Vibrators, supplements, and ‘Big Os’: How the market for sexual wellness is growing in India?

According to industry experts, the growth of e-commerce coupled with discreet delivery systems and discounts have helped users in India explore products and solutions related to sexual wellness.

Vibrators, supplements, and ‘Big Os’: How the market for sexual wellness is growing in India?
Recently founded D2C companies like Bold Care, MyMuse and Salad have put the "forbidden" topic under the spotlight. (Image Credit: Pixabay)

Sex is a taboo subject in India and conversations around sexual health and intimate health are hush-hush topics. Despite this, the market for intimate wellness is growing in India. According to the report published by Allied Market Research, the Indian sexual wellness market generated $1.15 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $2.09 billion by 2030, witnessing a CAGR of 5.8% from 2021 to 2030.

The report also revealed that the rise in the number of consumers shopping online owing to the availability of different product options and price comparisons and a surge in awareness about sexual wellness products are the key drivers of the growth of the sexual wellness market in the country.

The reports have also highlighted that increase in the popularity of wellness products such as sex toys, delay sprays, and sex enhancement supplements among young couples present new opportunities in the coming years.  

In recent years, there is an increase in sexual wellness startups and this has also contributed to the growth of the market.

‘Sexual health-related conversations still a taboo’

According to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care revealed that sexual health was one of the most poorly recognised public health issues in India. Recently founded D2C companies like Bold Care, MyMuse and Salad have put the “forbidden” topic under the spotlight.

Bold Care began its journey with 100 customers in July 2020. Now it claims to have reached 5 Lakh customers, shipping more than 60K monthly orders and clocking a 3x revenue jump in the last seven months. The company has a customer revenue retention rate of over 50% and anticipates more than 250% YoY revenue growth by FY23, as per reports.

The D2C brand offers an extensive range of products geared towards a spectrum of issues such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, infertility, hair fall, and more, and the products usually cost around Rs. 400-800.

Founders of Bold Care–Rajat Jadhav, Rahul Krishnan, Harsh Singh, and Mohit Yadav (Instagram/ @oneandonlyrk)

“The number of men facing sexual health problems is quite high in India. It’s a huge market where men are facing erectile dysfunction, infertility, premature ejaculation and various other issues in Tier 2, Tier 3 and even metros. Surprisingly, what we have seen through our data is that the average age of men facing such problems is much lower than the global average. The average is said to be between 34 to 36 years but in India, it is around 28 to 30 years. There are a lot of stigmas and a communication gap in this area. It also has a lot to do with lifestyle. So, yeah it’s a huge market that is largely still untapped but also prevalent with notorious scams,” Rajat Jadhav, founder, and CEO of Bold Care, told Financial

‘Business Model: Earning Trusts of Customers’

Most of these brands have created a strong position and loyalty among customers for themselves and the majority of the credit goes to their D2C model.

“In this segment, the privacy of the customer is at the core and it is very critical. The men who face these problems tend to hope that somehow magically the solution appears right at their doorstep without having to interact with anyone. We get the deliveries to the door-stop and everything is happening from the customer’s home, extremely fast, it is very affordable and accessible and they don’t need to feel embarrassed or ashamed about it,” he added.

Another D2C brand MyMuse which focuses on sexual wellness and bedroom essentials has also garnered the attention of Indians. Earlier this year, the company announced that it has completed its seed round of funding, taking the total amount raised to $1.2 million. The round was led by Saama Capital and saw participation from MyMuse’s pre-seed investors, Sauce VC and Whiteboard Capital.

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Launched by husband-wife duo, Sahil and Anushka Gupta last year, MyMuse claims to be India’s first gender-neutral brand dedicated to sexual wellness. Seeing a gap in the market for high-quality adult products, the couple decided to create a new-age brand that reframes how Indians approach intimacy–making it “easy, approachable, and fun.”

“Two years ago when we were conceptualizing MyMuse, we realised that there was a huge gap with respect to what was available and what people needed. We ran a casual survey and got over 250 responses in 48 hours. No surprises here, but from the responses we received, there was an endless number of complaints about the quality and accessibility of products. Regarding the options available for sexual wellness products in the market, we felt that none truly spoke to us, and people echoed our sentiments,” Sahil Gupta, Co-Founder, MyMuse told Financial

They revealed that the industry was dominated by “outdated, large FMCG brands” that are out of touch with how they (and how they think most Indians) approach intimacy today.

“This was the gap that we wanted to fill. We wanted to create a brand that makes intimacy easy, approachable, and fun for Indians everywhere. You can see that in our products, our messaging, and even in our social media. We tend to keep things straightforward, honest, and clean. This year has brought us an abundance of good vibes, apart from closing a round of funding, we’ve had a number of new and exciting product launches. The response to our products has been overwhelmingly positive, which sparks a lot of excitement about this space in India. Each launch keeps proving that people are more open than we think – and that India is just starting to explore. It’s definitely an exhilarating time to witness this change,” Anushka Gupta, Founder, MyMuse told Financial

The product portfolio of the company includes full body massagers, lubricants, oils, couple games, and gift kits and it claims that it has been able to break taboos and build a loyal community. The D2C brand claims that MyMuse has witnessed immense growth (~40 percent m-o-m) and served 15,000+ customers across 281 cities in India thus far. Through its targeted social media campaigns the company trying to re-establish the dialogue around sex.

Another such Brand, Salad, claims to help women learn more about their bodies and intimate lives. Started by Aruna Chawala in 2021, the company focuses on bridging the orgasm gap between men and women. According to a 2019 survey conducted by Condom maker Durex, almost 70 percent of women don’t have orgasms every time they have sex.

“This Orgasm Gap is hardly a surprise when you realize that much of sex—the language we use, the marketing around selling sex, and the consequences of having sex continue to unfairly target women. A man has sex, whereas a woman has sex done unto. We’ve been conditioned to be passive receivers of sex. And when we see a woman who actually enjoys it and knows what she wants, we call her names,” Chawla told Financial

Chawla said she wanted to solve this issue.

“The first product we launched was Ultra-Thin External Condoms. We intentionally designed and developed them without additional fragrances and flavours so that the women who used these don’t suffer from allergies or rashes. We’ve got a wonderful response from both women and men who’ve been our cheerleaders and early adopters,” She said.

According to Chawla, women are also unfairly bearing the burden of sex. “We’ve seen this burden in our customers as well. Women-buyers come back and tell us that although they love the product and are grateful for allergies and rashes-prevention, their partners prefer to not use condoms at all. These structural issues are beyond what we can do as a product brand although we continue to focus heavily on education and information-sharing,” She said.

She also revealed that for their condoms, 52 percent of the customers are women.

“We intentionally decided to start off being digital-first as our internal research showed us that women find it difficult to go into chemist shops and access condoms. Online orders provide discreetness and privacy. We also shipped orders to the remotest parts of the country. Cities like Lucknow, Varanasi, Bhopal, and Pune ordered the most. Currently, we are not retailing on our website anymore. We retail only through an online beauty e-commerce marketplace as we pivot to our new offering,” she told Financial

‘Normalising conversations about intimacy’

According to industry experts, the growth of e-commerce coupled with discreet delivery systems and discounts have helped users in India explore products and solutions related to sexual wellness. These companies claim that they are trying “normalise” the conversation around sexual pleasure and intimacy in India.

“The challenge is how we need to approach the conversation around the subject. There’s a sweet spot between being straightforward and being respectful about the culture. The opportunity is that it’s definitely an exciting space to be in – there’s still a lot to be explored and this is a movement you can get behind! Our core belief has been to create a space where we can talk about intimacy or sexual wellness as a natural part of our lives– A space where we can share experiences and learn new things,” Sahil told Financial

He also revealed that they are constantly working to create reliable and relatable information for people.

“Through our newsletter, our blog, our social media, videos, and guides, we’re constantly working to create reliable and relatable information for people, enabling them to have more honest conversations in their own lives. When people reach out to us to express how a piece of content or a product gave them perspective, the courage to explore, or helped their sexual lives – we know we are doing something right,” he said.

Meanwhile, Chawla informed her company, Salad, working on pivoting to a lifestyle management platform that helps women live in sync with their bodies. She also stressed that sexual wellness is not about sex at all—it’s about wellness.

“We have launched a pilot 30-day program that will help women get comfortable with their bodies and have better sex. We’re working on a ton of behaviour change-enabled programs that help them with overall wellness beyond just fertility,” She added.

Aruna Chawla also revealed that women often prefer to personally DM or email them to ask questions or share experiences.

“ interesting pattern we have observed is that women prefer to personally DM or email us to ask questions or share experiences. There continues to be a sense of shame in being ‘seen’ talking about sex or to a sexual wellness company. Even though community continues to be an important part of almost every company’s business strategy, for a sexual wellness brand like ours, it is clear that it may not be the right approach. We anticipate anonymous and private communities would fare better — this is something we are actively working on, she said.

Aruna told Financial that male leaders have dominated the conversation and narrative around sex and sexual wellness.

“ sells everything, even mango juice! It’s been a huge opportunity to bring lived experience to the forefront…As a woman founder, this is an opportunity to bring a never-heard reality into mainstream perspective. This bet has taken off really well! We’ve grown consistently through word-of-mouth and organic coverage. Women have messaged us saying they finally feel seen and heard,” she revealed.

Although there are still a lot of stigmas, they have had to focus on unique ways to market.

“As I work in this space, I feel part of the pioneers who have changed the world for the better. I see this as an opportunity to solve an age-old problem with a fresh, new approach. We’re doing our bit in the capacity of a business to loosen these discomforts with a bottoms-up approach,” She said.

‘Pandemic–Opportunity or Challenge?’

Interestingly, Both Bold Care and My Muse were launched in the middle of the pandemic, and despite various challenges they have come a long way.

“Well, we started our business during the pandemic. A spare room in our house was made into a makeshift warehouse, and it was basically the two of us along with 5 full-time employees and a bunch of freelancers who made up the team. Since then, we have only grown. Our product range has expanded, team members have increased, and we have a community that diligently follows our social media and weekly newsletters. We’ve only been around for a little over a year, and the growth we’ve seen has surprised us too. Most months we see up to 40% growth in revenue. But it’s not just the numbers for us – the growth and engagement in our community is what gets us going. We see incredible interactions across all our platforms, with a strong Instagram and Email subscriber base of over 50k strong,” Anushka told Financial

Jadhav also revealed that in the first two years of the pandemic, they had a 300 percent growth rate. “…our growth has not really slowed down. We had a good year now. The way we see it going forward we want to keep the space growing,” he added.

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He also revealed that when they launched the market was non-existent.

“We are a COVID-19 company…We have seen a quick journey of growth. We have been growing at 300 percent y-o-y for the first two years and in the third year also we will clock similar 300 percent growth. The numbers are getting big now. In terms of the actual number of men being served in this category, we are the largest new-age brand in India right now. We actually started ranking number 2 or 3 even considering the legacy players. The journey for us has been quite interesting and good,” Jadhav told Financial

According to Aruna, COVID-19 served as an opportunity to “kick-start” their business model.

“We started as a post-COVID brand in 2021. The initial lockdown was a huge learning as the industry saw a 65% growth due to post-COVID lifestyles. Conversations around self-care have also started to see mainstream light. More and more women are online. In fact, some surveys report that women are digitally more active than men. This has been a wonderful opportunity to kick start our endeavours,” She added.

A Wide variety of Customers in India

According to Bold Care’s founder, the company’s customer base is very wide.”Men from the age 26 years till 60+ years are part of our user base. We are obsessed with our user experience. Thousands of orders are getting shipped daily. We try to do the deliveries in a day or half,” he told Financial

In the case of MyMuse, although the major user base is between the ages of 24 to 35 years, they claim that customers from other age groups are also interested in their brands.

“Even though our main demographic is people between the ages of 24 to 35 years, we do have customers across the board who are interested in our brand. Our content and products are all designed with the intention to be inclusive of all age groups, genders, and sexual orientations. We’re still far from where we want to be but keep your eyes peeled because new and exciting things are coming,” Sahil said.

According to Anushka, since pleasure is universal, they believe their target audience will continue to grow.

“We see the sky as the limit when it comes to future growth. Pleasure is something that’s universal, so we know our target audience will continue to expand, both in terms of age groups, locations, and socioeconomic demographic. Tier 2 towns already account for a good portion of our sales, and we believe this will continue to expand as a narrative,” She added.

For Salad, Chawla claims that it’s been a phenomenal journey so far.

“We are currently focussing on 24-30-year-old working women in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities who want to improve their overall wellness and health holistically. Traditionally, support across this front—fitness instructors, dermatologists, nutritionists, gynaecologists, endocrinologists, mental health experts, etc—is broken and siloed. We want to bring it all together and get these experts to work with each other to solve the user’s pain points,” She told Financial

She also revealed that as they grow and expand, they will also start focusing on pre-teens to 40.

“As we grow and expand, we’ll start solving for pre-teens to 40. In the long-run, we don’t want to box our customers in age groups but rather solve for default needs that are personal to them. Our business strategy is focused on devising our value hierarcy in an age-agnostic fashion in the long run. Although we are currently starting off with sexual wellness, we want to expand into overall wellness for women in the coming years,” she said.

‘Marketing Products as Wellness needs’

According to Jadhav, rather than “sexualising”, they treat the issues just like any other health and wellness problem.

“In the current times, there are still certain types of brands with a photo half-naked of women. This sexualisation logic still exists. Then there was a transition in the last decade from 2010 to 2020s, I would say the “crassness” started going down a little bit. We are a new brand and we launched around two years back. If you see any of our ads, there are no half-naked models, there is no crassness. There is no need for us to sexualise the matter to get the sales going. We treat it as a health and wellness problem and that is what it is. The way we have done our marketing is very neat and clean. We focus on creating a channel where the new-age man is comfortable to come to explore our products,” He said.

Meanwhile, MyMuse’s Founder Sahil believes that being straightforward, honest, and cultural respect as a business strategy has been helpful for them till now.

“Our strategy for ads is the same as the one we use for our organic content. We try to be straightforward and honest, but also have respect for the culture. No matter the platform, if the message is being delivered in a well-meaning manner, it’s usually received as such. When it comes to our content, we make sure that creativity and data are at the forefront of every decision. In that endeavour, we have a dedicated in-house team that works on it, it is a fairly systematic and exhaustive approach,” he told Financial

For Salad, the key strength is speaking the language of the customer and sensitivity with the content they present.

“Our key strengths have been having the lived experience of our customers and speaking their language. It’s easier to communicate with your customers if you are a power user of your own product as a founder. We are sensitive to the content we put out…Due to the gray areas on obscenity and public policy legally and on social media websites, we do get shadow-banned quite often. As though women learning more about their body beyond fertility is obscene in any way!” Chawla told Financial

India’s potential in the Sexual Wellness Market

Although there is an uptick in the popularity of sexual wellness products among Indians, Anushka believes there is still a long way to go.

“Currently, India doesn’t have a position in this space globally, but there is so much potential. We do want to enter the global market eventually, but right now, we’re looking to capture the Indian turf. India is just growing in this segment. With our
recent launches, it’s clear that the Indian consumer is receptive to these products. So, what comes next is diversity and range in the product portfolio. We’ve already started cooking up some sexy stuff at MyMuse labs, so you can look forward to new and exciting products soon!” She told Financial

Meanwhile, Chawla emphasised that India has the opportunity to take up a “lion’s share of the global markets as both a producer and consumer.”

“We’re quickly catching up with the rest of the world. Currently, our consumption share is a meager 1.9% of the global total even though it’s touted that India and China will be the major drivers of this industry globally,” she added.

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First published on: 09-10-2022 at 11:00 IST