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Sexual Wellness: It’s Only Natural


Manufacturers and retailers keep an open mind to grow the sexual function category

Sexual dysfunction refers to a problem during any phase of the sexual response cycle that prevents the individual or couple from experiencing satisfaction from the sexual activity.

Dysfunction may develop gradually over time, or may occur suddenly as a total or partial inability to participate in one or more stages of the sexual act. But there are solutions to these problems and manufacturers predict growth in the category and more consumer awareness for what natural products can provide.

“This sub-segment of natural support continues to grow at a reasonable pace,” said Rod Burreson, founder and CEO of Roex (Irvine, CA). “Culturally, the idea of enjoying a rich sex life is now accepted for couples of all ages.This is validated by commercials for KY brand products and condoms, as are commercials for male sexual enhancement drugs that feature reasonably healthy middle-aged men and women.The message is clear: Americans should enjoy a great sex life! As this ‘freedom’ is now out in the open and accepted, the natural products retail environment is now also expected to sell dietary supplements for healthy sexual support.” 

“From our vantage point, this category is continuing to grow at a rapid pace,” said Autumn Blum, founder and cosmetic chemist of Organix South (Bowling Green, FL). “We believe this is due to both the Baby Boomer generation and the increase in the average American’s stress levels.

“Many people don’t make the connection between their sex lives and their current stress situations,” she added. “One very clear example is the growing epidemic of sexual dysfunction in young men in India. A high number of young professionals there are trying to work on US and European time zones, disrupting their entire biological cycles. The epidemic can be directly correlated to the increase in call center employment. Although we don’t have the same issues here, everyone will agree that we, as a population, are under extreme stress.” 

Blum also agreed that there is a growing comfort for people to discuss their erectile and sexual dysfunction issues due to the proliferation of pharmaceutical marketing. “With this, comes growing concerns for side effects and long-term damage, leading many individuals to seek out herbs with a history of safe use and less adversity to their overall health,” she noted.

For natural products retailers, Burreson said he believes that this will continue to be a healthy, steady income-generator. “Retailers who can merchandise and market this category effectively, compellingly and, of course, with dignity, will see brisk sales. This category is somewhat unique as well, because when something works … he or she will tell friends, who will likely want their own sexual support supplements.” 

As in other natural categories, consumer knowledge is encouraging. “I think we will begin to see a greater awareness that we are more than the sum of our parts; meaning that if a man or woman is experiencing a low libido, that an individual seeks out a whole program using herbs, food and lifestyle to address the issue,” Blum added.“Not just a band-aid like Viagra with its many side effects. Similarly, an individual will seek out herbal formulas that address the whole person, not just their dysfunction or low libido. For example, an herbal formula for libido could be a merger of herbs to enhance immune system function, the nervous system, adrenal health and circulation as well as aphrodisiacs to increase strength, stamina and arousal. Right now, it is common to address libido with single herbs that are either/or, not a combination of a whole. My favorite well-rounded formula that addresses the whole person is TheraVeda Male Vitality Formula. Our formula includes ashwagandha and other adaptogens, including well-known aphrodesiacs and herbs to supports adrenal health and help to fortify the immune system.” 

Ingredients for Sexual Healing

For Roex, Big Blue® dietary supplement for natural sexual support features L-arginine, the amino acid that has been shown to increase nitric oxide, the ele-Ment that helps erections to occur, Burreson pointed out. This “circulationsupport” ingredient is supported with a proprietary botanical complex that features safe herbs shown to help support the pathways of sexual response, libido and endurance. Cayenne stimulates blood flow by strengthening the heart, capillaries and nerves. Muira puama promotes sense of virility. As an added bonus, Muira puama is rich in free fatty acids, essential oils, plant sterols and beta-sitosterol. In tandem, maca, sarsaparilla and horny goat weed also support libido. Ginseng is a known herb that supports healthy energy and endurance.

“If you ask five herbalists what the best ingredients are for sexual function, you will get five different answers,” added Blum. “My favorites blend aphrodisiacs with adaptogens, including ashwagandha, shatavari, shilajit, velvet bean and saffron.” 

Results are not instantaneous, however.“Dietary supplements for the support of healthy sexual function work to nutritionally support the biochemical pathways that influence sexual desire and physical response,” said Burreson.“Consumers will notice improvement in several weeks. We must add here that enjoying healthy sex does not solely come down to just consuming a supplement.Consumers who need the support must be encouraged to eat a healthy, nutrient-dense diet, exercise, learn stress management techniques and also to get a complete annual physical from their doctors.” 

There really is no “best” delivery method, as this comes straight down to consumer choice, Burreson added.Because products are formulated to nourish the healthy function of sexual desire and performance, tablet and/or capsule form is typically the most appropriate delivery.

How quickly herbal therapies work depends on the person, their state of health, dietary choices, caffeine intake and what other pharmaceutical drugs he or she may be using, Blum explained. “Dr. Phadke, our formulator and fourth generation ayurvedic physician, likes to say that if you have a ‘hot’ date Friday night, start taking your Male Vitality on Monday. The average person may feel a change in their body in 30- 40 minutes, while others may take three days to a week. It also depends on the herbs and potency; some are slower acting but build firm roots of change, while others are more moving and existing.A supercritical extract may be much more potent than a raw herb powder.
Also, not every herb is right for everybody; some herbs work wonders for some, others, not so much. If someone is not noticing a shift in their constitution within a month, they might consider changing formulas or seeking the help of a qualified herbalist who can guide them in creating a customer formula that would be most appropriate for them.” 

In general, when it comes to sexual support, manufacturers look at research about how ingredients help to balance the proper hormonal ratios that trigger desire and physical response, as well as ingredients that help support healthy circulation in men and in women.

“Promoting healthy circulation is absolutely key in formulating supplements that support sexual function,” said Burreson. “During the arousal process, more blood is directed to the genitals in preparation for intercourse. And it is said that the most significant organ responsible for sex is the brain. The brain, too, requires healthy circulation.” 

Sex Sells

The best way to market supplements for sexual function support is the responsible way, manufacturers agree. “They are not quick fixes or magic bullets. They work best in tandem with a healthy lifestyle that combines nutritious diet and exercise, as well as healthy stress management,” said Burreson.

“Valentine’s Day promotions are a nobrainer, but remember that anniversaries and nuptials occur throughout the year,” he added. “Discreet but clear promotions to celebrate these events will certainly boost sales in the category.” 

In addition, retailers said they are finding differences amongst the sexes while selling sexual health and wellness products. “I found some men who come in looking for these products Speak openly. Women are not as open,” said Grace Galliano, natural health practitioner and owner of Treasures of Health Herb Shop in Mechanicsville, VA.“Many of the men are middle-aged and want to know what the best product is.Very few have read about products.” She added that Natural V by MRM is a top seller in her store. “At first, men are not comfortable talking to women [about sexual health], but once they do, they feel free to open up about all aspects of life,” Galliano said with a laugh.

Gabriel Smalling, supplement buyer for the Turnip Truck Natural Market in Nashville, TN, agreed. “We sell about 10 or 15 products, mainly supplements, that are designed more for men than women. Customers are typically over 40 and men usually tend to be more up front about it. Men ask questions. Women do their homework and know what they want.” To gain customer confidence when discussing sexual function products, Smalling said knowing the details about the products, having knowledge about independent research and giving feedback from other customers is most helpful.

And both retailers said they have found that many customers have tried and want to move away from prescription drugs. “I don’t know why,” said Smalling. “It might be due to side effects or the cost.” But synergistic herbal blends are selling well, he added. “They like them because they offer a broader spectrum and help them with more than one issue. They treat them more holistically.” 

Broadening Sales

Susan Yeager Montani, vice president of sales with Sinclair Institute & Natural Contours USA (Hillsborough, NC), which manufactures European massagers, also helps large and small retailers develop their sexual wellness category. “A major opportunity for stores is to develop a comfort level with the category and have it be a part of overall well-being,” she noted. Going beyond supplements, she suggested offering stimulant creams, massagers and marital aids—that are tasteful. These items can be sold not just in brick-and-mortar stores but also through catalog mailings and online.

Montani also suggested retailers make sure that doctors, including obgyns, in the community know that the store carries sexual health products such as the Kegel Barbell, which improves bladder control and intensifies pleasure for women. “Let people know out of the norm of regular customers.Sometimes those who are not the norm are the greatest potential moneymakers for the category,” she said, reminding retailers that the category doesn’t end with just supplements. “There are creams, pumps for men, personal massagers, natural lubricants and stimulating gels. There are plenty of stores that put them out.” And if a retailer isn’t convinced, Montani promises the store’s first fill of stock for massagers is free.

Max-imum Privacy for Sexual Wellness

Michael Feuer, cofounder of OfficeMax, started the business in 1988 with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During 16 years as CEO, he grew the company to almost 1,000 stores with sales approximating $5 billion before selling it for almost $1.5 billion in 2003. Feuer’s most recent entrepreneurial launch is Max-Wellness, a health and wellness retail outlet, with drugstores as its main competitors, aimed at consumers in the middle- to high-income bracket. So far there are four 5,000 – 6,000-square-foot stores in Florida and Ohio.

While Feuer said he emphasizes the concept of “selling not products, but solutions” in the new stores, what is also of interest is the One2One Wellness sections. It is here that customers can discuss sensitive issues in private, one-on-one sessions with a salesperson the company calls Wellness Advocates. It’s a closed-off, glassencased area, with a counter, chair, laptop and enough room for two customers.

The idea for the One2One section came to Feuer, he said, while shopping in a drugstore.“A sales clerk handed a customer his prescription and loudly announced, ‘Oh yeah, Mr. Smith— Viagra, extra strength,’” Feuer recalled, noting the customer’s obvious embarrassment. Then, while on a tour at the Vatican, Feuer said the confessional fascinated him. “A priest showed me how it worked. It is a place where you can say things that you wouldn’t want someone to hear,” Feuer added.

For customers sensitive about sexual wellness, hemorrhoids, incontinence or other delicate topics, Feuer said Max- Wellness offers an environment of professionalism and dignity. “The staff is trained to never comment on what someone is buying. It’s all part of a mindset we’re trying to create in the store.” 

Another solution is that customers have access to black bags in the stores to discretely stow the more private products they would like to purchase.The products can be scanned through the bag at checkout. “You don’t need to tell everyone your troubles,” Feuer explained.

Along with supplements for sexual function, Max-Wellness also sells instructional sexual videos, mood-enhancing Cds, lubricants and highend massagers in the women’s section and will eventually offer them online. For men’s health, Max-Wellness features items for prostate health and sexual dysfunction.A merchandising and buying group and a medical advisory board vet the products chosen for the store.

“One of the big health problems in this country is sexual,” Feuer added.“That’s been since Adam and Eve and from puritanical days, but sex is as natural as it gets.” 

Even so, Feuer admitted they were worried some customers would be offended by some of the sexual wellness products.But, he explained, in a successful retail store, “people see themselves as what they want to be, not necessarily as they are.” Seeing the items on display and sold by a professional staff adds to the legitimacy and worthiness of the products, he said. “If a store puts it out in the women’s health area— and there are a lot of sensitive items—customers understand that it’s part of life. It’s part of the store.We never got a complaint about products.” 

And products are evolving socially, he said. “What is acceptable today, may not have been acceptable 10 years ago. You have to determine what a customer wants before they know they want it.”

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