Women Sex and Shopping – Report, Analysis and Client Advisory.
The Women Sex and Shopping (WSS) report, together with its associated research programme, considers the global market in sexually relevant goods for women. It is informed by earlier WSS research carried out by Hewson since 2009 which is regarded as an authorative analysis of the marketplace and of the causal links between sexual behaviours and erotically linked goods and services. WSS established the very considerable extent of the female consumer user community, concluding that the majority of women in the Western Economies were users of sexual goods in some way.
The 2016-17 Research and Report is focussed on the topic of Personal Lubricants. This is because Hewson regard this an area of paramount importance for many women and particularly the older age groups who, it might be argued, have been largely ignored by the commercial world – and this has many implications for how mainstream brands distance themselves from female sexuality. However, the report, research and analysis does not confine itself to lubricant. Understanding the subject is a complex challenge and requires an understanding of all sexually relevant goods as well as an appreciation of changes in female sexual behaviours and retail expectations.
The complexity of the subject area has encouraged us to change the format of what we offer to clients. WSS is now much more of a subscription to an Industry Analyst service. Whereas before we provided and updated one major report we now provide a background report and an ongoing series of ‘Analyst Notes’ across five main subject streams. These are:
- Retail Environments (Emotional Goods)
- Personal Lubricants
- Sex Toys and Accessories
- Female Sexual Behaviours and Attitudes
- Older Women (40-75)
The Notes are usually 2-4 pages and are a flexible way of dealing with a myriad of issues and analysis. This year will bring in a great deal of field data and the Notes also serve as regular analysis of what we are receiving and can, of course, be adjusted to meet client needs with more agility.
2016/17 Report Executive Summary
- Only one substantial research study has hitherto been carried out into the use of personal lubricant and the effect on female sexual experience. Indiana University 2009 research involving nearly 2,500 women clearly showed that using water based lubricant significantly enhanced female pleasure and satisfaction levels.
- A Hewson Group Pilot Study in 2015 amongst 117 lubricant users showed very high levels of effectiveness. Amongst older women (nearly half the sample were 40+) the average ratings were around 7.5 (on a scale of 0-9) for both improved sexual pleasure and psychological support. This, at the very least, confirmed Indiana.
- Previous Hewson Group research (Women Sex and Shopping) established that 100 -150 million women were sex toy users. This is an amazingly large consumer group given that sex toy design, manufacture, marketing and retail sit, in the main, completely outside of mainstream commercial norms. Sexual goods matter to these women.
- The sex toy example demonstrates that women act and have been obliged to act pragmatically in matters relating to sexuality. Lubricants provide, to some degree, a replica model to sex toys with small but well regarded brands substituting for those Brands that should be active – together with an almost wholly inappropriate retail model.
- For the female consumer, it is not clear why major Beauty and Skincare brands are absent from the market, particularly those with anti ageing product ranges. It is equally unclear in 2016 why women should only be able to buy lubricant in drugstores, supermarkets and adult outlets.
- Female consumers are unable to buy lubricant in almost any store in the world where Beauty, anti ageing or ‘Wellness’ marketing narratives are to the fore. As clients of any given preferred brand their needs are manifestly ignored. This particularly impacts the most ‘interested’ cohort – wealthy 45+ women who are largely forgotten by the Adult Store world.
Research into sexuality in older age-groups is poor or non-existent. It seems likely however that increasing lifespans and active sexual lives deep into old age make lubricant a quasi-mandatory (as well as desirable) product for a substantial part of the adult population. Given the likely health benefits –both physical and mental – from sexual wellbeing there is a clear societal interest in sexually related products that support this.
Women Sex and Shopping Research Programme
The Women Sex and Shopping (WSS) research for 2016-17 is based around the fundamental areas that have been considered by Hewson since 2009. These are female sexual behaviours and retail consumer attitudes that are linked to sexually associated goods that might include sex toys, lubricants, lingerie and erotica. However, in 2016 the main focus of the research will be on the subject of personal lubricant – including use and effect – but also to seek answers to retail questions about which brands should be involved and where lubricant should be sold. Hewson consider lubricant a product that is extremely important in its own right but which also has a wider significance when considering how the whole range of sexually related goods are branded, retailed and understood by the commercial world.
The complexity and depth of the Indiana University research in 2009 together with its affirmative conclusions about lubricant effect suggests that detailed follow up research is both important and necessary. Hewson feel that many issues require extended investigation but experience with Women Sex and Shopping points to a need to develop innovatory mechanisms to obtain the best and most insightful data – and this particularly includes accessing the opinions of the harder-to-reach older women groups.
Although the main focus of the 2016-17 Research Plan is personal lubricant Hewson will take advantage of the resulting (large) research base to gain further information on other topics such as sex toys, accessories, erotica and lingerie.
The Lubricant Pilot Study
A Pilot Study has already been carried out by Hewson amongst over 140 known female users of ‘for purpose’ lubricants. The pilot established an Index that measured effect on a 0-9 scale and considered both pleasure enhancement and psychological support or confidence. The results were remarkable beyond expectations and average scores across age ranges were consistently above 7 for both pleasure enhancement and psychological confidence. The pilot was undoubtedly indicative but lacked sufficient respondent numbers and any inclusion of ‘non-users’. The pilot made no attempt to look at contextual factors and outcomes (sexually) nor did it, effectively, attempt to gather opinion on the important issues of brand, retail and circumstances of use.
The Main Study
Research Target Respondents
All Women 18-70+ but with a particular emphasis on the 45-70 cohort. Possibly an extension into a male research base to ascertain men’s opinion of topical effects and views on retail.
Hewson is using 3 mechanisms for gathering research data.
- Women Sex and Shopping developed and deployed a ‘handwritten’ response methodology in 2009-13. Well over 1200 detailed questionnaires were received back with discursive answers to a range of sexual behaviour and sexual goods questions. Hewson have developed a lubricant focussed questionnaire along the same principles and this is being used in the UK and then internationally. The aim would be to receive over 2000 responses by March 2017.
- Face to face interviews: These will be recorded and will last around five minutes with multiple questions and intuitive answers. The plan is to make at least some of these available to clients (with respondent permission) and to give, thereby, some direct consumer feel.
- Email submissions: We receive via email views on many relevant issues and these will increase as the (lubricant) research gathers momentum.
Where will the Research be obtained?
It is felt that based on the experience of Women Sex and Shopping, obtaining directly honest and expansive feedback from women of all ages is not in itself a challenge. Women have consistently demonstrated a willingness to contribute to Hewson Group research, seeing it as important and likely to ‘make a difference’ in terms of product, retail or cultural outcomes. The problem in obtaining a large volume of response is ‘reach’ – which includes a sufficiently diverse and random representation to be sure of a definitive view. Hewson propose the following possible sources:
Via direct or Intermediate Contact
- University Campuses (eg. Cambridge and others)
- Women’s Groups containing older age representation – which may include Womens Institute (WI) and female based business clubs
- Sex Shop/Boutique et al customer events
- Conference or Lifestyle Events that have a significant female theme.
- Direct contact with volunteer informants
- Health sector associated groups
Indirect Contact via Media
A key part of the ‘Influence/gamechanger’ campaign in this research project will be a promotion or discussion of the subject matter in the media whether Lifestyle or Business. Hewson have historic connections with a number of significant publications including: Financial Times, Huffington Post, Daily Mail, Sydney Morning Herald, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, BBC, Ch4, and much continental media. A derived outcome of this exposure might be feedback via social media or online survey connected to that publication – or an increased propensity to contribute by any of the other mechanisms outlined above.
What do we want to know?
Usage pathologies. What lubricants are used now including substitutes. Applicator and container importance. Variance by user age. Reasons for non-adoption. Effects on enjoyment. Psychological impacts on confidence. Influence on sexual activities including frequency of intercourse, masturbation and willingness to participate in relationships, sexual adventurism. Extension of sexual activity into later years. Effects on health, mental well-being and sense of femininity. Opinions on lack of absence of brands that consumers use in other personal care areas. Opinions on retail and appropriate emotional environments.
Women Sex and Shopping has always had considerable media coverage in relation to sex toys et al. The extant articles have not always had the depth of analysis that Hewson would want – mainly due to the sensationalist take on the subject. There are early signs that personal lubricant will be an entirely different matter with the subject raising many legitimate questions regarding female well-being. Hewson intend to use the likely international coverage to encourage input to the research.