Social stigma and embarrassment around anything even remotely sexual supports the tendency to turn down any business opportunity revolving around the sex industry. However, remove the touchy label “sex” and no digital innovator will believe that such underserved industry with so few ventures capitalizing on it even exists. The widespread realization of the potential in this industry gave a birth to the SexTech, defined as “technology, and technology-driven ventures, designed to enhance, innovate and disrupt in every area of human sexuality and human sexual experience”. Paradoxically, the hesitation that originally caused the sex industry to stay under the radar of many serial entrepreneurs appears to be the main driving force behind the most prominent SexTech startups.
Sex is the most natural thing that a human being can engage in. Technology, however, while it invades almost every area of our lives, is probably the most unnatural endeavor a human can be involved in, and yet, SexTech is so much more than just a contraction. Sex technology is a bold venture intended to disrupt, enhance and innovate in all areas of sex, particularly individual sexuality and the sexual experience. SexTech is all-inclusive, while a part of the industry is aimed at improving the sexual experience for the individual, an overarching aim is to change society’s relationship with sex and allow for a more welcoming atmosphere for individuals to explore and fully understand their sexuality.
Sexuality and physical sex are key parts of who we are as human beings, they can influence the way we act, the way we dress, people that we associate with and our political affiliations. With this in mind, it’s an odd fact to admit that society and sex are largely incompatible. Issues surrounding the LGBTQ+ community are rife in the news of late, particularly regarding younger people truly understanding their sexuality. It is inconceivable to believe that anyone truly has an issue with who they are, largely its the fear of other’s opinions, of “coming out”. Even in heterosexual relationships, female sexuality is largely still stigmatized and women who explore their sexuality are often deemed as “deviant” or “promiscuous”.
SexTech is a massive business opportunity for investors and entrepreneurs alike. Industries are split between sexual and non-sexual with a massive chasm in between, within this chasm lays a panoply of secret desires that people will part with their cold hard cash to satisfy. Twin changing social convention for the sexual liberation of all with providing them with services that satisfy those sexual desires and you will have a money making machine that everyone will line up to feed.
Regarding the real world applications of SexTech, there are as many areas of integration as there are individual and distinct areas of the human sexual experience. Technology is often developed due to a personal need and a lack of this need being met. Where a derivative of the technology already exists, it is being redeployed with a twist to benefit the service and euphoria of sex and in the background, a plethora of services need to be supplied to the industry.
From the ground up, if you were to start your own business today, you would find a wide range of services available to yourself, from payment methods to talent acquisition. Start a business in the SexTech industry however and you will find that your options are somewhat limited. Such companies as JP Morgan, Square, and Google have all made the news by refusing service to adult-oriented companies. Should you be looking for sex-positive companies, Emma McGowan has a handy list on her blog (not safe for sex-negative work).
At the start of year 2018, SexTech was a 60 billion dollar industry and frankly, is showing no signs of slowing. The industry itself breaks down into a multitude of areas, from sex toys aimed predominantly at the female orgasm, female friendly and indeed more realistic adult entertainment to providing reviews on hotel sex and more fetishistic weekends away (a la KinkBnB). In 2017 alone, Lovehoney, a U.K. based SexTech company drew in 105 million dollars, up 30% from the previous year. It is a developing industry based on a simple idea, everyone, whether single or coupled, loves sex. So why is it that in such an exciting and burgeoning market, does it seem to be populated by startups that struggle to draw investors and capital?
Still a taboo?
Well, to put it simply, sex is still a taboo. Big companies will happily dabble in some seriously murky waters; weapons (estimated worth — $395 billion of 2012), tobacco (estimated worth — $500 billion of 2012), alcohol (estimated worth — $1,344 billion of 2015) and gambling (estimated worth — $450 billion of 2016) to name a few. It’s important to note a controversial missing industry in that list, the adult entertainment industry (estimated worth — $97 billion of 2017). Pornography and prostitution are two of the oldest businesses in the world and yet, due to society’s uneasy relationship with sex, they are currently seen as dirty industries. As mentioned above, the idea that a company has to be either sexual or non-sexual is palpably absurd.
However, click on the link to Emma McGowan’s blog at work and see how quickly you scramble to close the tab before a colleague sees the content on the sidebar. Better yet, compare the reaction to telling a friend that you caught your wife or girlfriend looking at adult entertainment online compared to if she caught you, did anyone respond “girls will be girls”? Male sexuality is based on confidence and virility, a man with a list of sexual partners is considered a stud and player but a women, well, she’s considered a slut or a village bicycle, used up before marriage and yet, why? The pursuit is the same one, an orgasm.
The answer then is simple, men. As of this month, there are only 24 female CEOs on the Fortune 500 list. Venture capitalism, investment firms, and stock markets are predominantly presided over by a gender that doesn’t see the female orgasm as entirely relevant. The traditional view of society is that male sexuality is acceptable but the freedom of female sexuality is a perverse subject. Is it any wonder then, that traditional digital innovators are cautious to enter the SexTech market if it could cause a massive drop in a companies share price and indeed, in market value?
Sex in today’s society is still surrounded by an air of shame, embarrassment and at times, guilt. Finding out someone has a specific “unconventional” fetish is often used in TV as a means for blackmail. We’ll watch it, talk about it and do it in our private lives but due to the societal pressure, “No no, I only engage in missionary sex to the rhythm of the national anthem!”
To capture the widest audience, companies have to be “family-friendly”. Companies such as Facebook and Google refuse to employ ad space for SexTech companies in fear of incurring the wrath of the puritanical society and if you can’t advertise it in such spaces, how can you make money from it? If this is the current state of society at large, which is the safer investment, phones, laptops, TVs, and apps or sex toys? If you can’t advertise during a primetime sports event, how can you make the same level of profit that a company such as Samsung can? The market is there for SexTech but traditional family values which we are all instilled with, drive directly against it, which hurts any form of investment. So why is it such a large market?
Campaigns like #metoo and #timesup which are female lead, have done some incredible work to combat the sexual harassment, discrimination, and repression of women in the workplace. Uncovering such a level of inequality in the higher echelons of society has done wonders for the SexTech industry. Breaking down the walls of secrecy and disregarding the idea of “perverse sexuality” will drive an already large industry into the mainstream with the money following every step of the way. There was once uproar about the Bible being translated into English, that didn’t last, much as the controversy surrounding SexTech won’t but the industry undoubtedly will.