We’ve been talking about sex for a long time, but women are marching to a new anthem: Self-care for women, made by women. #MeToo, the locus of 21st century feminism, has powered an unabashed reclamation of female sexuality. Today, women are designing adult toys and conducting sex workshops, leading the way in sexual wellness.

When it comes to the “oohs” and “ahhs”, women know best about their own sexual pleasure – and we shouldn’t continue to have unpleasurable sex, declares chief executive Lora Haddock of American adult toy brand, Lora Dicarlo, known for its award-winning hands-free robotic massager, Ose.

And her sentiments show that the tables are turning, with the growing number of female entrepreneurs around the world who’re making more innovative adult toys and sexual wellness products than ever before, in an industry that’s historically dominated by men.

These include adult toys, lubricants and vibrators.

What we’re also seeing is the emergence of a new female-centric technology or what we call “sex-tech” that focuses on adult toys for female stimulation.

Lora, who set up Lora Dicarlo in 2017, tells Her World in an e-mail interview: “There was nothing on the market (stores or online) that spoke to female and vaginal physiology. After years of research and anatomical data gathered from hundreds of women, I left medical school to create a new and different way to produce the ‘perfect’ orgasm for women. All I could think was, how can I achieve that (orgasm) again?”  

The marketplace was one that was so outdated. The products didn’t “speak” to women or people, yet sex is all human, notes Eva Goicochea, founder and chief executive of Maude, a two-year-old online sexual health and wellness startup.

Eva, a former legislative aide in healthcare, tells Her World in an e-mail interview that more thought is now put into the design and functionality for adult toys by women. 

“We specifically create products that also help people stop compartmentalising their sex lives in their heads – and in their homes,” she adds. “This way, they can ‘integrate’ a pleasure device into their everyday lives, without feeling embarrassed to have one around the house, so people feel comfortable with sex.”

What women want

And women are leading the way in making sleeker, more effective adult toys. Some designs resemble small, modular-shaped portable speakers that you can slip into your handbag, instead of phallic-shaped devices with an emphasis on size – which some female users we spoke to saying it makes no sense in the pleasure department, if one were to look at the biology behind women’s arousal – the clitoris.

The other things that came out of general surveys that polled women from 18 to 81 years old are accessible prices, ergonomic designs and easy-to-use devices for both couple and solo play, says Eva.

Female pleasure is now big business. The industry is expected to reach around US$39 billion by 2025, according to the 2019 global Sexual Wellness Market Research Report – with the introduction of female-centric products driving the market, as among the main factors.

Broadening the (sex) talk

And all the buzz has opened up the conversation on sexual wellness and health. As Lora puts it: “Female sexual heath isn’t obscene, it’s sacred.”

In Singapore, sexual wellness group Smile Makers have been organising workshops and talks on sexuality.  It also developed a sex education programme, Vulva Talks, which is focused on female pleasure. 

Its marketing manager Cecile Gasnault says: “Our objective is to broaden the conversation on female sexuality to the topic of pleasure and sexual well-being. We want to equip as many women and men (as possible) with the best understanding of the female anatomy.

She adds: “People tend to think that Singapore is a very conservative place, but what we see and hear is a genuine desire to have more open and authentic conversations about sex.”

Making a case for lube

She wanted to formulate a lubricant to alleviate the discomfort of vaginal dryness for women experiencing menopause. One that smells nice, doesn’t dry up easily, and is gentle enough to be used as a facial and body moisturiser. 

In 2014, Singaporean entrepreneur Bellen Tan, 35, launched Juicy Missy lube in Taiwan, after nearly a year’s research and development (R&D), retailing it in hospitals and clinics in Taipei.

This was followed by the introduction of its commercial line after another round of R&D. 

Last September, Juicy Missy was launched in Singapore on juicymissy.com after its well-received response in Taiwan.

Bellen tells Her World: “Vaginal dryness can be an embarrassing issue for some women. So I decided to create a lube using plants and herbs as a base, like lingzhi, cordyceps and maca, which aid endurance, enjoyment or prevention of infection and odour.”

She adds: “A friend first introduced me to boutique lubricant products while I was on holiday in Taipei in 2014. I was very impressed by how it contrasted with drugstore brands that I used and really didn’t like because of the chemical smell and sticky texture.”

Bellen has been selling toys and novelty items online since 2014, but sales rely mostly on festive occasions. 

Juicy Missy was created as a sustainable, all-season product. She has sold a few thousand lubes since launching it in Singapore. The range of lubes is priced from $15.90 each.

“Fifty per cent of customers are Singaporeans, with the rest from South-east Asia,“ she says.

When formulating Juicy Missy, Bellen got feedback from her female employees from their 20s to 50s, as well as from customers, on their preferences on ingredients, smell, taste and pricing.

She adds: “More than 60 per cent of the women surveyed prioritised ingredients, texture and value-added usage over everything else.

“They also preferred a packaging that looks luxe and inconspicuous on the dressing table. So we’ve got an all-black packaging for our basic line, and perfume bottle-like packaging for the premium line.”

The prototypes underwent a qualitative survey before it was sent for certifications, undergoing over 300 lab tests.

She adds: “Female customers told me that they never knew using lube could be enjoyable, and they now have a better understanding on sexual awareness and health.”

Text: Hayley Tai / Her World