Building a Sexual Wellness Brand That Puts Health First
Menopause represents a $600B market opportunity, but the 1.3 million women who enter this life stage every year report feeling ignored and…
Menopause represents a $600B market opportunity, but the 1.3 million women who enter this life stage every year report feeling ignored and invisible by both the medical community and society at large. Natalie Waltz, founder of Tabu, is on a mission to help women reclaim their physical and emotional well-being through sexual wellness, and fight the taboos that prevent women from preserving this important part of their life as their bodies change.
Sexual wellness brands historically do not cater to an older demographic, but Natalie uncovered that sexual wellness products are a first-line treatment for many of the persistent symptoms that women suffer from during menopause. In partnership with doctors, pelvic floor physical therapists, and a cohort of women, she developed The Kit: the first sexual wellness product made for menopause.
In honor of Menopause Awareness Month, we sat down with Natalie to talk about why it’s so hard for women to get help during menopause, how to build a sexual wellness brand that speaks to women of all backgrounds, experiences, and ages, and how her relationship with her mom sparked and inspired this journey.
What inspired you to start Tabu?
While at TCG (The Chernin Group), I learned some outrageous facts about how prevalent the sexual health side effects of menopause are: 90% of women can experience pain or discomfort during sex, so much so that 50% just stop being sexually active altogether in their 50s. I remember hanging up the phone and instinctively texting my mom, “Hey, do you or your friends have pain or discomfort during sex?”
Once we got through a fair amount of “ha-ha’s,” we had a really sobering conversation. She knew exactly what was happening to her body, and admitted it wasn’t just physical but deeply emotional, affecting how she feels about herself and her relationship with my stepdad.
It quickly dawned on me that this was the first sex talk I’d ever had with my Muslim Middle Eastern mother, who was born in Syria. This isn’t table talk for us. I speak to her at least once a day, so I was bothered that I had no idea that something so meaningful was going on — something that was clearly impacting her confidence, her self-worth, her relationships, and ultimately, her health.
Shortly thereafter, I talked to a lot of women and I learned that so many were feeling much like my mom. While I’m not a doctor or a sex therapist, I knew there were many more benefits to sex than just the ability to procreate, and it didn’t make sense that we were giving up on this part of our lives during this transition.
Something that really surprised me was that I learned many OBGYNs and pelvic floor physical therapists recommend women use regular sexual activity as a means to treat and prevent many of the symptoms that are keeping them from sex in the first place. That means doctors recommend women to go out and buy a vibrator, lubricant, and think of sex differently — as part of their overall wellness routine.
I often joke that my mom can’t say the word vibrator out loud, let alone use one. The challenge and opportunity we saw with Tabu was to build a brand that really celebrates and honors sexual wellness as our bodies change, and to create products that feel more akin to high-end skincare than legacy sexual wellness.
Ultimately, our goal is to put health before pleasure to make sexual wellness feel as natural as our skin and exercise routines.
Why don’t more people know about this and what is stopping women from getting help?
It’s in our name. Sex is taboo — especially sex as you get older. We heard this so often from women that we felt it was really important to acknowledge that talking about sex can be deeply uncomfortable for many of us. There’s a lot of women who have been married for decades that still can’t have an open conversation with their partners about what’s going on with them. And if you can’t talk to your partner about it, you likely can’t talk to your doctor.
There’s power in telling people that we understand that it’s uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Let’s acknowledge the discomfort and move forward together.
There aren’t many sexual wellness brands that cater exclusively to this demographic. How are you building Tabu’s brand and customer experience with your core customers in mind?
As a brand, we put health before pleasure. That means we’re going to start by talking about the symptoms you’re experiencing: atrophy, dryness, incontinence, low libido, and even low body confidence. Women can experience all of these symptoms at different phases of life, but many of them are most apparent during this period of postmenopausal transition. Women are overwhelmingly walking away from this part of their life too soon because of these challenges and not knowing how to (or if they should) confront them.
By focusing on symptoms, we are able to unlock a lot of women that would otherwise not be sexual wellness buyers.
Our customers are typically left out of the conversation regarding sexual health. Most of the time, we talk about women as sexual beings in the context of babies or pleasure — not health after a baby. I think it’s important that we start with this group of women, but also shift to other moments in time, like postpartum, when these symptoms appear in a woman’s life.
How does Tabu’s product improve health outcomes? Why does this work?
We designed our first product in partnership with a number of OBGYNs, pelvic floor physical therapists, and a cohort of women aged 41–71. These women overwhelmingly have had one sexual partner in their life, and have never purchased something like this before. While there’s no silver bullet answer here, our medical advisors recommend women use the product (or any product like it!) 2–3 times per week, as it has to be a routine and a lifestyle change that women commit to.
Our product has two core features: the shape of the massager simulates the idea of a dilator, which is a medical device commonly used to treat vaginal atrophy, and the optional heating system at the head helps to stimulate blood flow, which improves tissue health over time. That blood flow stimulation gets harder as we get older, so that heating feature is really key.
The supporting lubricant is water-based, made primarily of aloe with lots of active botanicals and hyaluronic acid to make sure it’s nourishing the tissue upon every application. This is really important because many lubricants on the market today are unfortunately very drying. We put the lubricant in an atypical glass dropper to replicate the idea of putting a serum on your face, so you feel like you’re doing something really good for yourself every time you use it.
Often, when we speak to members, we might start talking about vaginal dryness, but suddenly we’re talking about their relationship and communication with their partner. Many women don’t have the language to talk about this transition and share that newfound dryness, for instance, is not caused by lack of attraction to their partner, but is just how their body is changing. Not knowing how to talk about that can create a lot of distance.
I would not divorce the physical health benefits and the emotional health benefits we are trying to bring to market with Tabu.
As you bring Tabu to market, what strategies are working best for your audience?
Initially, we leaned into word of mouth and smart relationships with micro-influencers who have a loyal following. We focused on influencers who are overwhelmingly lifestyle-oriented, not sexual wellness-oriented, because we wanted our customers to think of Tabu as part of their wellness routine. We also leaned in to a brand relationship with a sex podcaster in her 50s, Dr. Emily Morse of “Sex with Emily,” who understood the challenges and gave Tabu her stamp of approval.
For word-of-mouth growth, the story between my mom and I inspired people to gift Tabu to the moms, aunts, and grandmothers in their life, and we sold out around mother’s day.
Now that we have more marketing spend, we’re finding that social is our bread and butter. We just started running ads in the last few weeks and the results have been overwhelming. These women are not being marketed to very much. Even with all the innovation in the menopause market, overwhelmingly, marketers are talking to millennial and Gen Z customers. By thoughtfully targeting our audience, we can do a lot with relatively small amounts of spend.
What are the best ways to combat the idea of menopause, sexual wellness, and women’s health broadly as “taboo” to achieve widespread change?
Sex as a category has been dominated by eroticism. I think we have to acknowledge as a society that not everybody speaks that language. That’s not to say there isn’t a space for eroticism, but it can’t be the only way we talk about sex. We need to create space for women of all backgrounds and experiences — including older women, members of religious communities, and victims of sexual trauma — to have a thoughtful and honest conversation about their own relationship with sex.
We’re starting to see more people investing and building in the menopause market, which is projected at $600B. Where do you think this space will be in a decade?
In a decade, I don’t think we’ll be as obsessed with the term menopause. Right now, the industry thinks that anybody over a certain age is menopausal. Post-menopause can represent a third or even half of our entire existence. When you’re 60, you don’t necessarily still identify with that word anymore. It’s a thing you went through, and you move past it.
We’ll start looking at women past child-bearing years as women who have different needs, interests, and who require different types of solutions and brands. It doesn’t all need to be categorized as the menopause market.
Who inspires you?
My mom. This is a woman who didn’t let me shave my thighs; I never got the green light to use tampons. Her willingness to have this conversation with me a year and a half ago, be featured on my website, share with people that her daughter started a sexual wellness company for this stage of life, and grow with me in this process, has been incredible to me.