Pleasure Products Industry Execs Share Roadmap for New Year

Pleasure Products Industry Execs Share Roadmap for New Year

As we ring in the new year, we think of where we’ve been and where we’re going. We make New Year’s resolutions and strive to become better people than we were the year before. We imagine new directions for our personal lives and new ambitions for our businesses and careers. And of course, those of us in the pleasure products and sexual wellness world ponder where our industry is headed in terms of trends, goals and what we may have to look forward to as the calendar flips to 2023.

XBIZ asked a number of industry pros to reflect on the explosive growth of the past few years and share their insights on where they believe we are headed in 2023. Whether it’s shopping trends, product innovations or creative ideas for the future, let’s take out our crystal balls and see what these well-versed experts are forecasting.

For many business leaders, pursuing their 2023 goals began with the 2022 holiday season.

Riding the Holiday Season

For many business leaders, pursuing their 2023 goals began with the 2022 holiday season. Ikenna Lewis-Miller, PR and marketing director for Japan-based Tenga, shared his thoughts on how important the holiday season is for launching the company into the new year.

“We have seen that we attract a number of new consumers in the new year from the northern hemisphere, which we attribute to the colder climate, and our fans looking at spicy ways to entertain themselves while they hibernate in the winter months,” Lewis-Miller explained.

Along with the cold and the holidays, Tenga has traditionally seen high sales numbers during the end of the year.

“The lead-up to Christmas and New Year is always a busy time for us with historically high demand and sales,” Lewis-Miller said. “Our new fans seem to enjoy finding out what products are on our list of bestsellers.”

In addition to using a bestsellers list to generate sales, Tenga also uses these lists at the end of the year to attract consumers who are new to pleasure items. For Tenga, these lists act as a guide for customers who are trying to make a decision.

2023 Strategies: From Digital to Physical

Naturally, companies need strategies beyond holiday sales to stay in business. Broadly speaking, the majority of business leaders are heading into 2023 with plans to amp up their marketing. Specifically, they want to focus on digital communications and events.

Some of these marketing strategies follow tried-and-true approaches that work across industries. Ian Kulp, head of sales for Je Joue, shared that his company is focused on expanding its outreach for 2023, as well as “continuing to build upon this past year’s successful brand presence and relationship-building milestones.”

“With even more skillful, strategic and thoughtful messaging coupled with carefully curated programming and promotional activations, we look forward to reaching an even greater audience showcasing Je Joue’s industry-driven, best-in-class innovations and brand heritage,” Kulp said.

“In terms of online marketing, there’s a real increase in open conversations about pleasure and sex education outside of the community,” he added. “As mainstream media pushes the agenda on sex, we are seeing influencers from outside the sexual wellness space becoming more comfortable talking about sexual wellness. Content has also become very reactive with short videos and reels becoming the main source of social media consumption, with TikTok having changed the way brands can talk to consumers.”

Fun Factory’s Kristen Tribby explained how the company is investing in marketing in the new year, specifically by looking at additional influencer partnerships and expanding its content marketing. Tribby also noted that as TikTok continues to grow, the company plans to broaden its presence on the platform.

At the same time, Fun Factory will continue the progress the company made in 2022 to support its brick-and-mortar retail partners.

“Pandemic-era restrictions created an uptick in online shopping, and we’ve been meeting with retailers to assist them in boosting their in-person sales,” Tribby said.

Kulp also shared his thoughts about the impact of social media on buying trends.

“The younger generation is growing up with much more social media awareness and now looks for authenticity with platforms such as BeReal encouraging a more realistic depiction of life compared to the Instagram-filtered version. As we move into this new era, it’s a fantastic opportunity to tell real-life sexual experiences and showcase a more realistic and educational picture of what sexual wellness really is.”

As pleasure brands continue to home in on their social media content-creating skills, video is slated to be the format of choice.

“Post-pandemic, there is still an increased interest in well-being,” Kulp said. “Self-pleasure now fits in very comfortably alongside other health habits, and as consumers become more aware of their mental health and well-being, this is a great space for pleasure products to play a role. Video content continues to be a leader in how consumers engage with brands, but it’s also a way in which they can understand the look and feel of products. In our space where there might be a lack of confidence in how a product might work, video will continue to be the best way to showcase products.”

Also noting the influence of social media on consumers, Will Ranscombe, founder and CEO of U.K.-based sustainable pleasure products brand Love Not War, expressed a hope that’s widely shared in the adult retail industry.

“We’re also predicting and hoping 2023 will be the year that sexual wellness is finally fully accepted on social media, and we are no longer bound by so many restrictions,” he said.

The flourishing of sexual wellness content on social media is also driving pleasure products’ success on mainstream retail shelves.

“The relationship between pleasure products and mainstream retail is something we’ve watched strengthen in the past few years and this is a trend that we envision will only continue to rise in 2023,” Ranscombe said. “People are interested in sexual wellness, interested in learning about it, being open to it and with that, they also want sexual wellness products to be more widely and easily available.”

Tami Rose, owner of the Pearl, Mississippi brick-and-mortar store and website, Romantic Adventures, sees social media having a stronger and stronger influence on which products sell in the store.

“I will be watching that space closely,” she said. “Especially as Twitter falls apart, it will probably disseminate into smaller and more focused niche groups.”

Industry vet and clinical sexologist Dr. Sunny Rodgers, who also serves as the marketing and intimate health advisor for lubricant brand Swiss Navy, said that she also believes that more specialized niches will appear in 2023 as consumers become savvier in their online research and are more educated about their specific pleasure needs.

“I think this will drive manufacturers, especially new ones entering this industry, to be even more inventive than ever before,” she said. “I also believe that manufacturers will be more focused on marketing since they can specifically target their unique niche of consumers. And there are more AI and tech programs helping to create ‘matches’ between consumers and pleasure products, making it easier for information to reach those consumers it’s intended for. 2023 is going to be an exciting year!”

M.D. Science Lab is also leaning into online engagement. Briana Watkins, vice president of sales and marketing, shared, “We instituted new tactics for our consumer outreach in August that are really helping consumers become more aware of our products through our B2C blog and social media channels.” This plan was so successful that her company will build on it into 2023.

Rebecca Pinette-Dorin, North American sales director of the France-based sensual cosmetics company Exsens, also predicts that manufacturers and retailers alike will come to rely on up-and-coming online marketing tools to reach consumers in the new year.

“Subscriptions, points systems and other digital logistical marketing that promotes customer fidelity are definitely going to become something all brands and stores that are serious about online sales will have to take into consideration,” she said.

Joe Vela, CEO of Emojibator, echoed the sentiment, adding that in addition to retention marketing, the collection of zero-party data will play a part in the marketing strategies of companies that want to expand in 2023.

Vela also predicts that subscription-based education services will gain momentum. “Consumers are unable to get pleasure-focused education from social media and mainstream media,” he noted. “So they will have to turn to alternative services.”

Companies will also have to take a hands-on approach to keep nurturing their loyal fan base, Vela added.

“One way to reach customers that will expand in 2023 is a physical presence at retail stores, conferences and pop-up shops,” Vela said. “I also think we'll see more video chat and subscription-service integrated devices, since those areas are both driving growth in porn and pleasure.”

Similarly, Rebecca Pinette-Dorin said that Exsens is focused on growing its presence online and in person.

“We have partnered with a couple of wonderful toy brands to start doing giveaways using our growing social media platform. We are also in the process of partnering full-time with some great voices in the sexy/healthy space,” Pinette-Dorin said. “We will continue to add to our great blog space with on-point, positive and helpful information, and on the B2B side, we will be present at quite a few sexy trade shows this year.”

Notably, some companies are also looking to expand their customer base by moving into new regions. For instance, Honey Play Box’s Emma H. revealed that the company would be opening stores in Europe alongside intensifying their affiliate outreach.

Toy Trends on the Horizon

In response to consumers’ increased awareness of sexual wellness, our experts say, product development will continue its rapid growth in 2023. Addressing evolving consumer tastes and desires is of utmost importance to manufacturers heading into the new year.

Referencing her own company’s plan for development, Patricia López of MyHixel said, “Concerning products, the user experience will be very important to reach the consumer, as well as the application of technology, which is a must for the development of products focused on sexual health, as is the case of our most innovative solution, MyHixel Control, which applies AI to help men improve their ejaculatory control.”

Fun Factory’s Kristen Tribby shared another perspective on addressing consumer interest.

“Another trend we're excited to see is the rise of sex toys that actually perform, instead of pretty-but-weak toys,” she said. “We’ve always said that sex toys don't have to be dainty or masquerade as home decor. Fun Factory is proud to make toys that look like sex toys and do the job of sex toys. That doesn’t mean every toy has to look like a giant phallus, either!”

Expanding on the trend of sex positivity influencing consumers’ buying, Tribby continued, “We are sex-positive and proud, and we’re excited that other brands are taking on that attitude too. In the past couple of years, we’ve been seeing sex toys move from the margins into the mainstream. Vibrators are on the shelves of drugstores and boutiques alike, and celebrities are endorsing certain brands. We believe the mainstreaming of sex toys will continue to drive sales in 2023, as consumers encounter toys in more places and become more curious.”

Dr. Sunny Rodgers credits the pleasure industry’s up-and-coming brands with the development of niche product categories.

“All this ‘newness’ is bringing concepts that have never been seen before,” she said. “I also think that there is more thought and consideration of consumers and their unique needs. For probably the first time ever, pleasure products are more niche and specific to consumers. Rather than just ‘settle’ for a vibrator, a consumer can now choose what particular sensation appeals to them, along with new colors — not just pink —and other options.”

Tenga’s Lewis-Miller addressed the growing consumer interest in product sustainability.

“As more consumers look to make their sex life and masturbation routine more sustainable and ethical, there is a greater demand for reusable products, especially in western countries,” Lewis-Miller said. “To this point, Tenga launched the reusable Flip and Spinner series, which have become very popular amongst our fans and newcomers alike. Saying that, the disposable items like the Cups remain very popular in the Asian markets. Brands, however, will have no choice but to look at ways that they can become more sustainable.”

Ian Kulp agreed that consumers are shopping in a more mindful and eco-conscious way. “This will be an opportunity for brands with ethical products and practices to stand out,” he said.

Rodgers also predicts more sustainable options in products and packaging. “This is where the mainstream market as a whole is heading,” she noted.

Tribby also believes that a growing share of consumers have started to consider the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions.

“We believe that sustainability will be a key feature of any successful brand,” Tribby said. “At Fun Factory, we’re proud to say that our German factory is low-emissions and that our toys last for years, reducing waste.”

Love Not War, which has centered eco-minded efforts as the company’s mission, may be ahead of the game if Will Ranscombe and many others in the industry are right that sustainability is the future.

“We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again — sustainability is the way forward and that is true for all areas of business,” Ranscombe said. “We hope that this is an area that will slowly bridge out beyond us and into all areas of the sex toy industry.”

Pinette-Dorin anticipates that buzzwords such as “all natural,” “sustainable,” “rechargeable,” “biodegradable” and “ethical” will continue to gain steam.

“Excessive packaging and plastic clamshells are going to need to change to satisfy a growing customer base that sees the need to reduce waste and save our planet,” she said.

In addition to higher expectations regarding eco-conscious sustainability, consumers are also expected to become pickier about what ingredients and materials products are made of.

“Our data at M.D. Science Lab is showing that consumers are seeking cleaner formulas for personal lubricants,” said Briana Watkins. “We’re hearing that extra safety steps, such as FDA approval, are important to health-conscious people. I believe this will be a driving trend in 2023. Consumers are smart at researching products online and they’re finding brands they can be loyal to that reflect their own values. Overall, I think consumers in 2023 will be more mindful about what they put in their bodies, and that includes everything from food to lube.”

Tribby agreed with Watkins when it comes to personal lubricant trends.

“We also believe 2023 will be the year of good lube,” Tribby said. “We see a trend of brands educating consumers on lube and sexual wellness. Thanks to the efforts of our industry, it’s now OK to be something of a ‘lube snob’ and make informed decisions on what to put near or in your body. Just because you can buy lube from most supermarkets or drugstores, doesn't mean you should.”

Consumers now have the option of turning to online resources from brands, retailers and sexperts for tips on which formulas to buy.

Tribby added, "In decades past, people might have had two lube brands to choose from, but now, all the possibilities can be overwhelming. It’s our job to ensure consumers are choosing the right lube for their body and the toy they are using.”

Market Predictions

Of course, when it comes to sexual health, wellness and pleasure, there are endless product categories. We asked our soothsayers to gaze once more into their crystal balls, this time to predict which categories they expect to experience the most growth in 2023, and to tell us to what they attribute that popularity.

Watkins takes a “holistic” approach when speculating about what consumers will be looking for in 2023.

“I believe that more natural products will be sought out in 2023 and they will become the most popular products of the year,” she said. “The past couple of years has pushed health into everyone’s mind and companies that embrace clean, natural products and ensure high-quality standards will be the manufacturers that flourish.

“Many of our Swiss Navy lubricants and supplements are based upon nature,” Watkins added. “I think more manufacturers will look to natural ingredients for their products in 2023. More people are realizing how important it is to be aware of what you use for your personal and sexual health. This means research into plants and minerals will definitely be a focus for manufacturers of consumable products in the new year.”

Rodgers believes that consumers will continue to take their sexual wellness seriously in the new year, and that this will drive product development.

“From my conversations with both medical professionals and people within our industry, in my opinion, it looks like ‘pleasure products with a purpose’ are going to experience the most growth,” she said. “‘Wellness’ has been a catchphrase for the past few years, but it seems most pleasure products haven’t really addressed this growing niche.”

Emma H. of Honey Play Box foresees growth with app-enabled toys. She noted that her company will be jumping on the interactive toy trend by publishing its own Honey Play Box app, enabling customers to fine-tune and enhance their toy experience.

Rodgers also sees more app-enabled pleasure products coming into the market in 2023.

“Currently, there are only a handful of options available, but as new technology becomes available, I believe more products will come with options to connect to smartphones, computers and, more significantly, to the greater world,” she said. “Life expanded for many with the introduction of the metaverse.”

Rodgers cited research by the Capgemini Research Institute that shows more than 90% of consumers are curious about the metaverse and that in 2023, more companies will be adding mixed reality, augmented reality and virtual reality as ways to connect to consumers.

“While Meta is currently in the forefront, there are several other companies building their own metaverses,” Rodgers added.

One category stands out by far as the strongest predictor of where the pleasure industry is headed in the next 12 months.

“Penis toys are poised to become more popular,” Tribby said. “We think that accurate sex-ed content on social media and on blogs like ours will help to drive interest. Contrary to stereotypes, people with penises do enjoy vibration and want high-quality, long-lasting products! Over the past 18 months, penis toys have been some of our top sellers.”

Tami Rose of Romantic Adventures also anticipates a penis toy trend in the upcoming year.

“Men’s toys are a space to watch, and I think there is tons of room for innovation and cross-marketing with the gaming subculture, where young men especially seem to congregate.”

Lewis-Miller says that Tenga’s recent sale figures demonstrate the growing popularity of penis toys.

“We reached the milestone of 100 million units shipped in December 2021, and our European ecommerce grew 175% from fiscal year 2020 to 2021, and is still growing at 158% from 2021 to 2022.”

Just as vagina-centric pleasure products have evolved to mechanically offer various kinds of stimulation, with different tech, shapes and attachments, the penis toy category is growing with added options.

“For example, Tenga launched the Tenga Flip Zero EVR and Tenga Vacuum Gyro Roller, which are high-end optional attachments, and went one step further with its stimulation,” Lewis-Miller said.

He explained that the new Flip Zero Electronic Vibrotation, which is an attachment for Tenga’s Flip Zero series, allows for users to enjoy simultaneous vibration and spinning sensations. The addition of manual stroking can add a different feel; however, users have the option of letting the device do the work. Similarly, Tenga’s Vacuum Gyro Roller attachment for its Cup series allows for the same style of spinning sensation, with additional rhythmic suction.

Offering her insider’s view of the growing category of penis sexual health and wellness, Patricia López of MyHixel says more innovation is on the horizon.

“The field of sexual health has been gaining importance in recent years, to the point where tech is giving us all the opportunities to innovate and create products to improve sexual lives without side effects,” she said. “This, together with the fact that society keeps working to break taboos surrounding sexual health, especially male wellness, will give this market visibility and the opportunity to keep growing.”

López sees the future of the sexual wellness industry as aligning with today’s modern tech innovations, such as the internet of things and green technology.

“In fact, we have already jumped on the AI bandwagon with our solution MyHixel Control,” she said.

Ranscombe also expects to see a rise in male sex toys.

“Male-focused toys have definitely been on the rise in recent years, but there is no doubt that female-aimed toys still hold the No. 1 spot,” he said. “So as the demand for male-focused toys increases, we predict the industry will be playing catch-up and this market gap will indeed get smaller.”

Currently, automated penis toys are enjoying the kind of viral popularity previously achieved by the notorious rose-shaped suction stimulator.

“Automated strokers and hands-free masturbation are all the rage,” Romantic Adventures’ Tami Rose said. “This is being bolstered by social media campaigns. The PDX line from Pipedream seems to hit this demographic perfectly.”

The “Fifty Shades of Grey” craze may be in the past, but shows such as Netflix’s “How to Build a Sex Room” continue to make BDSM more acceptable and appealing to consumers.

“I think BDSM is hitting more of the mainstream thanks to shows like Netflix’s ‘Bonding’ and Showtime’s ‘Billions,’” Emojibator’s Joe Vela said. “It's a normal way to express your sexuality. I’m looking forward to developing more bondage toys as this market grows.”

Going Big in the New Year

The start of the year is an exciting time for the pleasure industry, with inspiration for new products and business strategies budding.

According to Emma H, in 2023 Honey Play Box will focus on creating products that are innovative and developed based on consumer feedback. That includes the app-operated toys she mentioned previously, which she says will help the company be more inclusive. 

Kulp said that 2023 will consist of a lot of collaboration and brainstorming sessions for Je Joue.

“Since education, empowerment and pleasure are at the core of each planning exercise at Je Joue, we’re meticulous in the investment and understanding of our direct, indirect and third-party client needs,” he said. “This practice has historically caused delays in product releases and in some cases, even partner investment. So as we enter 2023, we’re working harder than ever to fast-track and deliver while still maintaining brand integrity, award-winning, considerate designs and staying forever rooted in our mission.”

Last year, Je Joue released Hera and Juno alongside their ultra-flexible, innovative cousins, Hera Flex and Juno Flex. In 2023, Kulp said, the company will continue to expand and grow its range. New releases are expected to debut on Feb. 1 and on May 1.

“We’re so very excited for these planned launches and look forward to showcasing these styles during January’s ANME and XBIZ Retreat,” he said.

Lewis-Miller noted that preparations for a new year actually begin nearly two years in advance, with the start of the engineering process for Tenga devices. With the brand’s goal of bringing sexuality into the mainstream, Lewis-Miller said, Tenga sees the growing popularity of penis toys as the payoff to much effort over time.

“2023 will see two new product series coming from Tenga and Iroha respectively,” Lewis-Miller said. “We can't talk much about them yet! However, 2023 will also be the 10-year anniversary for the Iroha brand and we are working on some exciting plans to celebrate that globally. We're also looking to bring Tenga Healthcare, our company that deals with sexual health and wellness, to the global market too.”

Due to various shifts in the marketplace, some business leaders think their strategies for reaching consumers need shaking up.

“Because of the difficulties with reaching new customers via programmatic advertising,” Joe Vela of Emojibator explained, “we are going to focus one of our big 2023 marketing campaigns on a temporary physical retail location.”

“It's still a secret, but it's a nontraditional retail space and it's definitely going to make a buzz,” Vela added.

2023 is likely to become the first full post-pandemic year. However, this won’t guarantee success. With economic and supply-chain concerns still present, it remains crucial for businesses to stay alert and engaged with their customers.

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