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Accessibility for sexual wellness products in NSW still behind closed doors

By providing easier access to products that support a healthy sex life, we can create a more inclusive and accepting environment for everyone, Hugh Crothers, founder of sexual wellbeing brand drip, says.

For centuries, the topic of sex has been shrouded in stigma and shame. Yet, in the last few years, we’ve witnessed a transition as it starts to be viewed as part of overall wellbeing – shout out to Gwyneth for that one.

Gone are the days of conversations around sex only being chaired by Carrie Bradshaw as she discussed her relationships with Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda. Sex toys, lubes and adjacent products are now designed to sit proudly on your bedside table next to your face cream, as opposed to hidden in shame in your bottom nightstand drawer.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the sexual revolution has come and gone. Yet it seems we’re a good deal more prudish as a people than we care to admit, thanks to the archaic nature of laws in some Australian states surrounding where sexual wellness products can be sold.

Don’t even get me started about how this category is policed by tech giants on the internet. And so, I couldn’t help but wonder... are we as evolved as we think we are when it comes to sex?

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As was reported in the ABC just last week, displaying or advertising sexual wellness products like vibrators at department stores or pharmacies in New South Wales, can carry a jail sentence of up to one year. Despite other states allowing their sales in this setting, in NSW, the sale of sexual wellness products is limited to adult stores only, banning mainstream retailers – who stock sexual wellness products nationally – from selling them.  

When products that support and promote a healthy sex life are limited to adult stores where red tape exists aplenty, it continues to send the message that sex is something to be ashamed of. And, this can cause a myriad of other issues such as depression, poor mental health, body shaming, self-hostility and even sexual addiction.

With the sexual wellness industry forecast to reach around AU$172 million by 2030 globally, the growth opportunity for retailers and sexual wellness brands in Australia is immense. Clearly, there’s a demand for it and so you’d think governments would be wanting to support a burgeoning industry – especially when the nation’s economic growth is anticipated to slow in the coming years.

Let’s talk about sex

My generation is the first to openly talk about sex positively and honestly, albeit largely in heteronormative narratives. For the first time, women’s pleasure isn’t being seen as secondary, with sex more broadly spoken about on Netflix, podcasts and really all media formats – from long-form articles to TikTok.

While the narrative has certainly improved from non-existence when my parents were growing up, we still have a way to go in normalising sexual practices and sexual orientations into the conversation.

We do owe Carrie somewhat for empowering women to talk more openly about sex, pleasure, and masturbation, but as a nation, we haven’t exactly nailed sexual discourse and consent, particularly with how we broach it in institutions such as schools, clubs and groups. 

Our sex ed nationally is woeful with four in five Aussies saying the sex ed they received in school did not prepare them for real life. Knowing that sexual assault is on the rise, it’s quite shocking that it was only this year that consent education became mandatory in schools.

Where the government has fallen short, brands like The Sex Ed and books like Welcome to Sex by Melissa King and Yumi Stynes, alongside the media have carried the torch providing much-needed resources – especially for young people to learn what a positive and consenting sex life can entail.  We still have a lot of work to do when it comes to advocating for all to have a healthy sex life — and it starts with accessibility.

Access is an ongoing issue

When sexual wellness products do make it to the shelves of grocery stores or pharmacies, they’re often locked behind glass, visually showcasing the lack of accessibility consumers have to our products. That or they’re lumped in with ‚family planning‘ which makes a rather arrogant assumption about one’s sexual intentions and proclivities. I’ve never planned a family when having sex, nor have a lot of consenting young people in today’s society.   

When thinking about accessibility, in NSW, the government’s restrictions do not allow sexual wellness products to be on the ground floor of stores which limits access for the nearly four million Australians living with a physical disability to access products that are integral to sexual wellness in real life.

With restrictions around products being sold in proximity to primary schools and churches in NSW as well, we’re further censoring and stigmatising the access to these products, and in turn, limiting the ways in which we can speak of them.

With access to information in the real world being limited by these restrictions, the online world is an even tougher nut to crack.  As the founder of a sexual wellbeing brand, we have never been able to reap the benefits of social media and search advertising. The strict censorship policies around sexual content on social media platforms have made it extremely challenging to reach our audience.

When I launched drip in 2021, I naively thought we would be an online brand, yet censorship, coupled with the pay-to-play model that dominates the digital world has made that reality all but impossible. While I’m all for advocating for adult content to be treated with care – particularly when it comes to minors – there’s a big difference in the ways misogynistic pornography, and a brand pushing for more positive, honest and open conversations about sex, should be treated, restricted and banned. 

If there’s one thing that prohibition has taught us, it’s that hiding things behind closed doors doesn’t work. By promoting more honest and open conversations about sex and providing access to products that support a healthy sex life, we can help foster better relationships, improve sexual health for all, and create a more inclusive and accepting environment for everyone. 

Hugh Crothers is the founder of drip, a sexual wellbeing brand he started in 2020 catering to people who are curious and diverse when it comes to sex. 

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