In our latest online event we hosted three incredible speakers - Terri Harris (Femtech Lab), Glenise Kinard-Moore (SkiiMoo Tech) and Lea Moser (Kohe Lele) - for a panel discussion on SexTech: overcoming the taboo, understanding the need and capturing the potential. Each speaker provided us with a different perspective on the SexTech industry, whose focus are technologies and technology-driven ventures that aim to enhance and innovate the human sexual experience. The SexTech sector is currently growing and it is expected to double its market cap in the next 5 years, predicted to be worth $37.2 billion by 2023 according to BedBible Research Center.
Despite its economical potential and societal impact (sexual wellbeing has been repeatedly compared to mental health), the SexTech industry still faces three intertwined obstacles: taboo, lack of education and shadow banning. Taboo and stigma permeate every aspect of SexTech, especially when it comes to female sexual pleasure, which has long been overlooked. Research is also not exempt from the taboo, and this is reflected in the lack of scientific data and knowledge gap around female anatomy in relation to sexual pleasure.
While it is tricky to distinguish cause and consequence, it is evident that the stigma on sexual wellness is accompanied by a lack of education. Investors struggle to understand the industry and are less likely to consider it profitable. On the other hand, potential customers are difficult to reach because sex is not openly talked about in our society.
Customer acquisition in SexTech is further hampered by shadow banning, the act of hiding or restricting a user’s content from an online community. Terri Harris described it as “social media’s way of removing posts deemed too explicit or offensive to its users”. She went on explaining that shadow banning currently targets sextech companies and anything around female reproductive health, with words such as pelvis, cervix or uterus being recognized as offensive by social media banning algorithms. With regard to shadow banning, Glenise Kinard-Moore emphasized that “the narrative is thus controlled by platforms that do not necessarily represent what people need or want to be educated on”. This idea was echoed by Lea Moser, who pointed out that while social media apply shadow banning on any sex education content, such platforms are also the only ones where sex education can take place nowadays.
Is there a way to break this vicious circle? In line with Kohe Lele’s mission to open up the conversation around sex-related topics, Lea suggested that the first step is to talk about our sexual wellbeing with friends and family, focussing on the positive aspects. She also thinks highly of the effort put forward by the Netflix series Sex Education, because it portrays a ‘realistic, inclusive, no-taboo, no-stigma approach to sexuality’ far from the ‘cis, male-centered vision’ we have been used to.
From the entrepreneurs’ perspective, joining forces can provide a solution to overcome unfair shadow banning. Femtech Lab is currently running a campaign whereby FemTech and SexTech brands have signed an open letter to social media companies to express how harmful to them and their users shadow banning algorithms are. Points in the letter include “having a working group with Femtech/Sextech entrepeneurs to discuss and work a way towards better flagging machines”, explained Terri.
Additionally, Glenise shared her experience on the importance of conducting the appropriate research to identify and understand the needs of the target audiences for SkiiMoo tech latest’s product, the VDOM. By directly engaging with the end users in different target communities, she found that people passionate about her product were willing to serve as brand ambassadors, with word-of-mouth being more powerful than social media marketing alone. When dealing with investors who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the topic, Glenise’s approach is to “put it into layman’s terms” and explain that “the SexTech industry is just like any other profitable industry”.
The COVID-19 pandemic has constituted an additional booster to the growth of SexTech - experiencing isolation has revealed the importance of both emotional and physical intimacy for people, and driven an interest in exploring new ways of experiencing sexuality in partnerships, individually or remotely. In the next years, the SexTech industry is predicted to move towards the design of technologies to include more audiences, including non-binary and disabled users. Innovation towards more inclusive designs will also be accompanied by an increase in sustainable materials as consumers look for alternatives that pollute less and last longer.
Overall, the SexTech sector is on a growing trajectory driven by a newfound awareness and a greater focus on the physical and mental health benefits associated with sexual wellbeing.