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Would You Buy Lube From a Celebrity?

Christina Aguilera is the co-founder and chief brand advisor of Playground, a line that specialises in sexual wellness – a space that’s emerging as the next frontier for celebrity branding.
Christina Aguilera joins Playground as cofounder, and Maude named Dakota Johnson its co-creative director in 2020.
Christina Aguilera joins Playground as cofounder, and Maude named Dakota Johnson its co-creative director in 2020. (Playground, Maude)

“We’re so quick to buy ourselves a face cream or … beauty products or baby wipes, but why does our vagina just not get the same time and attention?” Christina Aguilera asked Emily Morse, doctor of human sexuality and founder and host of the podcast Sex with Emily, in a YouTube video earlier this week.

The pair have more than a passing interest in sexual wellness and orgasms: Aguilera is co-founder, chief brand advisor and an investor in Playground, a line of personal lubricants with suggestive names (Date Night, After Hours) that come in cute millennial pink bottles and are scented like vanilla, champagne, coconut and musk. (Morse is Playground’s chief sexologist.)

Aguilera’s involvement was kept under wraps until this week and served as something of a public debut for the brand, which has been quietly selling its “vagina healthy, libido enhancing” lubes online since last year, said Catherine Magee, Playground’s co-founder and chief executive officer.

Playground is one of a handful of female-founded and female-focused sexual wellness brands trying to crack a market built around male pleasure, often with a celebrity along for the ride. Maude named Dakota Johnson its co-creative director in 2020, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop followed up its “This Smells Like My Vagina” candle with a double-sided wand vibrator in 2021. Also that year, Demi Lovato partnered with Bellesa, a line of vibrators, dildos, toys and lubricants, on The Demi Wand, a compact vibrator that comes in a chargeable case. That was hot on the heels of the Liberty, a hot pink vibrator introduced by Lily Allen and Womanizer in 2020.

Celebrities have a more defined role to play in spaces that are seen as taboo, as opposed to acting as the face for a new moisturiser or eye shadow palette. When Aguilera called the vagina “your power source,” and “a game changer” once you learn how to operate it, she’s letting the general public know it’s okay to talk about their sexual experiences.

“I didn’t know how many different ways I could orgasm,” Aguilera said in the Playground video.

She also talked about working in an industry where, from a very young age, she was told by men what to do, how to look and how to be sexy. The fact that she is working with a brand rooted in women-first pleasure and owning your sexuality feels authentic.

The same goes for Johnson, who starred in Fifty Shades of Gray and narrated “The Disappearance of Shere Hite,” a documentary that debuted at The Sundance Film Festival in January about prolific sex writer Shere Hite, who in 1976 penned “The Hite Report on Female Sexuality,” one of the bestselling nonfiction books ever.

“When we released Cones, the anal plugs, she talked about it,” Éva Goicochea, founder and chief executive officer of Maude, said of Johnson. “Dakota will use her platform and voice to say, ‘Accessibility and feeling comfortable with your sex life is everyone’s right.’”

Beauty retailers are showing more interest, though mostly online rather than in stores, where the majority of beauty purchases take place.

Ulta Beauty and Sephora are investing in sexual wellness, a less crowded (but growing) category that’s traditionally been sold at drugstores, big box retailers or sex shops. Maude’s products and vibrators were picked up by Sephora’s website in 2022, and Playground will launch at Revolve and Urban Outfitters in April. Ulta introduced an Intimate Wellness category in September, where the majority of lube, intimate cleansers, and devices from SweetSpot Labs, Foria, Smile Makers, Vush, Unbound and Crave are sold online. Online, Sephora carries Maude, Dame and Goop’s sex toys, as well as “V Wash” and $100 “V Drops” from Dr. Barbara Sturm.

For celebrities, sexual wellness also provides something that’s harder and harder to find in makeup or skincare: a genuinely new (or at least, new to most of their fans) product to sell.

In beauty, a famous face is still effective at generating a wave of initial awareness, but it doesn’t guarantee sales in a market crowded with similar products. Brands continue to centre messaging around their unique ingredients or supposed quality, much as they would for products that aren’t attached to a celebrity. Johnson discussing anal plugs, or a pop star putting their name to a vibrator, spoke for itself.

That is starting to change, though. Magee, who has previously worked at companies like L’Oréal, Bare Escentuals and Rodan + Fields, is positioning Playground much like a hot new skin care launch.

“Personal lubricant products are antiquated in that they haven’t changed their formula in 50 years,” she said. “We see the immediate opportunity for lubricants and to establish our name there.”

Magee noted that Playground’s products contain six ingredients that have never been used in the category – hyaluronic acid, Vitamin E, fermented bamboo extract, Ashwagandha, Horny Goat Weed and Black Cohosh. Morse, the brand’s chief sexologist, cheekily described the lubes as a “facial for your vagina” in the video.

It’s a relatively unique approach for the sexual wellness category, but by making claims that go beyond the bedroom, Playground and brands like it risk the same backlash as the skin care lines they’re imitating.

Hyaluronic acid, for instance, can be found in a number of personal lubricants, including ones from K-Y, Good Clean Love, Glissant and Lafiya, which offers a water-based lubricant that also contains Vitamin E.

And just like skin care, the market is also getting crowded. A celebrity’s endorsement is no guarantee of success, even if it’s for a new lube or toy. Lora DiCarlo, the sex toy company that named Cara Delevingne a creative advisor and co-owner nearly three years ago, closed the business in 2022.

Further Reading

A new wave of friendly, elevated and sex-positive brands peddling vibrators, lube and sex-centric supplements are attracting retailer and investor attention.

About the author
Rachel Strugatz

Rachel Strugatz is Beauty Editor-at-Large at The Business of Beauty at BoF. She is based in New York and covers the beauty industry.

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