Blends and whole-body formulations resonate with today’s consumers over single ingredients.
If there’s a silver lining to the dark storm cloud that is the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that it gave consumers time. Time away from the office. Time to cook at home again. And time to prioritize their health. The pandemic pushed Americans to focus on wellness and even revisit health issues that may have been put on the back burner. The good news? As life returns to almost-normal, consumers are eager to keep the holistic outlook they cultivated during quarantine. In fact, Mintel identified self-prioritization as one of consumers’ top priorities for 2021, citing the ongoing popularity of personal care and sexual health products, and the resurgence of “me time,” as proof of this shift.1 For the sexual health supplement market, all of this adds up to good news.
“Sex is a ‘feel good’ activity, and coming out of a pandemic when people are feeling more optimistic and ready to re-engage with their former full lives reignites sex drive,” says Annie Eng, CEO of HP Ingredients (Bradenton, FL). “The state of the market for sexual health ingredients remains strong, if not stronger [than in years past].”
According to market researcher SPINS (Chicago), sales of ingredients for vitamins and supplements marketed as intimacy products grew 9.35% during the 52 weeks ending July 11, 2021. Top performers included herbal formulations (up about 11%) and amino acids (up 18%).
Eng believes the main drivers at play here include a growing awareness of sexual wellness products, the increasing ease of purchasing those products, and the shrinking taboo surrounding sexual health issues.
“People are largely looking at sexual health as just ‘health,’ and it’s not a taboo subject to expect a healthy lifestyle to include healthy sexual activity,” agrees Charlotte Traas, board certified master herbalist and director of education for supplements brand New Chapter Inc. “This has a lot of new customers looking towards the supplement industry for natural ways to support a healthy libido.”
Reaching Today’s Consumers
According to Shavon Jackson-Michel, director of medical and scientific affairs at DolCas Biotech LLC (Landing, NJ), consumers are elevating the importance of sexual health to that of physical and emotional health, partly because of a more liberal and open-minded generation, but also because the supplement consumer is “savvier than ever,” she says, “more educated, and willing to invest their time in researching where to put their dollars.” Because of this, successful marketing of sexual health products must evolve, too.
First, marketers must be mature, candid, and straightforward. “Communication on sexual health has evolved from the days of referring to our sexual organs by cute pet names,” says Traas. “Consumers are more comfortable and aware of their bodies and how they function, so talking about sex with an educational approach married with practicality is important. Respecting your body includes respecting your sexual health, so approaching the topic with dignity is important for credibility.”
Plus, science must be front and center, especially as FDA recently warned consumers to avoid certain male enhancement products due to hidden, potentially dangerous drug ingredients, casting doubt on the entire market.2
Category mainstays like ashwagandha, ginseng, arginine, fenugreek, and sea buckthorn remain fertile ground for researchers as brands seek clinical substantiation for traditional and folk claims.
Fortiquin is a relatively new ayurvedic blend from DolCas Biotech for male sexual stamina and endurance. It features a variety of time-tested botanicals, including fenugreek, mucuna, ashwagandha, globe artichoke, and L-arginine. In a recent study, the effects of 1 g per day of Fortiquin were examined against placebo in 60 subjects over the course of eight weeks.3 Recruited participants started the study with baseline values of two minutes of sexual duration. By the end of the eight weeks, the men taking Fortiquin experienced a statistically significant 5.1-times increase in sexual stamina.
HP Ingredients’ longstanding ingredient LJ100 Eurycoma longifolia (tongkat ali) was the subject of another recent study, validating that supplementation preserves normal reproductive hormonal production and interaction.4 In the placebo-controlled, double-blind study, 32 healthy young men (average age 24.4 years) consumed either 600 mg LJ100 or placebo daily for two weeks. Researchers found that LJ100 was able to increase testosterone even in healthy young men when consumed in high doses. Significant increases in testosterone (14%) and free testosterone (34%) were recorded after two weeks.
Draco Natural Products’ (San Jose, CA) BaZiBuShen formula (BZBS), based on the traditional Chinese medicine concept of balancing yin and yang ingredients, was recently found to preserve testicular morphology and spermatogenesis in a rapid aging mouse model.5 Researchers posit that this outcome is a result of the ingredient’s ability to inhibit oxidative stress.
Continued research will be the way forward for this category, says Kartikeya Baldwa, CEO of Ixoreal Biomed Inc. (Los Angeles), which markets science-backed KSM-66 ashwagandha—especially as a new generation of educated supplement consumers turns its attention to sexual health support.
“More human clinical studies may help to establish some long-term bestsellers,” he says, “but in general this category has been so filled with bogus claims and poor products, we will need years of education and science to clean up the situation.”
If you ask Paul Clayton, scientific advisor for Gencor (Irvine, CA), the future of the sexual health supplement category won’t focus on hero ingredients; rather, supplements that support lifestyle and dietary changes with a blend of beneficial ingredients will find favor.
“We have had a lot of requests about our traditional formulas for female and male libido, more so than even single ingredients,” agrees Brien Quirk, director of research and development at Draco Natural Products, where yin tonic herbs with ancient libido-boosting benefits like rehmannia root, Chinese yam, asparagus root, and Solomon’s Seal root have been in demand.
Formulators and brands can also expect sexual health supplements to include other nutrients that offer holistic benefits, like vitamin D. “Expect the conversation of immune health to enter into our [conversations around] sexual health,” says New Chapter’s Traas. “The healthier your body is, the more likely you’ll improve your sexual function.”