Slowly but surely, society is becoming more open-minded to sex, sexuality and self-expression.
The SexTech industry is helping to break down barriers, shift the stigma and remove the taboo of sex – and European entrepreneurs are leading the way. Not only is it a positive thing for people’s self-confidence and sense of self-expression, but it also encourages healthier attitudes to sex, enhances knowledge about sexual health and wellbeing, and brings about more connectivity and self-empowerment.
We wanted to learn more about the industry that is improving how we love and express ourselves, how we can encourage more open-mindedness and the benefits of creating a connected community to talk about sex.
Founded in Barcelona, Platanomelón is one of the leading intimate wellness brands in Europe. It was created in 2014 by Anna Boldú and has been a pioneer in this space. The company is focused on naturalizing sexuality, presenting sex as something that is natural, healthy and fun.
To this end, the platform generates daily content on sex education created by their sexology team. It’s so far generated a community of more than 4 million followers. On a product level, the company has helped move sex toys to a concept of erotic toys that are brightly coloured, zero realistic, and more friendly; democratizing access to new experiences for everyone who wants to try new things alone or as a couple.
Anna Boldú created the company to “respond to those people who want to enjoy their sexuality, who want to try new things in their relationships or with themselves, and who do not feel identified with the approach of the existing sex shops.” The startup has created a “breath of fresh air in the world of sexuality” and is committed to enhancing quality sex education.
Meanwhile, in the UK, Ben Foster has developed The Natural Love Company. The sustainability-led intimacy brand offers a curated range of eco-consciously designed sex toys that intend to not just be very effective, but also aesthetically pleasing and non-intimidating.
The company was founded in 2021, so already things were becoming more destigmatised. The team wanted to bring something new to the market, prioritising sustainability – reflecting an environmental need and a growing consumer demand. According to Ben, the inspiration was to “millenialise the sex toy industry“, creating products that destigmatise, encourage enjoyment and are fit for a sustainable, modern world.
We caught up with Anna and Ben to chat about the future of SexTech (metaverse and SexTech?), the importance of education, and how SexTech is creating a socio-cultural revolution thanks to community building.
How are attitudes towards sex toys changing?
Anna: “Since we started we have seen a lot of things change. In Spain, there has been a boom in erotic toys in recent years that has not been seen anywhere else and it has to be related to all the work we have been doing over the years; breaking down taboos in social media, generating alliances with players that allowed us to go further, and not giving up when things seemed impossible. One example is that in recent years we have been able to broadcast on Spanish television the first spot on a clitoral suction device; Mambo. This, only a few years ago, was unthinkable, which is an example that things are changing.”
Ben: “Society is becoming increasingly open-minded and accepting of diverse sexual expression, and sex toys are no longer seen as taboo or unconventional by most. The growth of the sex-positive movement and the rise of female entrepreneurship in the industry are also contributing to a shift in attitudes.
However, there is still a lingering stigma associated with the use of sex toys, and many people still view them as inappropriate or obscene. I think this is largely generational though and will change with time.”
What’s the key to breaking the taboo?
Anna: “Education, education, and education. We must continue working to normalize and naturalize sexuality. Once we achieve this, erotic toys will be seen for what they are: excellent tools for getting to know oneself a little better and exploring oneself, expanding the repertoire of sensations and getting out of the sexual comfort zone. This education also involves making situations and concerns visible, and generating community so that we realize that more people are going through similar things. As an example, we carried out a study that revealed a fact that caught our attention: the majority of women (around 80%) had thought at some point in their lives that they were “badly made”. In other words, their bodies were not right. Something as simple as giving visibility to these things is key to breaking taboos so that we can live free and healthy sexuality.”
Ben: “To break the taboo, education and open, honest conversations are key. Destigmatising sexuality and promoting sex positivity can help to normalise the use of sex toys and make them more accessible and acceptable to a wider audience. Encouraging honest and non-judgmental discussions about sexuality and pleasure can also help to break down the barriers that prevent individuals from exploring and expressing their desires.”
How is tech helping us to take more ownership over our sex lives?
Anna: “Sex tech can help us discover sensations we have never experienced before, allowing us to get out of our sexual comfort zone, get to know ourselves better, and get out of the routine with our partner… all of which have a positive impact on how we live our sexuality and our intimate wellbeing. Masturbation and toys are a symbol that we don’t need another person to feel pleasure. How empowering this is!
I take this opportunity to break with one of the most common preconceptions about erotic toys: No, if you use erotic toys you won’t get used to a much stronger stimulation and the rest won’t be enough. In the same way that your body gets used to it, it gets unaccustomed to it, because… Our brain loves surprises!
Taking ownership of our sexuality has only benefits; Being able to live together and enjoy our sexuality without worries. Not living with taboos, not hiding. Being able to communicate with your partner about your tastes and desires. Experiencing new sensations and daring to unlock new pleasures. And, of course, women taking possession of their sexuality and growing up empowered can bring us ever closer to equality. In short, and to simplify, it makes us happier.”
Ben: “Firstly it provides access to information with contemporary websites offering a wealth of information on sexual health, practices, and pleasure, empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their sexual lives.
Technology has made it possible to connect with others, including potential sexual partners with similar desires or life views, from the comfort of one’s own home, promoting sexual exploration and expression.”
SexTech in 2023: What are your predictions?
Anna: “There have been incredible advances in recent years. Most notably perhaps have been innovations in new, more hygienic materials and more pleasing and realistic textures, such as products that better simulate real skin, for example. Also notable in recent years is the push for connectivity in erotic toys that was driven by the pandemic. This has enabled couples living in different parts of the world to have a joint sex life and share intimacy.
Right now there are technologies that are blooming around the world, and we have to see how they can fit into our sector. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, IOT [internet of things], nanotechnology, and even the metaverse!”
Ben: “The development of smart sex toys and the Internet of Things (IoT) has made it possible for individuals to have more control over their sexual experiences, from solo play to remote-controlled couple’s play.
We’re excited to see how emerging tech like VR and AI continue to shape our sex lives for the better.
I also think that increased accessibility and inclusivity in the sex toy industry will continue, such as products designed and customised for individuals with disabilities.”
How can communities help build more sex-positive conversations?
Anna: “Our goal is for our community to naturalize sexuality and treat it as something as natural as life. We deliver powerful but relatable messages, share professional but easily accessible information, generate interaction, and provide tools so that people can feel comfortable talking about sexuality.
We recently launched a survey whose results surprised us: “95% of our followers claim to have gained self-confidence thanks to our educational content or our toys” and “95% of our followers claim to have improved their sexual wellbeing thanks to our specialized content”
One of the things that have helped us the most in creating a community is being able to generate a conversation from which both parties benefit. Our followers express their desires, their needs, and we, through innovation and the generation of content and erotic toys, respond to these demands.”
Ben: “We’re excited about fostering a community that is more open to talking about sex. We’re currently building an audience of thousands of like-minded individuals who value our offering and ethos, and when we have the resources to commit we look forward to putting out more content for education, collaboration and community. On a macro level, however, we’re one piece of the puzzle, presenting sex toys in a different light, which when combined helps to change the tone of the industry in society.
Overall, a community leads to increased engagement and loyalty among its members. Members of a community tend to be more invested in the brand, which in turn leads to a higher likelihood of them sticking around for the long term. There are plenty of advantages from members diffusing support inquiries via forum posts, reducing the burden on customer services, to members creating ‘user-generated content’ that they share with their audiences and which provides authentic content for the brand. But also more simply a loyal and engaged community can result in increased sales and revenue through word-of-mouth recommendations and repeat business.”