Sex has always been a shady space in India. For a culture that takes price in Mind Control, Yoga, and worshiping saints, sex has always been taboo!
Talking about sex tech in a nation where porn sites are ban and almost zero sex education in schools is sacrilege. Can we imagine a billion-dollar startup such as Amazon or Flipkart in that industry from India?
Hugh Hefner, CEO of Playboy Enterprise (1), is an individual who has gone on to live as founders of among the most prominent sex empires globally. A lifestyle that everyone fantasizes about while also making others’ fantasies real.
Several of these startups are driven by women worldwide as they are looking at reclaiming sexuality and pleasure as one of the cornerstones to reclaim their femininity. One such conference leads to the women of sextech creation. It is a collective of women founders, artists, creators, and technologies, drawing back women’s pleasure.
Durex conducted a study in 2012 (2), which was about the age at which people lost their virginity and cut it down by the average in each nation. India was the second-highest at 23-years. At least culturally, Indians are among the most petite experimental culture when it comes to sex in the world. Take a look at Khajuraho temple depictions; our forefathers had more action than us!
Nonetheless, the world is changing, and so is our acceptance of new experiences. The emergence of Zaivame, books, lingerie boutiques, and movies like ‘fifty shades of gray’ had opened the metro and urban cities to try out BDSM, erotic outfits, and pleasure toys. The Netflix shows such as ‘Lust Stories’ have also brought the topic into mainstream discussion.
Technology and the app-based culture have democratized lust and love. There is less taboo about sexual orientation, whether one’s hormones go all over at the sight of a woman, man, or both.
Tinder has also helped democratize sex for young adults by making it less creepy to ask a stranger for a hookup or sex. Yes, it is a billion-dollar startup in the industry.
Gleeden, an extramarital app with millions of subscribers, pointed out in its recent survey that 53% of Indian wives admitted having had an intimate relationship outside of their marriage compared to 43% of men (3). New terms such as seeking physical companionship are replacing infidelity.
Many of these services and apps are restricted to metro and tier I places. Still, there is a surge spending amounting to hundreds of crores in the adult wellness and pleasure toys category via Amazon, Flipkart, and such. It is an emerging segment still plagued by regulatory obstacles and terms like ‘no return policy’ and ‘discreet packaging.’
Additionally, there is the emergence of Indian startups such as trykartehai, lovetreats, imbesharam, and more. We can find a lot of sex education apps on the play store. Of course, India has porn sites catering to some of the world’s largest amateur adult video content collections.
“If one doesn’t encourage healthy sexual public expression, one can get unhealthy sexual expression in private. If one attempts to suppress sex in movies, books, magazines, and even daily in conversation, one cannot make sex private, only more hidden. We are not keeping sex in the dark. We are trying to turn on the lights.”
When you first hear the ‘sextech,’ you most likely to think about Tinder, VR porn, or even sex robots. While you are not wrong, that is also not the complete picture.
Sextech is stretched beyond pleasure. Technology is designed to innovate and enhance everything from relationship to sex, health, education, medicine, and gender identity.
Despite the rise in customer interest, investment in the space has been slow (4), as societal taboos and misconceptions keep giving sextech a forbidden feeling.
It has led to several startups leaning towards crowdfunding, leading to roaring success. For instance, Dan’s Fin vibrator, the first sex toy allowed on Kickstarter, secured almost 8x of its goal (5).
Entrepreneurs are also innovating from their homes. The first Womanizer prototype was made with an aquarium pump before it broke 100 million EUR in sales. According to a recent My First Million podcast, Steve Shubin had developed Fleshlight in his garage. He is now generating 100 million USD in revenue.
Even though there is a lag in funding, the demand for sextech is skyrocketing. More than 36 million connected sextech devices were in use worldwide last year, an 87% Y-o-Y growth (6).
Marketing for connected devices is likely to soar from 3.8 billion USD to 9 billion USD by 2025. North America is spearheading the growth. There are predictions that the region would have one connected sextech device for every 14 adults by 2025. That’s over 21 million devices.
As we discussed, the sex-positive movement plays a pivotal role in changing cultural taboos and attitudes towards sex. It is promoting sexuality as a healthy and natural part of life, predominantly women. Although, now the movement has started to garner support across the gender spectrum.
In short, sex positivity is all about ‘your right to pleasure while honoring that of the next person.’
Frances Tang, the founder of Awkward Essentials, a startup that made six figures in its first year and a member of Women of Sextech, stated that sexual wellness is an incredible industry. She believes that the whole thing is a testament to more female founders as they solve issues that they go through.
Further adding that industry veterans like Cindy Gallop (7) have been working for years to break down sextech barriers. And as all of us are banding together, taboos and regulations are loosening. Even though changes are slow, we are at the cusp of the industry taking off.
Notably, investors were barely willing to invest in femtech less than a decade ago. In 2012, space attracted only 57 million USD worldwide. It ballooned to 1 billion USD in 2019, as the industry stigma is lifted.
Consequently, sextech, already worth billions, is likely to experience an explosive growth trajectory in the years to come.
“Sex is a universal human experience, and the biggest market there is.”
There are several promising and exciting startups in the space. Let’s take a look.
Kiiroo, ‘Making Remote Sex Possible’
Are you separated from your partner because of the lockdown? Worry no more. There are even virtual sex applications like Kiiroo, quoted as a ‘revolutionary offering’ in the adult sex toys category. The app allows couples to feel each other from anywhere across the globe. It comes in nondescript packaging and can simply pass off as a small music speaker.
It has two components: Onyx for the man and Pearl for the woman. Each of them is Bluetooth-enabled. They can directly communicate when connected with the Kiiroo app. The product description says, ‘one can give and receive pleasure from a partnered toy.’
Mysteryvibe, ‘The King of Sex Toys’
The startup’s debut product, Crescendo, is the world’s first fully personalized, bendable vibrator. Customers across over 58 countries are using it. Its new device, POCO, is even more revolutionary. One can take sex every wherewith the bullet vibrator. One can pleasure himself in the office, at home, and even in public places. There is an app too to guide it and control the vibrations and movements. Such apps are called ‘teledildonics.’
The platform has also created a wearable vibrator for men to ensure continuous simulation and longer erections.
One can also consider Mystryvide the kind of startups in the space. It is continuing to raise angel funding despite the stigma around sex. Recently, it secured a 1.5 million funding round, bringing its total backing to 4 million USD. The platform was valued at 13 million USD at the round.
EMJOY, ‘A Mindful Audio App for Sexual Arousal’
With this Spain-based app, one can forget about those boring biology lessons and sex education apps. Along with the money heist, the app has also absorbed a surge in its usage during the lockdown.
According to the firm, the erotic audio guide app has witnessed a 45% spike in downloads since the confinement and has a 160% surge in usage.
Andrea Oliver, Emjoy co-founder, and CEO stated that social distancing is quite challenging for our health, especially regarding our natural human requirement for touch. Self-isolation can also be an excellent opportunity to explore and reconnect with our bodies. Notably, in 2019, it has secured 1 million USD funding from Nauta Capital.
All sexual pleasure is not pure sex. Dame Products have an exciting product line for couples to cuddle and bond together. They offer several products in their catalogs, such as Eva, a hands-free clitoral vibrator, Pom, a flexible vibrator, and Fin.
They sold more than 10,000 vibrators within a year of starting, amounting to over 1 million USD in revenue. Now, they are selling more than 150k products and in retail worldwide.
Lovely, ‘Alexa, How to Improve My Sex Life?’
Lovely learn what you and your partner enjoy in bed and suggests new stimulation techniques, new positions, and other sex-related ideas according to your liking. One can wear it during sex, and it will suggest ways to improve his sex life. AI invasion to your pelvic alert!
The Poland-based startup is among the most successful in crowdfunding. Investors have purchased over 11.25% stock in the company, valuing it at 4,000k USD.
Apart from Dame, when it comes to putting women top, there is another exciting startup called Lovability Condoms. They offer feminist condoms, women condoms with captions like ‘Babe with power,’ and ‘Talk feminist to me.’
These days, sex-tech is merging with sexual wellness and changing notions surrounding health and sexual wellness products. Several startups in the industry make breastfeeding easier, STD tests before sex, strengthen pelvic muscles, and more.
Sextech is indeed evolving from a male-centric space to a female-centric wellness business.
And the sexual wellness industry, an underfunded sector, is set to explode as sexual taboos in India and worldwide continue to lift.
With that, we outlined few key areas entrepreneurs can take note of as the industry erupts.
- Sex Toys: Product innovation, inclusive strategies, and underserved niches
- Tech Before Sex: Prioritization of smooth tech
- E-commerce: The sextech market is seeing surges in demand with discreet shipping options
- Hygiene and Personal Care: Startups are solving everyday problems as the demand surges
- Security and Regulations: Security is an afterthought at present, and that needs to change
Interest in sex toys is skyrocketing. Amazon’s last year estimated revenue for sexual wellness products was over 1 billion USD, and it only accounts for 5% of the worldwide market (8).
Product innovation like the Womanizer and male-centric options in a largely female-dominated sector, like Fleshlight, have significantly contributed to the recent growth.
However, there are still untapped niches, and more will emerge as trans communities, and people with different identities and sexualities expand.
One example is nonbinary sextech, set to surge as the gender-neutral Gen Z comes of age (9).
Innovation in product design is essential, like Wild Flower’s Enby and MysteryVibe’s Crescendo. However, there are other ways for businesses to be inclusive.
Categorizing products by type, not gender, and nonbinary marketing and packaging can go a long way. For instance, Spectrum Boutique has removed gendered language from its websites.
It opens the door to customers interested in trying something new but is put off by suggestions only for certain genders or have to be used in a specific way.
People with disabilities are another highly overlooked segment in the industry. Handi (10) is set to launch first in the world range of sex toys for those with hand limitations this year.
Entrepreneurs focusing on creativity, inclusivity, and removing the stigma around sextech will lead the race.
Offering services for personally modeled toys for couples can also be a lucrative market. A business called Clone-a-Willy already exists.
Moreover, why stop at human models when one can also capitalize on personal fetishes such as skyscrapers.
Tech Before Sex
A 2019 review of 30 award-winning toys (11) discovered that most of them were incapable of holding a good Bluetooth signal, had painfully lagging apps, and failed to offer basic functionality.
The majority of sex toy companies are not well equipped to tackle technical flaws and have not invested in solving them.
According to Liz Klinger, creator and CEO of Lioness, a Bluetooth-enabled smart vibrator that works, several of these companies are the first and foremost manufacturers. They know about making silicon devices that vibrate. However, the majority of them still have limited knowledge about how electronics work.
Keeping pace with tech is a constant need. If your product is linked to users’ music apps, you will need a team to constantly maintain and fix all the requirements that come with them. Like Apple Music and Spotify updates.
A quick browse of the new Satisfyer App reviews (12), touted as among the best connect sextech options, still has many complaints about glitchy controls and connection. It certainly does not deliver on all of its tech promises.
With no clear market leader producing flawlessly connected devices, the industry is wide open for both sextech innovators and entrepreneurs with tech expertise.
Sextech companies first need to invest in and prioritize a full-time tech team.
One doesn’t even need to have sextech have their core product offering to play in the industry. Entrepreneurs can also offer in-house or outsourced tech solutions to sextech companies.
Sexual Hygiene and Personal Care
Hygiene, lubricant, and personal care product demand are also high.
According to Jungle Scout data, ‘edible massage oil’ searches have soared by 1,123% in the last three months. Searches for ‘Honey Pot feminine products’ have soared by 1,293%.
The hygiene and personal care space have the bonus of being FSA approved. Awkward Essenrials’ first hygiene product is an internal after-sex cleanup sponge for women, the Dripstick.
When Tang had first started exploring the demand for her product, she was surprised to discover that one talked about the mess after sex, let alone designing a solution.
She stated that women are socially conditioned to deal with things. Hence, unless we talked about the problems we experience, the next inventor with the potential to revolutionize sexual health may not even think that there is a market.
Another instance is Private Packs (13), a female-led startup that addresses vulva pain and soreness because of period pain, infection, dryness, sex, all everyday experiences that don’t get enough attention.
If one is experiencing an issue or need around sexual health, there are high chances that you are not alone. Entrepreneurs should address these topics in a way that allows people to relate, and they will tap into waiting markets.
The space is mainly cis-gendered and female-focused at present. Leveraging niches would work well here.
One can think about tailored oils, moisturizer sprays, washes, balm marketed to specific cohorts like gender-neutral, trans, LGBTQ+, menopausal, etc.
The personal lubricant is another attractive and lubricant space. There are forecasts that it would teach 1.6 billion USD by 2026 (14).
According to Jungle Scout data, Amazon searches for water-based lube for couples, over 13.7% searches/month have soared by 3,941% over the past 90 days. Personal lube for sex, with 10k searches for the month, has risen by 4,679%.
Entrepreneurs can consider focusing on natural water-based products. A steady rise in interest for lube for sensitive skin and Keywords Everywhere shows ‘natural lube’ searches volume hitting 12.1k a month.
Subscription services for such products are also an attractive opportunity. Once can introduce new products by adding a surprise sample from a different range for consumers to try out each month.
India and China, two countries with some of the higher sex cultural taboos (15), are experiencing soaring sextech sales growth because of the discreet ecommerce options.
One can develop a modern ecommerce platform that loudly celebrates sexuality or offer discreet browsing and delivery options for more conservative customers.
It is essential to note that a discrete approach may be necessary for conservative consumers; the younger generation would likely embrace sextech with more abandon. It is not a far cry to imagine hungry Gen Zers engaging with a new range of brands and influencers promoting sex positivity and the right to pleasure.
Security and Regulation
The majority of sextech is designed for pleasure, and safety is mostly an afterthought (16).
A prime example came to light last year with a security flaw in a smart male chastity belt — the device aimed at getting unlocked remotely by a partner. However, hackers successfully unlocked all users indefinitely (17).
Without an emergency security override function, an angle grinder and heavy-duty cutters were the only solutions.
Sextech can generate sensitive data about users’ sexuality. And in the absence of a single industry standard or government regulation, the burden of personal data safekeeping lies with consumers at present.
One particular area at high risk because of incompetent security is revenge porn. It would be significantly easier to produce as sextech becomes mainstream (18). Cases climbed 22% in 2020 because of the mass online migration during the pandemic (19).
One can take security into their hands by verifying tech before using it. The Internet of Dongs is a site dedicated to hacking sextech products and then recording their security vulnerabilities (20).
However, if a product fulfills its potential, it can get trust by ensuring user privacy. Companies that place safety as paramount with please would take the lead in the space.
Entrepreneurs can also offer outsourced digital security expertise to sextech companies. Freelance hackers could offer a service to find weaknesses and design solutions.
In lack of central regulations, one could also develop an independent security rating system for sextech. Companies pay experts to assess their products’ safety and assign a rating displayed to customers.
Entrepreneurs can also focus on end-users and offer sextech security features for themselves and consumers, which work across all devices, like a paid antivirus.
Despite space’s growth, most traditional PE funds and VC firms continue to frown upon it. Most sextech startups take self-funded or crowdfunding routes to launch their product and secure money from the market.
Several new-age VC funds are pouring money into IoT devices, and before one reaches them, one needs to get the people’s mind and their bedrooms.
What about starting one in India, anyone?