Transforming Taboo Into Trend: Sexual Wellness Startups
When it comes to pushing boundaries, sexual wellness startups are doing just that – conceptually and economically. The sexual wellness industry includes just about anything that contributes to your wellbeing down-there, from sex toys to support groups to medication.
Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Dakota Johnson have helped popularise the trend but despite this, there is still a general absence of awareness regarding the sector. This is largely a result of the lack of funding that sexual wellness businesses receive due to convention against ‘taboos’—especially when it comes to women’s health.
Only 3% of the 2,728 digital health investments since 2011 have been female-focused, according to RockHealth. Yet, new startups are demonstrating that, despite the deficiency in conversation about them, sexual wellness products are in fact in incredible demand. The sector is predicted to be worth $122 billion by 2024, with a 13% CAGR. Read on to learn about 7 key startups that are transforming taboo into trends.
Sex product startup Maude aims to make pleasure-positivity the norm with its elegant, minimalist branding, and correspondingly sleek products. Maude offers sculpture-like sex toys that wouldn’t seem out of place in public view, as well as beautiful, but discreetly packaged organic condoms and lubricants. The startup’s normalisation of sex has been hugely popular.
Maude recently announced a $5.8 million Series A round, making it the first startup selling personal sex-tech products to exceed the seed stage in half a decade. Its products have also been picked up by a plethora of higher-end American retailers, including Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom.
Maude’s founder and CEO Eva Goicochea has a background in public health, branding and marketing, as well as prior entrepreneurial ventures, and is one of ninety Latinx women to have raised over $1m in VC funding. Dakota Johnson, who starred in the “Fifty Shades of Grey” film adaptations, was also brought on as Maude’s co-creative director. Johnson joined the Maude team because of its refreshing outlook on sexual wellness:
“For too long sexual health has been poorly marketed, hyper-aggressive, and highly gendered,” Johnson tells Vogue. “Maude is focused on making sexual care a part of your wellness routine.”
The largest virtual clinic for women’s and family health in the U.S., Maven Clinic, was founded by Kate Ryder in 2014. Whilst working in venture capital, Ryder became aware of issues surrounding infertility and miscarriages that were affecting her inner circle and decided to utilise her platform. With an aim to connect families directly with the help they need, Maven Clinic provides information and coaching, as well as virtual appointments all via their app.
Ryder stresses the efficiency of this model of care: “the transaction is between ourselves and the doctor, not layers of insurance companies and hospitals and clinics,” she says.
Since its founding, Maven Clinic has supported over 8 million families, won 10 awards, and has received backing from the likes of Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon, and Natalie Portman.
Manual, a London-based men’s health tech startup, is changing the discourse surrounding typically taboo issues for men, such as erectile dysfunction and hair loss. Medical treatment has never been easier or looked so good, with an online consultation, home testing kits, personalised healthcare plans, and any treatments you need arriving in Manual’s sleek, discreet packaging.
Manual’s founder and CEO, George Pallis is hoping to remove the stigma behind men’s sexual wellness by encouraging proactivity rather than reactivity. “Men generally do not open up about their health and we’re trying to be a driving force behind that,” he explains.
After quadrupling its revenues in 2020, Manual announced a $30 million Series A funding round in March 2021.
With a goal to promote ‘mindful sex’, the Ferly app offers educational podcasts, guided sexual practices, audio erotica stories, as well as a space to log reflections and project affirmations about pleasure. Founders Billie Quinlan and Anna Hushlak, who are both sexual abuse survivors, launched Ferly with the motivation to help women who experience sexual difficulties, from low libido, low confidence, physical difficulties, to anxiety surrounding sex.
Quinlan explains that “half of women experienced a sexual difficulty in the last year. The impact of that feeds into every facet of life.”
Privy was founded with the goal of finding a modern solution to bladder leakage, a problem that isn’t commonly discussed but impacts more than 33% of women. Previous solutions, such as incontinence underwear and bulky pads are uncomfortable, inconvenient, and highly wasteful. Privy’s alternative, Finess, is a small soft patch made from foam, which moulds to fit comfortably over the external urethral opening. It produces 95% less landfill waste than its competitors, and, unlike other products in the market, Finess prevents leaks before they even happen.
Finess is now stocked in over 800 Target stores in the U.S.
Founder Danielle Levy launched Happy V, a line of probiotics for women’s vaginal health, after struggling for years with bacterial vaginosis (BV). Without help from prescribed treatments and the minefield of online misinformation, Levy sought to create her own natural solution to share with the twenty-one million other women between the ages of fourteen and twenty-nine that experience BV.
Eager to open up a conversation about sexual health and challenge misleading information, Happy V also provides expert-written blog posts and prioritises transparency in its products: “we show how we manufacture, source ingredients and what’s going into our bodies through these supplements,” says Levy.
Founded in 2017, Lisa Health is an app that supports those experiencing menopause through virtual coaching, educational resources, challenges, symptom tracking, and connection to an online community.
“I came up with the idea after experiencing my own challenges navigating the menopause transition and receiving little support from my healthcare providers,” explains founder and CEO Ann Garnier. “Because of the shame and silence that surrounds this period of a woman’s life, most women are unprepared for the changes that occur.”
Garnier wanted Lisa Health to be made by women, for women. The app was developed by AnnieCannons, a California based non-profit, which teaches women who have formerly experienced sexual abuse or human trafficking how to code.
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Header Image: Dakota Johnson is a partner of Maude, the sexual wellness startup. Image via Maude and Vanity Fair.