Latest wellbeing trend: Sexual wellness
The definition of self care is evolving and it looks like 2020, the year of isolation, meant that sex and self-pleasure were not only regular activities, but were talked about more than ever.
“Sex is a basic human need for a lot of people. But expression of the erotic self is also a really important part of personal identity for many of us. All of this came to the fore for us in 2020 when many of us found ourselves with limited access to our full erotic selves,” says Registered Psychotherapist Bronwyn Singleton.
Celebrities and influencers (even mommy bloggers) openly endorsed sex toys and sex toy sales boomed in Canada and around the world. Media outlets have announced that outdoor sex, more kink and cyber sex are big trend. So what does this mean for us as wellbeing marketers, whether our brands are in the intimate sphere, or not? And is it a positive movement? We asked Singleton to share her expertise.
How would you define sexual wellness?
I think of sexual wellness along three axes:
i) Identity: The freedom to explore and express one’s gender identity and sexual orientation
ii) Relationships: The freedom and capacity to engage in interpersonal relationships that cultivate and foster the sexual and erotic self
iii) Pleasure: The freedom to explore and enjoy sexual and erotic pleasure
** all within healthy boundaries and without fear of shame, judgement or persecution.
Why do you think sexual wellness became a trend or movement in 2020?
We spent a lot of time alone with nothing to do. We had time to think about sexual wellness. But this sounds glib, and of course there’s more to it … The absence of access to interpersonal relationships increased our awareness of their significance, including the importance of proximity, touch, sexual release (sex is a great and healthy way to release tense and pent up energy), and erotic pleasure (sex is a sensual, aesthetic and erotic pleasure and it’s a genuine form of self-expression for many of us), and the significance of sex as a legitimate form of interpersonal and relational experience (sex is NOT just getting off). Sex was one of the only pleasures left to us—even if we had to get more creative and open-minded about what sexual wellness means.
Plus, political movements—specifically BLM and the conversations around race that this movement engendered—led to more expansive thinking about political identities and positionality, including sexual rights (trans rights, women’s rights, etc.).
While the pandemic left many feeling isolated and out of touch, others had quite the opposite problem. I hear couples cramped in close quarters, living and working together under the same roof with little respite from one another, sometimes questioning these relationships. They may be feeling bored, suffocated, or becoming entrenched in ongoing conflict. People who moved back with parents or who were stuck parenting small children 24/7 often had no privacy or space to engage their erotic lives.
Typically, I counsel couples to make time for each other, but since the pandemic I found myself advising couples to intentionally spend time apart. Libidos often lagged as self-care lagged. Many of my clients are struggling with body images issues, including pandemic weight gain, undermining their erotic selves. Sometimes mental health issues including depression, anxiety, trauma-disorders, and addictions started to intervene negatively in couples’ lives. I also work with poly folk who sometimes had to make some difficult decisions about their erotic lives.
What does this movement say about our culture?
I’m very anxious about the precipitousness of sexual rights in our culture, including trans rights, women’s rights, reproductive freedoms, the proliferation of sexual violence and hate crimes, online exploitation of sexual rights and freedoms (including the violation of minors—the PornHub scandal was bad).
We’re opening conversations about sexual wellness, but we need to remain ever-vigilant as we have also witnessed a great deal of sexual and erotic violence emerging from our own culture this year. If anything, I believe we need to take more sexual rights seriously and we need to keep advocating in loud and strong voices for the freedoms we deserve.
What do you think marketers need to know about sexual wellness?
I encourage marketers to develop the kind of sensitivity around sex and gender identity that they have around race. This means being vigilant about checking for biases around heteronormativity, cisgenderism and monogamism—if you don’t know what those terms mean, that might be a good place to start.
Being aware of the general optics of sexual inclusivity and body positivity is also really important as marketers think about the images they offer us and the audiences they target.
Do you think that this transparency about our personal lives applies to other aspects of wellbeing?
This question is complicated. I believe in activism and social responsibility, which sometimes underscores the need to be open and vocal about our sexual positionality and politics. But I am also a strong advocate for the sanctity of privacy, mystery and even some forms of secrecy when it comes to our erotic lives. I believe that sexual and erotic identities are constantly in flux and we are not beholden to share every step of our journeys with the world.
North Americans are kind of obsessed with positionality and declarations of sexual identities. I’d actually like to see us get over this. I get the political utility of positionality but sometimes I think we take it to a place where it becomes exclusionary instead of fostering inclusiveness and it becomes limiting instead of freeing.
Keep your eyes on your inbox on February 9 (just in time for Valentine’s Day), when Singleton will share her predictions for the top trends in sexual wellness for 2021.