Research Challenges 2019

As we have very often pointed out there has only ever been one other significant attempt (Indiana University) to study the impact of Personal Lubricant on women.  This is extraordinary in so many ways – and particularly as our research is demonstrating that lubricant use can have multiple life enhancing benefits that (particularly but definitely not only) for older women may well be transformational.

But it should not be surprising that this is so.  Research into all aspects of Female Sexuality is markedly thin on the ground. The reasons are not too hard to divine. Until the last couple of decades almost all the focus was on male sexuality with some investigative exceptions such as Masters & Johnson.   Women were largely ignored or research was effectively discouraged through funding paucity – especially in the USA.  Of course, many ‘sex surveys’ appear in the media but these need to be treated with caution as respondent honesty is questionable and analysis of data can fly in the face of logic.  Any survey that claims (as most do) that men have many times more sexual partners than women is posing an inherent difficulty.

Specific commercial opportunities of course, attract specific commercial attention.  The (unsuccessful) hunt for some form of Female Viagra would be an example – most likely an example of looking up the wrong tree. The very sudden and rapid rise of FemTech has come with the realisation that in the ‘App World’ Female Sexual Health might matter and that women have a likely interest in tracking their menstrual and conception cycles, their emotional health and their vaginal health. Frost & Sullivan estimate a market value of $50bn by 2025 but such estimates are necessarily made in a research vacuum.

The truth is that very little has ever been done to link ‘things’ or products to female sex lives. Everyone seems to acknowledge that sex toys are ubiquitous in the Western World but it is almost impossible to find the credible research into the many causal/outcome factors that might be in play with vibrator use (we know of two or three studies at best). 50 Shades of Grey was a phenomenon of some note in publishing but despite the manifest implications being presented in almost Capital Letters,  research interest in women and erotica is still close to non-existent.

One area that has been researched in detail is the question of what happens to the Female brain during orgasm.   Both Rutgers Universtity in the USA and Gronigen in the Netherlands have done this using MRI scanners.  The results are somewhat unimpeachable by definition and they show that in women, orgasm affects the entire brain (the male equivalent is much more localised) and is of far longer duration than the male orgasm – and of course, repeatable. For women sexual outcomes can be very powerful but the route to them has not had the attention the subject deserves – especially where ‘products’ have an influence on the journey.  We would observe, by the way, that anybody who has been in an MRI scanner and has given some thought to women asked to orgasm in one, might be tempted to misquote Samuel Johnson:  ‘It is done very well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.’

The observations above are a background to illustrate exactly how important the Women Sex and Shopping research into lubricant use actually is.  The findings show so much more about the effects of the product than is apparent on first consideration.  Lubricant has an influence that goes far beyond mechanics and friction and properly understood, is a factor of many dimensions within the psychosexual world.  The great majority of respondents were definitive about the psychological ‘support’ that using lubricant provided; perhaps more surprising was the opinion of an equal majority who felt that lubricant was involved in arousal.  This is new ground and the product arguably, needs to be understood in a radically different way.

We are sure of our analysis (in the sense of believing what we have been told so far), but we know that the research is potentially flawed and needs a wider confirmation.  We would accept that the respondent base was (unavoidably) too narrow and the methodology was prototyped and therefore lacked an optimum consistency and rigour in execution.   But…we believe the conclusions stand up.

The view that we have come to is that we need respondent data from a multi-platform approach.  The ‘handwritten answer’ mechanism has evolved very well and we are sure of the high levels of honesty this bestows.  We will continue that via a reply paid response mechanism.   Audio interviews show great promise and are attractive for a number of reasons. Firstly, they allow for discursive response and secondly they promote discussion of complex causal issues. This latter advantage may be critical not only in getting a better understanding of behavioural matters such as arousal (lubricant connected) but also of very challenging question areas such as future retail environments or influence of brands.

Other variations on these mechanisms may be very attractive too.  We can see that for a single issue ‘comment’ from a participant (eg. organic vs non organic lube) a one minute audio note recorded on a phone and then via What’s App to us would be very valuable. Email on the same basis – likewise.

The research data-acquisition Platforms may be reasonably clear but the challenge is to access a large number of cross-sectional respondents.   Engaging with self-identifying lubricant users is, in reality, likely to prove easier than doing so with non-users or substitute product users.  This is almost certainly a far larger and more inchoate population.  It may well be that media can help here and also audiences at conferences or women’s groups.  Our intention in 2019 is to use the concept of Women Sex and Shopping to draw in not only lubricant related data and ideas in a specific sense but to build a bigger contextual picture about the future of retail and brands in sexual goods and, for example, the need for a change in thinking about creative marketing to women more generally.