Breaking Boundaries: How Sextech is Redefining Tech and Wellness in 2024
The sextech industry is set to be worth 120 billion by 2030 – which makes it worth more than crypto. So why is no one talking about it? At our recent event with three inspiring women making strides in this space, we dive into the state of the industry, the challenges faced and where opportunities lie.Insights + resources
Co-hosted by Techspace and Joy Mpofu, Co-founder of Flutter and featuring two excellent panellists - Emma Richardson-Gerrard of The Knude Society and Anisah Osman-Britton MBE of Brown Bodies, they discussed the inspiration behind their ventures, pivotal moments that pushed them to take the first steps and the challenges they’ve encountered along the way.
From gaps in sex education to the influence of culture and religion, the interviewees delve into the factors shaping perceptions of sexual well-being. They also address the financial landscape of the industry and how they managed to get their businesses off the ground. By exploring the intersection of tech, health, and societal norms, the conversation aims to shed light on the untapped potential and future directions of this evolving field.
What is sextech?
Sextech refers to technology and products designed to enhance or facilitate sexual experiences, intimacy, or sexual health. It can include a wide range of products and services such as sex toys, sexual health apps, virtual reality experiences, and more. It's a growing industry that intersects technology and human sexuality.
Joy Mpofu is the co-founder and CEO of Flutter, alongside Ella Peters, CPO. Flutter is on a mission to improve sex for women. . They empower women with a transformative journey of self-discovery, helping women understand their pleasure, through the magic of data and AI.. They've secured pre-seed investment from Antler and launched their first product for women as an MVP in Dec.
Emma Richardson-Gerrard is the founder of The Knude Society. They offer a range of products and toys designed by and for women to redefine pleasure. Their mission is to empower both beginners and experienced individuals to embrace their unique pleasure journey.
Anisah Osman Britton MBE is a prominent figure in the tech industry, recognised for her work at the intersection of technology, impact, and capital. She received an MBE in the 2023 New Year's honours for her contributions to diversity in tech, and she's a Forbes 30 under 30 honoree. Anisah also explores sex in the South Asian diaspora through her initiative, Brown Bodies, influenced by her own experiences with therapy, faith, culture, and relationships.
Here are our five key takeaways from this inspiring event:
Women’s sexual and reproductive health is vastly under-researched
Women's sexual health has historically been under-researched compared to men's, leading to gaps in knowledge and treatment options. Key areas like contraception, menstrual disorders, and menopause have received limited attention compared to male-centric issues like erectile dysfunction. This is mirrored also in research around sexual pleasure. The event illuminated some eye-opening statistics.
- Less than 3% of public-funded research goes to gynaecological and reproductive health in the UK, even though 1 in 3 women suffer from these problems.
- 51% of women in Britain suffer from sexual problems
- Sex is commonly defined as male to female penetration but 80% of women don't orgasm that way
Joy shares about Flutter’s user interviews with 400 women to get a rounded picture of women’s sexual experiences and satisfaction.
“What's come back is astounding. So many women are having painful sex and it is normalised, or struggling with libido issues. One consistent theme, orgasms are a black box - so many women don't understand their orgasms, how to have better orgasms or why are they d not having them, and no one has solved that.” That’s why Flutter is focusing on solving difficulty climaxing first.
It’s a growing billion-dollar industry
Evolving social attitudes, technological advancements and increased consumer demand for sexual well-being products are all causing the increased funding and innovation in this sector.
Startups and innovation have played a role, as has the industry's diverse product range and the convenience of online retail. This sector addresses not only pleasure but also sexual health and wellness, appealing to a broad and growing audience.
“The sex tech industry is set to be worth 120 billion by 2030, so it's a massive market. It's valued at more than crypto, which no one talks about. The Femtech scene as a wider industry is valued at two trillion - it's numbers that are unheard of. But think how many people have period pain and there’s a lack of research that is done into period pain - it’s such a massive industry. So one, the answer is money and two, we're coming to a point in time, especially in the tech industry, where we've gone through this transition where there were no women in positions of power 12 years ago when I started,” shares Anisah.
Men still dominate C-suites in this space
There is still a significant and enduring gap in senior positions between men and women with 96% of CEOs of Britain's largest public companies being men.
This lack of representation in part inspired Emma to start The Knude Society: “I went for a job interview at a sex brand in Canada and I was pitched to by three men in a room who said ‘we're now going to be pitching to women, as it’s the first time women are out-buying men in the sex and sexual wellness industry’. I thought, ‘that's great. I'm pleased that women are taking control of their pleasure.’ However, it shouldn't be three men [pitching]. I researched the UK market and saw that all the sex toy companies here were also powered by men. The Knude Society was born out of what I wanted to see represented back at me.”
There are significant barriers to getting funding
Securing funding is essential for many businesses to get off the ground, or get to the next level of growth, but securing funding in sextech has more barriers than other industries.
As noted in this article on Sifted “many VCs are still uncomfortable talking about sex because it’s such a taboo in wider society.”
“There are lots of VC firms who have things they're not allowed to invest in, red tape things. They can invest in alcohol brands. They can invest in all this other bulls**t. However, investing in women's health is often not allowed. It's depressing,” notes Emma. Less than 3% of public-funded research goes to gynaecological and reproductive health in the UK, even though 1 in 3 women suffer from gynaecological and reproductive health problems.
Oftentimes, companies would feel pressure to conceal the real nature of what they do: “[an example of that is] instead of saying ‘we're a vibrator company’, the story I’d would tell is, ‘we're a sexual wellness company that helps women to be more confident and that's allowing investors to go back to their investment committees.’”
Things are moving in the right direction
Despite the challenges in getting started in this industry, the sector is seeing significant growth and barriers are coming down
"There is a growing pipeline of technical women graduates, alongside women with financial resources from company exits or successful careers in consultancy and investment banking. These women are recognising the limitations in traditional opportunities like venture capital, and are turning towards angel investors, crowdfunding and other forms of alternative capital where they encounter fewer investment restrictions," according to Anisah.
Investment opportunities in sextech are also becoming more accessible. Accelerators focusing on sextech, alongside individuals with personal or family funds, are contributing to a more diverse investment landscape. This shift indicates a growing recognition of the sector’s potential.
“There are accelerators that are creating companies that are investing specifically in sex tech. We're seeing people who are self-funding or family-funded who can do whatever they want with their own money. So there are spaces, it's just about us having to find them and that's a bit harder.”
There's also a notable change in societal attitudes towards sex, making it a more openly discussed topic.
Having spoken recently at the Sifted Summit on the investment opportunities in Sextech, Joy also added that “it feels like a massive societal behavioural shift is happening. More than ever, women are searching and trying to understand their pleasure, more celebrities are coming out and talking about it, mainstream newspapers like Sifted, The Guardian and the Financial Times are talking about sex and pleasure.”
At a conference in Copenhagen, Anisah also saw a whole track on sex tech: “there were 40 people at the meetup, men and women. It's a good time to be in this space.”
The sector is particularly impactful in advancing women's sexual health and wellbeing. Despite ongoing challenges like gender disparity in leadership and funding, there's a visible shift both societally and within the industry. Figures like Joy, Emma, and Anisah are at the forefront of this movement, and their continued contributions are keenly anticipated in driving the sextech industry forward in 2024 and beyond.
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