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Lingerie Brands Are Leaning Into the Sexual Wellness Business

The category — once taboo — is creating an added business opportunity for lingerie retailers.

Sexual wellness has become a hot topic in the lingerie world. 

In the midst of a booming wellness industry, lingerie brands are trying to get in on the action by selling sexual wellness products. 

“[Sexual wellness] is a perfect adjacency to what [lingerie brands] are already selling,” Sara Gold, founder of lingerie brand Beloved, said during a recent panel event at Curve New York, the lingerie and swimwear trade show. “You’re in the fitting rooms; you’re touching their breasts. You’re selling them thong panties. Sometimes you’re selling them much less than that for other purposes. This is the next step in that relationship.”

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That includes selling everything from sex toys to lotions to lubricants to sultry accessories, such as whips and handcuffs, right alongside that flirty one-piece bodysuit or those crotchless panties. 

Some examples include Kiki de Montparnasse’s collection of sex toys, or satin blindfolds, leather cuff silk bow handcuffs and cat-ear headbands for bed from brands such as Fleur du Mal and Agent Provocateur. Lingerie boutique Journelle offers a “Self-pleasure Love Box,” that includes a vibrator, nipple covers, massage oils, a scented candle and a pair of lacy bikini bottoms without any back coverage. 

Other brands are creating content online or organizing events to discuss sexual wellness. Sabrina Cherubini, senior vice president of digital at Hanky Panky, said part of the brand’s strategy for opening its first brick-and-mortar store was to have a “safe space to talk about your intimacy without any judgment.” Hanky Panky plans to invite guest speakers, such as OBGYNs and sex experts, to talk about women’s health-related topics. 

“We’re talking about empowerment; we’re talking about giving women more control. But there are still so many taboos, about menopause, around pregnancy,” Cherubini said to WWD. “Sexual wellness is just part of all that. And women are going back to understanding themselves and what’s more intimate than intimates? So it makes sense that the lingerie market is going after it. It’s really more about how you feel, than what you look like, when it comes to lingerie.” 

The sexual wellness and sexy lingerie trend may have picked up speed during lockdown, while the world was hunkering down at home and couples and singles alike found more time for intimate pleasure. (Cosabella managing director Guido Campello said sales of sexy lingerie picked up during the pandemic, for example.) But the wellness industry has been blossoming since pre-pandemic times, as evidenced by a growing activewear industry and consumers’ increasing desires to take care of themselves. The pandemic may have simply heightened consumers’ awareness of self-care. 

Now, sexual wellness is creating an added business opportunity for lingerie brands. Hanky Panky is partnering with Dame and Swish brand Lelo this fall to offer a select of sex toys, massage oils and candles. Sapna Palep, co-owner of Journelle, said revenues in Journelle’s sex products business have continued to increase month-over-month. Small lingerie brands are benefiting, too. Anna Jones, manager of Oh Baby Lingerie in Portland, Oregon, said sexual wellness products represent roughly 15 percent of total revenues. 

“[Intimates] customers are buying these things already. And if [lingerie brands] are not offering these products, then [consumers] are going to buy them from someone else.” said Gold, who has also worked as a consultant. “If you think about these products — let’s just say lube — [lingerie] customers are buying lube already. Is she going into Target and having the neighborhood, teenaged kid check her out? No, she doesn’t want to do that. Is she going into a sex shop where she feels intimidated by a lot of the other products in there? She probably doesn’t want to do that either. Lingerie shops are the perfect place for her to be buying these sorts of things: you have that relationship; you have that openness. She walks into the door and already feels comfortable around these types of things. And if they can’t talk to [a lingerie brand] about sexual-wellness kinds of products, then who can they talk with?”

Much of the stigma surrounding the sexual wellness category has also fallen by the wayside. Once limited to the overtly sexual and something people only talk about behind closed doors, many people are finding a newfound freedom in openly discussing sexual wellness.

“I find that to be the case in the medical world, too,” said Palep of Journelle, who is also a dermatologist and founder of Spring Street Dermatology in New York. “The first time you say something, people have to process it. They have to think about it on their own and as it goes into their head they get more comfortable with it. But overall, the stigma around sexual wellness has definitely gone down. The more people talk about it, the less they feel self-conscious about it.”

Cherubini said since opening Hanky Panky’s New York City shop, many consumers come in looking for sexual wellness products and are eager to chat about the topic. 

“We have a lot of Millennial and Gen Z shoppers; they come and they talk about it. They’re very casual about it,” she said. “[Those generations] are talking about things that have been taboo for so long.” 

It’s not just younger consumers. Perimenopausal women, including Brooke Shields and Gwyneth Paltrow, have talked publicly about sexuality. In the case of the latter, Paltrow has used her wellness brand Goop to sell sex toys, vagina-scented candles and arousal supplements. 

“We have this wonderful thing called Viagra that no one is afraid to talk about,” Gold said. “[Sexual Wellness] is the women’s version of that, whether it be about drops in estrogen or menopause or whatever causes vaginal dryness. But [we’re] talking about it and normalizing the conversation.”

One word of advice though: keep it classy. 

“I have a lot of moms who shop with their teenagers and I don’t want to scare them away,” said Laura Henny, owner of The Rack Shack, a lingerie boutique in Brooklyn, New York “So you’re not going to see a gigantic dildo in my store. 

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“I’m generally pretty sex positive, but I still don’t like to go to sex shop, because they’re generally pretty trashy,” she added. 

Gold added that products have to be safe. Sex toys, she said, are still largely unregulated. 

“So that’s one area where you have to do your homework and buy from really established brands that have put in the R&D to make sure their products are safe,” Gold said.