The past two years have prompted us to reconsider and often change nearly every aspect of our lives — one of them being sexual wellness. And now a new report by Lovehoney Group is showing us the ways in which we’ve pivoted (whew, haven’t used that word in a while) in this area in 2021, summarising the state of sexual wellness with trends identified globally in 2021 and expected to become even bigger in 2022.
“After a pandemic restriction-ridden 2021, the world moves on with some important learnings towards partial reopening,” says Johanna Rief, Head of Sexual Empowerment at Lovehoney Group.
“The liberalisation of society has only accelerated as a creative solution to the problem of social distancing. While it was important to isolate for public health, maintaining our physical and sexual health became a challenge, with masturbation and self-love as a top priority for many.”
Ethical Non-Monogamy (ENM) and Fluid Relationships
Relationship models are pushing past traditional frontiers, with ethical non-monogamy and alternative relationship styles more widely talked about than ever before.
“While alternative relationship styles aren’t for everyone, this broadening of the conversation is helping create a better understanding of what relationships and sex can be,” says Abby Moss, a sex and relationship journalist.
“Heteronormative assumptions about sex, about what ‘counts’ as sex, are being thrown out (and about time too!) and this is giving people of all genders, whether single or in a relationship, a lot more mental freedom to explore sexually. By seeing sex as fundamentally about one thing, pleasure, we can start to break down shame around sex too.”
Masturbation for Pain Relief
Increasingly, masturbation is being considered as part of a self-care routine, and it’s not hard to see why. Orgasms release endorphins, which have pain-killing properties, and one report by pleasure brand Womanizer even found 90% of those in the study to recommend them against period pain.
Environmentally-Friendly Sexual Wellness
How good sexual wellness items and intimate products, including lubricants, period products and sex toys, are for the planet are also big trends for 2022.
“It makes sense that consumers want to look at what we’re putting on and in our bodies,” says sexologist and relationship expert Jessica O’Reilly. “We look at ingredients when it comes to beauty products, so paying attention to materials in our sex toys is a natural extension of this practice. We want to know what a product is made of, so that we can decide if it’s a good fit for our bodies, lifestyles and principles.”
Wearable Sex Tech
The report identified an emerging trend where an increasing amount of products are designed to be used on-the-go when we’re out and about in the street, having a date or during a romantic dinner, breaking the boundaries of more traditional self-pleasure environments.
“Going beyond product design, wearable sex tech becomes a paradigm shift that considers self-pleasure as much more than masturbation: an act of wellness to be enjoyed anytime anywhere in the form of teasing and pleasurable sensations that can have stress-relieving properties without the need of masturbation or ejaculation,” reads the report.
Accessibility in Sexual Wellness
Historically, sex and disability have rarely been talked about, but with sexual pleasure being classified as a human right by the WHO, sex tech innovators are now setting a new standard for inclusive intimacy.
“As cultural attitudes and norms around sex change and sexuality is seen as natural and healthy for everybody, there will be greater opportunities for people living with disability to explore their sexuality – free of shame, taboo and barriers,” says Candice Care-Unger, Royal Rehab Sexuality Service Team Leader and Psychosexual Therapist and Social Worker.
“Demand will drive fantastic new advancements in adaptive sex tech in the coming years that will make pleasure more accessible. Not only will these changes address basic human rights, but with one in five people living with a disability, exciting product innovations make good business sense.”
Re-Exploring Male Pleasure
While sexual wellness within fem tech has been booming, male pleasure options had largely been stagnant. Now, the liberalisation of society is starting to see an increasing number of men interested in sexual wellness.
“Sex toys for men and people with a penis have historically been erection-oriented and friction-based,” says Cam Fraser, Australian-based male sex coach. “Few have challenged the stereotypical sexual scripts of men’s sexual experiences. Thankfully, this is starting to shirt.”
“A greater awareness of the multifaceted aspect of pleasure, for people of all genders, has seen conversations about male bodies and men’s expression of sexuality expand and become more nuanced.”
AI and Space: The Frontier of Sexuality
The rise of dating apps, immersive porn and connected sex devices show the increasing role tech is playing in sexual relationships.
“Moving forward, space agencies and the public supporting them need to be reminded that approaching questions of human sexuality from a positive, scientific, empathetic and inclusive perspective is paramount to our health, well-being and the success of our extra-terrestrial life,” says Simon Dube from Erobotics.
“Specifically, they need to be reminded that 1) sexual health is health, 2) sexual rights are human rights, 3) sexuality means diversity, 4) pleasure is fun and important, and 5) technology can help.”