbol of sexual exploration and experiment. In fact, her role as a figurehead of sexual liberation extends past her onscreen persona. Recently, Johnson announced her new role as Co-Creative Director of sexual wellness company, Maude. The company gained traction last year with its modern, sculpture-like toys, natural condoms and lubricants.
Image Source: Photograph by Daniela Spector, courtesy of Maude
Johnson joins a host of other celebrities and influencers who have put their name to the growing sexual wellness revolution. Singer, Lily Allen, and model, Cara Delevingne, are among the many big names lending their face to this new wave with sex toy start-ups of their own.
The increasing popularity of new-age sex toys is due, in part, to health experts advocating the benefits of self-pleasure during COVID-19. The New York City Health Department released an official guide for safe sex throughout the pandemic. The statement reads, “Masturbation will not spread COVID-19, especially if you wash your hands (and any sex toys) with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after sex.” What a timely reminder this was by the City’s health department. Studies have found masturbation can help reduce feelings of tension, anxiety and even improve sleep quality.
Gone are the days where pleasure toys were relegated to the dingy sex shop or the back aisles of Priceline. It’s the dawn of a new era and the humble vibrator is quickly gaining clout as an aid for mental health and holistic wellbeing. According to Grand View Research, the global sex toy industry is estimated to be worth $38.9 billion AUD a year and growing 9.1% YOY.
The sex toy industry has responded to this deep cultural movement and has evolved its ethos to recognise that not all consumers share the same sexual experience or abilities. Handi is an Australian sex toy brand, with products designed for those with hand disabilities. This evolution is even hitting some of the country’s biggest online retailers, with The Iconic and Showpo both launching sexual wellness hubs that offer a wide range of sex products, making purchasing such devices easier than ever.
Closer to home, the open dialogue on sex and sexual wellness is also gaining momentum. Married at First Sight, Australia’s highest rated TV show, replaced one of its regular experts, Dr. Trisha Stratford, with Puerto Rican sexologist and TV presenter, Alessandra Rampolla. This move underscores the greater emphasis placed on the sexual intimacy side of the couples’ relationships this season than has occurred in previous seasons. Much was made of the ‘intimacy’ exercises Rampolla gave the couples in order to increase or improve the physical side of their relationships. And whether or not the couples had sex or how soon they did so was also much more freely discussed than in previous seasons, not only amongst the participants but also by the experts.
We’ve come far, but we still have a way to go. While the sex toy industry is worth many billions, it is mostly unregulated. Many manufactures have been found to be using material deemed unsafe for skin or internal contact. Recently, the International Standardisation Authority (ISO) established a new taskforce to develop the world’s first standard on sex toy design, safety and production. It is not yet certain what the scope of these industry standard will include, or when the project will be complete. To date, Fair Trading Australia has not received a complaint about unsafe sex toys, while in America studies suggest the number of people presenting to the emergency department for sex toy injuries is growing.
The open dialogue on sex will continue to grow as we become more comfortable celebrating this innate part of our being. We are quickly discovering that sexual wellness is as just as important to holistic view on health as the food we consume and company we keep. This is an exciting evolution in the sexual liberation movement, and it seems we’ve only just scratched the surface on what’s to come.