In our industry, we’re finding there’s a line between sexy and not sexy — and it’s actually not a line, but rather a period. Somehow “sex” and “period” seem mutually exclusive. With the obvious biological link between the two, how did this happen? Is this an outdated perception of our industry or a line that needs to continue to exist to keep sex sexy? Let’s break it down.
For starters, there’s a common misconception that a woman shouldn’t or can’t have sex on her period. This means that for approximately three months of a year, a woman shuts herself off from having sex. Seems like a missed opportunity, right? In fact, there are a number of benefits to orgasm during menstruation. Even with the “mess” factor, there are now a number of ways around this to make it easier for women to not have their period interrupt their sex life. After all, sex is a lifestyle, not a novelty. And of course, sex doesn’t need to be penetration — mutual masturbation is always on the table. If we can help to educate the consumer and shift their mindset, it gives the industry another touch-point to engage the consumer with “sexy” feminine hygiene products. But before that can happen, the industry needs to recognize the opportunity.
The feminine hygiene category is growing all around us through new innovations and category offerings. According to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm, sales of feminine needs products in U.S. multi-outlet stores (grocery, drug, mass, military club and discount) totaled roughly $649.2 million last year, an increase of 2.3 percent compared with the same period the previous year. Sales of sanitary napkins and tampons totaled roughly $2.82 billion, up 1.3 percent, and sales of all other feminine hygiene products/medical treatments totaled roughly $322.7 billion, up 5.7 percent. The numbers are up because the female consumer is savvier than ever and looking for options better suited to her lifestyle.
This is why trendy lifestyle retailers like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie are carrying feminine hygiene products, like reusable menstrual cups, to both satisfy the consumer demand and build stronger loyalty with female consumers. The results have proven positive with new innovations, a range of price point offerings and increased profits. These lifestyle retailers know that 80 percent of female consumers shop the feminine hygiene/sexual wellness aisle on each visit to a drug store or healthcare section of a supermarket. Consider how much the average woman spends on feminine products per month, per year, per lifetime … it adds up. Menstrual cups offer an economic solution to such problems because they are reusable and there are many affordable options now. The demand is undeniable, and our industry has the opportunity to provide women with the latest and greatest products to keep them sexually active 365 days a year.
With a sexual health category offering in adult stores, we can meet all the sexual wellness needs of the female consumer, strengthen engagement and ultimately give the female consumer permission and empowerment to have sex on her period like never before. The road ahead isn’t a rough one either. Research shows that over 50 percent of people enjoy sex during menstruation, however period sex remains one of the biggest taboos for women — despite the movement to normalize women’s bodies having made huge strides in the last few years.
Even if adult stores are only a planned shopping destination for sexy occasions, we need to cover all bases. How many times have women planned and looked forward to a romantic weekend only to realize as the date approaches that it “conflicts” with her period? New sexy lingerie (check), new partner vibrator (check), new lube (check) … Period?! (Argh!)
But the reality is, consumers visit stores to explore and reach their peak sexual potential. As it stands now, women have a roadblock on that journey eight days out of the month. If it’s our job to help them reach their full potential, then we need to break down those roadblocks with education and a product offering that provides actual solutions.
Problem: I can’t have sex on my period because it’s messy.
Solution: Menstrual cups are truly a game-changer for staying sexually active every day of the month. It’s now easier than ever to have sex while on one’s period. With penetrative sex the cup should just move further upward in the vagina, and with penetrating devices it can move out of the way. There are also category opportunities like “sex play mats” and period panties.
Problem: Blood is gross. No one wants that during sex.
Solution: Don’t think of it as blood, think of it as a natural lubricant. Thirty percent of the fluid absorbed by a tampon is actually bodily fluid and not actually blood. When using menstrual cups that bodily fluid is not absorbed which helps maintain the body’s natural PH balance.
Problem: My period hurts, why would I want sex?
Solution: Because orgasms, of course! Regular orgasms throughout the menstrual cycle can help to support a healthy balance of hormones and a regular cycle, meaning that a good sexual wellness routine will be of benefit before, during and after a period. When we orgasm, the endorphins and hormones released, including the “love hormone” oxytocin, help the body to manage pain by interacting with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain. These powerful chemicals work with the brain to alleviate us in the same way as pain-relief drugs, helping to ease cramps and migraines. Orgasms don’t only have neurological benefits, though the hormones are released, the physical contractions of an orgasm also work to help release the uterine lining, meaning that a period could be shorter as a result. Vibrators that incorporate heat can be incredibly soothing when a woman is experiencing a painful cycle. Heat can help naturally relax tight muscles, ease stress, and facilitate natural pain relief when applied to areas like the G-spot or the lower abdomen.
Problem: It’s uncomfortable to be penetrated on my period.
Solution: External stimulation to the rescue! Vibrators can be particularly beneficial to alleviate the pain of cramps with their capacity to help bring more oxygen and blood flow to the pelvic area, which is often a leading cause of period pain. Exploring the area using a vibrator to bring better blood circulation to the area will soften outer tissues and help release the muscles of the lower abdomen, relaxing the body.
As the clitoris has over 8,000 nerve endings, stimulation during menstruation can create heightened sensitivity and allow for an even better orgasm. Touch-free clitoral stimulation through air pressure waves is an amazing solution to provide relief while avoiding penetration.
The remaining, and truly underlying problem is, how can adult stores merchandise products like menstrual cups, sex mats and such without linking to the stigma of being a “turn-off?” The answer lies in the solution every other major retailer has had to face. We need to evolve. Just as the kids’ toy aisle is no longer boy and girl, but rather segmented by play pattern, we too can do better for our consumer. A “sexual health” endcap dedicated to merchandising solutions to common problems can be “sexy” if the goal is still sex. We can meet the needs of keeping women sexually active on their period, help women strengthen their pelvic floor muscles, or even overcome a too well-endowered partner all in one place. Why not also merchandise a vibrating wand there too for inspiration … and a sensual heated device? It’s all in the positioning and how you serve your consumer, who will welcome the attention to their needs, and best of all, it will keep them coming back for more. Period.