In today's episode, we're discussing a topic that doesn't often get the attention it needs — sexual health. Join Anita Brikman and Bruce Weiss, VP of Health and Wellness at Church & Dwight, as they dive deep to explore the state of sexual health in the US today, and the role that over-the-counter sexual health products play.
- Episode Transcript
Speaker 1: Welcome to CHPA Chat, conversations in the consumer healthcare industry with Anita Brickman.
Anita Brikman: Hello, everyone. It's time for another episode. And as you know, we talk a lot about self-care here on CHPA Chat. I mean, it's what we're all about. But today we're going to discuss an aspect of self-care that doesn't get the attention it deserves, at least in my opinion. Yes, it's sexual health. Here to talk with me about this is Bruce Weiss, VP of Health and Wellness at Church & Dwight. We're going to talk about the state of sexual health in the US today, and the role of over-the-counter sexual health products it's in this broader conversation. This is new territory for me, Bruce. Welcome.
Bruce Weiss: Thank you for having me.
Anita Brikman: Do you think sexual health is part of self-care?
Bruce Weiss: Absolutely. Self-care is about maintaining one's well-being and happiness during times of stress. And what better yet than in terms of sexual health, where it's not just about physical health we talk about, but your emotional wellbeing too. So this is all interlinked, and is strictly linked to self-care. And we believe at Trojan that people have a right. You mentioned before, it's something that doesn't get a lot of talk, sexual health, but we believe that you're going to be hearing a lot more about sexual health increasingly in the future because people are becoming more and more comfortable in our country talking about this. And I think that's a good trend that we see. And we do think that social media has played a real role in that.
Anita Brikman: Thank goodness that people are starting to talk about it more. You mentioned Trojan. Church & Dwight makes Trojan condoms. They are widely available yet. I saw a statistic that STIs and STDs are at an all-time high. Now that shocked me. How is that possible?
Bruce Weiss: It is true. It's a disturbing trend, and one that is very fixable. STDs, specifically when we talk about chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, that's up. In 2015, there were 1.9 million cases. And as recently as I think the last time I looked, 2019, the last year we have on record, that popped over 2.6 million cases in terms of on average. So a big jump in that.
And it's very easy to basically not get those diseases, and that's if you're going to have sex and you don't know your partner's status, you should use a condom. And what we're seeing here is some behaviors that are easily avoidable in terms of behaviors that if you do use a condom, you can easily help avoid getting and spreading such diseases.
Anita Brikman: Absolutely. So let's talk about our young people. And I've had conversations with healthcare experts, gynecologists in general who treat younger women as well. Is there an issue with STDs in our younger people where they're not utilizing condoms the way they should?
Bruce Weiss: Unfortunately, yes. First off, half of all STDs are occurring amongst young adults under the age of 25, 25 and under. So this is really prevalent amongst our young population. And again, it's something, if you're going to have sex, use a condom. It's very simple. You can have good sex with a condom and it's very easy to use them.
And that's a lot about a couple of things. It's not just telling people to use condoms. It's letting them know the benefits of using condoms. And I think really at the center of it, it's freedom from worry. Right now we're seeing a big increase amongst the young population. And part of that I think is that years ago, the specter of HIV and AIDS was very scary to people because young people would see people that they knew, on TV, and that they knew of, friends. And basically people passed away. It was a terminal disease.
Right now it's more of a manageable situation. So they're not as familiar with that, with HIV, AIDS as they used to be. The prospect of STDs, they sometimes just don't think about it. And that's why we want people to talk about sexual health so they're aware of this. And it's up to basically America to put ourselves back in the right position here, because HIV has not gone away, it's still something you don't want. And all those other STDs, it's no fun, obviously for people to get those. We want people to have fun though, when they have sex. Use a condom. And that's our message.
Anita Brikman: Such an important message. And like you said, some of the specter of the urgency and the fear around AIDS has diminished. But when you look at the ramifications of some of these STDs, impacts on fertility, infection, all kinds of things that can come down the road, young people don't always think about that. And I think it must be a tough message where you're trying to say use a condom for good sex, but this also alleviates worry. But I'm also not trying to scare you to death on the STD stuff. It's got to be a fine line to walk, right, because you don't want to lecture. But at the same time you want to get this important public health message out.
Bruce Weiss: Anita, that's a great point, that balance. We don't want to come across as parental. We don't want to come across as waving a finger. We don't want to come across as too soft. What we want to come across as, and how we always think of as ourselves, as a mentor, almost as an older brother or an older sister, giving out friendly advice that's trusted. And when you're seen as that, you're not seen as necessarily an authority figure. You're an authority figure on sex, but not a judgemental figure. So we kind of turn something that's seen as maybe a little bit medical and a little scary, and we flip it on its head, and we make it seem as accessible and cool.
Anita Brikman: In this conversation I had with this gynecologist, she mentioned that some of today's generation of younger women, that there's been maybe a step backward in their feeling of empowerment to say, "You know what? This is a deal-breaker for me. Either you use one or this isn't happening." Is that part of the strategy as well, to encourage younger women to look at a condom as something they can buy, that they can have and have at the ready, as opposed to, or in addition to other types of birth control?
Bruce Weiss: Absolutely. We don't just target young men in the decision. You get much better compliance. So when two people are vested together, that's the best outcome. I have to say, though, women at one time, made up a very, very small proportion of common buyers. It's still not where it needs to be. We would love to see it 50/50. It's two thirds, one third, but that number used to be far lower. And again, when a woman is involved in the equation, we see much better consistency of condom usage over longer periods of time.
I think what's very interesting is that the internet, e-commerce, has been a big positive for condom usage amongst women, is that many women will say that they don't feel comfortable in the experience of going to the shelf, that they feel judged. And there's a lot more anonymity to ordering online. And we see that ratio online is closer to 50/50, that many women in monogamous relationships are ordering online condoms in bigger packs. So this is a great thing that we've seen going on over the past five years, that growth in e-commerce in the business.
Anita Brikman: Absolutely. And I was going to say, and you said, buying them in greater numbers, women tend to be more pragmatic than men, just saying, when it comes to cost savings. All right. So we're talking about breaking down some taboos here. You mentioned social media earlier. How has that been helpful in getting people to talk about sexuality, pleasure, but also responsible sex, to mitigate risk?
Bruce Weiss: The benefit of social media is that 30 years ago, you had to rely upon, like I said before, a sibling to get information, your friends who, who knows the accuracy amongst that information you were getting from friends, and then parents. And some parents are very involved in "the talk." And that's an important thing because actually we see when parents talk to their kids about sexual health and about condom usage, about protection, about relationships, the best outcomes come when parents are involved. But that's not everybody in terms of all parents are comfortable. But when they do, it's excellent. That's the best. The people who have the best condom usage generally have parental roles in terms of their "information and education."
And not all school systems, and this is something we very much believe in, comprehensive sexual health education. Here, where I'm talking to you today from New Jersey, has an excellent curriculum for schools. But that's only in less than half the states that are like that.
So what that leaves is social media. And that obviously has been a positive. Some social media maybe is fraught with misinformation, but a lot of it is great, has a lot of great sexual health content. And if you come to the Trojan website, you'll find a wealth of it. And we have millions of people going to our site to get into information because they're interested in knowing about not just condoms, but also sexuality, we just get such great volume. We have reading about all our sexual health articles that we have on our site.
So it's an example that people are still hungry for this. So the internet and social media have been good for getting around information, for helping people make good choices, we think. And a better-educated person is going to make a better choice in their sex life. So that's what we're out here to do.
Anita Brikman: What did you see during the pandemic as far as trends and what people were buying, weren't buying?
Bruce Weiss: That's a good question.
Anita Brikman: During the pandemic, what happened?
Bruce Weiss: Well, frankly, we saw different kinds of sex. The pandemic wasn't as kind to coupled sex because people were socially distanced. And so we saw some drop in condom consumption during the COVID crisis. It is now returning, which for us is good news. But we saw a lot more sales of things like our vibrators and lubricants. And people were essentially, masturbation was up. And that's fine, that's healthy. We do sell vibrators and have a sizable business in that. As long as again, people are being safe, that's what we want.
And I just want to say, when it comes to sexual health, we don't define sex...Vibrator business and getting into things that give pleasure, it's not just about...Protection is one aspect of things, but we see vibrators as a positive. Over half of adults have used a vibrator in their lifetime. Just under 40% of females have used a vibrator in the last year. This cuts across all age groups, doesn't matter, red state, blue state, party affiliation and all the things that we say divide the country, in this case, we say vibrators unite the country. We are very much-
Anita Brikman: That sounds like a political slogan there, my friend.
Bruce Weiss: We very much see that sexual health is not just about the idea of protecting from disease. Yes, it's a physical health, but it's also emotional health. And it's the right to pleasure. And by doing safe pleasure makes people happy. And that's a good thing.
Anita Brikman: And we talk about the lifespan, and earlier we're talking about younger people and some of the behaviors that we need to change, but even as couples get older and women maybe dealing with peri-menopause and menopause, clearly there are changes that can affect sexual intimacy. But when you walk into the drugstore, there are more products than ever to help with issues like that, including some that your company makes.
What can we do help overcome any remaining taboos about saying, "All right, I may have had a change in how I experienced this, but there are products that may help me, I don't know, get that feeling back." Is that part of your strategy as well, to normalize that?
Bruce Weiss: Healthy aging, there's nothing wrong with aging. There's nothing to be judgmental about. Like we have sold Replens, vaginal moisturizer. It's a booming business for us. And because the population is aging, it allows people to enjoy sex comfortably. I think the thing is, why judge? There's nothing to judge. There's nothing wrong with any of these things. It's natural. As long as we say it's consensual sex, then that's the only bar that we put up on it.
It's curious you mentioned about aging. We see people are having sex at...Plenty of people have sex at all ages. And there's a lot made about people who are older. We hear stories about the nursing homes when they're having sex. And yes, you should still use a condom when you get to that age because we don't want to spread STDs.
So all that, use a condom. But also, we want people to enjoy it, and we have the products to help them get there. But what's very interesting is that we do find people who are north of 65, who there's divorce or a death, a spouse, and they come back into a dating game. And you know what? Using a condom at any age is still important. The specter of being north of 65, you can pick up an STD just as much as if you are under the age of 25. So you want to be protected. So we're there for everyone.
Anita Brikman: I love that message. Safe, consensual, and a critical part of self-care. Does that sum it up?
Bruce Weiss: That's tight. That can sound like you're writing our marketing brief.
Anita Brikman: Right. Bruce Weiss, thanks for joining me for this episode of CHPA Chat.
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