Do we need to move beyond gendered sex toys?

06 : 09 : 2017 Gender Neutral : Female Sexual Health : Wellness
Maude, US Maude, US

Do brands that champion a binary approach to sex risk alienating members of Generation Z?

Rhiannon McGregor, junior journalist, LS:N Global

The sexual wellness market, which comprises sex toys, contraceptives, personal lubricants, erotic lingerie and pregnancy tests, is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.07% during the period 2016–2020 to reach £44.3bn ($57.6bn, €48.4bn) by 2020, according to Technavio. As female sexual pleasure becomes less taboo, this growth is driven in part by the rapid expansion of the global female sex toy market, which Technavio predicts will grow at a CAGR of 10.98% during the period 2017–2021.

Brands such as Unbound, which offers a monthly subscription box of curated sex products under the tagline ‘an online shop for rebellious women’, and Sustain Natural, which encourages women to ‘think with your vagina’, are undoubtedly empowering women, but do brands that champion a binary approach to sex risk alienating members of Generation Z?

According to a 2016 study by JWT, 56% of 13–20-year-olds in the US said that they knew someone who identified themselves using gender-neutral pronouns such as ‘they’ or ‘ze’, compared to 43% of 28–34-year-olds. As LS:N Global noted in our Neutral Culture macrotrend, traditional signifiers of identity such as gender are becoming less relevant, particularly among younger consumers who want to define their own place on the gender spectrum. As members of this generation approach their teenage years and early adulthood, the conversation is moving beyond toys and clothing towards an exploration of sexuality through sexual health products.

‘Newer brands tend to focus on the women,’ Éva Goicochea, co-founder of Maude, a start-up that specialises in sex essentials such as lube, vibrators, condoms and wipes, explained to jewellery brand Vrai and Oro. ‘And it’s great, women need to be spoken to, but when it comes to sex I think it furthers the fragmentation in the market.’

Maude, which will be launched in October 2017, uses minimal branding that emphasises inclusive design elements such as abstract curves and lines rendered in a natural palette of white, brown and sage. ‘While Maude is a female name, the spirit of Maude stands for all,’ says Goicochea.

The conversation we should be having addresses sex as a basic human need that transcends ideas of age, sexuality and gender, and unites us in the same discourse.

Unlike much of the marketing around women-only products, where words like ‘discreet’ are still used and products are often designed to resemble something else – such as Crave’s travel-sized vibrators disguised as jewellery – Maude is designed to be displayed unashamedly within the home rather than hidden away.

The conversation we should be having addresses sex as a basic human need that transcends ideas of age, sexuality and gender, and unites us in the same discourse. This neutral approach is evident in the design of the Transformer, the world’s first gender-neutral sex toy. Created in 2014 by sex toy-maker PicoBong, the double-ended vibrator can be shaped into whatever configuration its user, or users, desire.

‘The Transformer aims to awaken sexual exploration and make people realise that they don’t need to be confined by the labels placed on them,’ says Mauricio Garcia, head of marketing at PicoBong.

While we have made significant progress in moving past the traditionally male-centric approach to sexual wellness, we need to continue nurturing a shift towards what art and design writer Madeleine Morley describes as an emphasis on ‘the clean and indirect over the direct and seedy’ to help people explore their own sense of identity without labels.

For more on how attitudes towards gender are changing, read our Neutral Culture macrotrend.