Overcoming the taboo, understanding the need, and capturing the potential
By Valentina Lorenzi for the Cambridge University Femtech Society and Cambridge Girl Talk
The Cambridge University Femtech Society’s latest online event hosted three incredible speakers, Terri Harris (FemTech Lab), Glenise Kinard-Moore (SkiiMoo Tech) and Lea Moser (Kohe Lele). Each speaker provided a different perspective on the SexTech industry, which aims to overcome sexual taboos, understand the need for solutions which improve sexual health, and capture the potential of these. It focuses on increasing sexual wellbeing, which has been repeatedly compared to mental health and is a sector which is currently growing: it is expected to double its market cap in the next five years, predicted to be worth $37.2 billion by 2023. Through technologies and technology-driven ventures the SexTech industry aims to enhance and innovate the human sexual experience.
Despite its economic potential and societal impact, the SexTech industry still faces three intertwined obstacles: taboo, lack of education and shadow banning, the act of hiding or restricting a user’s content from an online community. Taboo and stigma undeniably permeate every aspect of SexTech, especially when it comes to female sexual pleasure, which has long been overlooked. Even research has been affected by the taboo, which is reflected in the lack of scientific data and the knowledge gap surrounding female anatomy.
While it is tricky to distinguish cause and consequence, it is evident that the stigma around sexual wellness is accompanied by a lack of education. Investors struggle to understand the industry and therefore, are less likely to consider it profitable. Meanwhile, potential customers are difficult to reach because sex is not openly talked about in our society.
Customer acquisition is further hampered by shadow banning, described by Terri as “social media’s way of removing posts deemed too explicit or offensive to its users.” During the discussion, she explained that shadow banning currently targets SexTech companies and anything relating to female reproductive health, with words such as ‘pelvis’, ‘cervix’ or ‘uterus’ being recognised as offensive by social media algorithms. Glenise emphasised that “the narrative is thus controlled by platforms that do not necessarily represent what people need or want to be educated on.” This idea was echoed by Lea, who pointed out that while social media platforms apply shadow banning to any sex education content, such platforms are also the only places where sex education can occur nowadays.
Is there a way to break this vicious circle? In line with Kohe Lele’s mission to open the conversation around sex-related topics, Lea suggested that the first step is to talk about our sexual wellbeing with friends and family, focusing on the positive aspects. She also thinks highly of the effort put forward by the Netflix series Sex Education, because it portrays a “realistic, inclusive, no-taboo, no-stigma approach to sexuality,” far from the “cis, male-centred vision” we have been used to for so long.
The entrepreneurs agreed that joining forces can provide a solution to overcoming unfair shadow banning. FemTech Lab is currently running a campaign for which FemTech and SexTech brands have signed an open letter to social media companies, expressing how harmful shadow banning algorithms are to them and their users. Points in the letter include “having a working group with FemTech/SexTech entrepreneurs to discuss and work a way towards better flagging machines,” explained Terri.
Additionally, Glenise shared her experience on the importance of conducting the appropriate research to identify and understand the needs of the target audiences for SkiiMoo Tech’s latest product, the VDOM. By directly engaging with the end users in different target communities, she found that people passionate about her product were willing to serve as brand ambassadors, with word-of-mouth being more powerful than social media marketing alone. When dealing with investors who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the topic, Glenise’s approach is to “put it into layman’s terms” and explain that “the SexTech industry is just like any other profitable industry.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has constituted an additional booster to the growth of SexTech: the experience of isolation has revealed the importance of both emotional and physical intimacy and has driven a new interest in exploring sexuality in partnerships, individually or remotely. In the next years, the SexTech industry is predicted to move towards designing technologies which include wider audiences, including non-binary and disabled users. Innovation towards more inclusive designs will also be accompanied by an increase in sustainable materials as consumers look for alternatives that pollute less and last longer.
Overall, the SexTech sector is on a growing trajectory, driven by a newfound awareness and greater focus on the physical and mental health benefits associated with sexual wellbeing. The industry is becoming increasingly innovative and inclusive, and is actively fighting against sexual stigmas, particularly those surrounding female pleasure, so as to promote sexual wellness for everyone.
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Featured Image: Cambridge University Femtech Society’s Instagram
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