In recent years the term ‘beauty’ has become synonymous with body literacy, reproductive research and products and technologies pioneered by the sexual wellness industry. This is pretty revolutionary, given that ‘beauty’ as a concept, a category and a standard has historically focused chiefly on externally-referenced aesthetics.
Then there’s ‘self care’ – a catch-all term taken to mean showing your own body and mind the kindness, support and respect with which you’d treat someone you really, really love. Naturally, given beauty’s more modern interpretation, it’s no surprise that beauty and self care are fast becoming interchangeable terms – which is why you’ll have been seeing vibrators and lube popping up in the beauty sections of your go-to retailers.
These days it’s accepted that ‘self care’ can mean bodily pleasure, sensual stimulation and relaxation, sex, masturbation and meditation. The idea that self care is interchangeable with looking and feeling beautiful is a step forward. The ‘no pain, go gain’ and ‘beauty is only skin deep’ schools of thought have given way to gentler, more pleasurable treatments and tonics, rooted, for the most part, in science rather than societal beauty standards.
And who’s pushed these ideas forward? Who’s responsible for self care and medically-driven beauty, reproductive research and the normalisation of female pleasure? Quite obviously, it’s female entrepreneurs and femtech founders – the gatekeepers of a new world of business.
To better understand the recent boom within the self care and sexual wellbeing industry, I caught up with Ellen, the Founder of sexual wellness platform Ellen Terrie. A luxury lingerie and intimate lifestyle brand designed uniquely for women, the platform – an eccomerce store, content resource and social community of sex-positive brands, advocates and shoppers – celebrates sensuality.
On the website you’ll find a carefully curated selection of products. Ellen hopes that by sourcing a diversity of high-quality items created by women for women, reclaiming your body, owning your own sensuality and feeling good in your skin will become a priority and a normalcy for women.
Why did you decide to found a sensual wellness brand?
Well, Ellen Terrie began for a number of reasons, but ultimately I grew frustrated with the shame and stigma that was all too often associated with feminine sensuality throughout the industry, the media and life in general to be honest.
I felt that women deserved so much better than what the sexual wellness industry was currently offering. I wanted to create a brand that encouraged women to build their self-esteem, their wellness, and their connection to their bodies. I wanted to normalise and validate the choices that women were already making about their bodies with products that elevate their daily routines and further empower their choices.
Often products within the sexual wellness industry or the pleasure industry were, and still are, designed by men and catered to the male gaze rather than being designed and marketed with women’s bodies and needs in mind. So, for a few years prior to Ellen Terrie, I avidly followed a number of new and independent brands that represented something different by focusing on women’s health, happiness and confidence.
More often than not, these brands offered products designed by female designers and engineers who keep the women who use them in mind. I wanted to bring these brands together in one place, and make that place sophisticated, straight-up and free from stigma. Quite simply, I wanted to create the type of online space that I would love to shop in.
So Ellen Terrie is more than just a sex toy retailer?
Absolutely. I believe that sensuality and wellness is deeply individual. One woman’s path to reclaiming her body and owning her sensuality is different to the next – it’s an ongoing dialogue that evolves with time. That’s why we offer a variety of products from luxury lingerie and next generation sex toys, to intimate wellness accessories and body care.
We carefully hand-select our products based on principles of safety, quality and function, their aesthetic beauty, and ultimately how they make women feel. Despite being everyday products, it’s important to us that they also feel very special to wear and use.
Though, at Ellen Terrie, it’s not just about our products. We also want to create an opportunity for curiosity and conversation to live, and create an environment where women can feel good about getting to know themselves and feel empowered from that place.
Hence, we focus on the shareability of the experience, as opposed to just the products themselves. We aim to be a brand that you’re not embarrassed to tell your friends, your partners, and even your parents about, and our products are the kind of products that you can leave out on display and not be worried if someone sees them – even better if they help to kick start some frank conversations about topics that were once considered taboo.
Femtech and sex tech has been booming in the last five years. Why do you think that is?
There is, and always has been, an element of embarrassment talking about women’s sensuality, sexuality and health. Even today, for many people, saying the word ‘vagina’ or talking about periods can be unthinkable in certain environments. But worryingly, I think this has influenced the speed – or lack of – development of research and technology around these important topics, until recently.
Over the past 5-10 years, there’s been an increase in women leaders and startup founders in the sexual wellness industry, and they’re not only revolutionising the design and marketing of femtech and sextech products, they’re also altering the language used to describe, sell and promote their products by talking directly to women. I think this has massively influenced the boom in femtech and sextech over the past few years.
Look at the brand Elvie – Founder Tania Boler has taken the stigmatised subject of pelvic floor weakness and brought it into the light with the incredible Elvie Pelvic Floor Trainer, by shouting “Pelvic floor weakness is completely normal!”
I also think a significant moment was when the term ‘femtech’ was coined by Ida Tin – the Founder of period tracking app, Clue – back in 2013. Creating a specific name seemed to compartmentalise women’s health startups and also highlighted the fact that women had been overlooked for far too long in the tech industry. I think this then led people to understand the value of femtech and sextech products in living a healthy lifestyle, which made them more marketable and forced investors to finally take notice.
What sort of business experience did you have when you entered the sexual wellness industry?
Prior to Ellen Terrie, I’d not long completed my Masters (MSc) in Science and was working as a Researcher in Health Sciences, and it was during this time I came to realise that my passion was deeply rooted in women’s health and wellness – this is when the idea of Ellen Terrie first came to mind. But with regards to business experience, it was a bit of a dive into a world I didn’t know much about. I always wanted to start my own business but it took me a few years to develop the knowledge and the support network to give me the confidence to launch Ellen Terrie.
I also think having a scientific research background means it’s only natural that I’ve applied a curious, open-minded, and service-centric approach to Ellen Terrie – I love to ask questions about everything and I’m always on the lookout for the latest developments in the sexual wellness industry.
This also means that when it comes to our products, I often focus on choosing sexual pleasure and wellness items that are developed using lots of research. For example, all of our vibrators by Dame Products are a result of the work in their very own labs (Dame Labs), which conducts people-centric research to ensure that they’re getting input and feedback based on diverse personal preferences.
Sex-focused e-commerce has shifted from being predominantly set up for male consumers in the early days of selling online, to being a highly female-focused experience. What are your thoughts on this?
As mentioned previously, sextech was a very male dominated industry, which kept sextech products in the ‘adult’ or ‘novelty’ category. To me, this implies that no one actually wants, needs or uses these products, and there was a lot of shame surrounding women shopping for them because of this.
However, with the recent boom in femtech and the sexual wellness industry, as well as the growth of the number of women at the top of the industry, there’s been a space created for women to talk authentically about their bodies and their experiences, and I think e-commerce has developed to become a more female-focused experience as a result.
Sextech and femtech products are now firmly in the beauty, self care sexual wellness categories online, and this change has had a huge impact on people’s attitudes and perceptions when shopping online – it reminds us that sexual health is linked to our overall mental and physical wellbeing, and should be viewed as part of a healthy lifestyle and relationship with the self.
Do you think being a sex-positive businesswoman has ensured the success of Ellen Terrie and similar platforms?
I most definitely believe that being sex-positive has ensured the success of Ellen Terrie and similar platforms. Firstly, sex-positive businesses have a huge influence on helping to open up and drive the conversation surrounding women’s bodies, sexual health and wellbeing, which is a success in my eyes.
But more personal to Ellen Terrie, being sex-positive influences the decisions made when it comes to choosing which brands to stock, which products to sell, and the type of language used to sell our products, ultimately influencing the experience our customers have when shopping with us. We are all different, including the way that we express ourselves sexually, and it’s important to us as a brand that it’s known to our customers that this is not something to be feared or stigmatised, but to be celebrated.
This is exactly the reason why we offer a range of different products – we honour each individual’s right to their own curiosities, expressions and interests and try to cater for as many women as possible so that they can own their sexuality without judgement.
How do you see the next few years panning out for Ellen Terrie and for the industry in general?
New products, new product areas, and more inclusive sizing for our lingerie is our main focus! To be completely honest, with the ongoing and fast-moving developments in the sexual wellness industry, it’s hard to know exactly what the next few years will bring for Ellen Terrie, and that’s what makes being in this industry so exciting.
With regards to the sexual wellness industry in general, I’m overall really optimistic about the next few years. It’s very exciting as we’re able to shape the conversation around sexual wellness and really drive the future. I think we’re currently at a tipping point culturally – over the past couple of years we’ve started to see shifts in the conversation around women’s bodies, sexual health and wellness, and people are becoming more open about pursuing the pleasure they want. We’re definitely making progress, and I think this will only develop further with time.