Sex is kind of an oddity, even in today’s world. We cheer the senseless slaughter of countless hapless stormtroopers in their dozens even though they couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. And yet a flash of boob sends everyone nuts, for more reasons than one.
Seeing that Singapore has always been sort of prudish when it comes to matters of the nethers realm, the emergence of a growing opening towards sexual wellness and the liberation of sexual norms/mores is somewhat… refreshing? With female empowerment and racial equality amongst the many causes that are being progressed rapidly, perhaps it’s no surprise after all – a little self-love never hurt anyone.
So I suppose it wasn’t surprising that we would start receiving emails asking if we would like to feature or, ahem, review vibrators and other assorted, shall we say, gadgets. To be fair, they ARE gadgets in every sense of the word, but I suppose that my having reservations about writing about them is the reason why I received a note in the first place.
That company is the WOW Tech Group, which is responsible for some of the leading toys in the industry, namely the Womanizer and We-Vibe, amongst many others. And they want to change negative public perception about sexuality.
“We celebrate self-love and fight all prejudices regarding sexuality,” it says on Womanizer’s website, which in itself is markedly different from what you would expect from a typical site that peddles gear of this nature. The branding is atypically fresh and clean-looking, and the webpage looks no different from one that could well be retailing a line of feminine hygiene products.
I’m sure you can figure by now that I clearly have no idea what I’m talking about, so perhaps it was better if we’d just speak to the people behind this movement about their unorthodox approach.
“Pleasure products are indeed consumer electronics in essence,” says Ruben Rodriguez, PR Manager for APAC Markets. “There’s Research and Development that goes into them, as well as all kinds of patented technology that gets developed in labs. In that sense, there’s virtually no difference in the product lifecycle between a pleasure product or any other tech gadget.”
I suppose the reverse is true as well. Tech gadgets are in essence, a product designed for pleasure – of a different sort – but ultimately it’s all about a rush of endorphins. For those who love their gadgets, I’m quite certain you seldom pay merely for what you need. The rest of it is about the fun and the gratification – the thrill of having a new toy.
Where they differ, arguably, is that it’s very unlikely you will openly announce to your friends on socials that you are going to buy a Womanizer, unless you’re an influencer paid to do so. To be fair, those who have a Google Glass sitting in a drawer are unlikely to ever bring it up in conversation for the rest of their lives. While some anathemas simply need time to go away; in the case of sexual norms, perception certainly does define reality.
“Societies in Asian countries still view sexual products as taboo,” said Mabel Lau, Business Development Manager at Wow Tech Group. It’s a view that jives with what we mostly see in Singapore: adult-themed shops are often located in discreet locations, or in places that are far from what we would call youth-friendly. The decor evokes a sense of secrecy and sends the message that these items should not be placed in public view. And this is a mentality that WOW Tech is looking to change.
“We as a company see this different – there is nothing wrong with sexual wellness and happiness in our lives, and we want WOW Tech’s products to be part of the consumer’s everyday life,” Lau added. “This means we must be present in conventional retail channels, which is a part of people’s everyday purchase routine.”
Lau is alluding to the fact that you can simply purchase the Womanizer the next time you pop into Guardian to pick up some antacids. She adds that their products can be found on the shelf of 50 stores across Singapore, though she declined to comment about over-the-counter sales numbers. The goal of the exercise is to normalise sexual conversations and to “help consumers to get used to the idea of using sex toys to achieve ultimate sexual wellness.”
“It’s very exciting for us to see that mainstream channels like Guardian are now listing our products on selected stores and their online channels, this is the way that we hope our products would get the public’s attention as healthy, wellness products that are shame-free,” Lau added.
As they say, the best way to hide is in plain sight; at some point, it stops becoming a hot topic, much like how you merely have to lie low for two weeks after saying something dumb on Twitter and it’ll all be fine – don’t worry about us; we’ll find something else to be indignant over.
That said, Rodriguez explained that they also rely on mainstream social media channels like TikTok and Instagram for marketing purposes. And this brings us to the next major change in terms of approach: product design and packaging, as they are aesthetically designed to help carry empowering messages about wellness.
“The traditional way of promoting our products used to be linked to obvious imagery and explicit packaging. The industry has now (transitioned) to a more mainstream (approach). Our packaging and product designs are not body-specific; utilises popular colours and we focus on designing shame-free offerings so that nobody feels intimidated by them,” Rodriguez explains.
Much like how Apple defined what premium packaging was in the consumer tech space, these products are far less in your face in implying how they are meant to be used. It’s far removed from the tacky, overtly sexualised teasing that would make even a porn performer cringe. I’d imagine if I was browsing their site, I wouldn’t scurry to close the window if I realised someone else was glancing over my shoulder. And I’m pretty sure that’s a good gauge of where this stands.
Come to think of it, you could argue that this change was driven in part by technology. The democratisation of tech and the proliferation of Bluetooth and Wifi changed the way we use our televisions, vacuum cleaners, and refrigerators, even. No one would be surprised that this would extend to sex toys as well, and anyone who has attended the annual Consumer Electronics Show in the 2000s will be no stranger to the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, which was practically next door.
But little did we know, according to WOW Tech anyway, how this little upgrade would help fulfil a demand: “Remote-controlled sex toys used to be difficult to find and expensive, but with the technology of Bluetooth connectivity keep advancing, app-controlled toys become more common,” said Lau.
While the new tech has swiftly helped to fulfil the needs of many, marketing the product was a whole different story. Lau shared that compared to places like Taiwan and Hong Kong, Singapore is rather conservative, citing societal culture and government regulations as factors. “We cannot launch a scalable marketing campaign in the public – for example, billboards in metro stations or bus stops – to increase brand awareness,” Lau explained. But she is encouraged by the fact that she sees an increasing number of educational content that promotes a positive and healthy image of sexual wellness.
Lau, who also looks after Hong Kong and Taiwan markets observed that the media in Singapore is generally interested in sexual wellness topics as well as localised data on how the market looks like and how their products and work can help – which, conveniently enough, falls in line with how their company operates. “Our campaigns rely heavily on data and surveys that we do in-house, so we are able to give to the media (these numbers) so that the articles can be as interesting and detail-minded as they can be,” said Lau.
But with all that is said and done, the barometer, surely, is how willing and how openly we can talk about these things. There’s no way that we’ll jump in cold, but things change the moment you realise the people around you physically and virtually aren’t uncomfortable speaking about matters regarding sexual wellness. Much like how we present ourselves on social platforms, we’re afraid of how we’re perceived. But it’s just a matter of time before it doesn’t matter. These days, even stormtroopers are fully aware and perfectly comfortable with the fact they can’t hit a damn thing that matters. Like they’d care what you think.