In August, the feminine wellness brand Queen V published a colorful animated post on Instagram, with text that read, "Pop quiz: Your clitoris is shaped like a… A: wishbone, B: cashew, C: coin," along with corresponding imagery for each answer.
"We're taking a fun approach to a topic that doesn't need to be so embarrassing," says Lauren Steinberg, the founder of Queen V.
Helped by societal trends such as the Women's March and the #MeToo movement, marketers are defying long-held taboos (for example, replacing blue with red liquids on sanitary napkins in ads) and proudly positioning their products as vaginal wellness brands with colorful imagery, plain language and lighthearted tones. (The answer to Queen V's quiz, by the way, is A., a wishbone.)
The company is not beating around the bush. The Los Angeles-based brand is one of a growing number of companies that are normalizing the conversation around subjects such as periods, menopause, the female anatomy and sex.
Queen V debuted at Walmart earlier this year, and its products, including spritzers, lubricants, wipes and probiotics, have now expanded to specialty stores including Urban Outfitters. Four-year-old Lola, which started selling organic tampons, has since introduced condoms and cleansing wipes. Thinx offers underwear women can wear during menstruation.
"It's about changing the conversation," says Katie Keating, co-founder and creative director of Fancy, a 7-year-old female-focused creative agency. "This space has been traditionally occupied by the big brands [today's consumers'] grandmas used. As women are claiming more power everywhere, their bodies need to be in their control as well, with products that are fun and pretty and appealing."
Like other once-dusty retail categories that called for a contemporary update—sneakers, pet care and beauty have all recently been revitalized for today's digitally savvy customers—the feminine wellness space is scooping up venture capital dollars. This year to date, women's health startups have received nearly $537.7 million in funding across 94 deals (last year they received $595.4 million in investment across 92 deals), according to New York-based CB Insights, which tracks technology trends in emerging categories. Anagha Hanumante, a senior intelligence analyst at CB Insights, says firms selling such female-focused products and services fit well into the overall wellness category, which is tough to measure. The size of the market for sanitary protection products alone was $3.2 billion in the U.S. last year, and $30.3 billion globally, according to market research firm Euromonitor International.
"Sexual wellness brands, in particular, are integrating natural and organic ingredients, product innovation and inclusive branding to emphasize transparency and sustainability, and destigmatize feminine hygiene for consumers," says Hanumante.
Even women's shaving products are getting an update, as newcomers Billie, a "female-first" shave and body brand, and Flamingo, a line of body products including wax strips, shaving gel and moisturizers for women that debuted last month from the founders of Harry's, come on the market with sharp and colorful branding. Queen V, which sells its products packaged in shades of magenta, lime and cerulean, exudes an air of fun and playfulness in keeping with its millennial and Gen Z customers. Some brands resonate with women by using lighthearted language to break through some of the discomfort.