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Normal1/7
Photograph: Supplied/NormalA range of toys by Normal
The 'Darcy' by Normal2/7
Photograph: Supplied/NormalThe 'Darcy' by Normal
The women of Figr3/7
Photograph: Supplied/FigrThe women of Figr
A bottle of Figr4/7
Photograph: Supplied/FigrA bottle of Figr
Rosewell5/7
Photograph: Supplied/RosewellRosewell's sleek offering
Rosewell6/7
Photograph: Supplied/RosewellThe 'Bean' by Rosewell
Rosewell7/7
Photograph: Supplied/RosewellRosewell's extremely aesthetic products

The women-run Aussie sexual wellness brands you need to know

A new wave of sex toy makers and educators are catering to the modern woman and gender-diverse person  – and teaching you how you can vibe your vibe

By Divya Venkataraman
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Mainstream sex toys still have a fairly predictable aesthetic in 2021, one which borrows heavily from the school of “hella tacky”. At some point, someone (we suspect someone cis, het and white) sent an edict from on high that our only options would be either giant neon purple hunks of plastic named after farm animals or cutesy-pink, industrially loud bullets – and it endures to this day. Plus, the model names sound more like high-speed lawn mowers than anything you’d want, you know, inside of you (the Powermate 3000? Nope). 

But now, the sex toy status quo is getting a little shake-up. Here to inject a touch of cool into the garish, pop-up window ridden online warehouses that Australians have to trawl through to make their pleasure purchases, are three trailblazing, women-owned sexual wellness brands. 

Normal prioritises sexual empowerment and education above all else. Lucy Wark, the general manager and part-owner of Normal, is working to make sexual wellness more accessible to people everywhere with a range of affordable, sleek toys that you can have shipped straight to your door (in discreet packaging, of course). The brand falls under the portfolio of Eucalyptus, the same company behind women's fertility healthcare service Kin (the one that sends the Pill to your door) and men’s health platform Pilot.

Flogging sex toys that you’d be happy to have on display on your nightstand might be Normal’s raison d’etre, but in an industry where shame is rife and masturbation enters the chat only in dark mode – especially among women and gender-diverse people – Wark has had to embed education into the core of the business.

On Normal's site, you’ll also find a host of sexual wellness guides and articles on intimacy and partnership, designed in consultation with in-house certified sex coach Georgia Grace. And the ultimate millennial catnip? A quiz, of course. Click through a series of questions designed to help you understand yourself better, or find your preferred sex toy. What's your arousal style: "excitement" or "inhibition"? 

“Despite a lot of progress, as a society we still don't make it easy to explore sexuality - whether it's sex ed in school that mainly covers the 'plumbing' and 'condom on a banana', or the fact that many people learn sex from a distorted medium like pornography,”  says Wark.  “Even shopping for something as simple as a sex toy can feel really confusing, awkward and stressful if you're not a sex nerd.

“Sexual wellness is more than the absence of a sexual health issue or having a certain number of orgasms per week! It's about a state of comfort and empowerment.”

Other than Instagrammable colourways and sleek lines, what else do millennial women find sexy? Sustainability. Normal offers a '100 night stand' policy, meaning that you'll be able to return a product you buy after 100 nights (and days, we guess) if it's not working for you. “Many people don’t realise this, but you basically can’t recycle sex toys as a civilian," says Wark. "They end up in landfill because of the silicone, e-waste and how they’re used on the body. So at Normal, when we receive returned toys, we work with a specialist recycling company to ensure every device is sustainably disposed of.”

"Sexual wellness is more than the absence of a sexual health issue or having a certain number of orgasms per week! It's about a state of comfort and empowerment."

Wark and Grace are also passionate about destigmatising sexual tools for men. “The same stereotypes that used to be applied to women or people with vulvas (namely, that using sex toys is a sign of romantic failure, or a bit 'freaky', rather than empowering and just fun!) are now part of how we enforce standards of masculinity, “ says Wark. ”Which sucks! We definitely want to work on that. Guys, we are coming for you!” 

Like Normal, building on their customers’ often shaky levels of sexual literacy was important to Rosewell, a brand also making durable, aesthetically pleasing pleasure devices. With its stylised photography and dreamy, earthen palette, Rosewell is basically the Aesop of the sex toy world. Banished be eye-watering colours and unsubtle packaging – here, a luxurious ‘Midnight Hour’ scented candle comes in a pack with a sleek, white toy and a deck of reflection cards, for a new, exploratory take on self-love.

“Ultimately, Rosewell was born out of each of our own poor experiences in the current sexual wellness market,” says Alisha Williams of Rosewell. “For too long, [it] has been dominated by this hypersexualised, graphic, confronting and often masculine view of what sex is and how it feels.”

“Commonly accepted, outdated narratives…  are being questioned, challenged and ultimately, progressed by young people. It’s easier now to talk about sex and solo pleasure more openly due to more acceptance and less taboo surrounding these topics… But there’s still work to be done, and a lot of the questions and thoughts we have are still the same - especially when many still don’t get a comprehensive sexual education. 

“Add to that the new challenges of living in this always-on digital world. It’s really hard to switch off and to make time for intimacy with yourself and others.

“[Rosewell] launched to make sexual wellbeing more accessible for everybody… to make conversations about sexual wellness as easy and simple as other everyday, human rituals, like skincare,” says Williams. 

"Add to that the new challenges of living in this always-on digital world. It’s really hard to switch off and to make time for intimacy with yourself and others."

It's hard to argue with. For all the progress younger generations have made in talking more openly about sex and sexual wellness, sexual-wellness devices are something you shop for in the dead of night with a torch under your doona, all Harry-studying-his-spell books-at-midnight-style. We throw out recommendations for everything else left, right and centre. Face oil? Try Go-To. Vitamin C moisturiser? Origins, of course. Sleek, cute vibrator that does the job without alerting the entire building? *Crickets*.  

But Williams thinks it's important to share our thoughts. “Sex influences relationships, self-esteem, and ultimately, overall wellbeing. It’s a fundamental part of being human, and whatever sexuality looks like for you, I think we should all be able to talk about it – if we want to,” she says. 

Enter Eloise O’Sullivan and Eloise McCullough, two twenty-somethings, who did find themselves talking about sex during Melbourne’s 2020 lockdown. Over the course of their conversations, they found that they were in consensus about the fact that the lube out there in the market just wasn’t doing it for them.

So, they launched Figr on Instagram, a natural sexual lubricant created from all-Australian native extracts. Figr is latex-friendly (protection first),  pH balanced (see you never, UTIs), non-tacky (in both senses of the word) and toy-compatible. Plus, it comes in the kind of bottle that would look right at home in a shelfie next to your stash of overpriced skincare. You might have to push that Le Labo to the side.  

Like Normal and Rosewell, Figr is a product that suits the modern person’s aesthetic, as well as their approach to sex. “Many sexual wellness brands intended for womxn are run by men, so we found that these companies completely missed the mark when it came to creating a brand that resonated with us,” say O'Sullivan and McCullough. “You should be able to go into a store to buy your favourite cleanser, eyebrow gel and lubricant. It [should also] look incredibly beautiful on your dresser or in your bathroom, blending in with any cosmetics or perfumes you have on show.”

But like the others, Figr isn’t just about surface good looks. “Sexual wellness is something that is a part of life and can have massive effects on your mental and physical well being,” say O'Sullivan and McCullough. “[Making sexual wellness more approachable] is just closing the shame gap that surrounds sexual wellness and pleasure (especially for womxn). Sex products need to be more approachable, and more importantly representative of the contemporary person, so that healthy conversation around sex opens up between friends.” Amen.

Plus, check out our interview with Tilly Lawless

Tilly Lawless smiles at an event and looks away from the camera. She wears a hat and black tape crosses over her bare chest.
Photograph: Supplied/Sam Whiteside | Tilly Lawless

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“I would like for sex workers to no longer be the 'other'. I would like if people could imagine sex workers as a mix of many different people with many different views,” says Tilly Lawless, one of three out sex workers speaking as part of the Sex Work and Feminism panel at All About Women at the Sydney Opera House. A writer and proudly vocal sex worker, Lawless is widely known for her 2017 Ted Talk, which powerfully argued for why sex work is integral to contemporary feminism.

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