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Sexual health & well-being

Is this an opportunity for the spa industry?

By Chris Ryall
Spas are increasingly focusing on physical well-being and mental health. But what about sexual well-being? For most spas, this seems to be a no-go zone.
Are spas missing a vital link to overall health and well-being and an opportunity to better serve their clients?
Zion Market Research recently published a study that estimated the global sexual wellness market at
USD $57.5 billion. It forecast it to grow to more than USD $110 billion by 2030 and grow at an annual rate of 8.49% throughout the period. This is a huge revenue opportunity for spas to capture.
The study attributes this global growth to a combination of factors: a more positive acceptance of sex, increasing sexual awareness, government programs promoting sexual education at the school level, a larger population, increasing investments in sexual products, and relaxed laws around selling sexual toys.

Defining sexual health and well-being
What does sexual health and sexual wellness mean? Is it the same? Simply put, no.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual health as “a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being related to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction, or infirmity.” WHO adds, “Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected, and fulfilled.”
WHO added sexual pleasure to the mix in 2022 when designing sexual health programmes. “Sexual health education services have traditionally promoted safer sex practices by focusing on risk reduction and preventing disease, without acknowledging how safer sex can also promote intimacy, pleasure, consent, and well-being,” said WHO’s
Dr. Lianne Gonsalves.
The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) follows a similar tone to WHO’s definition and adds, “Sexual health is the ability to embrace and enjoy our sexuality throughout our lives. It is an important part of our physical and emotional health.”
Sexual well-being on the other hand, is just one aspect of sexual health.
“Sexual well-being, is when we are content—emotionally, physically, and cognitively—with our sexuality and our sexual decisions,” says Dr. Carolin Klein, registered psychologist and director of the West Coast Centre for Sex Therapy in Vancouver.
“If we are enjoying what we are doing in the moment, and then look back on our choices with positive emotions, then that’s a great indicator of sexual well-being,” she says. “On the other hand, negative emotions tied to our sexuality and sexual experiences—anxiety, shame, sadness, guilt, disgust, anger, and aversion—this is a clear sign we are not experiencing well-being.”
Societal, cultural, and religious attitudes toward sex have made communicating about many aspects of sexual health difficult for some. It has hindered our approach to open, positive, and non-judgmental sexual health discussions.

Where do spas fit in with sexual wellness?
Do spas have a role in sexual wellness? Absolutely, according to Dr. Klein.
In a webinar entitled “Revolutionizing the Spa Experience,” organized by the Leading Spas of Canada last June, Dr. Klein said, “We need to get to a place where spas, for example, do have lubes on their shelves, do have vaginal moisturizers, products for sexual wellness because it is sort of ironic that spas have all of these fantastic products for skincare—for the face, for the hands and feet— and yet are missing the parts of the body with the most nerve endings, the most potential for pleasure and real potential for great health benefits.”
Dr. Klein explains why it is important for spas to play a role in sexual wellness.
“I really hope spas will consider every part of our bodies when promoting health and that they will move toward speaking openly to clients about the importance of sexual well-being as part of overall well-being,” she says. “Ignoring our genitals when focusing on good skincare and health, and ignoring the importance of sexual well-being to our overall well-being, means to continue to perpetuate inaccurate ideas that our sexuality is shameful, unimportant, and something to be ignored and suppressed.”

Delivering sexual wellness at the spa—Intimate Wellbeing
B.C.-based business Intimate Wellbeing, owned by two women, Leah Fischer and Cassandra Redding, is trying to break into the spa industry and offer a range of sexual wellness products and resources. They have launched an online sexual wellness boutique that features an assortment of sex toys, serums, oils, menstrual cups, Kegel exercises, and their own branded Okanagan Joy lubricant. Intimate Wellbeing would arrange to place their Okanagan Joy on a spa’s retail shelves.
More importantly, they want to be supportive of spas featuring their products with assistance in marketing their offerings through co-op marketing campaigns and social media, and participating in industry events.
Due to the sexual nature of the products, Intimate Wellbeing feels it is important for spa staff to receive specialized training and workshops so they are comfortable talking about the products and discussing sexual wellness with their clients.
Intimate Wellbeing is more than just an online sexual wellness boutique. It organizes and conducts a series of seminars throughout the year with sexual health and wellness experts, including gynaecologists, sex therapists, registered psychotherapists, pelvic floor specialists, and other healthcare professionals. Seminars have included topics on sexual pain, menopause, hormonal changes, masturbation, loss of libido, incontinence, and wellness practices.
It has been challenging for the owners of Intimate Wellbeing to convince spas to hop on board the sexual wellness train. Many have declined their services and products, fearful—whether real or imagined—of negative client feedback. Local and cultural mores and the type of clientele spas receive will vary depending on their location. In larger urban centres there may be less resistance to featuring sexual wellness products.

Ten Spa embraces sexual wellness
Elena Zinchenko, spa director of award-winning Winnipeg-based Ten Spa, firmly believes in Intimate Wellbeing products and for the spa industry to promote wellness in all aspects, including sexual wellness.
Ten Spa’s retail area and online store features the Okanagan Joy lubricant by Intimate Wellbeing and loves the fact that it is high quality and has no parabens, no mineral oils, no endocrine disruptors, no synthetic fragrance, and no colour, and that it’s condom safe, eco-friendly, and naturally preserved. They will be adding more products and bundles in the coming year.
“All our clients love the product, and the reaction has been great,” says Zinchenko. Suffering from the effects of menopause over the course of the last five years, Zinchenko can speak from experience concerning the importance of getting spas more involved in sexual health and wellness.
“Women in their 50s are main spa-goers and they take advantage of all advanced treatments and services. And they appreciate quality,” she says.
Not limiting herself to simply selling wellness products, she plans to do a workshop and possibly a three-day couples retreat at the Fort Garry Hotel (where Ten Spa is located) partnering with Intimate Wellbeing. Educational sessions, spa services, and unique activities like “blind yoga” for couples to discover a new level of relationship building in an intimate setting will be offered.

Sexual health and well-being benefits
Why should we care about sexual health and well-being? How is it interconnected to physical and mental well-being? Funding for such studies has been limited but is now increasing.
Dr. Klein explains that studies have shown, “Sexual arousal and orgasm lead to significant changes in the body, including releasing endorphins and natural opioids, that can result in pain relief for various conditions like migraine headaches, menstrual cramps, and chronic pain.”
It is also known to improve sleep, and research is currently being conducted on its effect on inflammatory diseases and mental health concerns like depression.
For Halifax-based sexologist and sex/intimacy coach Serena Haines, the benefits aren’t just physiological. Sexual well-being also means, “Being authentic and accepting of your right to pleasure and that you have agency over that pleasure.”
Dr. Klein and Haines, who have both counselled and coached many men, women, and couples, believe the medical community needs more training concerning talking with patients about sexual health and wellness and how important it is to their overall health.
The road to embracing sexual wellness in spas is paved with stigma, cultural and religious mores, myths, and many other barriers. But these barriers will hopefully get paved over.
Spas have an ideal opportunity to be a safe, non-judgmental space and resource for products, information, and services (e.g., workshops/seminars) for physical, mental, and sexual wellness.
As Haines points out, “Sex and sexuality is what we are made of, it’s our life energy, and we all deserve to feel that energy, shame-free, and full of love.”

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