Historically, women’s health has not been a dinner conversation topic, especially when talking about sexual health and pleasure. However, the panellists at the HIMSS & Health 2.0 European Digital Conference argue that it's important to have conversations in order to advance the femtech industry.
Today we are seeing the emergence of tools that help women better understand and improve their sexual health, but this tech is still overcoming taboo.
“Previously we had an industry that was polarised. We had family planning and porn,” Dominnique Karetsos, CEO and cofounder of Healthy Pleasure Group. “And if it wasn’t for the likes of Lioness and MysteryVibe and all these wonderful brands that interrupted and brought this conversation into [the] mainstream along with the me too movement.”
Lioness is just one example. This femtech startup was created in 2013, and designed with the aim of helping women gain insights into what is happening to their bodies when they are having an orgasm.
“We developed the first vibrator that uses biofeedback and data to help people visualise their own pleasure, their arousal and orgasm and use that data to improve their sex life,” Liz Klinger, cofounder and CEO of Lioness, said. “In a nutshell, there are a suite of sensors that are embedded in the vibrator, more similar to an early iPhone or smartphone instead of your typical vibrator. It has this whole world of data that you can do with the vibrator once you have it. You have that data on the phone and then you can see how different things are.”
While there is a new emerging market for these femtech or sex tech products, there is still a lot of room to grow.
“The only way to fast-track this industry that has a lovely, sexy number to it – $126 billion in 2026 – is through innovation, is through education and through investment. Are we near where we need to be? Absolutely not. Does IPOs like prodigy help? Of course it does. But are we talking about it enough. There isn’t enough movement on the investment side to be seeing the innovation to be fast-tracked. I will always lobby that it is not happening fast enough. The narrative is definitely top of mind. I think with COVID. It has lifted the veil on preventative healthcare, which includes sex care. So there is a lot that is going on to give us a different lens. We are nowhere near where we need to be.”
While femtech seems to be a growing market, the bulk of the products focus on the reproductive space.
“A lot of the focus on femtech has still been on period tracking, pregnancy [and] early motherhood. It’s left out all of the other experiences women can experience in their life from puberty to menopause,” Klinger said.
While topics in Europe and North America are increasingly including pleasure in the conversation around sexual health, Deborah Maufi, project manager at Health[e] Foundation, an organisation that works specifically in developing regions, said that the focus is different for her patients.
“We need to acknowledge the fact that the needs of these women might be different from the needs of Western women at the moment,” Maufi said. “The priorities are much different. If they get pregnant they need to know, 'Where can I get healthcare?' rather than, 'Can I use a more advanced tech device to do this?' So we are on the base level.”
She noted that when she is working on education for women she needs to keep in mind different political, cultural and religious barriers.
While conversations around sexual health are happening in the West, there is still a lot of research yet to be done on the topic.
“There are lot of connections [between sex and] our cardiovascular health, to our mental health, what medications we may be taking and all these other things going on in our life that we haven’t had the chance to research yet,” Klinger said.