The rise of sextech in social isolation and its surprising effects

It’s already clear that digital sextech companies (ranging from educational platforms, to sexual wellness apps, to online toy shops) have seen a surge in sales, clicks, and downloads over the past few weeks. The industry has been on an upward trajectory with over 30% annual growth, and the clearly noticeable extra activity can be directly linked to the current period of social isolation.

To quote Dominnique Karetos, CEO of Healthy Pleasure Collective, an end-to-end incubator and agency for sex tech startups: “The age-old adage that ‘sex is recession-proof’ is not us as an industry boasting that we can literally ride out anything, but evidence, that this is where you should be investing right now!”

With this in mind, we took the opportunity to talk to EU-based founders in the sextech space to find out what the impact has been on their business and where they think it will lead in the future.

The results were somewhat surprising. Sextech is, of course, continuing to make an impact as it always has, but is now serving socially isolated populations in unexpected ways – from educating more users even later in life, to allowing creative connections over long distances, to removing the ‘taboo’. With wider social acceptance, these changes could even result in widespread better sexual health in the long run, as well as more investment opportunities for the sector. 

SexEd finally getting the attention it deserves

Sexual education is nowhere near the level it should be, and many of us only properly learn about our bodies and sexual health very late in life. Beducated, a Munich-based startup, has pinpointed this problem space and is on a mission to combat this lack of self-knowledge. Mariah Freya and Phil Steinweber founded the company in 2018 and offer a holistic online learning experience, charmingly called the ‘Netflix for sex education.’ During the past few weeks, the founder couple and their 15-people team have experienced an all-time high in sales and report over 100% more revenue.

Mariah explains: “We’re experiencing a record in traffic, and I think this is due to everyone being at home. I think people want to make the best out of this time and use it wisely. Our users are clicking through each and every course and digging deep into all the information they can find. Course completion rates are steadily rising across all topics from intimacy between couples, intimacy, and self-love during social isolation.”

Similarly, Emjoy, the audio guide for intimate wellbeing, has seen a huge uptake in users learning through their app. From advice from therapists to setting boundaries, their audio guides help users navigate challenging situations. Andrea Oliver Garcia, co-founder and CEO, explains: “In just one month Emjoy has doubled its paying users, and weekly app usage has increased by 160%. We are happy to be able to provide a safe space for our audience to reconnect, explore or just have some well-deserved me-time.” 

Digital sex tech as a tool to break down borders

Being stuck at home, not being allowed to go out and the long-distance relationship weekend trips coming to a halt, require more imagination from both singles and couples alike. Dating apps like hinge and bumble kindly prompt users to have a zoom date instead of meeting in person, but other companies have gone a step further and have included additional features in their apps.

Feeld, a dating app for couples and singles, more commonly known as ‘the threesome app,’ prides itself in being a place where people can openly talk about desires. The startup acted quickly and launched a new feature called “Cores” – a combination of real locations (like London, New York or Berlin) and a set of new virtual ‘locations’ (like ‘Quarantine core’). The aim of the virtual locations is to connect and empower their users to keep exploring remotely with others across the globe in this time of isolation.

“We’ve always pushed for honesty around sex. In a time of crisis we need this honesty more than ever. It’s down to platforms like ours to show people that their sex lives don’t need to stop. We created these virtual locations as a way to empower people to keep exploring their curiosities remotely through their senses, imagination, and like-minded humans across the globe.” – Ana Kirova, Product Lead at Feeld.

But not all communication happens online-only, and many companies have seen their users get creative in using digital tools to provide an offline, social-distance-approved experience. Virginia Cerrone, the co-founder of pureeros, a UK-based platform for women’s intimate wellness, noticed that, although most of their customers identify as female, their male customer base has grown by 15% over the last two months. And after taking a closer look, the team realized that most of the recent purchases by men had been gifts for partners delivered to a different address. 

When tabootech paves the way for digital healthcare 

A recurring topic among the different founders is how the strides in innovation can be applied quickly to other industries. Mariah, from beducated thinks digital education and e-learning will grow and take on a more significant role in our lives – even after the crisis. Social distancing will require online learning solutions to be more than just a quick fix and demand that educators create more engaging content for an audience with high expectations – regardless of the industry.

Dominnique, from the Healthy Pleasure Collective, explains how she has seen this industry crossover go one step further and sees that sex tech companies are now becoming the benchmark for everyone else. An example of this is iPlaySafe, an application that allows users to test, track, and share their sexual health status. According to Dominnique, they have had more traction than ever as their previously frowned-upon approach is suddenly of interest to the global population. 

“If we had talked about sharing health data and our personal health profiles three months ago, that would have been a big taboo; now, the topic is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Currently, you can’t move from country to country without revealing your health profile, never mind having sex. Instant testing with results at your fingertips and the ability to verify this, all of a sudden works in great favor for all sorts of other use cases”. 

Sextech as the next big investment opportunity

Suddenly, startups that weren’t even being considered by investors a few months ago are now leading the conversation on broader health topics and eradicating the divide between sextech and digital health.

According to Virginia of pureeros: “The sexual wellness industry is not the only one that has been positively affected by the situation; some experts say we will have an increase of newborn babies, which will have a positive impact on pregnancy care. I’m positive we’ll see new business coming into the markets with innovative solutions to improve human well-being, sexual health, pleasure, and intimacy.” 

In addition to the uptake in sales, the sextech space is becoming increasingly attractive to investors due to its proven resilience and constant creativity – even during the current crisis. Investors that have made recent losses are looking for alternative industries and scrambling for new opportunities. This monetary interest is a relief for many startups that have struggled to get funding and will hopefully lead to new and exciting innovations that range beyond the latest shade of teal on a silicone toy. 

The team at Healthy Pleasure Collective is already looking further to other areas like sexual wellness in the beauty industry, male sexual health, and even recreating bits of the human body. Dominnique elaborates: “We even have a project where we’re printing tissue, I mean, imagine being able to solve genital mutilation, by giving back a woman her body parts?! So, do I really want to design another vibrator? No, I want to combat genital mutilation”.

Final thoughts: from tabootech to health pioneers

It is exciting to see how an industry full of brave pioneers, once ignored and pushed into a dark corner, has quietly been building its products and services and gaining more interest from other groups and mainstream media. We’re excited to see how this space continues to evolve and if you know any exciting startups making moves and defying taboos, feel free to reach out.