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Sex (and Beauty) Sells: Brands Educating and Liberating Consumers This Valentine’s Day

Published February 12, 2023
Published February 12, 2023

For most brands, Valentine's Day is an excessively profitable celebration. This year, it is predicted that consumers in America alone will spend $25.9 billion on gifts for the holiday. Valentine's Day no longer seems to be only for those in relationships but rather for all, with 28% of single individuals planning to mark the occasion either with friends or as a solo venture. This year beauty is also taking a break from the traditional approach to February 14, straying from the typical romantic elements, as sex-based campaigns with a cause become increasingly popular. Several beauty businesses are broadening their horizons, exploring themes surrounding consent, self-pleasure, and reproductive health to lessen taboos and educate consumers.

Numerous brands have broken the fourth wall in recent years through sex-oriented offerings, helping consumers no longer feel shame surrounding their desires. The benefits of sex, whether solo or with a partner, have been widely explored, with a reported 300-400% spike in sexual wellness product purchases during the pandemic alone, described by the Global Wellness Institute as "a massive and seismic cultural taboo toppling." As a result, it is now increasingly normalized in the Western world to speak freely about sex and explore options on the market, so much so that in response to the overturn of Roe v. Wade in 2022, Dame decided to get frisky (figuratively speaking) with Senator Mitch McConnell.

Almost a year on, the subject of Roe v. Wade's overturn is still at the forefront of many people's minds, Isamaya Ffrench being one of these. The makeup artist's sex-positive outlook has been known for some time, with her namesake brand's debut collection INDUSTRIAL exploring themes of fetishism and BDSM. Ffrench's latest collection, LIPS, which launched just in time for Valentine's Day, was created "as a call for liberation, innovation, and seduction" and consists of lipsticks that take the form of the male anatomy as packaging, available in a cardinal red and glossy black. For the campaign's duration, ISAMAYA will be making direct donations to Planned Parenthood, aiding the mission to create a safe space for all to receive sex education and reproductive healthcare.

Despite some predicted backlash over the need for a genitalia-shaped beauty product, Ffrench stays true to her moral convictions, with the brand stating, "As repression flourishes in every society, LIPS fearlessly honors the freedom of ideas and ownership, showcasing beauty in a way that only ISAMAYA can." The products are also reusable, with the bullets of the packaging designed to be removed and kept as a statement art piece. LIPS is a strong example of a product that not only liberates consumers and gives back to a good cause, but also makes the statement that Americans will continue to strive for sexual emancipation, regardless of the government's restrictions.

Continuing the theme of sexual education, Lottie London's Valentine's Day campaign, Consent To Kiss, was created to raise awareness of unwarranted attention, love bombing, and sexual harassment online. According to the brand, in the US, two out of 10 young women aged 18-29 have been sexually harassed in a virtual setting or received unwanted explicit images. On top of this, only 45% of Gen Z know where to report issues of such nature, meaning over half would be left unaware of how to deal with a violation of their privacy and person.

Lottie London partnered with UK-based sexual health and wellness charity Brook to tackle these issues and provide a space for an open conversation surrounding topics young people may be self-conscious about voicing. The brand's holiday-themed collection includes Cheeky Kiss Lip & Cheek Stick, Eyeshadow Palettes in Fired Up and Totally Mint, and Oil Slicks in Blueberry Kiss and Watermelon Sugar, and 10% of all sales will be donated to Brook. From these donations, the charity will be able to continue its vital work supporting thousands of young people through clinical services, education and well-being programs, training, and advocacy work. Lottie London's website also features information and resources in relation to the campaign such as sexual assault helplines.

"Consent is fundamental to so many aspects of our lives and is the bedrock of healthy relationships and safe, pleasurable sex. That's why we're proud to be partnering with Lottie London this Valentine's Day to raise awareness around consent and healthy relationships, both online and offline. By working together, we can ensure that even more young people have access to information and advice that will empower them to lead happy and healthy lives," says Becci Shutt, Head of Education at Brook.

"We're approaching the day when buying a vibrator will be as matter-of-fact as picking up a new electric toothbrush."
By Ethan Imboden, founder, Jimmyjane

Swedish self-care brand Estrid’s take on Valentine’s Day explores the benefits of masturbating and pushes the narrative that the best love is self-love. Dubbed Go F**ck Yourself, the campaign coincides with the launch of a limited-edition Valentine’s Day red razor starter kit, said to be inspired by the color of an orgasm, packaged in a box with the witty slogan "Go f**ck yourself…no, really."

As part of the initiative, the brand surveyed several consumers and published the results to create a sense of community and lessen the taboo surrounding masturbation. The campaign also features several informative blog posts, including Seven Self-Care tips for Valentine's Day and Masturbation: the myths and the juicy facts. For those who do not wish to purchase a razor kit, the Estrid website features free downloadable content such as a deck of cards with challenges written on them to encourage exploration, featuring suggestions like "Take a nude—for your eyes only." A playlist titled Spicy Tunes is also available, composed of music those surveyed say they listen to when delving into moments of one-on-one pleasure.

There is a clear market for campaigns similar to Go F**ck Yourself as consumers wish to embrace education surrounding personal pleasure. In 2013, Ethan Imboden, founder of Jimmyjane, predicted, "We're approaching the day when buying a vibrator will be as matter-of-fact as picking up a new electric toothbrush. Along the way, we're seeing the hesitations in the media and society at large melt away, making room for a more informed discourse, a more consumer-centric marketplace, and ultimately, much happier end users." Today, this statement is becoming increasingly true, with 84% of Americans agreeing that masturbation counts as self-care.

Lush is another company using Valentine’s Day to make a difference, partnering with Galop, a UK LGBT+ anti-abuse charity, to call on MPs to introduce legislation protecting the community against conversion therapy. A research report by the organization and YouGov found that 18% of LGBT+ people in the UK have been subjected to this practice, and despite the government's promise to ban it in 2018, no legislation on the matter has been brought before Parliament to this day. From February 10-16, Lush is featuring windows across its UK stores that address the urgent need to prevent people of the LGBT+ community from being subjected to this unjust treatment. Customers visiting the stores can scan QR codes to send virtual Valentine’s cards to their local MP, urging them to “have a heart” and work to ban conversion therapy. They will also be invited to sign a giant Valentine’s Day card in stores that will be sent to Parliament after the campaign. As part of the initiative, Lush is launching a limited-edition washcard with the message “Proud to love you” written on it, with all money from sales (minus VAT) being donated to Galop.

All four campaigns are a sign that the beauty industry as a whole will no longer stand for repression, harassment, or shame surrounding sex. As 40% of Gen Z identify with patterns of attraction described as queer, it is important that the relatable message around self-discovery, sex, and relationships is portrayed so that younger generations and those who will follow behind them have strong foundations of knowledge on the subjects at hand. Whether it's self, platonic, or romantic love being celebrated, beauty has something for everyone this Valentine's Day.


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