The Psychology (and Business) of Sexual Pleasure
Updated: Jan 17
The boom of sexual wellness devices.
A recent report found the sex toy market is estimated to be a 19-billion-dollar industry.
Sales spiked during the pandemic as people sought new ways to explore intimacy amid restrictions.
The liberalization of sexual attitudes driven by changing cultural norms has been a major contributing factor.
According to a fascinating report by Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC), the global sexual wellness devices market is estimated to be an astonishing 19-billion-dollar industry, with significant growth projected in the future. This report offers valuable insights into both the business and psychology of sexual pleasure.
Sex toys are nothing new. They have been around for millennia. The oldest known dildo is estimated to be 28,000 years old. The word dildo, by the way, is believed to have been coined around 1,400 AD. It comes from the Latin word “dilatare,” which means “open wide,” and the Italian word “diletto,” which means “delight.” Phallic artifacts have been found around the world and dated through just about every historic period. And yet, thanks to the puritanical beliefs that eventually shaped modern Western culture, most people felt the need to hide behind a ballcap and sunglasses when perusing a sex shop. Until recently.
We've long known the benefits that sex toys offer. Couples who use them tend to have stronger communication skills, higher rates of sexual satisfaction, and better body awareness. So why have sales only suddenly skyrocketed?
It's Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It
The PWC report mostly refers to sex toys as “sexual wellness devices.” This change in vernacular is part of the reason for the boom. The report highlights the fact that many companies have moved away from overly explicit marketing to adopt a more subtle, wellness-oriented approach. By reframing these devices as tools for enhancing pleasure and self-care, rather than solely for adult entertainment, they have broadened their appeal to a wider audience.
Research Supports the Link between Sex and Wellness
Multiple studies show a link between sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction, and we’ve known for a long time that healthy relationships promote overall health and well-being. The rebranding of sexual wellness products has contributed to the industry’s widespread acceptance. This shift has contributed to the normalization of discussions surrounding intimacy and sexual pleasure. The stigmas that once surrounded adult toys and sexual exploration are gradually being dismantled, paving the way for a more open society.
What Are People Into, and Why the Boom?
The industry saw the most significant growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people sought new ways to explore intimacy amid restrictions. Many singles were left with limited opportunities to meet new partners, while couples faced increased time together. The pandemic inadvertently became a catalyst for the industry’s growth. This led to a surge in sales as individuals and couples sought innovative ways to explore and nurture their relationships.
The industry saw the most significant growth in vibrator sales, which accounted for 27% of the global sexual wellness devices market. Male masturbators accounted for 11% and bondage accessories accounted for 10%. The popularity of vibrators can be attributed to their versatility, catering to individuals and couples of all orientations. Modern vibrators have evolved beyond the traditional perceptions of adult toys, transforming into high-tech gadgets that offer personalized experiences for users. Accessibility has also contributed to the surge in sales, as many toys are now widely available online and at general retailers.
Furthermore, there has finally been an increase in attention to female sexual pleasure, particularly on narrowing the orgasm gap and female anatomy. Both men and women are eager to find ways to enhance female sexual pleasure, and heterosexual couples at last recognize that equal pleasure is mutually beneficial.
The Liberalization of Sexual Attitudes
Sexual liberalization has been driven by several factors, including evolving cultural norms, increased education, and a growing emphasis on personal empowerment.
As individuals have gained a better understanding of the importance of self-care and overall well-being, the significance of sexual health has come to the forefront. Recognizing that sexual wellness is an essential aspect of one’s physical and emotional health has allowed people to view the exploration of pleasure and intimacy as a form of self-empowerment.
The ongoing fight for gender equality has also played a role. The acknowledgment of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities has fostered an environment of inclusivity, encouraging people to embrace their own desires and preferences without fear of judgment.
The growing emphasis on the importance of consent and communication in intimate relationships has also been a contributing factor. Consent culture promotes the idea that all forms of sexual activity should be based on clear communication and respect for boundaries. Feeling safe and secure promotes pleasure perhaps more than anything else.
Art and entertainment have always been powerful drivers of culture change. As more films, TV shows, and literature explore themes of sexual diversity and liberation, audiences become more accepting and understanding of different expressions of sexuality.
With these enlightening statistics, it is evident that the sexual wellness industry is a thriving and integral part of modern society. By discussing and acknowledging the importance of sexual well-being, we can contribute to breaking down the barriers and stigma surrounding the topic. Embracing adult toys (aka sexual wellness devices) and incorporating them into one’s sexual repertoire can lead to a more fulfilling and satisfying intimate life.
Emily Jamea, Ph.D., LMFT, LPC - Website