Step inside Maude’s winter studio pop-up in Williamsburg, New York, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in a hip spa or beauty boutique. Polished concrete floors, pale wood counters, jute rugs in muted hues and scented candles burning in the background.
It’s miles away from what you’d expect from a condom brand. And yet condoms - or rather, ‘sexual wellness’ - is exactly what Maude is all about.
The direct-to-consumer brand sells lubricant, condoms, a vibrator, and scented massage candles. All come in sleek, gender neutral tones and with understated branding, and any one of them could happily sit on a bedside table and not raise eyebrows. (In particular, the vibrators, dubbed ‘Vibes’ could easily be mistaken for ornaments.)
Founded earlier this year by entrepreneurs Éva Goicochea and Dina Epstein, Maude’s ethos is that sexual health is crucial to general well-being. And not just men’s well-being, either.
It’s a timely concept that speaks to a growing need state and concern among millennials who - as The Atlantic screamed this month - are in the midst of a bona fide ‘sex recession’.
Even with changing cultural norms, hook-up apps and better access to birth control making it easier (and more accepted) to sleep with anyone at any given time, young people are having markedly less sex, and this is already impacting society in declining birth rates and increasing numbers of people reporting feeling lonely and isolated.
At the same time (and perhaps because of this), sexual fulfillment and sexual health are increasingly recognised as part of wellbeing, leading to a burgeoning market segment, and a wave of new brands addressing sexual health and libido. Hims, the millennial wellness brand for men, sells treatments for erectile dysfunction alongside supplements and other personal care products. And Hims has now expanded into products for women (under a different name - Hers), offering libido-boosting supplements. Its website includes features on ‘using a vibrator with your partner’ and ‘understanding pelvic physical therapy.’
Ingestible beauty and wellness brands have also started touting libido-boosting ingredients. Moon Juice’s Maca supplement ‘has adaptogenic and antioxidant properties, prized for its ability to help increase energy and endurance, it says, adding: ‘this raw Maca is a powerful mood booster that helps support healthy sexual energy and libido.’
Goicochea thinks the connection between sex and wellness will continue to grow in consumer minds as people (of all ages) start to recognise the benefits of intimacy. “Sexual health plays a large role in our overall happiness and health,” she explains. “A regular sex life is linked to having a higher level of antibodies to defend against illness, a lower rate of heart disease, lower mortality in general—the list goes on. And it makes people happier, releasing oxytocin which improves mood.”
Goicochea cites a University of Toronto study that found having regular sex boosts satisfaction to the same extent as making $50,000 more per year. ‘Yet, for so long sex has been positioned as something that is taboo or should be hidden in the dark, when it is so much an everyday, healthy act,’ she adds.
That’s why Maude abandons the seedy, eroticised (and, frankly, quite cheesy) approach taken by mainstream condom brands and instead talks to consumers like a friendly, lifestyle brand.
'By reframing the conversation and these products as part of wellness (which they absolutely are), we hope to help people integrate it into their lives in a comfortable way and we hope to encourage them to pay attention to it just as much as say, their yoga routine,’ says Goicochea, adding: ‘By the way, sex is great exercise.’
Lucie Greene is the worldwide director of The Innovation Group at J Walter Thompson.
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