Jingjin Liu, founder and CEO of Singapore-based ZaZaZu, addresses the misconceptions around female sexual wellness and discusses why she is launching a range of vibrators endorsed by medical experts
Sex toys are emerging from the seedy underbelly of society and into mainstream stores across Asia. In Singapore, they’re now sold in personal care stores, sitting alongside toothpaste and shampoos, while in China, the market is valued at nearly US$15 billion, driven mostly by female and millennial consumers.
Despite the growing demand for pleasure devices, consumers are still less willing to talk openly about their sexual well-being, whether due to social stigma or wanting to keep it private. A survey conducted in Singapore found that less than half of its female respondents do so with their partners, and even fewer of them with their friends.
Paradoxically, some Southeast Asian governments allow private companies to manufacture products for the global sex industry, but do little to promote sexual wellness to their citizens. In Malaysia, condoms are not promoted due to religious factors, despite the country being one of the largest condom producers in the world. A Malaysian gynaecologist recently made global news for creating the world’s first unisex condom. In India and Indonesia, condoms are legal but considered taboo.
One of the causes of this hesitance to promote sexual wellness is a misunderstanding of what it means.
More than just the sexual act, sexual wellness refers to our physical, mental and social well-being in relation to our sexuality. It plays a key role in our physical and emotional health, and it requires an understanding of our sexual rights, preferences, experiences and ability to communicate all of this to others.
In Singapore, one entrepreneur is building a platform to normalise the discussion of sexual wellness, particularly among women.
“I hope to build a Tripadvisor for sexual wellness,” says Jingjin Liu, who is the founder and CEO of ZaZaZu. “We want to be a hub where women can learn more about their sexual well-being, find products reviewed by other women, and consult a professional for advice and solutions.”
Prior to founding her startup in 2020, Liu surveyed 150 women in Singapore to understand their thoughts on sexual wellness, including their experiences with sex and sex toys. “One of the interesting findings I got was that at least 85 percent of the women weren’t sure if they’d ever experienced an orgasm. And usually, if you say you don’t know, it means you haven’t felt it.”
The low awareness of our own body, coupled with the taboo of talking about our sexual needs and experiences openly, can be detrimental.
“If you haven’t experienced something great, you won’t think of the act and the process as enjoyable or enhancing. Very often, for women, your first few sexual experiences determine how you will perceive or pursue your sexual journey in the future.” When women form a poor impression of sex, it could result in low sex drive and sexual dysfunction, says Liu.
To address women's sexual needs better, Liu is transitioning her company’s product offerings from “pleasure boxes”—a mystery box of products curated by the Zazazu team based on a customer’s preferences—to its own line of products, some of which are medically endorsed.
“Sixteen months into this journey, we’ve failed miserably sales-wise. The [pleasure box] concept didn’t work, because we had nearly 2,000 women do our preferences quiz, but barely 10 percent clicked to buy a box at the end. This shows that even if you offer women the best products, if they don’t understand their body well or how to use the products, they won’t buy them.” But Liu has been talking to her customers and gathering information, in order to design her own range of vibrators.
She plans to launch eight vibrators in total, with the first three endorsed by gynaecologists and initially distributed to hospitals from the first quarter of 2022. In this way, she hopes to shift the narrative about sex from being a vice or sin to a matter of public health and wellness. “We want to help women go from sexual dysfunction to pleasure through the healthcare route.”
She believes that women will be more open to using a vibrator if it was recommended or approved by a doctor. “Some women feel a sense of guilt or fear in buying a vibrator because it’s about stimulating pleasure, so we hope that by having a doctor tell women that it’s okay to have one when they need or want it, we boost the legitimacy of vibrators.”
By tackling stigma from a healthcare angle, she hopes to reach the everyday woman who isn’t yet comfortable with the idea of sex toys. “I want to target the bubble tea girl, the girl at the reception counter, the girl who lives with her parents.”
We want to help women go from sexual dysfunction to pleasure through the healthcare route
Through the design of her products, she also hopes to change the mindset that sex can only be enjoyable if there’s penetration. “Sex toys have long been designed for men by men to use on women. That’s why when we think of vibrators, we often think of a rabbit-looking thing or a penetrative device. But not all women enjoy them and these devices were certainly not designed for the Asian woman.”
One of the first vibrators she is launching will be a palm-sized, bean-shaped device designed for external stimulation. “This device will be easy for women to place it where they want it to be. It will give them the foreplay they don’t always get and help to make sex easier.”
In addition to “legitimising” the use of vibrators, Liu hopes to also make sex education more widespread and relevant in Singapore. Most local schools practise abstinence-based sex education and talk about sex from a biological perspective—the egg, the sperm, the baby.
“I think the intention is good, but it’s all about reproductive health rather than about communication or pleasure. This can instil fear in women, particularly about getting pregnant after sex, and do more harm than good.”
Liu feels that children should be educated about sex like every other subject, starting from how parents talk about it at home. “If you normalise talking about sex at home, your children will accept it as you do. But if they see mum screaming after seeing a cockroach, for example, they’ll likely react the same way when they see one too.
“The more you hide or avoid talking about it, the more your children will want to find out, the more they will try to get the information using different channels, and not all will be credible sources.”
Liu’s holistic approach to raising awareness about sexual wellness among women is ultimately to shift the perspective from “erotics and what we see in porn to a matter of female health and pleasure, and democraticising access to ways of enhancing every woman’s individual sexual journey.”