Sex sells—that’s nothing new—but how much? According to a 2021 report by Statista, the business of pleasure is thriving with recent projections of the global sex toy market expected to grow to about $52.7 billion US dollars by 2026 (up from $28.64 billion in 2019). That growth, according to Johanna Rief, can be attributed to a few different factors, including culture, technology, and media.
As the Head of Sexual Empowerment at WOW Tech Group (the parent company to a handful of brands that develop and produce innovative, premium sex toys), Rief has witnessed the explosive growth of the industry over the course of her career, which has provided her with a unique perspective into its future. From her vantage point, the road ahead is one that embraces science and technology, dispels outdated taboos, and emphasizes well-being.
BSB: What does a day in the life of the head of sexual empowerment look like?
Johanna Rief: I don’t really have any typical days. In the mornings, I check my emails and scroll through Instagram for the news. Other than that, I talk to a lot of experts and interface between the internal stakeholders of our companies and the external ones. I also read a lot of studies about sexuality; I think there’s still a lot to discover when it comes to that topic.
BSB: What is the WOW Tech Group?
Johanna Rief: WOW Tech is more or less the mother company to three different premium brands that we have, and all these brands produce sex toys. We are always focusing on technology, so it’s really important that we have a research and development aspect to come up with innovative toys and functions. That’s where we put our focus, and we have different brands that cater to different needs and people. We try to produce sex toys that look good, have good design, and work well for the mainstream.
BSB: From your experience working in an unconventional industry, what do you think makes for a great brand experience?
Johanna Rief: There are a lot of brands out there that think you should be neutral, that you are not allowed to talk about certain topics. I really appreciate that we, as brands, have voices and ideas of what we think is good and what is not. At our Womanizer brand, for example, we [commented on the] abortion ban in Texas that happened a while ago. I think many brands would shy away from that and say, “This is not something we can speak to.” We think this is part of every woman’s right, so we’re not afraid to have an opinion, and also state that clearly.
Nowadays, with all these brands everywhere and globalization, as a brand you need to have a personality and show that to people. Regardless of whether they go on Instagram or a store, they should feel that a brand is a person and has a key opinion and views. I think many brands are still afraid or try to please as many people as possible.
BSB: The global sex toy market is expected to grow by about nine percent between 2019 and 2026 from $28.64 billion USD to $52.7 billion. What is fueling this growth? What are the factors at play here?
Johanna Rief: I think sexuality really has a lot to do with society. For us, in order to grow, you need a certain mindset in a society and this can sometimes take years for something to change. Especially last year, there was a lot of change in many societies, which became more open to these kinds of products. Also, especially in the last two years, and this sounds weird to say because many people suffered, but during the pandemic, people were stuck at home and had time for sexuality. They were maybe even bored, which really increased online sales—it skyrocketed. People suddenly had the time. I think many people who never even thought about buying a sex toy bought their first one and invested in their sex life. That gave us a huge push and growth.
BSB: Beyond COVID-19, how has the conversation around sexuality and sexual empowerment evolved over the last five to ten years?
Johanna Rief: Many people always mention Sex and the City and 50 Shades of Gray. I think they pushed the topic into the mainstream and the centre of society, which is, of course, always something we appreciate.
I think what also helps is everyone being online. People have a lot of questions that they are always afraid to ask. They think, “Oh, is that maybe weird? Is it just me thinking that?” I think being online and having different social media platforms and blogs has shown that there are many people who are struggling and having questions about sexuality. It helps to normalize things and eases people into being more relaxed and communicative. They realize that it’s not weird to have feelings or fantasies that many other people have. It’s completely fine and you don’t need to be ashamed. Sexuality is more normalized, and now there is a place to find the answers.
BSB: What is your mission at the end of the day?
Johanna Rief: We really want to be the company that brings sexual happiness to people. That is whatever it means for you personally, we are not telling you what it means, what you need to do, or what you don’t need to do. We believe that a great, fulfilled sex life will impact your life overall, and there is nothing wrong about following your wishes and dreams and making them happen. That is something that nobody should be ashamed of. We think we sell good working products that make people happy, and that makes us happy.
This interview is an excerpt. Listen to the full conversation on the Mission Critical podcast.